How to Be More Employable: Experience Is Everything

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How Will You Measure Your Life?" by Clayton M. Christensen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Looking for advice about how to be more employable? How can you get the job you really want?

The “schools of experience theory” is all about how to improve employability. If you want to know how to be more employable, you should learn to apply this theory to your own career.

Find out how to be more employable today. 

How to Be More Employable: Focus on Experience

When businesses hire people, especially for key positions, they often prioritize talent: They look for people with the “right stuff.” But when people succeed, it isn’t because of innate talent, but because they learned to handle pressure and setbacks through experience. Employers make better hires when they look for the right experiences rather than promotions and awards.

This “schools of experience” theory of hiring can help to guide your career. The key is to seek out jobs that provide key experiences relevant to the job you ultimately want. Similarly, in your family, create experiences for your children that build key skills.

Improve Employability With Experience

In the 1979 book The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe described the competitive world of test pilots, where those who were chosen had a unique combination of talent and fearlessness: the “right stuff.” NASA adopted the formula for choosing the first astronauts. 

Similarly, many companies look for the right stuff, or innate talent, in hiring key executives. They look for candidates with a string of successes and an upward trajectory. However, talent doesn’t predict success—it’s common for executives who were successful in one company to fail in the next.

A better approach to hiring decisions is the “schools of experience” theory developed by Morgan McCall of the University of Southern California and described in her book High Flyers. This theory can help you find out how to be more employable.

The model focuses on process capabilities—whether a candidate has handled situations like those he would face in the new position.

Successful leaders develop their abilities through “courses” they take in the schools of experience: failures, challenges, or experiences doing something new. For example, Nolan Archibald, CEO of Black & Decker, decided early on that he wanted to become a CEO. But instead of seeking a fast-track executive training position, he started out working in an asbestos mine. Throughout his career, he continued to ask himself what experiences and problems he needed to master so he’d be capable of becoming a CEO.

Build Your Career

You can build your career the same way by “signing up” for important experiences, instead of looking for jobs with pay and prestige or a fast track to promotion. Determine which experiences you’re likely to need in the future and master those “courses” before you need them. This advice can help you to dramatically improve employability and achieve your dream job.

How to Be More Employable: Experience Is Everything

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  • How economic theories that help businesses succeed can also help individuals make better life decisions
  • How to build a career that makes you happy
  • How to deepen your relationships with your spouse and children

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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