Human capital – the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value.
Last week, my tennis instructor was knocking balls across the net when he suddenly threw up his hands and yelled, “What’s wrong with you? You are so low energy.” I knew he was right. I had no fire. I was the Jeb Bush of the tennis class.
CALL ME ANYTHING BUT “LOW ENERGY”
Even though big GOP donors put their millions behind Jeb Bush in the GOP primaries, Jeb crashed and burned early once he was labeled “low energy.” Who would want to have someone low-energy on their team? No one. Youthful energy is the core of human capital and is what people want from those they hire, regardless of age.
Older workers are being downsized out of full-time, full-benefit jobs and have to settle for intermittent contract work. While business owners and public-sector workers have relative protection, the rest of us have to work hard to protect our human capital.
So, every Sunday, I go to the local tennis center, an old church sanctuary converted into indoor tennis courts, where I pay my weekly offering to my tennis instructor who castigates me into becoming more aggressive and guilts me into pushing beyond my comfort zone. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Other than staying physically charged, how can we maximize our human capital over our decades long careers?
Managing appearances is the easy part, because it just requires time and cash. While it is horribly unfair, the reality is that the way we look is an integral part of our human capital. Allow me to venture into the realm of Glamour magazine: No, don’t go overboard and spray tan yourself into an orange complexion or coif a combover worthy of a bird’s nest. Focus on battling the haggard appearance that doth so easily beset us with age. Get those age spots lasered before people remember that their granny also has those same age spots. Get those crows feet and brow furrows injected for a more well-rested appearance (and prevent the dreaded resting bitch face). And ask your dentist to whiten your teeth a couple shades before your yellowed teeth has coworkers questioning your hygiene. These subtle tweaks will make you look less weathered and give you more confidence that the employers and clients you are speaking to are paying attention to what you have to say and not how you look. If it doesn’t help, at least you’ll be an Uber driver who looks good for his age.
BRAND YOURSELF LIKE TRUMP
While I am skeptical of Trump’s management of his financial capital (i.e. casino bankruptcy filings), I feel that Trump has something valuable to teach us about human capital, particularly in the area of branding ourselves. People pay a massive premium to live in a building with Trump’s name on it. They could live in a building across the street for far less, but they don’t. They pay up for the perception of higher quality and higher desirability that the brand ensures.
Trump says, “No one is better for _____________ than I am.” “While I haven’t ____________, I have negotiated huge deals with __________, and those people love me.” “I will be great for __________.” “I will fix this by ___________, and convince ____________ to pay for it.”
In the same way, we should tell employers and clients what we can do for them that someone newer or cheaper can’t. We should not just compare ourselves to a generic job description. We should ask, in what area are we more expert than others? In what area can we say, “No one is better for ___________ than I am.”?
PROMOTE YOUR SKILL SETS, NOT YOUR LAST JOB TITLE
The skills that help us succeed in one line of work are equally valuable to tangentially related fields. In fact, opening our mind to this possibility can dramatically expand the potential of our human capital. Skill sets like team management, coordinating expert input, researching technical information, analyzing data can be generalized and applied across numerous fields. So as Trump would say, “While I haven’t ____________, I have successfully __________, and those people love me.” In fact, forward-thinking companies desire this diversity of experiences to get an extra edge over those who hire traditional candidates.
COMMUNICATE YOUR BRAND
Trump communicates his interests, his special skills, and his values every day on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and a multitude of international news outlets. As he does so, he elevates the value of the Trump brand around the world. If a person’s LinkedIn profile looks like an old-fashioned resumé, he is not branding himself, even if he has lots of “connections.”
We should develop a network of followers that are interested in our unique areas of expertise. Maintain a blog or write articles and post them on LinkedIn or professional society resource pages or be a guest author on someone else’s blog. Attend conferences as a learner and ask for presentation roles. Communicate experiences, interests, special skills, and values, and, more importantly, engage in dialogues with followers.
PUT A BADGE ON IT
Finally, our branding efforts need to include badges and validated credentials on our personal profiles, just as Trump’s buildings display their iconic badges to lend credibility to the buildings’ desirability. In the same way, displaying validated credentials and endorsements on professional profiles increases a personal brand’s value and credibility. If all else fails, I guess we give in to the trend towards the “gig economy” and turn our homes into boarding houses or turn our cars into taxis when we get downsized before we reach the finish line. But I’d rather try to preserve my human capital.