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Are you just doing your job? Or developing your career?

Let’s try an experiment. For a moment, let’s remove the following sections from your resume: summary, skills/expertise, selected accomplishments, work history, education (degrees) and community involvement. Now, how strong is your resume?

Yeah, I know: You, like most people reading this, are now looking at a blank piece of paper and are wondering when, exactly, I fell off my rocker with that question.

Or you are one of the much smaller numbers of readers who still have a lot of substance on your resume and are not at all looking at that blank piece of paper. You know precisely what I’m talking about.

I’m talking, of course, about what you’re doing to keep growing as a professional and keep moving forward in your career: continuing professional development and professional, social, and civic affiliations.

If this may not seem like the greatest of revelations, why then does it seem to have escaped so many and appeared among the celestial spheres to so few?

What got me onto this issue (even though I’ve written about it before — more than once, in fact) is the purely coincidental happenstance of six particular clients visiting my office on three consecutive days a couple of weeks ago. With three of them, their current situations are favorable and their career trajectories are strong; with the other three, well, it’s trouble in River City. And, of course, among the six, there was a perfect correlation.

On the resumes of the first three, there were professional development entries like certificates, workshops, courses, attendance at (even speaking at) professional conferences; and membership in industry, occupational and alumni associations. The other three had nothing of the sort.

OK, but six samples does not a study make, so I decided to dig a little deeper, although I knew from the very outset exactly what I’d find.

I went back and examined the resumes of 50 clients whom I had seen for the first time sometime during this calendar year. I sorted them into two groups: group No. 1 consisted of 25 whose careers and current job situations were in good shape; group No. 2 was made up of 25 who were in career distress.

Methodologically, I established three qualifications. First, the clients I studied had to have been in the workforce for 10 or more years so that there could be a measurable (or, at least, assessable) career path. Second, I excluded clients who had worked with me before, as that tends to improve things, and I wanted that factor out of the equation. And third, I included only clients in the private sector, as public sector rules of engagement are markedly different.

Like I said, I knew what I’d find, but when I found it, it was even clearer and more powerful than I thought it would be. On the resumes of the first group appeared 185 listings of professional development and affiliations, an eye-opening average of 7.4 per person. On the resumes of the other 25, there were a grand total of 15 — a paltry average of 0.6 per person.

This number gets even worse when you find that four of this group’s people had two each. They, as it turned out, were outliers, such as it is; the remaining 21 were virtually inactive.

Now, before you start in with this not being a scientific study — and I know full well it’s not — I don’t care. It’s as good an anecdotal argument as you’re going to get, and I’m certain it would hold up no matter how large the sample and no matter how the sample would be chosen.

Not only would this prove to be a statistical correlation, I’m willing to say that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship here, with the interesting twist that either could be the cause or the effect. In other words, does participation in these things lead to a successful career? Or does someone who is success-oriented then go on to do these things?

It doesn’t matter, actually. This walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck. It’s a duck, for God’s sake!

A commitment to personal growth brings many advantages. It widens your scope and awareness by exposing you to advanced content (coursework, etc.), newsletters and blogs, and leading professionals. It provides ongoing improvement (a remarkable grasp of the obvious, no?). And, if you haven’t arrived at this conclusion yet, it’s the best application of networking you’ll ever engage in.

So, are you doing your job? Or developing your career?

Career coach and corporate adviser Eli Amdur has been authoring his weekly “Career Coach” column since 2003 and is the author of his acclaimed career advice book “It’s Not So Far From Here to There: The thinking person’s guide to well-managed career.” Adjunct professor of two graduate-level leadership courses at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, he also is active on the speaker circuit, delivering presentations on today’s critical employment and leadership issues. Visit his website at www.amdurcoaching.com.

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