Terry Pratchett once wrote, "Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom." Inspired by that aphorism (and hoping one day to be wise) I'm sharing some draft comments for a project I might develop in a few years: tips for my students who face a complex and changing workplace.
Do you work hard? Great. Now for the bad news: It's not enough to work hard. You must be able to articulate the value of that work to others. For many folks, this is difficult. It feels like bragging, like showing off. Conversely we all know a coworker who seems determined to insert her or his achievements into every conversation (even when supposedly praising the good works of colleagues). The "It's all about me" vibe is easy to spot and difficult to stomach. Heck, it's even tough on the offender who discovers how hard it is to stop relentless self-promotion, for fear that others will wonder: "What has Faultless McPerfect done lately?" Don't fall into that trap.
At the same time you should be prepared to translate your achievements in terms that are meaningful to the organization, mapping your labor upon a recognizable (and changing) terrain of valuable outcomes: clients served, dollars saved, innovations launched, that sort of thing. And if your salary for these accomplishments is less than another person in the industry (or even at your workspace, if salary figures are publicly available) you must be willing to find an appropriate time and venue to identify how your organization can adequately compensate you for the value you offer.
Whether you're seeking a job or advancing in your current position, always consider how you add value beyond the initial terms of employment. When I negotiated my salary at my current job, I stated that the opening salary was too low, that I needed more if was going to face California's notoriously high cost of living. Unfortunately my need alone was hardly persuasive. Actually, I came across as whiny, which was hardly the way to begin a professional relationship with a new boss.
The person making the offer kindly offered me some advice: "Tell us what else you offer, along with what we're already willing to pay you to do." I soon understood how that kind information gives an organization the justification to reconsider budgetary realities that otherwise seem insurmountable. I took some time, figured out some ways that I can add value, added this previously unconsidered information to the discussion, and negotiated a satisfactory increase in my starting salary. The result was immediate and long-lasting. That initial conversation has paid benefits year after year, since each raise I've received has been built upon the foundation of that first negotiation.
And don't forget that once you land that job, you're not done enhancing your value. Search for new challenges, new opportunities, new ways to become useful. Because even if you impressed someone enough to get hired, your ability to respond to changing needs will likely be judged by someone else - someone who doesn't necessarily value those initial skills that got you through the door. Your ability to bring new skills and competencies to an organization, not simply to plod along in the job you already have, offers more assurance of your indispensability: an essential quality in an economy that promises security to fewer and fewer of us. Don't take yourself for granted, unless you want others to do so. Know your worth - and add value.