Are you a recent graduate looking for ways to be successful in your career (or mid-career, looking for a boost)? Then try thinking of yourself as a product and find ways to ‘upgrade’ yourself every year. Here’s how…

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Are you a recent graduate looking for ways to be successful in your career? Or perhaps you’re mid-career, looking for a boost? Try thinking of yourself as a product and find ways to “upgrade” yourself every year.

Even if you’re still paying off your college loans, there are creative and cost-effective ways to continuously learn and grow. If you view yourself as a competitive product — with features, benefits, assets and liabilities, all waiting to be improved upon year over year — you can create your personal brand and differentiate yourself from others.

Many companies take the time every year to listen to their customers’ needs, and then upgrade and improve their products so they can sell more. You can use this business process to make yourself a more valuable employee.

Improvement doesn’t have to be expensive. Let’s say you have a new job and you want to be able to take on new and challenging projects, so you choose the topic of project management. You could go to the library every month and check out a different book about project management.

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If you start now — picking one subject per year and reading books on that topic — just imagine how many subjects you could learn (and become an expert in) over the next 10–20 years. It’s truly amazing when you consider how a small change like this could have such a huge impact on your career.

In interviews, I always ask job candidates to tell me what they’ve done to “upgrade” themselves (i.e., to improve their skills) during the past few years. One job candidate looked at me, laughed, and then said, “Nothing lately; I graduated from college a few years ago, so I’m finally finished with my education.” As you might imagine, that wasn’t the answer I was hoping to hear.

The best way to increase your value as an employee is to always keep learning and growing. Treat your career as a business, and treat yourself as a competitive product — and keep improving year after year.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.