6 Ways to Help Boost Your Career Worth

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career worthYou may already consider yourself something of a veteran at climbing the career ladder.

You have a polished résumé that you update frequently, the appropriate take-charge outfits, and you already know exactly how you’ll answer interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?

But there’s a new career conundrum befuddling hiring managers: the “skills gap.” Even with the job market on a slow road to recovery, the bigger issue is not having enough candidates—it’s having the right candidates.

A recent CareerBuilder survey revealed that 54% of employers currently have open positions for which they can’t find qualified people—and 35% have positions that haven’t been filled for 12 weeks or longer. A recent survey by the Career Advisory Board painted an even more dismal picture: Only 15% of hiring managers believe that the hopefuls coming through their doors have the right skills, and 67% said they wouldn’t settle for a less-than-qualified candidate.

So what’s a job seeker to do? Here’s one answer: Build your human capital.

What Is Human Capital, Anyway?

Traditionally a human resources term—but also used by business leaders and economists—human capital is the sum of the education, influence, experience and leadership potential you bring to the organization, resulting in a wise investment for the company—and more importantly, higher earning potential for you.

“I think about human capital as a combination of the skills and talent that a person can bring to the table, but also the so-called soft skills: Executive presence, your network and a personal brand that help make up your whole package,” says Jennifer Zephirin, vice president of strategic outreach at the Center for Talent Innovation and former Diversity and Inclusion Manager for Morgan Stanley.

Another way to think of it is career marketability, says Alexandra Levit, author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World” —and she says it’s your responsibility to find a plan of action that will up your game. “You cannot rely on your organization, whose training budget has probably been cut, to refresh your skills and [help you] acquire new ones,” she says. “This is your responsibility and employers expect you to take the initiative.”

Read on to learn six ways to help build your human capital—and demonstrate to companies that you’re an asset worth investing in, whether you’re applying for a new job or trying to get that corner office. These tips just might make your next offer sweeter.

1. Use Your Differences to Your Advantage

Yes, you want to fit into your corporate culture, but you should also consider accentuating what sets you apart, because your company can use your experiences and wisdom to its advantages both internally and in the marketplace.

It’s what Zephirin calls your “acquired” diversity, which could be skills like generational savvy, being bilingual or having military experience—things that have enabled you to develop an appreciation or understanding for cultural and social differences.

Maybe you’re not a Millennial yourself, but you’ve worked with so many that you’ve gained unique insights into social media trends. Or perhaps your time in the military has given you excellent managing chops. Emphasizing this acquired knowledge allows you to bring something to the table that your colleagues—or other candidates—may not be able to.

“Diversity does affect the bottom line of the company,” says Zephirin, “so in a competitive market it is important that you leverage whatever is special about you.”

2. Find a Mentor, a Sponsor—or Even a Protégé

“Don’t underestimate the importance of having a mentor—all job seekers need a person who can talk with them directly and honestly about what they need to do, and how they can enhance their career marketability,” Levit says.

A mentor ideally isn’t your direct supervisor, but might be a manager who works in another department. Or he may be someone you know through a networking organization whom you’ve always admired. Ideally, he would have gone through the career phase you’re currently in so you can benefit from his hindsight, Levit suggests.

Approach your mentor-to-be as you would any other networking contact: Send a complimentary email that explains why you are seeking his guidance, and ask if he’d be amenable to meeting in person. (If so, be sure to pick up the check.)

You can take mentorship a step further by trying to find a sponsor. Sponsors are “people who have direct access to the table where decisions get made within your organization, and who will be an advocate for you, thereby increasing your visibility,” Zephirin says.

In other words, while mentors may give you advice on how to climb the ladder, sponsors create the next rung. They carry clout in your organization and can connect you with high-profile assignments or other career opportunities that lead to pay raises and promotions. Just remember that because your sponsor puts her neck out for you, you have to prove that you’re worth it and deliver.

And don’t forget about those below you. “I also recommend sponsoring other people, because your protégé is then part of your network and is yet another person whom you can call on.” Zephirin says.

Your protégé (or team of protégés) should be up-and-comers in your organization who are loyal to your company and consistently perform at a high level. Introduce them to your bosses and your boss’ bosses; tout their abilities to decision makers; or invite them to a meeting that may normally be above their pay grade. Sponsoring other employees not only builds good karma, it also drives home your leadership abilities.

“Helping junior people evolve into major producers for the firm is what leaders do,” writes Center for Talent Innovation C.E.O. Sylvia Ann Hewlett in Harvard Business Review. “So if you’ve succeeded in grooming a number of people for your position, you’ve made it that much easier for your superiors to promote you, as you will not leave a vacuum they have to fill.”

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