MONEY Careers

Your Career Is Your Biggest Asset. Here are 5 Ways to Protect It

Career coach and former HR exec Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers strategies for ensuring that your human capital keeps appreciating.

Your earning potential is a million-dollar asset.

The first quarter 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report puts median earnings in the US at $796 per week, which adds up to $41,392 per year, which amounts to a hair over seven figures over a 25-year career—even without any raises. Get a reasonable 3% bump every year and your career will be worth $1.6 million.

If you owned a million-dollar home, you wouldn’t let the grass get overgrown or park your cars in the lawn, since this would erode the property’s value. Similarly, you do not want to be complacent with the asset that is your career. Instead, reserve a few minutes a day or a few hours each week to focus on protecting it.

Use these five strategies to ensure your most valuable asset just keeps getting more valuable:

1. Nurture your network

Job leads are shared mainly by word-of-mouth.

But even if you’re not actively job seeking, a strong network enables you to hear about company changes, upcoming projects that you might want to be a part of (or avoid), the inside scoop on a new client, or helpful tips on how promotions, raises, and bonuses are decided.

Maintaining your network can be done in a few minutes per day.

Your action plan: Read your LinkedIn activity feed and reach out when people post news. E-mail former colleagues you don’t regularly see to catch up on summer vacation plans. Attend the occasional professional association event or conference. Or, block out specific days and times to reconnect with people —for example, scheduling at least one lunch a week with a different contact.

2. Make friends in HR

A former colleague called me in a panic one day: Layoff rumors were swirling at her company and she wanted to know how severance works without making a formal inquiry into HR. Having worked as a recruiter, I was able to tell her what she needed to know (severance information is actually openly shared with employees–check your employee handbook).

Your action plan: Get to know your HR colleagues well before you have an urgent concern. A friend in human resources can help you navigate the ever-changing benefits landscape, can explain sensitive issues like severance that you’d rather not discuss with your boss, or give you helpful insights, such as deadlines for performance reviews (these often precede when raise and bonus decisions are made so you want to know the timeline). Even HR relationships outside of your own company are helpful, as recruiters elsewhere can inform you about market trends—including what is a fair compensation for your position. Return recruiter phone calls, even if you’re not looking.

3. Manage your references

If you’re not actively looking for a job, you might think that you don’t need references. While you don’t need them in the traditional sense that a job seeker does—no one will be calling your list to vouch for you—informal references are given all the time. Recruiters may ask around to find an expert in a certain area: Will your network mention you, and therefore give you a chance to grow that recruiter relationship (see point 2)? Senior management may ask around about who would be good for an upcoming, high-profile project: Will your colleagues think of you and regard you highly enough to put your name forward? Managing your references means that you have supporters who know your value and promote you as opportunities arise.

Your action plan: Keep people informed of what you’re doing–don’t assume that even your boss knows everything you’re working on—and what is of interest to you. This way, the right opportunities will come your way.

4. Build your online profile

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with your network, your recruiters and your references.

Your action plan: Update your LinkedIn profile regularly to mention a new project or to add a new skill, since this activity is broadcast to your contacts. It’s a way of keeping people updated and staying in touch more broadly. At the same time, you will hear about others’ activities, and you can reach out individually with a congratulatory note or a helpful idea. Finally, you want your profile to be updated so that, if someone does refer you for a job or a project, the prospective employer can easily research you and see comprehensive details about you. Building your profile takes dedicated time if you’re starting from scratch, but updating it and maintaining correspondence with your contacts takes just a few minutes at a time.

5. Maintain your go-to status

Your online profile showcases you, your references think of you, recruiters flock to you, and your network promotes you… all because you are the go-to person for something. You have a set of skills, industry knowledge, specific expertise, or some combination of qualities that make you the perfect solution to a problem at hand.

Do you know what you are the go-to person for? Do you take the time to sharpen this advantage?

Your action plan: Define your unique qualities that make you marketable. And work on emphasizing your competitive advantage even more.This could mean taking advanced classes relating to your skill set, reading trade publications to stay ahead of trends in your area of expertise, or adding new skills with volunteer work or cross-departmental projects at your company.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

 

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