Increasing your chances on the labor market? Employability, your partner in crime!
Whether you have just entered the job market, you have recently been fired or you are looking for that new challenge in your career, the same question will arise: ‘How can I increase my chances of finding a job?!’. Theoretically, the answer to this question is quite simple: increase your employability! This probably raises two questions for you. Firstly: “Empl … what?” Fair question, we will come back to this in a minute. Secondly: “How can you approach this successfully?” Also, this question will be answered in this article as we will provide hands-on tips & tricks to increase your employability and thus increase the chance of getting your dream job!
Coming back to your first question: ‘What exactly is employability?’. Employability refers to an individual’s chance to find a job on the internal or external job market (Forrier & Sels, 2003). Someone who is very employable therefore has a strong chance of finding a new job both within their current organization or with a new employer. Focusing on your employability is a strong asset in the labor market, both for people who are actively looking for a new job and for people who want to proactively invest in their future careers.
Four ingredients in your employability backpack
What actions can you take to increase your employability? Let’s make it visual for a moment. You should see your employability as a backpack that you carry with you in your search for a new job.
In other words, this backpack is your movement capital: your individual set of personal strengths in the form of knowledge, skills and attitudes. The richer the content of this backpack, the higher your chance of finding and getting your dream job. What kind of knowledge, skills and attitudes are indispensable in your backpack?
In summary, we can distinguish four assets: your social capital, human capital, self-awareness and adaptability. Investing in these four elements will significantly increase your chances of finding a job! Let’s take a closer look at each of these four assets.
- Social capital
Social capital reflects the value of social networks in shaping your career. This is about the power of developing a general network attitude: investing time and effort in building a strong personal and professional network. In career literature, this is described as ‘knowing whom’ competences: knowing which people can help you to attain your career goals. Which (business) connections can strengthen your social capital? Here, it is important to invest in both strong and weak ties.
Strong ties are people with whom you have worked for a long time, with whom you have built a strong emotional bond and who you trust, for example ex-colleagues, a mentor or a supervisor. These strong ties can be of great value in your future career. It is, for example, not uncommon for companies to reach out to former employees after they gained experience elsewhere, so-called re-hires. It is therefore useful to maintain good contacts with your former employer and colleagues.
At least as important is betting on weak ties. These are acquaintances that you have come to know throughout your private and professional life, for example fellow alumni, your professional network on LinkedIn or fellow members of a professional association to which you are affiliated. It is these weak ties that build bridges between different social groups and thus lead to the most useful information in your search for a new job. Companies, for example, will first announce their vacancies to their own staff intending they will address their personal network first. When you belong to the professional network of these staff members, you can stay up to date with interesting job openings before the large crowd can apply for them. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
In summary, the stronger your professional network, the stronger your social capital and the higher your chance of finding a job.
- Human capital
Human capital encompasses individuals’ knowledge, skills and abilities that affect their career opportunities. These are your ‘knowing-how’ competences: ‘Do you have the abilities to meet the performance expectations of a given occupation?’. Throughout your career, you have probably taken some first steps in strengthening your human capital, for example through your studies, previous internships or work experiences. Nevertheless, refining your human capital is a bullet point that should never be deleted from your to-do list. If you want to increase your employability and thus your chances on the labor market, you should invest time strengthening the following competences:
- Job-specific competences: This knowledge and skills can only be used in one specific job and therefore cannot be transferred to other jobs and contexts, for example, knowledge of company-specific procedures. We daily spend a lot of time developing these competences to ensure that we perform well in our current job. A possible pitfall, however, is that your knowledge and skills become so job and company-specific that you will become stuck in your current job.
- Generic competences: To increase your chances in the internal and external labor market, it is important to also pay attention to developing generic competences. These are competencies that are not related to a specific context and can therefore more easily be transferred to other work environments. Some examples of generic competences are soft skills, language skills and broad knowledge of important theories and concepts within your professional field. It is these skills that make your profile attractive to a wide range of positions and employers.
