By Peter Weddle
The movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, earned quick kudos for its observations of middle school and the lessons it teaches adolescents about life there and thereafter. Its wisdom, however, is not confined to pre-high school hallways. The story has something to offer to those of us who are trying to survive another hostile and seemingly incomprehensible setting – the job market.
While the wimpy kid faces cafeteria bullies and hallway brickbats, the wimpy job seeker is confronted with indifferent employers and recruiters and unanswered applications. The experiences are vastly different, but the net result is exactly the same. Both the adolescent and the adult feel as if the're being shoved around by forces they cannot control and humbled if not humiliated by their inability to defend themselves.
You'll have to see the movie to find out how the wimpy kid deals with his situation. However, for the wimpy job seekers among us – and in today's job market we all qualify to some extent for that label – the following game plan will help to provide some relief.
First, you have to think back to what your mother or father taught you about dealing with bullies. You can't run away or hide from them. The only way to deal with bullies is to face them down. Or to put it another way, you have to acquire the physical and mental strength to stand up for yourself.
How do you acquire such fortitude in today's job market? You learn and then use the principles and practices of "career fitness." Like physical fitness, it’s based on two simple but powerful ideas:
- You are responsible for the health of your career, not your employer, your boss or anyone else.
- You have to work on building up the fitness of your career every single day, not after your job search is over.
To put it bluntly, if you’re professionally flabby or a 90 pound weakling in your field, your workplace recess (or what we adults call unemployment) will continue to be torture. On the other hand, if you stick up for yourself and correct your wimpiness, you will unleash the exceptional person you have the potential to be.
The Best Way to Correct Wimpiness
Luckily, a wimpy career is not an irresolvable condition. It can be corrected. As I describe in my book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, what’s required is the daily use of a "career fitness regimen." It covers all seven facets of a healthy career and ensures that you’ll have the occupational credentials, stature and outlook for success, even in the face of a bully-like job market.
Here's a brief description of the regimen. Each of its "exercises" has four different "steps" or activities you can perform to strengthen and tone your career. The regimen specifies how to do them and, equally as important, how often, so that you maximize the benefit you receive from your effort.
I. Pump Up Your Cardiovascular System The heart of your career is your occupational expertise, not your knowledge of some employer's standard operating procedures. The pace of change, however, makes fifty percent of that expertise obsolete every twelve months. So, keep yourself relevant and respected by constantly updating and enriching your expertise.
II. Strengthen Your Circulatory System The circulatory system of your career is your network of contacts. The wider and deeper they are, the more visible and highly regarded you are likely to be in the workplace. To achieve that recognition, however, you have to netWORK, not net-get-around-to-it-whenever-it's-convenient. In other words, make networking an integral part of your business (and job searching) day.
III. Develop All of Your Muscle Groups The greater your versatility in contributing your expertise at work, the broader the array of situations and assignments in which you can be employed. So, add ancillary skills (e.g., a second language, knowledge of advanced technology) that will expand where and how your core capabilities can be applied in the workplace.
IV. Increase Your Flexibility & Range of Motion These days, career progress is not always a straight line, nor does it always look as it has in the past or stay the same for very long. So, learn the skills that will enable you to cope with and adapt to changing requirements and circumstances. They will multiply your employment opportunities and strengthen your perceived value among employers.
V. Work With Winners Successful organizations and coworkers aid and abet your ability to accomplish your career goals, while unsupportive organizations and less capable peers diminish it. Therefore, be as selective of the employers for which you will work as they are of the workers to whom they will offer a job.
VI. Stretch Your Soul A healthy career not only serves you, it serves others, as well. Look for ways to contribute your expertise to your community, your country or our planet. There's obviously nothing wrong with offering a strong back or financial support, but you make your greatest gift when you share your talent – your capacity for excellence – with others.
VII. Pace Yourself A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need to do your best work every day you are on-the-job. Relearn the skills of planning for and actually experiencing leisure (e.g., turn off your Blackberry when you're lying on the beach) and focus on enjoying yourself and those around you.
There's much more to the Career Fitness regimen, but this brief summary provides an outline of what it takes to correct wimpiness. As with a physical fitness program, you'll need a bit of courage to get started and a bit of determination to stick with it, but if you do, you'll see an amazing transformation in yourself. The job seeker who used to get pushed around in the job market will be replaced by a hardy individual with the strength, reach and endurance to succeed.
Peter Weddle is a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and National Business employment Weekly. He is the author or editor of over two dozen books, including Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System and The Career Activist Republic. For more information, please visit www.Weddles.com.
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