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Insights / Professional Development / Do You Know Your Career Currency? Making the Most Of Your Consulting Career (Part 1)

August 21, 2015

Do You Know Your Career Currency? Making the Most Of Your Consulting Career (Part 1)

4 mins read

At its core, what is a career anyway? For that matter, what’s a job? After you peel away the fancy job titles and career ladders, we’re all doing the same thing: we’re providing some sort of value in exchange for something (at least a paycheck and probably a lot more). Whether you dig ditches, trade stocks, or build software, that’s how the marketplace works. Not an employee? Don’t stop reading: business owners, contractors, and sole proprietors trade their value for some return, whether in paycheck form or something else.

There’s a lot of ink written about what you receive: salaries, raises, commissions, stock, dividends, benefits, perks, and promotions. But what’s on the other side of the equation (your value) seems less concrete. To crib a quote from “Office Space,” what would you say you DO here?

That’s an interesting question. What do you get paid for? I don’t know as much about every career, like crop-dusting, journalism, or longshore fishing … However, after 27 years in IT consulting, including interviewing thousands of job applicants in my career, I’m comfortable opining about career progression especially within the consulting sector.

Like it or not, we’re all in the marketplace, and you’re required to participate in it. Understanding what the marketplace expects from you is essential to maximize your value. And here’s something you might not know: your value takes on different “currencies” at different phases in your career. It’s not simply a matter of being paid more every year for increasing the value you provide; it’s a matter of providing different flavors of value (currencies) as your career advances.

Here’s a useful (if not oversimplified) way of mapping out your consulting career: I’m going to lay out four career phases, each of which features a different “currency” of worth. Maximize each currency at the right time, and you’ll optimize your value over your entire career. Here goes:

Phase 1: Skill Building

Early in your career, no one pays you for wisdom or decision-making. Nor will you get paid for supervisory skills or taking calculated risks. But the marketplace is willing to pay a lot for one thing: skills. That’s your high-value currency at this phase, and you must be fully aware of that. In your early days, you’ve got the ability to gain skills (often in emerging domains), and spend lots of time sharpening them. And you’ve got this ability and time more than others who are at different stages of their careers. Use that to your advantage.

Fear not: you won’t be skill-driven your entire career, but in order to advance to the next stage (if you want to), you need skills. What you need to know is this: the marketplace (speaking most often through the voice of your employer) wants you to have skills – don’t fight this; use it! Spend hours, days, and weeks collecting deep skills, like a squirrel gathering acorns in the fall. And here’s what not to do: don’t be insulted when the marketplace doesn’t value your advice or wisdom. That comes later, Daniel-son.

Phase 2: Mastering the Art of Communication

After a few years in the trenches using your skills to create and build valuable things, a new currency emerges on your horizon: communicating. Besides creating stuff, your skills have secondary value: they represent new language(s) you’re fluent in. That means you can translate ideas from vision to reality. You can teach others. This communication currency, based on your skill domain, becomes valuable itself, and can soon become your stock-and-trade. (Interestingly, it’s at this point in their career that many articulate extroverts see their career velocity accelerate rapidly, as the worth of their natural interpersonal tendencies begins to be realized.)

Here’s why your communication is worth so much more now than it was in the first phase: your messages have credibility. The investment you made sharpening your skills is time well-spent, and putting an articulate communication megaphone on them forms a valuable combination. While you’re preaching the gospel, here’s what not to do during this “communication” career phase: don’t become “all hat, no cattle.” Realize that the only reason you can translate and articulate is because you know what you’re talking about.

So What Comes Next?

Built your skills and mastered the art of communications?  Stay tuned next week as we dig into Phases 3 & 4: leading and decision making!

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