Career Capital – The Best Investment in Yourself You Can Make


In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport talks a lot about something he calls “career capital.” [1]

Simply put, career capital is nothing more than building and acquiring rare and valuable skills over time.

The term rare can be subjective. Rare skills don’t necessarily have to be a single rare skill. You could take several skills that a lot of people have and combine them into a portfolio or combination that is rare.

Take my experience, for example. I have sales experience, technical recruiting experience, project management experience, marketing experience (and education), and leadership and management experience. I’ve worked for small boutique companies and Fortune 500 companies. I’ve worked for startups and private companies. I’ve worked for myself and ran a business.

A lot of people likely have experience in one of those things and, if they desired and were qualified, moved into a leadership role, still within the same vertical of recruiting, sales, or marketing.

This type of experience doesn’t make me a universal fit for a lot of jobs or career paths. Still, it does make me a phenomenal fit for a few roles, especially those within recruitment marketing,  including leadership roles, as well as strategic and leadership roles within a marketing org.

A pitfall to avoid is becoming a “jack of all trades” or obtaining unrelated, shallow skills. That could be helpful at a small company that needs a lot of things done, but possibly nothing done well, and I don’t know of any companies like that. I think they’d instead hire someone who does one thing really well and can figure out the other stuff for a short time- while still doing that one thing well.

The key is to understand how what you’re doing now could complement what you’ve already done. How could a pivot in one direction add another unique layer to the skills you already have?

For me, when I was recruiting, I saw a connection between what I had learned in graduate school about marketing and how recruiting could be done better. I knew I needed to get better at marketing, so I decided to spin up a side business and jump in, despite having never been in a formal marketing role before.

I worked hard to teach myself everything I could about digital marketing. I was extremely curious, and this fueled a passion for wanting to know more and more and go even deeper. I stretched my comfort level and acknowledged that I had a lot to learn and that, to me, was exciting.

I then tried to do what Cal Newport refers to as seeking “open gates” or “opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.” This was difficult to do at a place like Microsoft, where roles are rigid, and so much of a recruiter’s value is based on numbers. It doesn’t afford you much time to learn new things or stretch.

I did what I could, though, with what I had, where I was at the time. I became involved in anything remotely similar to digital marketing, such as being a part of the Windows recruiting social media team. This allowed me to get to know someone more involved in this area and was moving toward a career in recruitment marketing.

I also was a contributing writer to the Microsoft Jobs Blog.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter nor help me there. The value of what I was doing wasn’t seen by my manager, whose only measurement tool was the number of hires a recruiter contributed. In my opinion, the number of hires I was able to achieve, given how many other things I was involved with was pretty remarkable. At least to me, it was, and that’s all that matters.

We don’t always know how our careers will pivot and what opportunities will present themselves. Still, we recognize opportunities and open doors when we spot them, and my advice is to rush through them and embrace them for what they are: a chance to add to your career capital.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

[1] “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, Cal Newport p. 42