Company of One
New book offers practical tips on career management
by Greg Hutchins
For About 20 years, I’ve surveyed books on careers. A great selection was published in 2007, but I’ll now focus on one of the best: You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself by Harry Beckwith and Christine Beckwith.1
The title gives away the overarching theme. You are a company. You are responsible for your life and career success. Period.
When Tom Peters proposed treating yourself as a brand in his Brand You books several years ago, it was considered radical.2 Now, it’s conventional wisdom.
You, Inc. takes the idea to the next stage—career management 2.0. The authors offer practical tips for career and life management success. Most tips are commonsensical, such as “life is a sale, find your story and tell it well,” and “set goals not because they will help you reach them, but because they will teach you.”
The real power of the book, however, is in the details and stories of how to internalize and execute these practical tips.
Vocation and avocation
An avocation is “something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especially for pleasure; hobby.”3 There seem to be two types of career books. One type of book basically says you should find your passion and then follow it. These books do well in terms of helping you find your avocation—what you want to do. The challenge is that there might not be a market for your avocation.
Another type of career book lists tools and techniques that will improve performance once you have a job. I call these vocation books. A vocation is “a particular occupation, business, profession or calling” or “a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.”4 I like these two definitions of vocation because they blend what a person likes to do with what pays well. And, that’s the strength of You, Inc.
You, Inc. recommends finding your vocation along with your avocation. You can think of it as old-school advice mixed with new-school attitude. For example, my dad’s advice was to follow your passion but have a solid day job. I didn’t understand the advice for a number of years and dismissed it. Also, there were no books I could turn to that provided real-life stories.
I thought technical skills, along with the right effort, would be the keys to my career success. That was partially right. Technical skills opened doors and got me my first job. Then, I learned job success was based on project success—mastering the cost and quality sides of work.
Later in my career and still today, success is measured by managing people’s productivity to enhance the revenue side of the work equation. This relies much more on emotional maturity than technical capabilities. Another great strength about You, Inc. is that it focuses on the emotional maturity side of the equation.
You, Inc. tips
Since Peters’ Brand You concept, people have had difficulty with the concept of “living is selling,” which is one of the recurring themes in You, Inc. Some readers might be offended by this idea. However, it is the premise of almost all current career books.
Many of us were coached to find our passion and follow it. The employer would value our technical contributions more than our personality and soft skills. You, Inc. and most job books now stress that employers hire for attitude and train for aptitude.
You, Inc. advises readers how to gain emotional maturity and develop soft skills. For example, communicating, listening, speaking and relating are the significant work and career success factors. Many of the tips seem obvious, such as “praise often but flatter never,” and “no politics.”
While these suggestions might seem obvious, how often do we consistently practice them? That’s the point of the book: Most life, career and job successes come down to doing the simple things we all know, but doing them consistently.
Finally, You, Inc. shares prescriptions for life and career success in a witty and anecdotal way. The authors offer about 200 prescriptions for life, career and job successes in chapters that range from 30 to 200 words. Each tip and tool is set in the context of a short and amusing story.
Ready for recession?
I estimate that at any given time, more than 40% of workers are contemplating some job shift—up, across or even out. And a lot of pundits are using the big R word—recession—in their forecasts.
If they’re right, this means each of us should take a hard look at our career and job options. You, Inc. is a short, quick read that will get you thinking—and moving.
- Harry Beckwith and Christine Beckwith, You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself, Business Plus, 2007.
- Tom Peters, The Brand You 50, Knopf, 1999.
- Dictionary.com., http://dictionary.reference.com.
GREG HUTCHINS is an engineering principal with Quality Plus Engineering and Lean SCM in Portland, OR. His firm has received a certificate of conformance for its critical infrastructure protection forensics and assurance analytics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He is a member of ASQ.