Originally published on Forbes.
Over the past decade, I’ve interviewed, coached and mentored hundreds of professionals, ranging from graduates to executive-level leaders. While each had their own unique career path and personal journey, I noticed a common thread among those who had progressed faster and were more successful than their peers. They all leveraged their unique combination of:
If you’re unfamiliar with the strategy of applying career multipliers, then you’re likely not alone. However, this could also mean that you’re missing out on applying levers that could significantly accelerate your career advancement, improve your employability and increase your earning capacity. I’ve experienced firsthand how leveraging my own multipliers advanced my career at a much faster rate than average. More about that later.
First, you need to understand what career multipliers are. I use an analogy of a combination lock when I explain this to my clients (the ones that have dials numbered from 0 to 9). These locks usually ship with at least three dials for a good reason. One dial has no combinations and has a measly 1 in 10 chance of being cracked, whereas three-dial combinations have much better 1 in 1,000 odds of being cracked. Consider your marketable qualifications, skills and strengths as wheels in a combination lock. How you combine these can determine how valuable you are in the marketplace.
Now, you would never deliberately set your lock’s code to 222 or 777. That would be foolish. Yet in the competitive job market of hundreds of thousands of accountants, software developers, legal practitioners, etc., all vying for better jobs, we often see most professionals limiting themselves to common and predictable "combinations" of qualifications and skills. So unless they’re in that upper fifth percentile of talented performers, they struggle to stand out.
A far wiser approach is to set a combination like 914 or 703 — in other words, to strategically select a combination of unique marketable skills that differentiate you in exponential increments. Take Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in the world, as an example. To overcome his fear of public speaking as a young man, he registered for Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course (which he later shared was the best investment he ever made). Coupled with his skill in writing, he developed a rare marketable combination that allowed him to communicate complex financial concepts in a manner that was persuasive to the layperson, thus multiplying his influence. Where other financial experts often struggle to communicate effectively, Buffett became a master given his unique "career combination lock." These were his career multipliers.
Early in my own corporate career at a Fortune 500, I inadvertently leveraged the skills of public speaking and facilitation in my combination lock that accelerated my progress and earning capacity far beyond my law and psychology degrees alone. I learned these skills from volunteering to run children’s classes, taking drama and singing classes, and competing in Latin dance.
These experiences gave me the confidence as a junior employee to put my hand up to speak during a workshop, capturing the attention of executives who later invited me to tour the country, with our CEO, to co-present a new company initiative to thousands of senior leaders. This level of exposure opened up many new connections and amazing opportunities to grow within the company.
An additional wheel was leveraging negotiation skills learned in my MBA classes that helped me secure a virtually unheard-of 50% jump in salary followed by an equally impressive jump later. I attribute much of my fast-tracked career advancement and reaching the “head of” level by the age of 30 to these career multipliers.
This strategy has also worked with many of the women I’ve coached who started to see significant advancements in their careers and earning capacities through being deliberate in how they developed and applied their own unique combination of multipliers.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine your own career multipliers and to get you thinking about how to create your unique career combination lock:
1. What experiences have I had outside of what’s typical in my field? Did you organize student events at college, or were you on the debate team? These skills could help you add value in what you already do for your organization. Do you have experience with different cultures, or have you traveled extensively? Can you leverage experience from another industry?
2. What unique training and education do I have in my toolbox, and how can I leverage it? In 2010, my husband was engaged by G20 hosts, the South Korean government, for presentation and moderation coaching. Through casual conversation, they also learned of his background in environmental science and keen interest in economics. He combined this with his sales training to win another major contract as an environmental economics policy advisor to the government for the G20 conference.
3. What hobbies, interests and life experience could give you a unique edge? Singing and becoming a champion Latin dancer gave me an edge in confidence, gesturing and voice projection, allowing me to deliver high-standard keynote presentations. A passion in psychology allowed me to write a bestselling book on Amazon.
4. What are the gaps in my field? I recently came across a medical professional who identified a gap in marketing services for medtech startups. The medical field is highly regulated, and most marketing firms don’t have the in-house expertise to service medical startups.
5. What unique and marketable skills can I learn reasonably fast? Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferris highly recommends three easily attainable career multipliers for a competitive advantage: public speaking, effective writing and the ability to negotiate.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work with women, it’s this: We all have the ability and the power to reflect on, identify and then leverage our unique combination lock of skills and strengths. This will accelerate your career development, multiply your influence and help you stand out.