Being More Valuable in the Work Place

I am in the midst of a job search. Although I have excellent experience and academic credentials, I am one of the hundreds of thousands of intelligent, articulate and qualified jobseekers in the market today. I am sure I shall eventually find a job, but my job search has taught me that despite my achievements to date, there are still many, many things that I could have done differently in the past to make myself more attractive to employers.

A lot of the deficiencies that I perceive are relatively minor and many of them are shared by a significant percentage of my peers in the job market. Those of us who grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s learned certain things and had certain expectations in life but not all of those expectations were germane to the 21st century business world. For example, in hindsight I know that my time learning to type and to take shorthand labels me as more of a dinosaur, as compared to being able to design a web page in HTML.

There are a lot of reasons that we do not achieve everything that we otherwise could. The desire, when we are young, to spend time with family and friends and not to spend all of one’s free time trying to better oneself is natural. After all, as the saying goes, all work and no play does make Jack a dull boy. With that in mind, here are several things that I wish I had mastered when I was younger, but which I intend to start mastering today – both to make myself more valuable in the work place and to make myself more complete as a person.

Master a Foreign Language

I studied French for 8 years when I was younger. I even received the French award when I graduated from High School. I was by no stretch of the imagination fluent in French but I could read French magazines and follow a basic French discussion if the speakers spoke slowly. Had I been dropped in Normandy during WWII, I would have gotten by as a translator. Now, twenty years past my last French class, I have forgotten more than I recall and, all the while, the world has been shrinking. Now, when I interview for positions with global companies, I am always asked whether I speak any foreign languages. For that matter, an acquaintance told me yesterday that he just lost his job because he does not speak Spanish (and was to be reassigned to Mexico City). I am now working on my French language skills again and I tell my children not to lose the Spanish that they are learning in school.

Master every Microsoft Office Program

I am proficient in the use of Microsoft Word but that is only because Microsoft Word is bundled into every computer and I finally had to give up on Corel’s Word Perfect software! I fully realize, however, that Microsoft also offers PowerPoint, Excel and several other programs which are completely alien to me. In past jobs, when I had to give a presentation, I begged administrative personnel to help me to prepare PowerPoint slides. I never learned how to do so. Now, everyone is business takes for granted the notion that everyone knows how to use PowerPoint and Excel and several other business applications. My local library offers free courses in all of these applications and I am enrolled in the classes for next month. I may never use PowerPoint, but I won’t feel crippled by the ignorance of not knowing how again.

Take Every Career Coaching Class that is Offered

I had opportunities in college and while in work to take career coaching classes. I never did. I always assumed that it would be easy to get a job because when I entered the job market in 1993, I entered a robust job market in which I could easily find employment whenever I wanted to change jobs. As a result, I had not basis for assessing career decisions when the market turned sour and my employer merged out of existence. Indeed, most of the senior executives with whom I previously worked seem to have had similar experiences with sudden unemployment in the face of a weak economy. Always remember that when things are good, they can still go bad, and that when things are bad, they will improve. Career coaching can help you to be prepared for both circumstances.

Keep your Address Book Current and Reach Out Often

An outplacement agent I visited a few months ago reminded me that about 90% of all jobs are found through networking. That means that it is really important to stay in the good graces of people who you may not see every day. Don’t let good relationships fade away just because you do not cross paths with your friends and colleagues after they move to different jobs or cities. Until quite recently, I was horrible about staying in touch but after I met with the placement agent, I really stepped up my study of networking and I have learned a lot – a lot that I wish I had learned twenty years ago.

Especially with the ease afforded by e-mail, you can keep your relationships fresh forever. This coming week, for example, I shall be having lunch with a woman I know who lives in Australia but who will be visiting the USA and will be in my city for a couple of days. If I had not sent her an e-mail to say hello a few days ago, she would not even have known that I live where I live. The fact that she is visiting a senior vice president for a company that is looking for “talent” is an added bonus, as he will be in attendance as well!

What do you wish you had learned when you were younger? What skills do you want your children to master so that they do not have to repeat the mistakes that you made? What is your advice for people entering the work force or trying to get back into the work force?

