How to increase your employability

Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño. Dean. IE Business School

29 August 2016

When it comes to reaching long-term career goals, looking for shortcuts, prioritizing money, and placing your reputation at risk is the wrong way to go about it.

Most graduates have a clear idea of what they want to do when they finish their studies. Some may well have known since they were young, or they may be following in one of their parents’ footsteps. Others see themselves as entrepreneurs, arguably the most interesting option, but also the one that requires the most effort and sacrifice in the short term, although in the long haul it usually brings greater returns, both economic and in terms of reputation.  

But there are still plenty of graduates who are unclear about what field they want to work in, and this post is aimed primarily at those who are about to embark on a career focused on business management, which typically occurs between the ages of 22 and 29. 

In the first place, and using a popular analogy, you need to see your professional life as a long-distance race, one that is filled with uncertainties, and the course of which will very likely change along the way. Careers usually comprise three phases: the first years, mid career and the senior career. That said, careers are not lineal and certainly not predictable, with progress being subject to luck, opportunity, access to mentors, and of course your own performance. I would say that a career may be more like a sequence of different lives, the relationship between which often only becomes clear as you look back in later life. 

Just like when you set out on a long journey stretching toward a distant horizon, it is a good idea at the beginning of your career to avoid the temptation of taking shortcuts, putting money first, or risking your reputation. I’m not talking about mistakes, which we all make throughout our career. I’m referring to ethical questions, as well as to putting too much emphasis on money before you have properly established your professional worth. 

If you have decided to work for an organization or company, there are two big decisions to be made: which post to occupy and which company to seek employment with. With regard to the first, you need to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, which is not easy when you are still young. It is also natural to look to those professions that you find most attractive, regardless of family pressures. That said, over the course of an executive career you will improve your skill sets, particularly if you continue to learn new things, which is essential for professional success. 

One piece of advice I always give people looking for their first job is to not take too much notice of statistics and surveys. Statistics should not decide what career people take up, and my recommendation would be to beat the statistics, to be exceptions to the rule. 

As to deciding which company to work for, there is a widespread misunderstanding, in my opinion, that it is better to work for a large corporation or organization, preferably a multinational. But the advantage of working for a smaller company is that it allows you to get experience in more roles and with a larger range of responsibilities, as well as bringing you into closer contact with senior management and giving you a better vision of how the company operates overall. 

Another important choice is whether to opt for posts abroad. In the early years of your career, when you may not yet have begun a family or when children are still very young, moving to another country is not so much of an issue, and it is always a good idea to have a few air miles on your CV, particularly in the increasingly global environment a lot of companies operate in. It increases your professional status as well as allowing you to develop cross-cultural management skills. 

One final piece of advice, particularly when bearing in mind the drive that is so characteristic of young professionals: don't be obsessed with immediate success. As a rule, unless you are very lucky, success is attained only after many years’ hard work and after building a reputation in the eyes of a wide range of stakeholders. 

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