When it comes to ensuring ongoing career success, the operative word is marketability.
Marketability, not talent alone, is what is separating the big winners from the big losers in today’s world of work. And along these lines, I’ve been espousing an equation for years that will likely bore the dickens out of most people, but that I’m going to share anyway — since it sums up what I’ve learned after having the chance to observe thousands of people succeeding and failing on the front lines of the modern job market. That equation is Q+S=M, which stands for:
Qualifications + Self-Promotion = Marketability
Put simply, this equation highlights the fact that qualifications alone (e.g. educational credentials, work history, job stability, etc.) are far from the only thing that determines career success. If anything, they’re only half the battle. These days, you’ve also got to have at least a modicum of self-promotional knowledge in order to enjoy a steady run of employment.
While for years I thought I was alone in observing this, one of my clients commented the other day that the large tech company where he works espouses almost the exact same concept to its employees in terms of teaching them to get ahead. He said they swear by the “PIE” equation, where Performance + Image + Exposure = Results. Kind of a cool twist on the same idea, I thought. You’ll find a very articulate fellow explaining the idea on YouTube here, if interested.
Also, I noted that another top career expert and blogger, Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist, made some similar points in a recent article here where she suggests that people should “forget about being smart” as a key chunk of career success. Her arguments are compelling, if you’ve got the time to read them.
The bottom line, however, is that self-promotion is a very real factor in career success and arguably every bit as important as talent/qualifications in getting ahead in today’s workforce. And since it’s pretty difficult to change your formal qualifications in the short-term, after all, most professionals will tend to see a greater impact in their career prospects from letting go of the “knowledge” component to a degree — and focusing, instead, on learning the ropes around how to effectively sell, market, and promote themselves.
So for what it’s worth, let me outline what I feel the “five essential core competencies” are when it comes to promoting yourself in a career context:
Self-Promotion Competency #1: Copywriting
In the old days, the only real “written” component of job hunting was your resume, which used to be nothing fancier than a typewritten list of your employment history and educational credentials. Now, given the exponentially greater competition that exists, resumes have to be infused with MUCH more creative, concise, and thoughtful copywriting to stand out from the crowd. You’ve also now got your cover letter and various social media profiles to contend with, as well. So if writing about yourself in a compelling way isn’t a natural strength of yours, either work on developing it — or arrange to have a friend, colleague, or resume-writing professional shore you up in this regard.
Self-Promotion Competency #2: Marketing
While the term “marketing” could mean a hundred different things, I suppose, the context in which I’m using the word is along the lines of “the ability to track down as many companies/contacts as possible that might know of an opportunity in your field.” A job hunter without very strong marketing instincts, for example, is likely to feel pretty lost in today’s market and will consistently find themselves running out of “fuel” in terms of new places and people to approach for leads. A savvy marketeer, on the other hand, will be awash in referrals — and will always seem to have a fresh list of suitable employer names to contact about possibilities.
Self-Promotion Competency #3: Networking
This one was a no-brainer. Given the huge role that relationships play in career success today, networking definitely had to make the “top 5” list of self-promotional competencies. The most successful professionals I know today, across all fields, are those who treat relationship-building as a top priority and who make a point to communicate regularly with their trusted advocates. They don’t just “schmooze” here and there, erratically. They act as connectors. They help other people as much as possible. And they almost always use some type of CRM or formal tracking system to organize their “social capital” so that they never lose sight of who they know — and what these people care about.
Self-Promotion Competency #4: Interviewing
This is largely the “forgotten” skill set of self-promotion. A great many people I meet seem to act as if job hunting is all about doing what it takes to LAND the interview — and that once this has taken place, nature will just sort of take its course and they’ll hopefully get lucky enough to close an offer or two. If you’ve really seen an “ace” interviewer in action, however, you’ll realize that the bar might be higher than you realize. Some candidates are so incredibly well-practiced at interviewing, they can nab just about any possible offer that dangles in front them. They’re not only masters at preparing and strategizing before the interview to give themselves an advantage, but once on stage, they know how to create rapport, ask questions, build value, and make the person across the desk fall hopelessly in love with them — professionally speaking, of course.
Self-Promotion Competency #5: Personal Branding
Last but not least, there is the loose grab bag of activities that has come to be known as “personal branding” among many circles. This competency refers to one’s ability to create the reputation they want for themselves “on purpose” and become known as a recognized expert in their own individual right — not simply based on their current job title and place of employment.
How do these folks do this? Typically they come up with a unique point-of-view about their field, differentiating them from their competition, than they aggressively promote this expertise out to the community via blogging, tweeting, public speaking, and other methods that will boost their name recognition. So while this fifth competency may not be a mandatory requirement for each and every professional in the market, those with the ambition to become managers, executives, or successful consultants will want to concentrate on this area of self-promotion in a big way.
So there you have it. An explanation of what truly sets candidates apart from each other today in terms of marketability — and a road map, possibly, for figuring out where YOU might best devote some time to improving your career prospects.
And the best news of all? Nobody is born with these skills — therefore any individual professional, even the most introverted accountant or engineer, can pick up these required competencies if they recognize their importance and commit to a little focused effort. The goal isn’t to become a world-class sales and marketing professional, after all. It’s merely to become just a little bit better at selling yourself than your peers. Ultimately, that’s what makes all the difference.