Have you ever wondered what you would do if, from a day to another you couldn’t practice what you do today? How would you pay your bills? How would you handle your family, economic and social commitments? How about your sense of self-worth – how would it be impacted by a potential loss of career capital?
One of my favorite questions that I ask wherever I go to speak about personal branding is: What would be left of you if suddenly someone took away your business card? Many people are shaken by this simple thought. That’s because we rarely take the time to reflect at who we really are behind the roles that we are currently playing at work. People start addressing such issues only in times of personal emergency: company restructuring, lost opportunity for promotion or salary upgrade, relocation and need to find a job on a new market, personal sickness or need to care for a beloved person etc.
This is however too late: not tackling one’s career capital management proactively means lost time, money, opportunities and, sometimes, relations – all in all, a lot of unnecessary anxiety for you and those close to you. On the other hand taking proactive charge of your career capital can not only prevent loss, but also empower you to lead a life that is more in line with your own goals, dreams and desires. In fact managing our career capital is prone to become the nr. 1 professional skill of the future. We just need to understand what we’re talking about, then take the first steps in this direction.
What is career capital?
Our career capital is made of everything that happened to us since we started being active outside our families, during school and on the labor market. It includes:
1. Our education. A degree from a fancy college provides you with powerful referrals, opportunities and a solid network of alumni. However, don’t worry too much if you don’t have an Ivy League degree – just reflect on how your educational background enriches you and be able to communicate that message with the world.
2. Our network. We start building our contacts early during our school years. In fact some of the most successful businesses have been created by high school or college buddies who leveraged mutual compatibility and the trust built along the years to bring new ideas to life. As we advance in our careers so should our network. Be proactive about expanding your network and keeping it vibrant and alive. It will always serve you well on your journey.
3. Our experience. Every project, every new assignment, every new client is stretching our understanding of our profession and the world. If you look at your work as if it were an endless reservoir of learning opportunities, you start to see the gold nuggets of career capital even in the most challenging of your professional experiences.
4. Our competencies and skills. At the end of the day when we leave a company this is what we sell to our next employer or business customers: what we know and how exactly we create value for them. Make sure you have an up-to-date list of your current skills. Also don’t hesitate to look into the future to see what skills your might need a few years down to road to be able to steer your career in the right direction.
5. Our reputation and personal brand. The more you invest in your personal communications to build a premium reputation, the easier it gets for you to navigate whatever challenges life might throw at you on your career journey.
There are other aspects of career capital that would be worth mentioning such as our family background (being born in a well-off family does have its perks) or our language (how amazing it is today to be born an English native speaker?!). Some of these career capital aspects are more valuable than others. However, in order to manage our career capital skillfully we need to focus on those aspects that are more under our control and thus lead to more personal empowerment.
From loss to transformation
Yes, you may ask – all this is clear, but why should we care about our career capital in the first place? The Czech economy is doing great, salaries are rising, career opportunities are by no means in short supply on the market these days. As lovely as that may be, managing the perception of our name and career capital is important because it is precisely during good times that we should use the opportunity to invest in ourselves and thus bulletproof our careers for potential downturns. If life taught me anything, it is precisely this mindset. Looking back at my own journey I remember distinctively two moments when I felt that I lost my entire career capital. One was when I decided to leave Romania immediately after finishing my studies in journalism and move to Prague. Journalism, I thought, was something that you can do masterfully only in your mother tongue. So at the beginning I struggled. I got a part-time job in a Czech consultancy that required French and English-speaking skills. At the same time I was teaching private lessons of French and English to make ends meet. I was in this company for almost a year when it started to crack and it became clear that I would need to look for another job. It took me huge courage and an immense leap of faith to put together a CV and a few articles and send them around to the three major English language publications: the Prague Monitor, the Prague Post and the Czech Business Weekly. Fortunately it was CBW that decided to give me a chance. The best thing that ever happened to me uplifted my career from a freelance position to becoming the deputy editor-in-chief right before the magazine was suddenly closed in April 2010. This was my second major moment of career capital loss, as it became crystal clear that I would need to reinvent myself in order to avoid such systemic shocks in the future. Even though I made the right decision – deciding to start training leaders and future leaders in media and crisis communications – it took me nine long years to become a fully-fledged people developer with the skills, experience and career capital that now allow me to stand in my full power and embrace my new professional identity.
Your career journey doesn’t need to be so dramatic. However, one thing is certain: you will face moments at the crossroad when you won’t know which path to take. Reinventing ourselves professionally twice or even several times during a lifetime is becoming the new normal in career management. Handle your career capital – your education, network, skill development and personal branding well and you can turn any surprise life throws at you into an opportunity. Don’t handle it and each surprise can turn into potential losses. The choice is ours and there is no better time to start reflecting on our career capital management than today.
By Cristina Muntean
Cristina Muntean is a consultant, trainer, mentor and coach who specializes in personal branding, strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence for leadership. A former journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the Czech, Romanian and international media, she founded Media Education CEE, a PR advisory and training agency in Prague in May 2010. Her clients are executive level managers and entrepreneurs with Top100 companies in the Czech Republic and Central and Eastern Europe. Cristina is also an internationally certified trainer and coach with the Enneagram, a complex system of personal development, and a facilitator of systemic dynamics in organizations. She provides services in English, Czech, French and Romanian, her mother tongue. Cristina can be reached at +420 776 574 925 or at email@example.com.