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5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You Want to be a "Career Untouchable"

Off_limits_final I've always said there's no such thing as job security. Whether we realize it or not, most of us are essentially independent contractors, working at the whim of our customers, assured of employment only as long as we are able to add value in some way.

This weekend I started thinking about ways to become a "career untouchable."  That is, how do we position ourselves so that we are always providing value to our customers, whether they are an employer or some other kind of customer. I came up with 5 key questions that I think we need to ask ourselves and be able to answer yes to:

1. Am I doing work that I'm passionate about?

Usually this is the work we tend to throw ourselves into and that passion shows. People who are intrinsically motivated tend to far out-perform those who are motivated by external things, such as pay.

2. Am I doing work that plays to my strengths

There's the stuff that we can do, but it's not a strength, and then there's the stuff that we're REALLY good at. We are most likely to be adding value when we're doing work that plays to the things we're strongest in, rather than when we're doing work that isn't where our talents lie. Knowing what we're good at and building our skills to capitalize on those strengths will take us further than building a career on skills that we struggle to develop and maintain. Now Discover Your Strengths is a great resource for doing this.

3. Does my work involve one or more of Dan Pink's six key competencies?

Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, argues that we've left the Information Age and moved into the Conceptual Age where the key to adding value is by utilizing 6 "right brain" competencies:

  • Design – Design--creating simple, elegant ways of doing things--is difficult to outsource or automate.
  • Story – The ability to construct a compelling narrative
  • Symphony – Seeing relationships between diverse and seemingly separate elements.
  • Empathy – The ability to truly understand where another person is coming from.
  • Play – Good salary and benefits are not enough to keep a team working with you. They must be able to enjoy and have fun at their work.
  • Meaning – Understanding and embracing that people are spiritual beings and when we help people find meaning we are adding value in ways that machines cannot.

(NOTE--You can download a great mindmap of Dan's book here)

4. Am I continually monitoring trends in my field and upgrading my skills to be ahead of the curve?

So many industries and occupations are being transformed by new technologies and new structures. These trends require us to adapt and acquire new skills. If we aren't on top of these trends and doing what we can to develop ourselves, we could easily be left behind. That's why we need to develop a PLE.

5. Have I set up a passive online marketing plan that includes an online portfolio and active management of my reputation
so that I'm communicating a positive personal brand?

To be a career untouchable, we need to keep our options open, both within our organizations and outside of them. We need to be aware of and communicating about our passions, our strengths, the ways we want to develop and add value. Tools like online portfolios, blogs and social networking profiles, (such as on LinkedIn) can help us keep our networks active and our talents out there. They help us establish our personal brands and maintain a positive professional reputation.

Answering yes to these questions suggests that you've positioned yourself well for your future. If you answer "no" to one or more of these, I think it might be time to do some career fine-tuning.

What do you think about these questions? Can you think of others we need to ask in order to make ourselves "untouchable"?


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These are great questions.

I'm not sure we can ever be untouchable, but certainly if you follow this advice then it puts you above the norm.

Kia ora Michele!

With such a broad topic, and the way you have swept the scene, it is difficult to reply in general terms. So I will home in on one or two particular aspects - 'empathy'/'symphony'.

Truly "understanding where another person is coming from" is a gift that can be honed in the way that one who has a talent at sprinting can improve that, or one who has a gift of music can become an accomplished musician.

Empathy is like a sixth sense. It cannot be simply learnt, though it can be improved. Most people who exhibit homophily are able to improve the skills that optimise this quality. To assume that anyone can rise to the level of the 'empath' is denying that this quality is a gift and cannot be learnt.

As with Asperger syndrome and other autisms, improving symptom and function for someone who has little empathetic qualities can be done through training up to a certain level. But it consists of a set of learned responses rather than a true empathy.

Similarly with Symphony. This is a gift that may be improvable, though not a skill that's can be easily acquired if it does not exist already in some substantial way. Much of symphony which appears to be acquired by those who do not have this quality is done through learning defined patterns and connections. But training of this description does not impart the ability to see connections where none has been seen or recognised before - the penetration and insight that is so much the gift of true insight cannot be learnt.

In short, many of the competencies in this 3rd category are like those. I'm afraid my baloney detector starts to kick in when I listen to advice on how people can improve these gift qualities. 'Meaning' is another - I won't elaborate.

Ka kite

Hi Ken--I really encourage you to read Pink's book. I think he makes a pretty good case for suggesting that it's possible to develop greater skill in empathy and symphony, although certainly attaining those skills is easier if you have some talent in those areas.

As for "meaning," the point there is that if we are doing work that helps us help others to create meaning, then we are adding value. It's the skill that many of us exhibit in writing our blogs--we're helping people to see meaning in things and to get a sense of fulfillment. That's not something that can be done by a machine or easily outsourced.

I agree with Tony in that I'm not sure anyone can ever be untouchable, (though it's a nice goal to strive toward!) but I think these are great questions to remind ourselves of so that we can continuously grow and enhance our skills as employees. I especially think #4 is important. It's quite easy to get comfortable in your role and overlook changes taking place, but with the rate of innovation in technology and change today continuous upgrading of skills is imperative.

Tēnā koe Michele,

I reiterate, empathy, as is symphony, is "a gift that may be improvable, though not a skill that's can be easily acquired if it does not exist already in some substantial way".

You say "certainly attaining those skills is easier if you have some talent in those areas".

At the risk of entering into further discussion, I think we are saying the same thing here.

Ka kite

I am not sure about using the word "untouchable". To me it refers to the indian lowest cast: people the brahmins don't want to touch...but the advices are great.
Thank you

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