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7 Responses to Being More Valuable in the Work Place

  1. Carol says:

    I’ve been promoted a few times at my job because I have kept up with my skills in Microsoft software. There are quite a few people where I work who have no idea (and should, especially those who are support staff) how to maneuver around one of those programs without consistent help! I’m known now to be the “expert” in all of the Microsoft programs….

    The one skill I would add to the list is the ability to write in a clear, concise sentence (using correct punctuation, grammar and spelling). Not only does that help you get your point across, you look/sound much more professional when you have a command of the English language. With the advent of texting, people have gotten lazy when emailing peers at work. Not only should you dress for the job you want, you should emulate how your superiors communicate.

  2. Ann says:

    Being proficient in Microsoft products is a must these days. PowerPoint is for everyone, as well as basic Word and Excel, but finance people should also be intimately familiar with the intricacies of Excel — pivot tables, charts, formulas. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with databases.

    I agree with Carol on the ability to organize and write a report. I’m beginning to think it’s almost a lost art to many! When I was young, I worked for a perfectionist who sat down with me and went over word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, and concept-by-concept a report I’d written. Other people I worked with found it annoying, when he did this with them, but I found it enlightening. Minor changes here and there turned a good report into something extremely tight and clear.

    Speaking proper English is as important as being able to write it, as well as exhibiting the common courtesies that too many people don’t seem to be learning at their parents’ knees. One important lesson I learned along the way was to respect a person’s position, even if you don’t respect the person. Also, swearing like a sailor (which I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done in the past) does NOT belong in the workplace.

    Keeping current in your field of expertise is important and people should take advantage of it whenever they can. Another area that is equally important is any training available on working with other people — how different types of people learn (some are visual, some audio, some need a hands on walkthru), learning to praise in public and reprimand in private, recognizing when people are feeling insecure about their work and giving them confidence (or as much as you can), how to deal with problem people — bosses and subordinates and coworkers. Through the years, some of the things I learned from being mentored, some from classes but all of it was important… and a lot of it I wished I’d learned earlier!

    Email etiquette is a must! LOL Anyone who’s worked in business for any length of time has probably encountered badly written, unclear emails or accidently done a reply all when they shouldn’t have, etc.

    Being multi-lingual doesn’t hurt, but I have to admit to a negative bias when someone demands that for a corporate job here in the states you have to speak Spanish. If you’re like me, you need to “get over it” and simply think of being proficient in a second or third language as a marketable skill.

  3. bob kuehnel says:


    Great advice. I too am in the same boat an wish I make some changes in the past. Networking is key. Do not be ashamed to be out of work. You never know who may be able to put you in touch with the right person.

    As always great article.

    Bob Kuehnel

  4. These are all very good points. I lost my job three times between 1999 and 2006. All three times were in October. Twice on the exact same date in October. I definetely have kept up with Microsoft Office Suite and that has helped. I also have done additional certifications in my field which is a plus. I haven’t done the foreign languages but probably need to think about that.

    Lillian Dikovitsky

  5. Gail says:

    I wish I had learned younger that it is okay to reach for the stars. Even though a straight A student in school, neither I or my siblings were encouraged to go for training for good, well paying jobs. I’ve heard the expression “You don’t want to do that” from my mother more times than I could ever count!

    Now not working due to disablity, I realize that I had the skills and abilities to do so much more with my working years than I did as I didn’t believe I could do well and get ahead and that it was okay to make money–not just enough to get by, but a lot to have more than enough.

    Encourage your children to want to succeed big time in a career they will enjoy. I realize that money isn’t everything, but just about everyone in my family is just scrapping by and that in retrospect is very sad.

  6. spicoli says:

    It does not matter what we know, there is always more to learn. If you decide that you have learned enough, chances are your boss will recognize that you have no ability to improve at work. That always leads to problems. Bottom line: Keep on learning!

  7. Persephone says:

    My library offers a lot of office skills courses. I have always been meaning to take them but it is never easy to find the time in the middle of the day.

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