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Bill Davies

JCA Global

Principal Consultant

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How to create sustainable employability


Our career is essentially a pathway through our working life. This is a route that we build ourselves and one that requires construction through the social, economic and personal aspects that we are born into and we come across as we develop.

We know that, as adults, the biggest single factor to any achievement is our attitude.

A strong example of this is captured by Victor Frankl in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ where attitude directly impacts survival in extreme war scenarios.

Much of what he writes about also links to career success factors, such as not becoming overly ‘target’ focused, and the need for the ‘why’ being more important than the ‘how’.   

This is only possible when we have our emotional needs met, such as:

  • A sense of meaning and purpose
  • We are stretched and challenged but have a sense of autonomy and control
  • Being part of a social group with status and respect

When these needs are not fulfilled, our health and wellbeing are compromised as we experience stress. Longer periods of stress tend to lead to fatigue and often to depression, anxiety, mood disorders and ultimately can lead to clinical conditions.

Resilience itself is very much about mindset.

As Mike Norton, the bestselling independent author and veteran of the United States military, once said:  “Master yourself, and become king of the world around you. Let no odds, chastisement, exile, doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be its conqueror.”

Having the correct mindset and capacity to effectively manage your energy in the workplace is something we call ‘career resilience’.

It is important to learn to be self-confident and choose the best course of action, bounce back from stressful situations, learn and adapt positively to adversity, pressure and change. It’s all about being able to respond positively to changing work circumstances, to have the assurance and willingness to take risks.

At the end of the day, resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties. Instead it gives people the strength to tackle problems head on, overcome adversity and move on with their lives. This requires attributes such as adaptability, flexibility, and a host of other mindset related attributes.

Building a suitable mindset alongside your skill set

As I looked at how the broader topic of career resilience has been studied and defined, I noticed parallels across the two occupational arenas I myself inhabited throughout my own career – the business world, working with mainly managers and leaders to support their development, and the careers world, helping young people and those out of work to make choices and find suitable employment, often overcoming barriers on the way.

In the business world I noticed that there is regular commentary about leadership, progression and learning, as well as about the changing context and the increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous work environment.

This is impacting on the recruitment needs of employers, as well as individuals, as the CIPD noted in its ‘Megatrends’ report on things that are likely to shape the world of work, the workforce and the culture and organisation of workplaces in the near future.

In the careers world, there is a whole range of studies around building ‘employability’. Research in the last decade refers to key attitudinal elements such as self-efficacy, pro-activity and adaptability. Building employability is particularly noticeable in graduate development. Across both these ‘worlds’ it is the need to build skills-set AND mindset that is very noticeable.

Career resilience and the link to emotional intelligence

We observed that much of what was required to be career resilient tied back to the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). In short, personal and career resilience are outcomes of being emotionally intelligent and people that have high EI have greater mental health, exemplary job performance, and more potent leadership skills.

What do we mean by EI? In broad terms it is the ability to integrate feelings and thoughts to take action. It can also be seen as the degree to which people are able to manage their personality and get the most from themselves. This ability is dynamic and can change in the moment, but can be developed over time.

Here are some explicit links we can make in connection with EI, career resilience and employability:

  • The ability to set goals and be focused and emotionally resilient, and with a personal belief system that pushes through to achieve outcomes
  • The ability to create effective relationships that share responsibility whilst being personally fully accountable
  • The ability to be flexible to changing conditions and be open to new possibilities and others’ ideas and approaches
  • The authenticity and connectivity with others that contributes significantly to a climate of mutual trust and understanding that produces conditions for creativity, pro-activity and high energy team achievement
  • The ability to effectively challenge others and make interventions that improve situations
  • The sensitivity and empathy to build strong rapport and respond to important underlying need and motivations in self and others

These are just some of the outcomes from developing EI and how this links to elements seen in employers’ requirements and the achievement of being more employable, as well as agile and resilient in the ever changing employment market.

EI is developable and can have profound positive effects on performance and through this contribute significantly to the mindset of career resilience.

Of course people do need career related skills such as CV writing, information gathering and interview skills, and they need to build experience. However, EI should be at the core of developing an effective workforce of the future, and for individuals it will support them in weathering the often challenging climate of the labour market with its increasing change and global volatility.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” – Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

Top tips to build your career resilience through EI

  • Regularly give and seek feedback
  • Identify and write down your strengths, passions and values and use them to make choices
  • Regularly contribute to, and support others, in your network
  • Look for opportunities to go beyond your job role in a way that meaningfully stretches you, draws on your strengths and makes a contribution
  • Challenge others having built trust and rapport first
  • Take time to re-charge every day and maintain your energy levels
  • Set career goals but remain flexible about how you achieve them
Author Profile Picture
Bill Davies

Principal Consultant

Read more from Bill Davies