Are you investing in your career?

Your career is perhaps your biggest single asset. Here’s how to make it the highest yielding one.

By Rajshree Kukreti | Print Edition: November 16, 2006

Returns from stock investments: 25%. Returns from mutual fund schemes: 20%. Value of insurance: up 15%. Appreciation in your real estate: 40%. Returns from your career…umm. If you too have to think more than twice to figure out returns from your career, you are among the millions of salary earners who never looked at their career as an asset—perhaps the biggest asset. An asset, which must yield increasing rate of returns to create any other form of asset, be it house, gold or financial assets like stock or mutual funds.

This is especially true if you are not a government employee—where returns from your job are broadly fixed for the entire career span and performance and rewards aren’t always correlated. Career management in today’s highly competitive and also highly rewarding job market requires an approach similar to that of an entrepreneur. Just as a successful entrepreneur must have a clear business plan followed by a continual reassessment of business environment; building a winning career demands setting clear goals, taking initiatives, hedging risks and then seeking rewards. Rewards that come in more forms than hard cash—working freedom, recognition and movement.

So where should you begin in evaluating your career? From your current job, of course. The first step is to estimate the worth of your job. The next step is to enhance it, and if the current work environment does not offer scope to add value to your career, well, change your job. MONEY TODAY reached out to career advisers, human resource (HR) managers and head hunters to work out broad thumb rules of turning your career into your best performing asset. We start off with a check-list of assessing your net worth in your current workplace:

REVALUATE YOUR CAREER: Create a workable vision for your career. Most people do not have clarity on this and hence get lost midway (the classical mid-career crisis). Achievers continuously analyse their performances to adjust and improve them. This helps them in assessing their career goals frequently.

To make your goals achievable, you need to make them more realistic and you should have control over them. This will give you the flexibility to match your achievements with your goals. If things are not working out you should set more short-term goals. Start with your long-term goal (25 years) and work backwards toward a one-month plan. The ability to reassess your aim will help add value to your career equity and will help in your movements within and outside your organisation.

David V. Lorenzo, strategist and author, in his book Career Intensity, has highlighted the use of strategic thinking when setting goals. In today’s scenario, a successful 40-year career is likely to include tenures at multiple companies and a personal gain from focusing on value creation.

WHAT’S YOUR INCREMENT BEEN? Among the first things you need to check in your progress report is the rate of salary growth. It is not the percentage but the percentile that should be your performance benchmark. If the average salary increment in your organisation in a given year is 10% but your hike is 15% you are in the top quartile of the increment. It does not count if the average increment in other companies has been higher.

Your company rates you highly and that matters. What you earn also depends on the company you are working for and how it approaches salary structures. According to Ronesh Puri, managing director, Executive Access, performance-oriented companies adequately reward those who achieve their targets. Working with such companies is profitable. Even if your starting salary is low, the increments are much higher here. Some companies meticulously research the salary structure, giving it very careful attention in order to retain the best talent. Other companies arrive at salary levels after negotiations.

IS YOUR JOB TEACHING YOU TOO? The kind of job exposure you are getting also empowers you as an employee. The learning experiences that come your way help your growth. This can be evaluated at various levels. Each company has its own way of providing learning experiences to its employees. Does your company give you enough elbow room to experiment, innovate and learn from your mistakes?

Are there times when you are the face of the company, making representations at various fora? If yes, then you are on the right track. Such experiences help leverage your strengths and give exposure to your specialised skill sets. If you are able to add something new to your CV every year it amounts to an increase in your career equity. You must ensure that you are learning the right things rather than just learning new things.

DO YOU SEEK TOO MANY PERMISSIONS? If your organisation is hierarchy-driven, seeking autonomy may not be easy and reaching a decision a tough task. When a company allows you to take charge, it clearly spells trust. Once you have that you are moving in the right direction. But not everyone can call the shots. If you are preparing the groundwork for the chief even that places you in the right league but you should work towards getting the decision-making authority. If you are made to participate in key projects of the firm, it is a positive signal. Those who take charge are seen as achievers as they are result-oriented. According to P. Dwarkanath, director, GlaxoSmithkline Consumer Healthcare Ltd, “Achievers are compensated adequately by their companies.” It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.

HAS THERE BEEN ENOUGH MOVEMENT? A rolling stone gathers no moss. But movement adds value to one’s career today. Mobility within and without are equally important. If you have been doing the same work for the past three years then it is obvious you are not on the employee fast track. Diversity of experience adds considerably to your career development. Hopping from one job to another in a span of less than three years is also not looked at positively by HR managers. Check if the movements are helping you reach the desired career goal or are they just steps to clutter your bio-data. Staying put in one industry for over a long period has its own rewards but an ideal situation is a wellrounded exposure in the various departments of a company coupled with an experience in different industries. Try this and the chances of your growth increase.

ARE YOU BEING MENTORED? Employees with potential are specially mentored either by a senior colleague or assigned for special courses. The signals that you are valuable to the company can be felt in several ways. Are your suggestions being implemented? Do people want to be part of your team? These noetic insights contribute in a big way in building your career equity. Says Meenal Jadhav, vice-president, talent appreciation, of HR consultancy Grow Talent: “Are you able to take a holiday once a year with family and your boss encourages you to do that (as he values your need to rejuvenate)? These small gestures display your organisation’s attitude towards you.”

If you have answered yes to any of the above then your career is following the growth trajectory. And if the answers are a lemon then it is time to pull up your socks and get out of the comfort zone. The most important thing to remember about your career is that every day presents an opportunity to add something new to your personal portfolio and you have the opportunity to increase your personal equity.

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