The iPhone Proposition

Published in CareersConnect, May 2011

By Peter Weddle

Apple's iPhone has captured the popular imagination. Even among those who own a competitor's phone, the iPhone has come to symbolize sleek styling, innovative features, and ever more useful capabilities. That perception and the reality it celebrates are a perfect model for those of us who are in transition and looking for a new job or employed but searching for a better opportunity.

Co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs, and company recognize that standing still is the single best way to fail in today's economy. Their competitors are always raising the bar in terms of design and performance, so they must too. Similarly, consumers are forever raising their expectations about what they want and need from a cell phone, so Apple must oblige. In effect, those two inexorable forces mean that the only way Apple can survive and prosper is by working continuously at getting better.

The same dynamic also now impacts all of us in the workforce. Our competitors in the United States and abroad-those who want our job or the job we want-are upping their game and improving their ability to contribute to an employer's success. At the same time, employers now expect higher performance and harder work from both their current employees and those applying for their open positions. As a result, the only way we can survive and prosper in today's economy is by adopting the "iPhone Proposition": we must work continuously to stay ahead of both our competitor's capabilities and employers' expectations.

Sleek Styling, Innovative Features, and Ever More Useful Capabilities
To replicate Apple's success, capture the imagination of employers, and set ourselves apart as particularly valuable candidates or employees, we have to accomplish three tasks:
• Determine what skills and knowledge our employers most want to see us provide,
• Acquire those skills and knowledge even as we look for a new job or work at the one we have, and
• Make sure that the full set of our skills and knowledge is known to potential employers or our current one.

Task 1: Determining the Skills and Knowledge that Employers Want
Unfortunately, most employers only advertise a portion of the skills and knowledge they would like to see in their candidates and employees. For candidates, they describe them in job postings, and for current employees, they detail them in position descriptions. In today's highly competitive global marketplace, however, those stated qualifications aren't even the minimum necessary to be judged "fully qualified." What's often unstated but just as important are such ancillary skills as the ability to speak a second language, use the latest hardware or software in a particular field, or manage a diverse and dispersed team in the accomplishment of a key objective on time and within budget.

How can you determine what ancillary skills and knowledge are most important? Talk to managers who hire for the kind of position you seek, but don't ask them about the job; ask them about the characteristics they'd like to see in their perfect candidate. Focus on figuring out what kind of person they want to hire, not what requirements and responsibilities they've listed for the kind of job you want.

Task 2: Acquiring the Skills and Knowledge that Employers Want
Fortunately, every ancillary skill and all of the latest knowledge are taught somewhere and, increasingly, on a convenient schedule. Many traditional providers-academic institutions and commercial training vendors-now offer courses that are run before and after the normal business day. In addition, a wide variety of instruction is available on the Internet and thus accessible 24/7 and from home or even on the road when traveling for business. The key to success with this task, however, is our mindset. It's not "one and we're done." Acquiring skills and knowledge has become a permanent feature of our careers, so we are never finished. Each of us, in effect, is a work in progress.

How do you justify making room for this new demand on your time when you probably already have a very overcrowded schedule? Look at it as an investment in your future. Continuous self-improvement won't provide job security, but it will give you career security-the ability to always be employed and always by an employer of your choice.

Task 3: Making Sure the Full Set of our Skills and Knowledge is Known to Employers
Many of us fall into two traps when it comes to promoting our self improvement efforts.First, we believe we should keep these activities to ourselves until they're complete. Second, we see such self-promotion as something that's unsavory or at least impolite. Employers, however, are seeking personal attributes as well as skills in their candidates and employees. Informing them of ongoing developmental efforts, therefore, is advantageous because it demonstrates two characteristics they value highly: initiative and self-reliance. Further, self-promotion isn't off-putting if it's done in a professional manner. The key is to focus on describing the potential value of the new skills and knowledge to the organization rather than on celebrating the sacrifice that's been made or the personal credential that's been earned.

How do you accomplish such professional self-promotion? If you're employed, it means taking the initiative during performance reviews and other meetings you schedule to keep your boss informed about your progress. And, if you're in transition, it means highlighting your ongoing developmental effort on your résumé.

The fact that you haven't finished isn't important. Whether you're an employee or an employment candidate, your goal is to establish yourself as a work in progress. That image will differentiate you from everyone else in the workforce who portrays themselves as "done." Like the iPhone, it will say you are already good and always getting better. There's no better brand in the workplace.

About the Author

PETER WEDDLE is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including the recently released The Career Activist Republic and Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System. Both are available at

© Copyright 2011 WEDDLE's LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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