I hate my job…I can’t wait until I retire…I’m going to save and invest every dollar I have so I can quit my job…I wish they’d lay me off and give me a severance package…
If you ever find yourself thinking this way, you aren’t alone. Ironically, it’s probably the number one reason motivating people to save and invest their money—planning their great escape from the job. That’s not a bad thing either, but maybe we need some balance.
Your career is an investment all its own; consider the following:
- Your career is what sustains you until the day you can afford to retire
- You’ll probably live on the income from your job a lot longer than you’ll live on the income from your investments
- You need money to invest—that will mostly come from your career
- Your career is the foundation upon which all other investments will be made
- If your career isn’t working, your investments probably won’t either
And there are a few more considerations that warrant their own discussion…
Why You Should Invest in Your Career
Very few people have enough money to not work
Millions of people work diligently to save and invest their money. But relatively few will reach a point of being able to live completely off their investments, at least not before retirement. And even then, most will continue to rely on non-investment income for some significant portion of their survival. That may be Social Security benefits, an employer pension or continuing income from a job or business.
Your career is a diversification to your investment portfolio
There’s nothing scientific about investing. Stocks, commodities and real estate both rise and fall in price, and sometimes they can even crash. Fixed income investments don’t usually drop in value, but as we’ve seen in recent years, interest rate yields can drop to near zero. If you’re relying completely on your investments to provide for you, it can be a rough ride.
We normally think of investments as being a diversification against the possibility of a job loss, and that’s true. But what we don’t usually think about is how a career is probably the best diversification against investment uncertainty. The income from a paycheck is never more valuable than it is after a stock market crash.
Your career is your best investment in a changing economy
While it’s true that you can lose your job as a result of economic changes, it’s equally true that you can recover, too. That may involve retooling for a new career, or entering into a new business venture.
The same economic shifts that can destroy careers and industries, also create new ones. The reality is that the majority of us can find paying work somewhere doing something, even if it’s at a much lower rate of pay.
The same isn’t nearly as true of other investments. Stocks and real estate can take years to recover from a major decline. In the meantime, there will be little that you can do to recover your losses until the overall market improves. And if you sell at the bottom of the price cycle your losses will be locked in forever.
Work is your connection to the world
Though we don’t think about it when planning for retirement, much of our emotional health is tied to our work. It’s where we make our contribution to the world, where we come in contact with the greatest number of people, where we learn to rely on others, and they can rely on us. In a very real way, our sense of legitimacy comes not from what we have, but from what we do. And much of that comes from our careers.
If you had to start all over again, you’d start with your career
Imagine for a moment that you lost all the wealth you have; where would you start the rebuilding process?
It would almost certainly be your career. You’d work harder at your job or business, and if you didn’t have either you’d go out and get one. It would be the first step in your quest for financial recovery.
Very few people can invest their way out of a financial hole. The reality is that it takes money to make money, and if you’ve been wiped out financially, you won’t be able to do that. A career, on the other hand, doesn’t usually require much money.
It does mean taking whatever steps you have to in order to hone the services you provide.
How to Invest In Your Career
If your career truly is an investment, what can you do to make it grow and keep paying you “dividends” in the future?
- Stay on top of changes in your field and do what you can to be ahead of them.
- Get any extra training you need to do your job or run your business—education doesn’t stop when you graduate from high school or college.
- Be a problem solver—anyone can do a routine job, but it takes an expert to fix what’s broken.
- Don’t run away from challenges, embrace them and lead others forward.
- Keep your eyes and ears open for side business opportunities—you never know when you might need a career change and this is one of the lowest risk ways to do it.
You can apply the tips above in any stage of your career and any industry, but let’s take a look at a few more specific instances below:
Pursuing a college degree is a major investment in your career. Keep some of the following factors in mind as you consider your college education.
- Plan payments: College is a significant investment for students and parents. Regardless of whether or not you pay for your kid’s college, you can work with them to explore their financial aid options and choose a sound strategy for financing their degree.
- Stay on top of financial aid: Tuition is an investment that needs regular attention. Be sure to adhere to FAFSA and your university’s deadlines to ensure you get your scholarships, grants, and loans, and are aware if the school decreases or increases your financial aid.
- Choose wisely: When you reach the end of your student loan grace period, you’ll be faced with the financial realities of life. By all means, pursue a degree you’re passionate about, but also consider how your degree will influence your career path, balancing your interests and goals for the future to choose the right program.
