“Going forward, post-COVID, adaptability may be our greatest asset.” (Washington Post, May 2020)
Forget about tips and strategies – for real career resilience, really get to know yourself.
Don’t ask Dr Heather Carpenter for those tips and strategies so typical of career websites – she says ‘superficial advice will not do. There’s a deeper level required for surviving well, if you really want to stay resilient in the 21st century environment, be prepared to do some powerful thinking.’
Much of traditional career advice can be one-dimensional – involving lists of how to behave, look, interview, write a CV; but these neglect the reality that first and foremost, a career is the vehicle of the self – part of our identity, and we need to keep our career identity strong and secure, especially when we are out of work or in transition between jobs. One way to do this is to be fully in touch and up to date with our current skills, abilities and strengths.
Here’s an example of what can happen to those in transition.
Enduring career capital
Kathy sat in front of me, 35 years old with a successful work history as a highly competent IT systems manager. She was five weeks into her redundancy. “I don’t know what I can do”, she said, “I’m starting to believe I can’t do anything.”
No surprise. Those of us that work in the careers field are used to a phenomenon that happens very quickly in the unemployment process – after about 6 weeks even the most competent people begin questioning their abilities and skills, and steadily lose their career confidence. They associate their skills with their workplace – which is where they demonstrate them – but not with themselves. When we are not demonstrating skills, we feel like we don’t have them, but they haven’t gone anywhere. The same loss of confidence can affect those who take time out to raise small children. Six weeks at home with a new baby and many feel they have lost forever the career identity of a competent capable worker. The truly resilient person, the one that can cope best with the unpredictable, workplace of the 21st century, and the life changes that are demanded of us, is the one who can maintain this clear accurate sense of identity. How do they do this?
- they take the time to really know what they can do,
- they have self belief that they will still be able to do it when they need to.
- they can describe their career assets fully, and at the appropriate level
- they understand what makes up their enduring career capital and how to maintain it
All this strengthens their confidence and self belief when it is needed most. Here is how it works. The way you see yourself and perceive your work experiences makes a huge difference to your self-belief, which impacts on your career confidence, which impacts on your career progress. There is a positive cycle at work: the ability to articulate your skills in a confident manner gives feedback to yourself that you have these skills.
In other words your perception is guided by the accuracy of the self knowledge you have and so the time you take to really think about this pays dividends.
Knowing what you have to offer
It is critical that you know – and can describe – what you have to offer in the workplace. Many people only think about this when they need to state their skills in a CV, but in fact the ability to know our skills has a huge impact on how we see ourselves, and how we represent ourselves to others. It’s not enough to just be able to list them. You need to do some deeper thinking than that. Identifying your skills, your strengths and your real career assets, and knowing exactly how and when you demonstrate them is important for a number of reasons.
- Your self-belief is enhanced; your view of yourself is up to date
- You gain a bigger picture of your competence
- You increase your capacity for adaptability
When I checked over Kathy’s CV, it told me she had ‘excellent communication skills.’ This gave no indication of her real level of skills which were advanced: they included complex collaboration, negotiation, synthesis and leadership skills.
Even people who have undertaken sophisticated skills feedback processes or won awards don’t necessarily believe they have skills: their internal reality, their self-belief and self-knowledge is not up to date or in harmony with the external reality that others can see demonstrated. An extreme version of this phenomenon is the ‘impostor syndrome’, first identified some years ago. It was originally seen mostly in women, but has found its way into male thinking as well. Essentially, this is where people are convinced that regardless of how successful they are, and how competent they have been shown to be in their jobs, they are actually frauds – they don’t deserve the success they have achieved, and somehow they have managed to fool people into thinking they are more able than they actually are.
This lack of inner and outer harmony can also happen when we drop out of the workforce for various reasons – to raise children, or because jobs are lost; but also when our knowledge and experience leads to respect from others which we are not sure how we earned!
When we recognise, reflect on and name the skills we are developing and improving, as we do so, we gain a very real understanding of our abilities. This process of self-assessment and reflection does not come naturally to all of us, but it is an integral part of genuine self-knowledge, and to be good at it, you need to keep practising it. It is this process that brings clarity of self-knowledge about our real assets and abilities and ongoing career confidence.
Your value is in your self, not your previous job titles
You understand then that your value is in your self, not your previous or current job title. So you need to describe yourself accordingly- by your inherent skills, your real assets, not your job title. And the skills don’t disappear when your job title does, they transfer, change and adapt.
An important piece of knowledge to have on hand is your greatest strength – the key asset that you have to offer an employer. Can you identify this? You may be talking about a skill, an attribute, or a mixture of the two. Whatever it was when you were working, it has not disappeared! Write it down. Reflect on it. Diagram how you exhibit it. Think about how you might enhance this asset even when you are not in a workplace. Or develop a new one. Fill a page with this information. Then read it regularly, and you will have insights into other assets, skills and strengths. So write these down too, add them to the diagram. On every page remind yourself- I still have these – they have depth and represent my competence. They haven’t gone anywhere! These are my career assets. I can expand and enhance these -even if I am not in work.
Real career understandings inspire powerful thoughts – insights that bring about change or keep you positive and accurate about yourself. These thoughts come from your inner self, the part of you that aspires, dreams and wants a better future. These thoughts are the ones you should spend time on because they will keep you strong and resilient in difficult times.
Dr Heather Carpenter – ‘Your 21st Century Career –new paths to personal success.’ New Holland Publishers 2010 (July)
Dr Heather Carpenter is a New Zealand-based career and education consultant and holds a PhD in Career Management. Her work involves writing, creating tools and resources for career practitioners and advisors, developing and working in tertiary work- based learning programmes.