Increasing Your Career Currency

As the economic recovery begins, now is a good time to evaluate and improve your "career currency"

In the past eight months, the economy has gone from tailspin status to showing signs of recovery. The panic that has affected the corporate America, the workplace, and your own otherwise promising career progression has been swift and severe, with recent jobless claims still the highest since 1983. But the good news for you is that the prospect of better times ahead can be the impetus for a new approach to managing your career and a fresh personal development initiative: increasing what I call your "career currency."

Each of us brings a unique skill set and intrinsic value to the job marketplace. How we reaffirm our professional worth to ourselves and broadcast it externally (to colleagues, employers, and even customers) can increase our career currency and contribute heavily to our success.

Your career currency changes every hour, much like the stock market. A brilliant idea, a masterful meeting, the savvy handling of a difficult matter with a subordinate, peer, or manager, your assertiveness—all affect the index. A rewarding day of job hunting, interviews, or bringing a major project closer to fruition all move your index higher.

How you interpret career currency is highly personal. To some it may mean catapulting to senior management with lightning speed and impressive compensation, while to others it might mean gaining marketable leadership skills or even pursuing an entrepreneurial dream. Regardless of your interpretation, your value can be enhanced with a new, positive mindset. As you retool your career for a future recovery, you can capitalize on your strengths and get beyond fear of the unknown.

Deep-seated mistrust and anxiety are certainly rampant in the workplace. A national independent survey Lynn Taylor Consulting released in March revealed that workers spend nearly three hours a day worrying about their job fate. And 76% of employees have thoughts of being laid off when suddenly encountering something as benign as a boss's closed door.

You can't change the economy, but you can choose to remain unfettered and focused, taking action that advances your professional future. Here are some steps to help you regain control and increase your career currency:

The Big Picture

• Set aside some time to reflect on your career history and to plot your career road map, based on your strengths and passions. It has been said that most people expend more effort researching their next vacation than they do planning their future.

• Consider your career goals for 10 years from now, not just in terms of salary and title, but including such factors as joy on the job and lifestyle. Your career currency will follow your passion.

• Imagine that you're making a speech at your retirement party years from now. What would you wish you had accomplished? Then act upon it! If you don't limit your thinking, you won't limit the possibilities.

• Operate like a free agent; only you know what really inspires you. What projects make you want to get up in the morning, or are exciting to talk about in social settings?

• Design your career objectives based on what would bring you the greatest long-term satisfaction—without being afraid of going off-road. Your career journey could take you into unexpected but exciting territory as you gradually achieve greater "market value.&quot Today's economy still necessitates taking practical actions that will move your career forward toward your big-picture goals:

Tactical Steps

• Don't update your resume, rewrite it. If you take a completely fresh look at the career objectives that best reflect your talents and passions, your background will naturally flow from them. Moreover, when you express your most valued accomplishments at each job, you'll also attract the most suitable position for who you are and what you can contribute, boosting your career currency.

• Keep an updated list of recommendations from colleagues and professional contacts handy so you'll be ready if and when you need them. It also helps to remind you about corporate karma—being a team player and not burning bridges.

• Network…relentlessly. One constant in business is that people prefer doing business with those they know and trust. When you're face to face with others, they get to know you as a person first, and a career professional second. Who you know is an important complement to what you know.

• If you tend to be shy in social situations, use "bashful busters." Pretend you're meeting someone at the function. Commit to memory a few lighthearted icebreakers, such as: "Hi, I'm networking." "Was the chicken a safe choice?" or "Good thing for name tags, how else could we ever start a conversation?" Have your 20-second "elevator pitch" and business cards handy, but always ask how you can help the other person.

Build Value On the Job Now

• Become indispensable. Roll up your sleeves and know that your boss and colleagues are doing the same. Expand your skill set so that you can offer more to the company (an immediate way to increase your career currency).

• Align your day-to-day objectives and activities with your boss's. Your pet projects will become meaningless if they don't support management's goals. Conversely, your value to the company rises commensurately with your contributions to the bottom line.

• Explore moonlighting or freelancing if you feel your job may be threatened or believe it's a good defensive move. This will give you an inside look into the outside world before you exit. Just be sure that any extra projects you take on don't interfere in any way with the dedication or energy you put forth for your current position.

• Don't hide your light under a bushel. Some people lay low during downsizing, hoping they'll stay under the radar—and clear of layoffs. On the contrary, those who help out, work hard, volunteer, mentor others, and excel under adversity are highly regarded and remembered. Be a hero under fire.

• Be a promoter. There's a difference between being a shameless bragger and a subtle self-promoter. When you sing the praises of your company, some of the glory is inevitably reflected back on you. Consider writing for the company's e-newsletters or Intranet, professional blogs, journals, and trade publications, or speaking at local business functions.

• If your ideas are constantly being dismissed or you are not being heard, it may be time to start a serious job search. But first take this opportunity to hone your managing up skills with a difficult boss. Being a proactive problem solver and office diplomat is a lifelong, transferable skill, which is especially useful with bosses whom I call "Terrible Office Tyrants™ (TOTs)."

These are managers who "act out," particularly during stressful times. Set limits to bad behavior around you, and you'll increase your career currency. You'll be more productive, and you'll model appropriate leadership skills. (P.S. Good CEOs are not fond of TOTs, either!)

Learning hard-won lessons from tough times is helpful, as long as you don't dwell on the negative. The key is to use this downturn as an opportunity to "turn up" the possibilities. With some reflective time, positive energy and determination, you will increase your career currency as the recovery gradually takes hold.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE