Building Career Capital in Nursing

Building Career Capital in Nursing

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

“I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.”  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

One of the questions that I often get asked by students involves how they can advance themselves in their careers.  Some are looking for the magic bullet that will quickly propel their careers forward.  But the reality is that in most cases, a great career is built over time.  It like putting together a fabulous mosaic.  There are many intricate and sometimes disparate pieces that come together and form something that is much greater than any individual piece.


In his new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You  Love, Cal Newport points out that when you hear the stories of people who ended up loving what they do, this same pattern comes up again and again. They start by painstakingly developing rare and valuable skills—which he calls career capital. They then leverage this capital to gain rare and valuable traits in their career. These traits lead to a feeling of passion about their working life. By focusing on becoming so good they can’t ignore you, Newport proposes that you’re maximizing the rate at which you acquire the capital you need to take control of your livelihood.

Career Capital in Nursing

Career Capital is the value of your competencies, knowledge and individual personality attributes.  Rare and valuable skills are especially important career capital and can make you stand out as a candidate for any new position that you apply for.  Building career capital in nursing may entail taking on a challenge that no one else wants or developing a skill that will become invaluable in the organization.  I know a nurse who assumed responsibility for the implementation of the electronic medical record in her facility when an informatics nurse abruptly resigned just before the system was scheduled to go live. She confided to me that  “It was a mess and I was on a steep learning curve but no one else was willing to do it.  In the end, I came to love what I was doing and the vendor offered me a position.”  I have another colleague who is positioning herself to become an expert in genetics.  She recently told me, “This is the next big thing in health-care.  I am pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone to develop these competencies. It is taking all of my free time but I know these skills will be invaluable.” 

Ways to Build Career Capital

Career capital can be built within your organization or through outside activities.  To build career capital, you must be consistent and very reliable in all your interactions as you develop these competencies and knowledge.  Some examples of ways to gain career capital include the following:

  • Become certified in your specialty but consider looking for an additional certification such as in quality
  • Cross train in another specialty area in your facility
  • Chair task forces or groups even when it means coming in on your time to do it
  • Volunteer for stretch assignments
  • Take a leadership role
  • Read professional journals in your areas of expertise and at least one outside your area of expertise
  • Become bilingual
  • Volunteer for overseas medical missionary trips
  • Run for local, then state then national office in professional associations
  • Earn a graduate degree
  • Write articles for professional journals
  • Attend professional meetings and network with others

Taking the time to build career capital can have huge long-term payoffs.  Does it involve sacrifice?  The answer to this question is yes it will.  But if you take the time to talk with an successful nurse leader, you will find that they have spent years building the career capital that has taken them to where they are today.

Read to Lead

Newport, C. (2012).  So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You  Love.  NewYork: Business Plus Publishers.

© 2013