One of the worst things that can happen to you career-wise is for your employer (or potential employers) to see you as interchangable with other people with the same skill set. If they think that they can get more where you came from, then they are not valuing you as an employee. If your employer does not see you as unique, as someone who brings a value-add skill set to the table, then you will stall out at your organization. Not only that, when you seek other employment after you’ve stalled out, you will not have an easy time getting a new job that pays as well as the last one or that has the potential to take you to the next level. When people think that an accountant is an accountant is an accountant, then why would they choose you over anyone else? What is it about you that makes your boss concerned about keeping you, nurturing you and developing you? What is it about you that makes your resume stand out from the other 300 that the recruiter is looking through?
Of course you know that you are unique and special. Think about how that is obvious to people who don’t know you well, though. What is it about your resume or your experience or your skill set that makes you stand out? If you don’t have a level of expertise or a special skill set that is obvious on paper and at the first meeting with you, then you risk being a commodity. And that is not a place you want to be in this job market. In this day of downsizing and outsourcing, you want it to be a no-brainer for the decision makers to keep you, regardless of the other decisions that they are making.
How Can You Tell?
Go online. Look at the resumes of people who do what you do. Notice the ones that stand out. What is it that makes them stand out. Imagine that you are looking to replace you in your job. Who would you select from among the hundreds of similar resumes? Why? What makes the ones who stand out more interesting, more attractive, more valuable? How do you stack up against those people?
Now, look at the job descriptions from employers of people in the job that you do. What are they looking for? Is there any subset of skills or additional abilities that they are consistently asking for? What are the things that are listed in the “preferred” skill/education list? Can you tell if they are looking for someone who is ‘good enough’ or someone who is extraordinary? For those who are looking for someone who is extraordinary, how do you stack up against those job descriptions? Would you hire you based on your current resume and skill set for those jobs?
Within your own organization, are there people who do what you do who stand out more than you do? Why? What do they have that you don’t have? This is not the time to say, “He has a degree from Harvard, and I’ll never have one, so it is hopeless.” If he has a degree from Harvard, is that really why he stands out? Or is it how he acts, who he talks to or the work that he does?
If you are a commondity–a one-size-fits-all-employee–then you may continue to be employed (if you can figure out how to stand out among the hundreds of other equivalent one-size-fits-all-employees enough to get hired in the first place), but you will not have much of an upwardly bound career.
So What Do You Do?
Based on your observations of the resumes and job descriptions that you looked at, what is it you need to stand out? Do you need more education or certifications? Do you need more/different skills? Is there something that you can do, like get Six Sigma or PMI certified for instance, that makes you a two-fer? You are qualified at human resources or accounting or engineering, but you can also help with projects or re-engineering? Can you take it to the next level through some kind of specialized experience? Don’t underestimate the power of volunteering for things that get you different/more experience.