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The Johns Hopkins Business School

Get a Jump on Boosting Your Career


The state of working in America is abysmal for just about everyone. Complaints drown out positive stories. Most workers are dissatisfied about some aspect of their jobs. Owners are unhappy, management is unhappy and labor forces are unhappy. Those who remain without work—-7.75%, still high but down from 10% in 2008—-are the unhappiest of all.

Why so much unhappiness? Those lucky enough to have a job are working longer hours for less pay and, in many cases, with no job security. That’s old news to many yet at a time when technology should be transforming the workplace, making us more efficient and productive, as well as creating new jobs that can lead to better careers for so many, we are faced with nothing less than an employment crisis.

Should work make us happy? Freud might have argued in part yes, but I would qualify that. Work should bring us some form of satisfaction yet a job alone, no matter how exciting and lucrative, should not be responsible for our overall happiness. Family, friends, and what we do in our off hours should contribute to our sense of self worth. Still, our jobs should not be making us unhappy and, in extreme cases, sick. Unfortunately, that’s what we are seeing in so many industries. People are unemployed, underemployed or over-employed (those working multiple jobs and still not able to make ends meet). Change is needed but how to make those changes?

2014 is a new year and with a new year come new opportunities. There are reasons to be hopeful, even excited about the opportunities to come. So make that New Year’s resolution to do something about your job situation, whatever that might be.

Control Yourself

Collective thinking may be saying that the outlook for business is poor. Stop looking at the overall picture. Control what you can: your own situation. You don’t need the economy to be “good”, you need ONE opportunity. In fact some believe there are more opportunities for those just starting out in so-called “bad times” than in economic booms. Thinking as an individual is also going to be one of the foundations of the new economy so why not start by focusing on yourself?

Avoid the naysayers. Discontent breeds more discontent.
Vow to make five new contacts each month whether on LinkedIn or by attending a meeting or lecture.
Change habits, even seemingly harmless ones.

What's ImportantWhat’s Important

Finding out what’s important is the basis for your value system. Again, don’t let others dictate what you find important. Value systems don’t start with what others see in us, but with what we see in ourselves. What you really want in life is a hard question to answer but if you can identify what you need to lead a happy, productive life, you can begin to see how your job fits into that vision.

People who explicitly stand for something, whether the quietly brilliant characteristics such as integrity, honesty, or compassion, have advantages in the business world. Those traits inspire others. When your personal value system extends to your job, your career decisions will be made for you.

List three things you can’t live without.
List three things you could live without.
What business person/s do you admire and why?
Tune out. Most people who say they can’t decide what they want are simply distracted or entranced by their daily routine. Set aside time to do nothing but think about yourself.

The Challenge

The world is a much different place than it was ten, even five years ago. The technological revolution is doing what it should be doing: changing everything. Tasks that were once a full time job are now done in a millisecond. Entire industries are faltering, failing, or being completely reinvented in order to survive.

Education is the single most powerful tool in this new environment. What type of education someone needs today is less likely to be as simple as a degree. It more than likely may mean the learning of various skills separately while then taking those skills and assembling them together to create a unique resource within yourself that gives you tremendous value.

We see this over and over again in the computer sciences. The pace of change in that industry has much to do with it becoming a necessary way of working for many who learn all aspects of one discipline only to put it together with a secondary set of skills which in turn create an entirely new and productive worker.

Take a course, in a classroom or online, that will give you a new needed skill.
Again, read, read, read, whether magazines or books that add to your knowledge.
Stop thinking of math and science as…well, math and science. It’s not. It’s creative and flexible too.
Learn Microsoft Office software. If you already know it then learn Quickbooks or Salesforce. If you know those learn HTML. No I am not kidding.

Be the Mother of Invention

Once you have gained this new knowledge, find ways to put it to use. Have you ever been at work and wondered why there wasn’t a person you could call who could perform a specific task or handle a certain part of a job? Maybe that person is now you. Do you work in a job where waste and inefficiency are a problem? Define the problem and solve it, then bring that information to your supervisor. Do you work in a real estate development office and find people who would pay a consulting fee to get direction when dealing with all of the paperwork? You get the idea.

Invent solutions, answers, and even new ways to see old problems. Do not be shy about presenting your ideas and you may be surprised at your employer’s reaction.

If you are like many Americans you are facing part time work offers. My advice is to see this as a way to start your own business. Work those hours and then see if it translates to something else you can do on your own. Many times we have to piece together a living while we are building our careers so take advantage of part time employment.

List five things you could change about your job given the opportunity.
Practice presenting your ideas to your supervisor.
Treat everything as a trial and error process. In the new world they sometimes call this iteration.

Creative Thinking2Different Thinking

The best way to think differently is to doubt yourself. Approach the same material as if your past thinking was wrong. If you start to question things in a logical progression, you may find new ideas.

This way of thinking is so important in the new world economy that top schools are devoting millions in funding and resources to it. Take the now prestigious d-school at Stanford University also known as The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Launched in 2005 with no affiliation to any department, the program offers no degrees, yet could fill three times as many seats as there are openings.

The Johns Hopkins Business School and the Maryland Institute College of Art also have created “Design Leadership” courses that along with the d school are quickly becoming popular among recruiters from companies like Google, Nike, and JetBlue.

There is no one way to describe all of these programs and how they work but a glimpse at the d school shows people literally being trained to “reinvent” or re-think things they already know. This could include observing the checkout process in a supermarket, or attempting to discover new procedures for applying paint to an automobile. Students are asked to perform exercises based in evolving a hybrid talent of business and design skills. What this means for those of you unable to attend these classes is that a trickle down effect will shape the rest of the workforce until everyone is expected to think in a more adaptable manner.

Take just one routine task you perform each day and find another way to do it.
Study something profoundly. Headlights. Lipstick. A door hinge. Pretend you were asked to redesign it.
Guess more. Guess using information you have and then compare your guess to the actual solution. Smart guessing is a skill.
Find people who challenge you. You don’t have to agree with them, just hear them out, let them make you a little uncomfortable. It’s good for you.

The next few weeks can be a time of reflection but should also be a time of action. Many of the best traits in the new economy are not primary characteristics of past workers. People now have to work with less on the job training, but are expected to have the skills and training at the interview.

My advice is that if the corporate world wants the workforce to be responsible for their own training, then go one better – own it. If you own that skill not just from the expertise point of view but from the idea that you are now such a particular expert that you deserve high compensation and consideration then slowly every person will be their own best agent for their personal independent contracting. Even as an employee you may see benefits as the leverage you bring to salary negotiations alone can only enhance your standing. If your employer knows that you just might go out there and make a go of it alone they might give you the extra vacation weeks or the best parking space.

And as for those of you that may give more serious thought to taking that entrepreneurial spirit out there on your own, the near future may be something to keep your eye on.

Jason Veduccio, founder of In1Concepts, works with companies on marketing, technology, hiring, and workplace issues. He welcomes your questions and can be reached at jason@in1concepts.com.