What is career capital and how to build it effortlessly

Where possible you should build career capital that is relevant and transferable to many different jobs in the future (Shutterstock.com)

You have about 80,000 hours in your career and if you make the right career choices, you can have a hugely positive impact on the world.

Not everyone thinks of their career as an opportunity to do good. But for those that do, there are many immediate opportunities to improve the world. However, the idea is always to invest in yourself so that you can do greater good at a later stage.

Oxford-based non-profit 80,000 Hours has coined the phrase “career capital” to refer to anything that puts you in a better position to make a difference in the future. And they recommend that you stay preoccupied with career capital up to your early 30s.

What is Career Capital?

Career capital includes:

  • skills (abilities that allow you to do useful things);
  • connections (people you can call on to help you do useful things);
  • credentials (ways to prove to others your abilities);
  • good character (the ability to discern and do the right thing) and
  • savings (which allow you the flexibility to make major career changes if necessary).
  • Where possible, you should build career capital that is flexible; that is to say career capital that is relevant and transferable to many different jobs in the future. The job market will change, you will change, social problems will change, and you’ll learn more about the world and yourself as you progress through your career – so it makes sense to build career capital that allows you to transition into new areas in the future where you can have greater impact. 

    Read: Could you really lose your job to a robot? The earlier you are in your career, and the less certain you are about what you want to do in the medium-term, the more it makes sense to focus on gaining career capital that’s useful in many different career paths.

    How do you build flexible career capital?

    First, taking good care of yourself

    Staying happy and healthy is a pre-requisite for building career capital - you can’t help anyone if you’re burned out. Look after the basics: getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well and maintaining good friendships. The relatively high rate of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues amongst people in their 20s highlights the importance of also looking after your mental health. If you experience difficulties with mental health, focus on managing this first.

    Second, take jobs that put you in a better long-term position

    Focus on working for organisations and with people or teams with a reputation for high performance. These need not be in formal graduate recruitment programmes. In South Africa and globally, high performance organisations include (but are not limited to) those in the tech sector, professional services firms such as top corporate law or accounting firms,  those in certain parts of the financial services industry such as client-facing investment banking and asset management firms, and management or strategy consulting firms.

    Bear in mind though that the largest and most formal organisations are not the only good options for career capital: many smaller fast-growing organisations allow employees to take on lots of responsibility and expose them to various areas. It is also important to consider personal fit and whether you’d enjoy these jobs and be motivated to perform well in them – if you know or think you’d hate investment banking, then don’t go there! Lack of fit or enjoyment could make it difficult to keep yourself motivated and therefore hamper your ability to build valuable career capital.

    No matter which career path, you can build career capital by learning a valuable transferable skill (perhaps part-time while working or in your free time). Coding and marketing are skills required by a large range of organisations, so these are particularly transferable skills to learn via a short online course from online institutions such as Udemy.

    Finally, you can build career capital by taking opportunities to achieve impressive and socially valuable things such as founding or leading an organisation, or just becoming kick-ass good at something. Upskill or learn something totally new: Udemy has over 24 000 interesting and inexpensive courses available to start right now. Check them out today. 

    Also read: How your favourite hobby can become a full-time career

    Gaining career capital is important throughout your career, especially when you’re young and you have a lot to learn. If you focus on building valuable, flexible career capital early on, you’re more likely to be able to have a more fulfilling and impactful career overall.

    Our Career Growth column has many more tips to build a successful career.

    Pieter du Toit is a Fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa and a member of a group of qualified and student actuaries who write a column on topics that serve the public interest.