One area that executives habitually underestimate when considering their next career move is their soft skills. So say Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, authors of the new book, The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.
Soft skills, according to Hoffman and Casnocha, are those things you cannot trade directly for money. They are the intangible contributors to career success: the knowledge and information in your brain; professional connections and the trust you’ve built up with them; skills you’ve mastered; your reputation and personal brand; your strengths (things that come easily to you). In contrast, hard assets are what you typically list on a balance sheet: the cash in your wallet, the stocks you own, physical possessions.
Tweaking your asset mix
A competitive edge in merges when you combine different skills, experiences and connections. It’s this intersection that you can use to craft your own unique selling proposition. Your asset mix is not fixed. You can strengthen it by investing in yourself. If you think you lack certain assets that would make you more competitive, don’t use that as an excuse. Start developing them.
With this kind of attitude under your belt, you need never be at a disadvantage. If times change, technology advances and you find yourself behind the curve, it’s up to you to invest in yourself to grow your skills.
The death of corporate training
In years past, companies would take on this role, providing you with the training you needed to hone your skills and get work done on their behalf. Over the last 20 years that has almost completely disappeared; it is now up to the employee to be in charge of professional development, according to the authors:
“With the death of traditional career paths, so goes the kind of traditional professional development previous generations enjoyed. You can no longer count on employer-sponsored training to enhance your communication skills or expand your technical know-how. The expectation for even junior employees is that you can do the job you’ve been hired to do upon arrival or that you’ll learn so quickly you’ll be up to speed within weeks.
“Whether you want to learn a new skill or simply be better at the job you were hired to do, it’s now your job to train and invest in yourself. Companies don’t want to invest in you, in part because you’re not likely to commit years and years of your life to working there—you will have many different jobs in your lifetime.
“There used to be a long-term pact between employee and employer that guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for lifelong loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both sides. Professional loyalty now flows “horizontally” to and from your network rather than ‘vertically’ to your boss.”
Cultivating an effective network
Not surprisingly, one of the most important soft skills you can focus upon is to cultivate an effective network of contacts – both as a source of potential jobs, as well as for knowledge and advice. No matter how talented you are or how bright your prospects may be, you can no longer go it alone. You need other people to help you advance in your career.
Acquaintances in your professional network can connect you with people and companies, help you understand and address your shortcomings, recommend companies that have cultures that would be a good fit with your personality and alert you to new articles, news and other developments from your target companies. In short, if they have a clear picture of what you’re looking for, they can do a better job of helping you.
Hoffman and Casnocha compare your professional network to a network of sensors, each providing you with discreet bits of data on an ongoing basis. Viewed in isolation, the data from one sensor is next to useless. But when synthesized with the data from multiple sensors in different locations, you can get a more complete picture of what’s going on. The same goes with planning your career trajectory:
So what’s your plan? What areas do you need to develop? Determine what they are and develop a plan for learning the skills you need, and cultivate relationships with people who can help you to get there. Good luck!