- Consider advanced degrees: An advanced degree, like a Masters or Doctorate, can propel you forward in your field. Many advanced degree programs offer assistantships or stipends that cover the cost of tuition. You may also be able to find flexible programs which allow you to enroll part-time, or with distance education classes.
- Weigh your options: As you near graduation or enter your first semester and find yourself unhappy in the college classroom, you may be wondering if you need a college degree to be successful. While an education is invaluable and can unlock the door to a bright future, you can find plenty of meaningful high paying jobs without a college degree.
If you were to ask for job hunting tips from a recruiter, here are a few snippets of advice you’d get:
- Presentation counts: One piece of financial advice for high school graduates and middle-aged parents alike is to put some real thought into how you present yourself to potential employers, finetuning your resume to match the job description.
- Image matters: You need to protect your professional image, both on social media and in your daily interactions at work.
- The past matters, too: On that note, try not to burn any bridges. If you resign on good terms, you’re far more likely to get a positive commendation if a hiring committee reaches out to your previous employer.
- So do your extracurriculars: Don’t walk into an interview blindsided when you’re asked about your interests and passions. Being a well-rounded, socially-minded person makes a difference. Seriously, volunteer work can help you get a job and make your life more meaningful.
- Sell your skills: You can drastically improve your career with sales and marketing skills. Take your Linkedin up a few notches with a compelling bio that showcases your unique talents and quantifies your accomplishments.
- Pick up a book: Reading, in general, is a great way to invest in your career. I recommend starting with How to Win Friends and Influence People.
- Go back to the basics: Sharpen your soft skills like leadership, communication, and time management. Something as simple as knowing how to make a professional introduction can work wonders in an interview or networking scenario.
- Get licensed: In some industries, professional licenses and certifications increase your marketability and salary potential. Take a look at the numbers and see if you could benefit from investing in a course to boost your career.
Starting a Business
- Do your research: You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel to be successful at self-employment. Plenty of successful side hustles and full-time services are in high demand. Look at some businesses you like and take a few pages from their book to get your idea off the ground.
- Do what you love: You’ve probably heard the adage, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” If you’re starting a business, it needs to be one you’re passionate about. Period. The beginning days of a business are often accompanied by long nights and low paychecks. Passion fuels you to push through the hard times and makes the wins even more rewarding.
- Do what you’re good at: Along with pursuing a career you’re passionate about, let your professional (and personal) experience and skills serve as the foundation of your business.
- Consider consulting: People pay for valuable insights, meaning you could build a lucrative business as a career coach or a life coach or a fitness instructor. If you consider yourself an expert in a field and work well with people, you could be an excellent consultant.
Maybe you aren’t looking for a job or trying to start a business. Investing in your career doesn’t stop with a degree or landing the perfect job.
Here are a few practical ways you can make the most of your days at the office and further your career along the way.
- Communicate clearly: Communicating with your boss, coworkers, and employees is crucial. Being honest and open can help you to avoid conflict with your supervisor and build rapport in the workplace. Whether it’s telling your boss you’re pregnant or complaining about a difficult coworker, address issues promptly and clearly. Along those lines, document your discussions.
- Steer clear of office drama: Remember the earlier advice to protect your professional image? That applies to your words and actions in the office as well as out of it. Keep your name above reproach and avoid office politics whenever you can.
- Know your worth: If you feel that your salary doesn’t reflect the value you add to the company, it may be time to consider a salary negotiation. When you aren’t being valued for your work, there are a number of steps to take if you are underpaid. Start by researching salaries in for someone with your position and skillset, listing out your accomplishments and roles, and respectfully speaking with your manager about a raise.
- Work hard: Staying productive all day long can prove to be a challenge, especially when you wear multiple hats at work and home. One popular method of increasing productivity is the Pomodoro method, which breaks your workday down into 25-minute chunks, with each one followed by a 3 to 5-minute break. Regardless of whether you use that method or another, be sure to give yourself breaks to boost creativity and productivity.
- Maintain balance: If you don’t set a reasonable pace for yourself at work, you’ll quickly wear yourself out. To overcome job burnout, set realistic goals, take breaks, and try to keep your stress level low. In some cases, that might look like refusing a promotion or changing to a different shift at work. Know your limits and be upfront about them.
Applying the advice above isn’t always easy, but it will be the most beneficial to your career. Invest in your career by thinking about the big picture and your long term career goals in your everyday actions at work.
The economy and the job market are in a state of constant change. The best way to invest in your career is by doing what’s necessary to both retain and increase your market value.
Think of your career as an investment. It’s the best diversification to other parts of your portfolio that don’t always behave as we think they should.
Have you ever thought of your career as an investment?