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How to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Career

We’re all a little wary of food that has an unusually long shelf life — you know, the stuff that never seems to age no matter how long it sits in the back of your fridge. But when it comes to your career, you want an expiration date that outlasts even the oldest loaf of Wonder Bread. So what’s the secret to keeping your professional life fresh for years to come? Here are some essential ingredients:

A willingness to embrace change. Your ability to advance your position (and salary) is closely tied to how ready you are to embrace change — both in your profession and your office. Rather than complaining about the latest financial regulation, for instance, accept it and get ahead of it. Become your firm’s expert on emerging issues and help others in your organization understand how to prepare for them.

By accepting those sure-things on the horizon instead of sticking your head in the sand, you’ll be seen as a change enabler, not someone who will do anything to maintain the status quo.

Being easy to work with. No one wants to throw out a favorite product, even if it’s not the newest or fanciest version. What makes you a keeper? Simple: Be the kind of person people like to have around. Be pleasant to others, even under stressful conditions. Offer to help overburdened colleagues or act as a mentor to an office newcomer. Be generous with extending compliments and credit to others. A great attitude can massively help extend your shelf life.

The ability to tap both sides of your brain. Gone are the days when the most important qualification for a financial professional was a highly developed “left brain.” (The left brain typically deals with technical and rational ways of thinking; the right brain, creativity and intuition.) Left-brain abilities are still important, but being successful in the long haul now means calling on both sides of your brain — you need to offer logical explanations as well as innovative ideas.

If you’re still working solely in left-brain territory, try finding some continuing professional education courses and other learning opportunities that can improve your communication skills, leadership abilities and similar traits.

Cultural literacy. The business world is only going to become more international and diverse. You may need to expand your cultural awareness in order to stand out in an increasingly global environment. That includes being able to see issues from multiple perspectives and understand how business practices may need to be adapted to different cultures.

Look for ways to become more globally aware. Find opportunities to interact with international clients. Participate in internationally oriented events or organizations. Consider work assignments that allow you to travel to or work in foreign countries.  Even getting to know colleagues or neighbors who have ties to other cultures can help you broaden your perspective.

A quest for self-improvement. Maybe you’re a pro at auditing clients, but when was the last time you reviewed yourself? Make it a habit to assess your knowledge, skills and abilities and look for areas that need improvement. Find ways to use your strengths to a greater advantage and address your weaknesses.

For instance, if you’re a polished public speaker, gain some notice by volunteering to make an important presentation to colleagues and top managers. If your subpar Excel skills are slowing you down, take a training course to get up-to-speed. Keeping your career fresh means not only staying ahead of the curve but also making sure others take note of your strengths as well.

Versatility. Possessing a range of skills is a big plus in an era of lean staffing. Just as you might value some ingredients in your kitchen pantry because they have multiple purposes, companies feel the same way about resourceful team members.

For example, an accounting manager who can also assume accounts payable or accounts receivable duties is likely to be perceived as more valuable than someone who can only perform one of those job functions. Try gaining new skills by pursuing new education and cross-training opportunities, which are encouraged in many workplaces.

When it comes to extending the shelf life of your career, the ingredients above tend to have a preservative effect. Be sure to keep each on hand and sprinkle liberally over your work life.

By Robert Half International

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