January 10, 2011

A worker in his late 20s told me that he has been glad to be rid of a recently departed colleague who has been bugging him to quit, too. His departed co-worker’s issues are not his issues, and the worker who is staying has no need or intention of leaving.

We concluded the other guy is negative, a chronic complainer and a gossip. These characteristics are part of his DNA. He may have changed jobs, but he is unlikely to change his DNA until he realizes there is a problem with it. We expect him to be unhappy in his new job soon. It is in his DNA to be unhappy.

Think of DNA, in a career sense, as your Dominant Natural Attributes.

When smart employers evaluate candidates they look for strands of DNA. Training can add skills but no amount of training can be counted on to add DNA qualities like a positive attitude, optimism or discretion. Journalists benefit from having job gene maps that contain curiosity, resourcefulness, critical thinking, skepticism, honesty and an orientation to details.

This is not to say that you cannot change your own DNA. But the employer who counts on changing your DNA for you is on a fool’s errand.

Candidates improve their chances and their careers by accentuating the best part of their DNA and working on their own to improve the other parts. It helps to have an honest friend tell you what is in your DNA — the good and the bad.

Once you put a name on traits that are your natural strengths and work on improving others, you can begin creating DNA markers. These show up in your resume, your interview and your elevator speeches. Statements and anecdotes should illustrate what’s in your DNA, not just where you went to school or where you worked.

To discover the traits employers look for, pay attention to their job postings and who they reward with promotions and responsibility. This work can begin in your present job. There is no reason to wait.

When great DNA is evident to recruiters — some of whom describe it abstractly as passion or “a natural,” they note it and keep you in mind for years.

So work on your DNA, and then work hard to get out the message about what you’re made of.

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.

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Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website. From that, he published…
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