Business as Usual: Dealing With Uncertainty

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by Helene Cavalli, guest blogger

Lots of freshly minted college graduates are preparing to embark on new careers. Unfortunately, labor market reports aren’t rosy. While the recession ended last year, the economy is only halfhearted in its recovery.

Considerable uncertainty is making for a very bumpy ride.

So while companies continue to hold the reins on hiring, choosing to reserve cash and only selectively adding to their workforce, new graduates are vying for fewer opportunities.

For many, jobs in chosen fields will be difficult to come by. And for those who do land jobs, a large majority isn’t particularly confident that their hard work will translate into more money and better career opportunities.

According to Inspiring Talent, a global survey of employee attitudes, “Thirty-eight percent of older workers (ages 56 to 60) said they believe they will always be recognized and rewarded if they work harder or take extra responsibility; only 19 percent of Gen Y workers (ages 18 to 25) feel the same way.”

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Based on the results of this study, Gen Y workers are a very disillusioned bunch. And they’ve only just gotten started. Why the bad attitude?

Expectations and reality are colliding.

I remember being approached by a 20-something woman who had been hired just six months earlier. She asked, “What’s a girl need to do to get ahead around here?”

Seriously?

She had a mere six months experience under her belt. Wasn’t it a bit soon to be angling for a more senior level role? Had she done all she could within her current job? Did she really think it could be so quick and easy to climb the corporate ladder? It’s not. But there seems to be a perception that it’s much easier than it actually is.

Proving yourself within a company isn’t a short-term project. It takes hard work and a meaningful list of demonstrated accomplishments – in areas that are important to your boss and your company.

Doing a job exceptionally well can land you in the high performer category as a “star”. High performers are essential to the success of companies and are valued as key contributors. But high performance isn’t necessarily the differentiator that opens the doors to new opportunities. Outstanding work is expected and needed to survive – it’s table stakes and what keeps us in the game. If you believe your technical skills, alone, will help you achieve the recognition and reward you seek, this is anything but certain.

If hard work isn’t the differentiator that puts you on the fast track to career success, what is? How do you make it onto the “high potential” short list – those individuals the company invests in, envisions as the company’s future and promotes? Remember, companies have a vested interest in identifying high potentials. The success of the organization rests with these individuals.

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There are three key attributes usually found in high potentials:

Ability: Intellectual, technical and emotional skills to handle increasingly complex challenges
Engagement: Personal connection and commitment to the job, the firm and its mission
Aspiration: Desire for recognition, advancement and future rewards

Are you positioning yourself as a high potential? Consider…

Can you talk about your accomplishments in a way that demonstrates not just technical ability, but traits such as versatility, change tolerance, strategic thinking, sound judgment, collaboration, conflict resolution and accountability?

Are you putting in discretionary effort – going above and beyond because of your high level of engagement and commitment?

Have you had a career discussion with your manager to chart a career path that aligns with your abilities and goals with the needs of the organization?

As part of your career management strategy, make it a habit to develop new accomplishment statements when you complete projects or assignments. Use these questions to help develop strong statements that position you as a high potential employee:

  • What problem did you address?
  • What action did you take to address the problem?
  • What were the results in quantifiable terms?
  • What skills did you use to accomplish these results?

The path forward is never certain. It may take some strange twists and turns, rarely a straight upward trajectory. And the path is certainly never easy. But enjoy the ride. There’s much to learn along the way.

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Helene Cavalli is a marketing professional for a management consulting firm. She studied Liberal Arts and wanted to be a sociologist. Helene loves foreign films, living in Philadelphia and taking her dog to the park. Follow Helene on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn .

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