Unplanned career change brings with it a sudden array of pressures. These can include dealing with the uncertainty created by the loss of a formal position, financial concerns, and family instability, as well as the need to articulate capabilities and begin to exploration and capture a new career.
At the same time, as a wise colleague once said: “Being retrenched can be like being kicked in the bum with a rainbow.” In other words, after the initial wave of emotion and uncertainty, the period between careers can be liberating – a time to decompress and effectively take a sabbatical of sorts.
There is a wider context – and this concerns the way work in fact is changing. A part of the sabbatical phase should entail taking a look at how markets are changing and how work itself is evolving. This can be more productive than focusing wholly on intense and (sometimes futile) efforts to replicate the past. This can be hard - since one’s first instinct is to follow the pathways and practices which have worked before.
The more we observe what is happening around us, and the more we read about the future world of work, the more difficult it becomes to fashion something called a “career”. For many people, the term career does not adequately cover the shifts in activity and the sideways moves that are standard in today’s ‘career’. The linear progression from law firm mailroom to graduate lawyer to partner is less and less likely in today’s changing world of work.
We are now experiencing major shifts in the way work is experienced. There are the things we see clearly, like the impact of technology and the emergence of new professions around IT utilisation, the internet, and social media.
The careers of finance professionals, lawyers, IT people, HR people, line managers, administrators, public servants, lecturers/teachers and widening collections of other busy people are not quite so easy to picture in the future. Few of this wider group do one set of activities all their lives any more, nor do they rise up occupational ladders quite as much. There are often a number of shifts in what people do for a living, and for whom, and in the relationships between them – moving through employment, contracting, outsourcing, off-shoring and so on.
Organisational careers are reducing significantly in numbers, as work is outsourced, or achieved through contract engagements, and as organisations downsize, merge and change shape more frequently. Periods of self-employment, as advisors, consultants, project leaders, subject experts and so on are becoming common in the span of current careers. Working in this framework requires skills which are not developed particularly well in a corporate or public sector environment.
What does this changing context in the world of work mean for a mid-career professional suddenly needing to create a new field of employment and potentially a new identity?
Maybe the word “career” should come to mean simply a collection of occupations through which one earns a living.
The important reality is that the passage of this evolving collection of activities is increasingly an individual's responsibility. There won’t be one employer to thoughtfully provide learning and development opportunities to sustain upwards mobility.
Organisations looking for people to do things in return for reward, are becoming increasingly focused on variable rather than fixed costs, and therefore progressively agnostic about engaging individuals as employees, preferring to bringing in contractors, outsource, or any other of a range of temporary value adding exchanges.
Certainly, there will be need for some core specialists and leaders in most organisations. Smart organisations will seek out this talent and carefully foster their careers, and will naturally be concerned about their engagement and loyalty. However, unless you can become one of this inner circle, employment as such is becoming much more transactional – and temporary.
Therefore, young people (and not-so-young people) need to be prepared for working within organisations, as well as for working outside them. And the “outside” or independent phases may entail providing services to people, or things like designing, making, connecting, researching, joining partnerships, project managing, directorships - and portfolios of several of these activities.
The capacity to navigate changes in occupations is a beneficial skill to have in today’s workforce.
So, what does this involve?
- Reflect a little on the three types of capital critical for the future:
- Intellectual capital: mastery of more than one field of knowledge: being willing to embrace new areas to master over time, and trial new fields of work,
- Social capital: building diverse and creative networks and strengthening what Professor Grattan calls “regenerative networks” (alliances with people who support one another),
- Emotional capital: which is all about self-insight, resilience and tenacity.
- Adopt a “self-employed” mindset, wherever you are: Ensure you maintain continuous skills development and remain curious about your ‘market’ - the needs that are required around you and how to evolve what you do as those needs shift and change with industry or legislative changes and technology advancements. Work on building broad insight, through what we call “intelligence gathering” interviews or meetings with your network, which will help you to move widely beyond your current field of work.
- Reaching your markets: Understanding emerging needs, working on how you might design and offer solutions and remain visible with a well-managed brand. Whilst some great “markets” may be within a current organisation, look outside of your organisation as well, to provide a measure of independence in this critical area. Read the latest industry news and actively explore new fields of activity. If you don’t know how to use social media for the benefit of your career, now is as good a time as any! Continue to refine your online professional profile, particularly on LinkedIn (or other social media relevant to your industry).
- Build and maintain relationships in a range of networks: Opportunities arise in the most unlikely places. Stay active with your networks of fellow professionals, people in adjacent fields, business owners, mentors and others whose advice you value, and where you may be able to reciprocate. Networks should be nurtured consistently, rather than being revived only when a pressing need arises.
When an unplanned job change occurs, career transition services can support you through this process to build your knowledge, resilience and confidence to take the next step.
Our services involve coaching and tools to assist individuals to build standout resumes and LinkedIn profiles, understand and ace the interview process, tap into the hidden job market and utilise professional networks effectively. Alongside these activities though, we believe a much broader thinking and exploration is needed, because the world of work is changing so fast around us. Building new skills around intelligence gathering, market exploration, research, relationship building, social media and starting a business have become essential in the future world of work.