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Four Secrets to Always Being Employable

J.T. O’Donnell, syndicated workplace columnist

Never before have Americans been as responsible for keeping themselves skilled and employable as they are today. I tell people to expect to have as many as nine different careers in their lifetime, with an average of three jobs in every one. In short, for those who don’t keep a focused eye on their abilities to adapt and grow with the changing workplace, a day could come when it becomes tough to find a “good job.”

How do some people always manage to be employed and on track for continued success? They follow the four secrets to staying employable.

1. Keep your definition of a “good job” reasonable.

As we progress professionally, we acquire skills and experiences that often afford us greater opportunities in terms of salary and benefits. The problem lies in making the assumption that once we are offered a larger compensation package that it becomes the starting benchmark for any job we take in the future. The result is the “golden handcuff effect” - a sense that we are held hostage by our current job because there’s no place else to go.

Smart workers know each job opportunity provides criteria that must be weighed differently against our wants and needs. Staying employable means simplifying our list and planning for the day when we won’t have the same level or type of perks. This keeps job options more plentiful and movement to new positions easier.

2. Use the “3x3x3 rule” to create and implement your own professional development strategy.

Forget about waiting for your annual review; smart workers take the review process into their own hands. Assess your professional strengths and weaknesses. Then build a game plan to leverage the first and minimize the second, you can identify how you plan to stay employable. I encourage individuals to follow the “3x3x3 rule” for skill development:

A. Choose three skills you want to enhance.
B. Identify three ways in which you could learn and grow each skill.
C. Articulate three examples of how you can demonstrate your enhanced skills in this area to your employer.

By taking professional development into your own hands, you remain focused and in control of your employability.

3. Be the “go-to” person for something employers need.

Like depositing into a retirement fund, employees use the early part of their careers to develop skills to accumulate professional wealth. Sadly, after a decade or so, some employees believe they’ve earned the right to live off of the interest accrued from their efforts. Mid-life often brings about changes in how an employee wants to allocate his or her time (ie. want more time with a spouse, family, home, hobby, etc.). Smart employees know this doesn’t have to diminish the quality of the time they put into their careers. To stay employable, focus on being the “go-to” person for a particular problem, task or technique. Building subject-matter expertise in a specific area that’s in demand within the workplace will create a personal insurance policy that ensures you’ll always be the “go-to” employee who’s in demand.

4. Create a board of advisors for your company-of-one.

Smart individuals don’t do surgery on themselves, pull their own teeth or represent themselves in legal matters. They defer to professionals who have the training and expertise that gets the best results. Smart employees do the same with their careers. In an age where employees are in essence a company-of-one -- responsible for keeping the services they deliver in demand -- doesn’t it make sense to seek the counsel from those who can help you make the best career decisions? Smart employees solicit the advice of individuals they feel approach career success in a manner they admire. Whether it’s a relative, co-worker, former manager or even a professional career coach, seeking advice from those who know more than you will give you the perspective needed to be proactive and successful at staying employable.

Career paths are full of twists and turns; they’re rarely straightforward. To avoid roadblocks, use the four secrets outlined above and you’ll be able to make course corrections that will help you stay employable.

J.T. O’Donnell, career development specialist and co-author of the nationally syndicated workplace column “J.T. & Dale Talk Jobs” distributed by King Features Syndicate.

Last Updated: 28/01/2008 - 10:59 AM