June 9, 2008

Coveted, lucrative, and rare

Filed under: Job Search, Making money, Success at Work

The question on every job hunter’s lips is, “How do I make myself stand apart?” It’s a good question because it seems every joker and his sister apply for every job posted on the Net. The competition isn’t just stiff — it’s voluminous. How does a good worker rise above the sea of mediocrity?

You won’t like my answer, because it’s not an instant solution. It takes time to become one of the precious few who stand out.

How would you like to be known as coveted, lucrative, and rare? That’s the title of an Electronic Engineering Times article by R. Colin Johnson, and it reveals three important guideposts for how to make employers beg you to work for them.

Johnson’s article discusses analog engineering. This discipline was the core of the electronics field for decades. The circuits engineers designed prior to the 1980′s were primarily analog electronics. Think about volume controls and tubes in old FM radios; heaters in toasters; the motor driving a table saw. As digital technology exploded on the scene in the 1980′s, college engineering programs started cranking out digital engineers, and there has been a dearth of analog engineers since. The result is that good analog engineers are now almost priceless. So much for “not being cutting-edge,” eh?

Like I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter what’s hot; what matters is how hot you are.

In a discussion with a leading electronics company, Johnson almost inadvertently reveals three guideposts to standing out. First is art. You can’t just follow the rules, apply your skills, and get the work done. You must find and reveal the art in it.

Take accountants. Any good one can follow the rules and run the numbers very accurately. But, the art of accounting involves using your skills to identify and capitalize on trends in your company’s finances. Accounting becomes art when the practitioner develops the big picture and sees the business on a whole new level. Any engineer designs a circuit. A great engineer is an artist, because she sees how a design can be implemented at low cost for high-volume production to make more money for her company. That’s art. Want to stand out? Advance the art in your work.

The second guidepost is mentoring. The company in Johnson’s article is successful at hiring analog engineers in part because it has a mentoring culture that grows more of them. The rare analog guru mentors the next crop. Want to stand out? Get mentored by a guru.

The third guidepost is time. (See? I told you this would hurt.) Turning your work into an art makes you a guru, but that takes a lot of practice. The manager in the article says, “Analog technology requires five to seven years of on-the-job experience before engineers can begin making significant contributions.” Or before their expertise becomes coveted, lucrative, and rare. Want to stand out? Want to be worth a mint? Invest the time to get mentored and turn your skills into an art.

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