Based on my experience so far, no matter how you look at it, there are only three main aspects that we should stay on top of in order to ensure our own employability, fulfilling career progress and continuinity of doing meaningful business.
This might seem like an oversimplification, but I do think that the majority of other aspects can be boiled down to these three simple statements:
Purposeful, interest-driven and most importantly, constant learning.
Diverse, valuable, fair and giving professional relationships.
Tangible and indisputable results achieved by hard work or creativity.
Briefly put: learning, relationships and results... (Fourth additional point can be found on the bottom of this post.)
Now you could add of course that staying away from the comfort zone, taking risks, having some plain luck, or person's early decisions could be instrumental... I honestly think that albeit being important, these are to be considered as supportive aspects while looking at the bigger picture.
Occasional consideration of these three core aspects will help you stay on any of the challenging paths that you may end up taking.
Purposeful, interest-driven and most importantly, constant learning
I am fortunate enough to know more than a couple of people who moved to Finland without knowing a word of the language.
Determined to learn they pushed themselves through what seemed like impossible obstacles in order to start building careers or starting their own businesses.
They spent their time on learning a variety of disciplines every single day.
On the other hand I saw that during my studies a lot of people complained constantly about the lacking quality of our general education, but were the first people to run out of the room when the lectures ended. (They didn't work part-time either.)
Some of these people did exceptionally well with their core studies, but didn't involve themselves in anything else.
My previous schools provided us with many free entrances to business events, volunteering opportunities, entrepreneurship coaching, access to learning portals and additional elective studies. I will not even start about the constantly appearing opportunities to go on week-long study trips around Europe free of charge.
But where were the people who complained?
I don't think I have to tell you about the stories that I've heard recently about their difficulties finding any sort of employment.
Our general education and degrees are a good base to start learning, as well as exploring topics that each of us truly care about.
Going through occasional online courses, relevant industry events and thought provoking books should be the bare minimum to enforce constant learning.
Especially for us commercial-degree holders; There are thousands like us graduating every year... Your degree certificate, no matter how good it is, is an entrance ticket to a race. And then it starts... What is it that makes you special?
Diverse, valuable, fair and giving professional relationships
This one is quite self-explanatory; Relationships are of greatest importance. Making the most out of them by keeping them varied, being open to other points of view and spending enough time to keep them healthy are on the other hand things that are not so easy.
How to identify a good professional relationship? One distinct way to look at it is to say that a good professional relationship forces you to lever yourself up. To understand what it means we can reflect on it by looking at an ordinary business.
Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” -Thomas J. Watson
Companies can borrow capital in the form of a loan in order to achieve things that could not be otherwise possible with one's own resources. With the borrowed capital the company acquires the necessary machinery or a piece of land which it then intends to use for setting up operations, paying back the borrowed amount and finally generating new value in the form of profits.
When a company uses leverage in the form of borrowing it ends up owing money to the lenders. By owing money to the lenders, the company commits itself and promises to deliver a certain return on investment. Risks are involved but in this case value is being created for both parties and opportunities are opened up which otherwise wouldn't exist.
From this point of view one should strive to form professional relationships that force you to lever yourself up in the same way. Making commitments with your colleagues, your management or the business partners in any form, and working to deliver upon them result in mutual trust, strong bonds and more value than would otherwise be possible.
When we are born and start growing up we remain dependent on our parents as well as the closest people around us. When we grow up we start often idealizing independence and making sure that we are able to be out there on our own. Being independent we are able to achieve great things for ourselves and even the people closer to us, but then we should continue to look look one step further. We evolve (and not all people ever do) to a stage where we are able to efficiently start working interdependently with the best sides of people around us.
No one person could have taken the humanity to the moon, but by being efficiently interdependent we are truly able to achieve the unachievable.
Keep giving to your connections and at some point you just might start getting something back.
Tangible and indisputable results achieved by hard work or creativity
The Finns say: Self-praise stinks, but not during a job interview.
I feel somewhat terrified when people write up on their resumes the various aspects of their job roles during the previously held positions without writing about what they actually achieved during those tenures.
Instead of writing: "I worked as a multi-department salesperson, where I additionally took care of customer financing, contracts and customer relationships." Write proudly, but still 100% factually: "While working as a multi-department salesperson I was able to constantly grow my monthly sales on average by X percent, while ensuring the required profit margins and reaching the monthly TOP 5 of consumer financing sales among my peers. I was able to settle challenging cases and improve the average rate of customer satisfaction by a measure of X feedback points."
Believe me, and put yourself in the position of the employer. Which sounds more convincing to be brought into your own business? Did the applicant really achieve what he claims he did..? Let's invite him for an interview, as well as ask him to bring additional proof or references that confirm his statements.
As what goes with creativity, I never meant coming up or lying about your achievements. Some roles give you more freedom to think for yourself and come up with creative ways of doing your work. Demonstrating your previous cases of a creative, value-driven and not so obvious approach can be some of those things that make you worth a consideration. Maybe you have come up with a not so ordinary way of solving a problem and then copying it to other cases as well in order to improve the efficiency?
Third party reviews, reference letters, case studies and certifications among others go a far way to prove your accomplishments. Ask for these supportive pieces without hesitation and start deploying them where necessary.
Additional: Continuous trial and rapid iteration
Tom Peters has been quoted saying: "Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast."
This can be a huge topic in on itself, but it best applies when doing business. A lot of people hold on to what no longer works while blindly thinking about the sunken costs as well as what has already been invested.
Problems start coupling up until it is no longer bearable, and in this example a huge debt is taken for a business that in plain sense is no longer profitable. Problems and challenges finally escalate to an unbearable level and the business declares a rough bankruptcy that is way worse for everyone involved than it originally had to be. At its worst, these kind of spirals can go on for years.
Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist, but the ability to start over. - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Rapid iteration and starting over can often be the better option than trying to keep an almot dead business alive. Be ready for change and stay open-minded towards pivoting. Letting go and starting over can be less painful than it has to be if the red-flags are identified early on.
You might of course disagree with my points of view and that is great. Leave a comment below to let us know about your thoughts.