- Career competences: A final category of competences that will significantly increase your chances on the labor market are career competences. We distinguish three groups. First, reflective career competences. These competencies provide an answer to questions as: ‘What are my strengths and weaknesses?’, ‘What motivates me in a job?’ and ‘What are my future ambitions?’. A second category are your communicative career competences. These competences ensure that you can inform others about who you are and what you stand for. This includes self-profiling (how do I introduce myself and pitch my strengths) and network skills (how do I build and use a professional network). Last but not least: behavioral career competences. This includes, for example, work exploration (finding out which job opportunities on the labor market match your unique profile) and career management (developing and implementing an action plan to achieve your future career goals).
To conclude, try broadening your horizons by looking for formal or informal learning opportunities that strengthen your generic and career competences. Believe us, the job market will welcome you with open arms!
A third asset that is unmissable in your employability backpack is self-awareness. People who are self-aware are conscious of their strengths, weaknesses, goals, values, beliefs and who they want to become. In order to increase your self-awareness you must address the following two questions:
- Who am I? Do you want to increase your chances of finding a job? Then it is important to know who you are and what you stand for. What are your unique talents and interests, what drives you in your career, in which areas can you still grow?
- Who do I want to become? To increase your chances of finding a future job, it is also important to know clearly what type of job and organization you are looking for. Which types of jobs match your individual set of skills and interests? Are you someone who will thrive in a start-up environment or do you prefer the fixed career paths and procedures that a larger organization has to offer? When will you experience your future career as a success? Is it a high salary package, a good work-life balance or the ability to develop expertise within your job domain that will give you that success-feeling? These are important but difficult questions that require time and attention.
In summary, self-awareness serves as an ‘internal career compass’. It makes you reflect on your past and current career, providing you direction in identifying future career opportunities. Self-awareness is a strong asset in the labor market. Knowing what you stand for and being able to communicate this to the outside world in a good way (through a strong resume, a clear LinkedIn profile, a convincing job interview, …) will significantly increase your chances on the labor market.
A fourth and final asset that will help increase your employability is strengthening your adaptability. This refers to the willingness and ability to change your behavior, feelings and thoughts in response to environmental demands. An adaptable mindset allows you to evolve and enables you to adapt your social capital, human capital and career identity to new circumstances. Just like a chameleon adapts to the changing surfaces in his environment.
The current COVID-19 situation is a good example of these environmental requirements to which we are forced to adapt. Due to the difficult economic conditions, there were fewer vacancies available on the labor market. Especially for young people, it was not easy to find a job in the past year. They had to compete against a large pool of experienced employees who ended up on the labor market due to, unfortunately many, layoffs. In a situation of a tight labor market, it is important to know how you are going to adapt. For example, what sacrifices are you willing to make in order to find a job? It can be useful to ask yourself the following questions:
What is the minimum net salary for which I want to sign a contract? What is the maximum amount of time I want to spend on commuting? Am I only willing to sign a contract for an indefinite period or am I also open to temporary contracts? Since it is difficult to find a job, am I willing to accept a job below my competence level?…
The recipe to strengthen your employability?
To put it in Piet Huysentruyt’s words: ‘What have we learned today?’. In summary, we can conclude that the recipe for a strong employability backpack consists of four ingredients: your social capital, human capital, self-awareness and adaptability. Investing time and effort in strengthening these four employability assets will significantly increase your chances of finding a job both on the internal and external labor market!
Of course, we don’t want to send you into the employability field without any tools. Our online coaching platform myCareerCompanion can be a useful aid in enriching your employability backpack. For example, through the myCareerCompass section, you gain insight into your core talents, interests, career drivers, boundary conditions and corporate cultures in which you will flourish. Sounds like an ideal first step to strengthen your self-awareness, doesn’t it? On the myCourses section of the platform, new input continuously appears that can be useful in refining your other three assets. For example, what about a course on networking or LinkedIn to boost your social capital? Whether you gain information about tips & tricks for scoring on a (digital) job interview or about writing a strong cv, your human capital will love it. Feel free to check it out yourself!