Career capital refers to the abilities and resources you accumulate – whether skills, credentials, connections, or savings – that allow you to do more with your career in the future. It’s an important consideration in long-term career planning, especially in the early stages of your career.
Increasing future impact
It’s fairly obvious that going to university or gaining professional experience can help us reach our personal career goals, but people often don’t think about how these things can help us optimize for social impact. Instead, those who want to do good often rush to make an immediate impact without taking into account the extent to which expertise, experience, influence, and resources can vastly increase the value they can provide to the causes and organizations they believe in.
In some cases, it makes sense to jump into a directly impactful career early on. Other times, particularly in the earlier stages of your career, it makes more sense to focus on gaining experience and skills that can increase your future impact. Because this approach can come at the expense of your immediate impact, whether or not you should prioritize career capital right now depends on your individual circumstances. Below, we’ll look at the four primary components.
Components of career capital
These are specific abilities you possess, such as knowledge of a programming language, familiarity with project management, or proficiency in marketing analytics. Acquiring and developing your skill set can have a major influence on what jobs you can land and how effectively you can carry them out.
These can be any sort of externally verifiable evidence for your training, competence or achievements. This can include academic degree certifications, previous titles (especially in prestigious companies), awards, specific projects you can showcase, etc. Often your credentials can open doors to various opportunities, perhaps even more so than the direct skills they are meant to provide evidence for.
These are the different types of interpersonal relationships you develop and maintain, within or outside of a professional context. Your connections can heavily influence what jobs you hear about, get recommended for, and your ability to exert influence in many positions.
There are important personal reasons to save money, but such savings can also allow you to take career paths you couldn’t have otherwise – most notably those that involve little financial compensation or high financial risk like extended higher education, starting your own company, or working in the nonprofit sector.
Why is this important?
So why is career capital so important? First, early in our career we still have decades of work left, so every improvement to our abilities can serve us across a wide range of opportunities and efforts. People also tend to be at their most productive in the middle stages of their career than early ones. Second, most of us start our career with relatively few exceptional skills. As a result, the direct impact we would be sacrificing early in our career is small relative to the much larger impact we could have as seasoned professionals.
Since there are different kinds of career capital ,it’s important to think about how flexible it is. Some career capital can be useful across a wide range of fields and paths. This can include, for example, getting a degree from a highly prestigious university, working for a company famous for hiring the best people, or studying a degree that is in high demand across fields (like mathematics).
Other career capital can be extremely specialized for a specific domain, or even role – like studying synthetic biology to help pandemic preparedness. Which type of career capital you should pursue depends on your circumstances. If you are confident in the path you want to pursue or are already committed to it in other ways, it often makes sense to focus on specialized career capital, as it can be more useful in that particular context. If you’re still uncertain about the most important causes to work on, which profession is a good fit for you, or how you’ll feel about these questions in a few years, pursuing flexible career capital could be a good choice for now.