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How to Control Your Professional Destiny

A businessman in a suit standing by a window looking at his phone.

Bestselling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

Times have changed in our working lives, and loyalty, hard work and sacrifice are no longer sure pathways to success. Yet traditional wisdom has not changed with the times and is crippling the professional advancement of many—even those in the HR community. 

The traditional advice that suggests loyalty, hard work and sacrifice will earn you job security and a comfortable retirement is an outdated myth. Because corporations focus mostly on profitability (as they must) and less on your continued well-being, holding onto such a belief is short-sighted.

Here's how to maintain economic stability and well-being in a way that also sparks your professional growth: Take a more businesslike approach to your career development. Recast your professional identity into "Me Inc.," a small business that anticipates challenges, faces them squarely and makes decisions with the objectivity of a corporation. 

Research shows that our professional lives include job changes about every four years (tenure is declining rapidly) and three or more distinct career changes. Yet most of us have never developed the skills that are critical to survival and prosperity amid such changes, including how to:

  • Build your career like a business with you as the CEO.
  • Write a resume that gets results.
  • Leverage professional networks.
  • Quadruple the interviews you get.
  • Turn interviews into job offers.
  • Negotiate effectively.
  • Anticipate layoffs.
  • Fight age discrimination.

Successful careers don't happen by accident. The key to success is preparation. To keep yourself employable, you must stay in tune with the new skills that employers are seeking when they hire people like you.

Twice a year, collect half a dozen job postings for the job you have now and the job you would likely pursue in the event of an unexpected layoff. Review those job postings to identify the skills employers are seeking. Consider adding any skills you do not have to your professional development program.

The old approach of pledging blind loyalty to a corporation that might, at any moment, replace us with a piece of software or someone cheaper puts you in jeopardy. There may be sunny days in your career now, but you know the deluge will come—and your survival and success depend on your being prepared.

Martin Yate writes SHRM's career column and is a New York Times bestselling author and an expert on career management. Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!


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