Nothing, in the span of your career life, provides you with a fresh start like looking for your first full-time job. If you’re an optimist, you think of this as the first step towards a bright and abundant future. If you’re a pessimist, it’s another step closer to your retirement. And, if you’re an empiricist, you appreciate how reflective this stage is to John Locke’s “tabula rasa” or blank slate theory as described in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Nonetheless, this part of one’s life provides the unique opportunity to build the foundation to grow a career upon.
Navigating this newly sown territory brings many new questions and challenges to the forefront. It’s critical to seek advice when you feel indecisive. One recurring piece of advice I’ve received was to read Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? when I get stuck. After leaving it in my Amazon Wishlist for many months, I cracked and ordered the book in paperback. Thanks to Prime shipping, I found myself cozying up with my personal copy in less than 48 hours.
At first, the book seemed to be nothing more than, what I call, a fluff piece; giving hollow advice that echoes popular opinion. Through my reading, I learn that it’s Godin’s mission to make you do the thinking instead of giving you a checklist to improve your life. It isn’t a “10 Simple Steps to…” guide. It’s more like a perspective altering conversation with a friend. You find yourself challenging previous work experiences, relating yourself to the multiple examples he alludes to, and wondering what the heck he means by the term: lizard brain.
I’m not writing this blog to give you an in-depth review of the book, you can find those plastered across the internet. (Both positive and critical reviews) What I do want to share with you is how I suddenly started relating this book to the period in every intern’s life: choosing a career. The most important step isn’t understanding where you need to go or what you truly want to do. It is knowing how to prove that you’re the right fit. It’s proof, not perspective, that makes a career happen. I knew and understood this to be true, but it’s Godin’s perspective on this issue that had me questioning the way I approach job applications. He says it best: “You are not your resume. You are your work.”
Proving yourself valuable can be more important that trying to say you are. Resumes offer a window into your experience, but block out the full breadth of your talent. Godin highlights four primary avenues to concisely prove your value: your Gifts, your Tribe, your Art, and your Linchpin capability.
Every person has the tendency to gift something to someone: Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays. Think about the last time you gave a gift, did you expect (even slightly) to get some form of return on your investment? Maybe you expected a gift in return? This “I’ll scratch your back…” tradition of quid pro quo can quickly escalate into something dangerous, and expensive. Yet, it doesn’t always pay off in the way we hope it would. We all know that feeling of giving a nice gift, only to get the equivalent of macaroni-glued-to-a-frame-art in return. Godin challenges your concept of giving to inspire true giving. By providing something that creates value for the recipient in-turn, you’re growing a relationship that will inspire a continuation of this generosity. If you believe in karma, this should remind you of the core values that started Pay It Forward Day. Find ways to share your talent and knowledge to enrich other people. (start a blog!) This demonstrated the gifts you can provide a company.
Having lots of social media followers can get you a skewed sense of fame. This isn’t what I mean by developing a tribe. A tribe, by Godin’s definition, exists to proclaim your reputation as a valuable person to know. They’re your biggest advocates and your most loyal supporters. People who develop strong tribes think of the notoriety as an afterthought. Instead, they leverage their pool of support to strengthen their work in times of crisis or difficulty. Oftentimes, a person’s tribe helps create a way to let a reputation precede the person in question. This could open many new doors when looking for a career. You can read more in depth about creating a valuable tribe in his aptly named book: Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us or watch his TED Talk on the subject.
The proof is in the pudding. (or in this case, the portfolio) By documenting and showcasing your prior work, you create a visual timeline of your professional development. If you’re applying for a position in a creative field, you should have made multiple portfolios by now. If you haven’t, read this. If you’re not looking for something creative, your art can be found by thinking a bit more abstractly. If you’re coding for your future career, provide snippets of code you’ve authored. If you’re a writer, provide essays and articles you may have published. If you’re a scientist, share the results of your favorite experiment! Art is abstract, but it follows you regardless of your passion. Find something you’d define as art and make a portfolio.
A linchpin, a moniker for those who are deemed important in the workplace. By yourself, you are unable to demonstrate Linchpin mentality in any foreseeable way. But, your good work and deeds don’t always go unnoticed. My most humbling moments in a job application are when I get to read the recommendation letters written on my behalf. Working closely with people provides you a detailed knowledge on their strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to overlook the fact that they are learning the same about you. You may think you’re strong at something, only to be called out for blindness to your shortcomings. Alternatively, your greatest potentials may yet be discovered by you, while everyone else clearly knows where you thrive. Understanding what makes you valuable through the eyes of other people is how to best showcase your linchpin. This alone could tip the scales in your favor when competing for a job.
Overall, the book can be a refreshing look at where you stand in your career. If taken literally, you’ll have trouble applying the examples directly to your life. But, if you think abstractly and challenge yourself, you will walk away with a new understanding. You may not always get the chance to start with a blank slate, but Linchpin gives you the opportunity to rewrite your current perspective.