Published on 2020/01/21

The EvoLLLution | 2020: The Year of Boutique Employability
Humans are multidimensional, unique and have great potential. Our education ecosystem should facilitate, rather than squash, that “boutique-ness.”

At the beginning of December, a journalist from Northeastern University contacted me to schedule an interview about my research on personal strategy and my recently published book Crafting Your EDGE for Today’s Job Market. We discussed that the book equips millennials, graduates and soon-to-be graduates with an instrument to craft their Boutique Employability, all while they are still in college doing their capstone projects, internships and consulting cases.

We also discussed that the book would serve accomplished professionals (say, veterans) with a tool for how they can reconfigure and utilize their already accumulated personal, social and professional capital for self-differentiation at the new, for them, civilian market.

While the article was initially scheduled to be published in December—to introduce the book as a Christmas gift that parents could give to their graduating millennials, or that friends could give retiring service members or to those who keep saying that it’s time for career change—we went another route. Instead, he said, “No, let’s hold it until the beginning of January, as the BE-EDGE method would be a handy tool for a New Year resolution.”

It was unexpected and exciting new angle for me to look at my work. The more I write about Boutique Employability and talk about the “BE” personal strategy with millennials and accomplished professionals, the more I see his point.

The point is that the new year is the time when we, as well as our students, can decide who is in control of our professional choices and of the content of work that we do.

If it is “them” in control—employers, market demands, educational programs, or anybody else—we follow a conventional approach to employability. We take these external demands as given, and we keep trying to adjust ourselves by getting more diplomas, more credentials, or more connections in a constant effort to be competitive. Then we wait to be selected by “them.”

The point is that the new year is also a time to decide how we define ourselves as professionals. If we define ourselves with one dimension while answering the “what do you do?” question, we again follow a conventional approach to employability: We define ourselves as an “accountant,” “teacher,” “army officer,” “supply chain manager” or any other one-dimensional term, while keeping our other interests and qualifications aside.

We want “them” to be comfortable in understanding who we are, and we pay for their comfort by diminishing our own uniqueness. Besides, we put ourselves into a highly competitive field of other one-dimensional professionals, both in danger of losing this competition to those who are younger, or speak better, or have flashier diplomas even if they have fewer real qualifications than we do.

As a New Year’s resolution, we can say, “It’s time for me to define myself as a professional, and I define myself with all the unique credentials that I have. This definition is multidimensional because I AM MULTIDIMENSIONAL. It will be me who will craft my educational path, and it will be me who selects an employer that fits my unique profile. My personal strategy is ‘BE’—that stands for Boutique Employability—which is built-in in my profile. Now I need a tool to make it happen, and I will find a way to apply this tool in the new year.”

This is what we can define as our 2020 New Year Resolution. This is what many of our students can do as well.

Coming back to our role as educators, the question is: How can we serve students who perceive themselves as multidimensional and want to build their personal strategy of Boutique Employability and craft their edge? It seems, we can do more.

We teach our graduates to define vision and differentiators for businesses, so we should also equip them with instruments for shaping their own unique and differentiated space in the market.

We teach students to apply design thinking to overcome tough challenges in product design, so we should also teach them to apply design thinking to their OWN career design challenge.

We direct our students to take a strategic approach to a variety of projects, so we should also guide them through making their OWN strategy project.

We send students to internships and connect them with companies, but we do not measure the impact of these placements on students’ personal, social and professional capital—the types of capital that they will need for success.

We invite veterans, former athletes and other accomplished professionals into our programs but, too often, ignore their already accumulated, rich, and highly multidimensional profiles.

When it comes to crafting a professional life, we simply ignore the need for a personal strategy as science and practice that must be as rigorous as any other strategic endeavor. We can do better in 2020—for ourselves and our students.

I have written a number of articles on the strategic nature of the “BE” personal strategy, analyzing it through the terms of strategic theories. I love thinking about multidimensional profiles of millennials, and how such profiles are surprisingly similar to profiles of people who decide to make a sharp turn in their careers. I have developed the BE-EDGE method, and tested it in more than 140 student projects, developed within 12 programs by over 600 students. I am passionate about it and would love to continue this discussion.

I want to finish this post with “Happy New Year” best wishes.  If we are multidimensional, we are unique! Let 2020 be a year of crafting our edge and feeling right about our boutique spaces in the market! Let’s make 2020 a year for boutique employability—for us and for our students.

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