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This has been a great year for conversations about “equity” – political equity, financial equity (or not), social equity.

From a conceptual standpoint, equity refers to how much investment you’ve built for a given asset, which might be your political reputation and influence, the value of your home relative to your mortgage, or the amount of standing and influence you have in your community of choice.

From a career standpoint, professional equity is a combination of the job skills, expertise, and experience you’ve accumulated, the relationships you’ve developed, and the reputation you’ve built so far in your career.

The Skills, Expertise, and Experience Piece

In 1999, Tom Peters wrote The Project 50: Fifty Ways to Transform Every “Task” into a Project That Matters!, touting the importance of looking at your work as a series of “projects” that either provided you with terrific learning experiences or demonstrated your extraordinary skills. Since then, the concept of building your professional portfolio around several (as many as possible) signature projects has gained traction as a way of providing evidence not only of what you know, but also of what you can do with that knowledge.

How does this work in real life? Look at career opportunities from the perspective of how they’ll help you document outstanding work. Join, create, and/or lead projects whenever you can, even if it means putting in extra (uncompensated) hours or volunteering outside of your job. Your goal is to find ways to distinguish your contributions, and working on high-visibility projects is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do that.

The Relationships Piece

Every day in your career you have an opportunity to build positive long-term relationships with co-workers you’ve identified as people you enjoy, admire, respect, and/or can learn from. Working with them, you have an opportunity to see very clearly who they are, how their values align with yours, and what professional skills they bring.

You also have an opportunity to help these individuals build their careers. In so doing, you build long-term and mutual respect, trust, and goodwill. By being a positive player in your co-workers’ lives and careers, you signal that you care as much about their success as you do your own. And you will be building professional relationships – and equity – that will sustain your career for years to come.

There are all sorts of ways to build positive connections with your co-workers and others with whom you come into contact in a professional way. Some basics:

• support others’ success through your connections
• share your knowledge and experience
• find opportunities to applaud others’ achievements – in public
• model positive collaboration
• find ways to reach out and help others, especially with their careers

Think of this as career karma – the good that you do for others can’t help but come back to you.

The Reputation Piece

What kind of professional reputation do you have, or would you like to build? Your professional brand is basically what people think of when your name comes up: your character, values, judgment, intelligence, reliability, creativity, and similar significant characteristics.

You build your professional reputation by the work that you do, your visibility within the field, your communications (in person, in print, and online), and your engagements (read: associations in which you’re active, volunteer work, etc.). The longer you work in the LIS profession, the more engagement you’re involved in, and the more actively you establish your online presence, the stronger your professional or career brand will be.

Putting Them All Together

The good work you do, the strong relationships you nurture, and the professional reputation you build provide the sturdy platform you’ll need to continue to build your work opportunities over a decades-long career. Multiplied over years of work engagements, your growing professional equity will be the greatest asset you have for creating a sustainable career.