In the last column of 2011 and the second one of 2012, I emphasized a concept which I believed was central not only to job searching and career development, but to self-development as well: self-definition, creating an identity – solely yours – based on as many elements and dimensions as possible. The idea is to fashion yourself into someone that only you can say you are, to make yourself unique, and to give yourself a competitive advantage based on your uniqueness.
Well, it’s two years later, and now, what was a pretty good assumption has become a widely accepted fact. I believed it then; I know it now. It has become the prevailing condition of the beginning of the 21st century – and I don’t see it changing in the future. Certainly it won’t revert; it will most probably intensify. Over the decades there are natural cycles in life and work: post WWII rewarded those with vision; the sixties, rebellion and entrepreneurship; the seventies and eighties, conformity; and the nineties, enterprise. And now the 21st century demands – and will reward – self-definition. This is different from rebellion; many can rebel together. This is about being unique.
Which brings us to today’s point. You’re going to be unique by bringing added value, not different value, to an organization: “added” meaning something (or more than one thing) over and above what you already have. The job recovery that has brought back many of the jobs lost during the Great Recession (most of the private sector jobs, while government payrolls have shrunk) has taken an interesting form.
You can’t just be a nurse or a teacher or a bank manager or anything else that millions of others also can claim they are. You have to be special at it, like being bilingual or even multi-lingual, teaching a specialty, or doing specialized training and mentoring alongside your job. This involves the concept of “AND” rather than “but” or “instead of” or anything else like that.
For instance, Mike, who was laid off from his job as a shift supervisor in a manufacturing plant, has taken specific courses in metal fabrication – a new skill for him – and recently landed a new job as an assistant plant manager (a step up) at a company that does high-precision manufacturing (another step up). Mike has manufacturing experience AND shift supervision AND his new skill. AND a better job.
Kerry is a registered nurse with 15 years’ experience and a MSN degree. Three years ago, not facing layoffs but simply thinking ahead, she enrolled in business school for an MBA which she will complete in a few months. She is a nurse AND has worked in two specialties AND will now have business credentials. AND she got a job as the administrative head of a large medical practice AND will eventually go into nurse education.
Jeanne earned her degree in mechanical engineering twenty years ago and was laid off three and a half years ago when the construction sector was still taking big hits, so she enrolled in a six-course sustainability certificate program at a leading technology university. Jeanne is now an engineer AND an energy analyst AND a compliance advisor AND a strategic sourcing program manager. AND, only two courses into the certificate, she was offered – and took – a job with an engineering firm that she said “was ahead of the curve and intended to stay there.”
Mike, Kerry, and Jeanne are three people whom I have coached, so I tell you their stories first hand. I have many, many more, all of which have the word AND in them.
By the way, one of the most important “ANDs” is language. If you can say “AND I speak Spanish” or “AND I speak Korean” or “AND I speak Mandarin” or many other languages, you will, in this increasingly global and multicultural business environment, have an advantage.
So there you have it: “AND” is the word of the year. Actually it’s the word for more than this one year, but this year is as good as any to start. The key to securing your place in the job market is self-definition, creating an identity – solely yours – based on as many “ANDs” as possible.
When I first wrote about this, we were still millions of jobs behind where we were before the recession; now we’re in much better shape. The mistake you could make, though, is to be lulled into thinking that the job market is less demanding and that you can rest on your laurels.
Just the opposite, for the simple reason that, while employers figured out how to survive (well, not all of them) with 8.3 million fewer people on their payrolls (yes, that’s how many job losses we suffered during the Great Recession), they know full well that they now have to do more than survive; they must grow and they must compete in a much tougher ball game than they ever played in before. And they’ll be looking for the candidate who can help them do it: not the one-dimensional accountant or teacher or contracts administrator or anyone else; but the special, unique individual who brings something extra to the table: the word “AND.”
Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and "like" him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.