Who Are the Most Valuable Employees?

Roger CusterYoung professionals sometimes ask me how they can get a job or how they can do well in their first job. I advise them to be entrepreneurial in whatever they are doing. You might only think about entrepreneurship as starting a business – but it applies to every job. The most attractive job candidates are usually the self-starters who have demonstrated their ability to go above and beyond to create value. What are you doing in your current job to distinguish yourself? What do you do outside of your job to distinguish yourself?

Here are some generalized examples:

1. A student contacted me last year asking for an informational interview. She was a rising senior who wanted to be more involved but didn’t know where to start. I was impressed by this before she came and then she arrived early, asked good questions, and showed a real drive to succeed. I connected her with the Institute for Humane Studies and her local state think tank. She interned there and got a job upon graduation. Contrast this to students who wait for someone to give them a job and then are surprised when they are under- or unemployed after graduation. All you have to do is ask for help!

2. Two candidates apply for a position with a nonprofit organization. They both attended fine universities and earned a solid GPA with relevant coursework. Both candidates had relevant internships and experience that would probably make them a good fit. However, one of the candidates was a leader on campus with demonstrated results because she led a libertarian campus group that was able to change students’ minds and even reverse an orwellian speech code on campus. She took initiative above and beyond the other candidate and is probably more likely to get the job.

3. Two candidates are finalists for a job. They both have 2 or 3 years of relevant experience in the field that would qualify them for the position. They both have strong recommendations from employers, professors, and others. However, one candidate is already involved with the hiring organization because he volunteered at events over the last year and has developed relationships with several people on the staff already. He is probably more likely to get the job because he took the initiative above and beyond his previous job to be involved with an outside organization in a similar field.

Please note that these are generalizations and each hiring manager will have different criteria on which to make a decision. The point is that students and young professionals who have an entrepreneurial attitude, and create value above and beyond the minimum, are more likely to be hired and more likely to be successful.

You can start being proactive right now. If you are a student, get involved with campus organizations and find ways to create value for other students using your skills and talents. If you are a young professional, ask your supervisor if you can help with different projects or how you can do better on current projects. Consider volunteering or getting involved with outside organizations in your field, too.

Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation

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