Develop Career Staying Power


Career staying power – what is it? Do you have it? Career staying power is the ability to keep your job and advance professionally despite a difficult employment environment. To find out if you have it, begin by defining your value proposition. This means determining what you are really good at.

Identify your key skills

If your major skills are in demand by your own and other employers, you have your value proposition. Keep these skills up to date and use them to deliver value to your employer. Should you need to job hunt, prepare examples of these skills and the accomplishments you made using them.

If your major skills are not in demand by employers, then you need to develop new ones that are, or learn how to transfer those you have to other industries.  For example, I worked nearly a decade in developing products for oilfield applications. This required a combination of organic, polymer and surfactant chemistry; petroleum engineering and chemical engineering skills plus written and oral communication skills. When the oil industry slumped in the 1980s I had to identify other industries could use at least some of these skills while developing other skills in demand by these industries. This resulted in my getting a job with a large chemical company and keeping it despite later staff reductions.

Don’t wait for career problems to develop before determining what other industries can use your skills. Identifying these industries can aid you to position yourself to work in a different type of business should you enter the job market.

Keeping skills up to date

Begin the process by reassessing your skills periodically. Ask your supervisor and mentors how you can best increase your value to your employer. Observe trends in your field, your industry and in chemistry in general. Consider how your existing skills could be used in new hot areas of chemistry and rapidly growing industries.

Network both within and outside your company. This can help you keep professionally up to date and learn what is happening within your company and identify new growth areas for your employer.

Networking can lead to speaking and publication opportunities that enable you to develop a professional reputation outside your firm. Networking can alert you to career advancement opportunities both within your own employer and at other firms.

Stay up to date in both business and technology by reading:

  • research journals
  • trade magazines
  • general business publications

Attend professional association and trade conferences in your field. Also attend conferences outside your field occasionally. For example, the past two years I attended the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I focused on environmental sessions at these meetings. Most presentations were made by biologists even though chemistry issues often were a major part of their discussions. It enabled me to both learn about different perspectives and bring my own to the discussions.

There are fewer meaningful promotions in many firms. So focus on establishing a track record of solid accomplishments rather than tying your definition of success to specific promotions and job titles.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

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