To advance your career, think of yourself as a business


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You may be a scientist. But you’re also a business. And if you want to build a successful career—be it in academia, government, industry, or the nonprofit arena–you’ll need to think of yourself as such.

I understand that this idea may sound foreign to you, especially if you went to school to study science and not business. But whether you like it or not, you are a business in many ways. Businesses offer products and services in exchange for money. Similarly, when you land a job, your employer will (hopefully) give you a monetary reward in exchange for the work that you perform—in other words, the product or service that you provide. As you progress in your career, you’ll also need to innovate, for instance, by developing new skill sets and looking for ways to add value to what you can offer an employer. And if you work to promote yourself as though you were a business, you’ll be more successful at convincing others of your worth.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas to help you incorporate a business approach into your career planning and development, no matter the path you are on.

  1. Focus on one skill that you can “sell.” Identify something that you’re particularly good at. Then, focus on sharpening and expanding that tool in your toolkit. Career doors will open for you if you can make a strong case that you’re better at something than the average job applicant, and that with this tool, you will be able to advance the objectives of the organization that you seek to work for.
  1. Be patient during periods of change. New products take time to develop and bring to market. Similarly, if you’re learning a new skill or trying to break into a different profession, it’ll take time. Don’t go in with the expectation that you’ll be immediately productive and successful. Give yourself room to adjust and grow in the direction that you aspire to.

You can build a satisfying, successful unicorn career, but to do so requires guts, patience, and sound business practices. The sooner you start treating yourself as a business with a stellar product to sell, the better. So, let’s get you open for business! 

Concepts in this column come from and build on the author’s previous published works, including articles, speeches, and her book titled Networking for Nerds.

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