lesson #4: are you increasing your market value in the labor market?

some people have the knack for entrepreneurship. others could engage audience without so much an effort they could sell any product or an idea so easily. my mentor is gifted with both. i could also rattled a couple more names who have these skills.

but for the rest of the population (i.e. us), it would takes years and thousand of hours of practice and exposure to even come close. not everyone can efficiently run their own business and make it very successful. not everyone can pick an undervalued property and turn it around for a profit. not everyone can work from home and earn enough to cover for emergencies, healthcare costs and still have something set aside for their retirement years.

for someone in the rat race, what is your alternative?

a few days ago, an acquaintance pinged me on Facebook and asked if I could please remind her the formula she can use to sort voluminous data in excel. i listened to what she was trying to do and told her the solution. she is a certified public accountant; very hardworking and so full of potential. i did not quite understand why she was doing what she just asked for an excel tip from me for so i asked her if she her role has ventured out of accounting. she told me it was for her second job at a freelance site called odesk.com.

“why do you have a second job?” i inquired. “you’re working for a very reasonable-paying multinational company.”

“i cannot make both ends meet. both kids are now attending school and there’s the mortgage on the house and you know, life’s necessities and all.” she replied.

“but that’s more like a data entry kind of thing. shouldn’t you be doing something that is finance related at least?” i asked.

“it pays $8/hour. i will take whatever i can get.” she answered.

i sat there watching my laptop for a long time, feeling a bit disoriented. She was one of the few people i have always thought would be handling at least a managerial position by now. when she left the company to transfer to a bigger and more prestigious multinational, i thought that was the start of something big for her. there is so much avenues for career growth there- internal and external training, cross-country assignments, lateral transfers… you name it. and on top of that, it pays above the market, too.

i seriously did not see it coming that she will be taking a second job doing data entry to make ends meet.

what went wrong? it is pretty obvious that whatever she and her husband are earning is not enough to cover for their day to day family expenses. spending more than what you earn is a financial train wreck waiting to happen. that deserves another article in another time.

in this post though, i want to talk about how so many of the white collar workers throw away that opportunity to increase their market value so they are going to be worth so much more in the future. people are always telling me they are just waiting for that one big idea for a business and they will not take second thoughts of leaving the employment world and become entrepreneurs and create jobs for other people. seriously, there is nothing wrong with that if the same people are doing something about getting there than just waiting for it. a number of former staff (and probably present ones) always talk about “just spending a few more years here and there” and then join the next employer who can double their current salary. nothing is wrong with that plan if one actually is sincerely and diligently working on being better at their jobs so employers would clamor for getting them at a premium rate. i have also seen a few acquaintances turning their back on the corporate world to start working from home in the name of being able to spend quality time with their kid. that all goes well until the kid gets sick and two months worth of “work from home” salary get wiped out for a one-week worth of hospital bills because neither parents have healthcare insurance nor emergency fund.

very few professional ever take the opportunity to become better at their job everyday. very few take that investment to exert more time and effort in building their market value. i have seen employees not doing more than what their current role asks of them because they are not paid to do that other kind of work. for some reason, people keep forgetting that by doing so makes them professionally more knowledgeable. we sometimes have the tendency to treat the workplace like school- that if we just hang around long enough, we will soon graduate from it and unto the golden years of our retirement. unfortunately, that actually could happen minus the golden reference. no one ever enjoyed retirement years without preparing for it; that is just one of the harsh realities of life.

so, how do you increase your market value?

prepare to invest on your professional growth at work. learning takes time and requires a lot of attention. you do not learn enough by showing up for work everyday and doing your job. you have to be aggresive with it. learn all about how the company does business; do not be limited to your own scope of work. do not be afraid to ask questions; that is how you get informed. do not be too careful to not commit any mistakes that you miss the opportunity to know what works and what does not. learn the 80/20 rule; focus on how to get the same job done with less possible effort. efficiency is the key to effectiveness. then use that freed up time not on extended breaks but on getting involved in more projects that can introduce you to a bigger role.

work for a boss who can see your potential and is willing to nurture it. this is probably one of the most common mistakes early professionals make because it is so easy to make. it is a misconception to believe that for as long as you do your job and you do it very well, you will be presented with a lot of opportunities. it matters who you are working for. it matters a lot because not every manager cares and not every superior has the capacity and the desire to develop their people. you do not want to be working for this kind of manager.

work for a boss you are not afraid of; fear paralyzes growth. work for a boss who does not sugarcoat your performance and who can coach you how to get better; you need to know what worked and what did not and you need someone who can teach you where and how to get to where they want you to go.

on another hand, take that opportunity to work for a difficult boss for a point in time. it thickens your skin and you need it for survival. the path to career growth is not all milk and honey. you will meet different kinds of people. you will be passed up for promotion. you could end up as the sacrificial lamb. you can be caught in the middle of office politics. working for a difficult boss will test the kind of person that you are and the kind of manager you will be in the future. work with them and then know when to move on- regardless of how good the job pays. or how sympathetic the rest of your coworkers are. you are only there for the experience.

get a job that makes you happy. not because you like the people you see there everyday. not because your boss is ultra nice. not because the company is a household name. get a job you are happy about because it makes you feel good about yourself. get a job where you honestly believe you are contributing to its success. find that role that excites you, that gives you adrenalin rush, that makes your brain tick. get a job that does not feel such a struggle to wake up to every morning. find a job that does not make you feel you are choosing between career and personal life.

know when to move on. switching jobs is not easy, especially when you have built relationships with people at your current work. but learn when to move on. real relationships do not disappear just because you switched jobs. on another hand, a bigger pay (minus a better career opportunity) is a bad career move. it will make your pocket heavier but it will not provide you a bigger return in the future.

learn the art of finding and developing the right people. the key to your successful career is not about what things you get done right by yourself. it is all about how effective you are at creating avenues for good teamwork to prosper. it is about finding the potential in people and developing them. it is about accepting that sometimes you make wrong decisions on who to develop and that you need to move on. it is about recognizing credit where it is due and calling out opportunities to improve where it is needed.

get a mentor. if there is just one advice i would give to people who are looking at improving their professional capacity, then this is it. find a mentor. listen to what they have to say. learn from their mistakes. let them show you how to get from where you are to where you want to go. success is never an independent effort. behind every successful person is a collective influence. let this mentor be one of yours.

having said all these to a friend of mine at a different time, she poses a very good question. “what has my market value got to do with my quest for financial freedom?”

unless you have multiple sources of income, the best way to increase your income stream is to make yourself more valuable anywhere (not only at your current employer). although higher salary does not guarantee a quicker path to financial freedom, it is a very powerful capital in building your net worth for the future.

when you earn enough to cover for your day to day needs, you can increase the percentage of your net pay that goes to your egg nest without having to strain and struggle making ends meet. an increased value put aside for the future battles the impact of inflation and provides you access to financial vehicles otherwise unavailable to you. when you earn enough, you can afford to splurge a bit on that family vacation you’ve been meaning to do for a time knowing you would still have enough set aside for retirement. when you earn enough, you would have enough cashflow to afford that life insurance policy, the tuition for MBA school, or sending your two kids to that very good but expensive school. when you earn enough, it does not feel like you are caught in a rat race and working too much only to spend it all.

and when you earn enough because you have made yourself professionally valuable, you limit the risk of career strain brought about by being one of the thousand mediocre employees. companies will always pay a premium to get someone who has something to bring to the table. and when that time comes that you eventually take that big leap and start a business of your own, your corporate experience will teach you how to hire the right kind of people.

 

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