Turn necessity into a virtue.
In addition to the above, career professionals are confronting the disproportionally rising cost of housing, education, healthcare, and self-reliant retirement planning.
Responding to this new reality—or better yet, proactively meeting it—requires a nimble frame of mind that, fortunately, has emerged in the wake of another megatrend: employer demand for lifelong learning and professional development.
Rethink your career as a protean career.
Douglas T. Hall first introduced the concept of “protean careers” (as opposed to “traditional careers”) in 1976. In today’s reality, this approach can provide a certain inoculation, an option for transforming uncertainty into opportunity.
A protean career is a process masterminded and managed not by any organization and its agents but by the individual. Projects and assignments come and go, and although you can certainly make some noise about the value of your contributions, it is not up to your supervisor to identify your potential for career mobility; it is up to you.
Success in your career endeavor, then, is not so much defined by your moves up the corporate ladder; it is defined by the sense of purpose you find in your work—success is first and foremost internal-psychological.
Trade loyalty for mobility.
Interestingly, in Richard L. Knowdell’s card-sort assessment Career Values (©2005), loyalty is not even part of the set of value cards. Some of my clients who take this assessment don’t even notice unless afterwards they happen to come across loyalty as a value in some context.
“Employment at will” is reciprocal: just as the organization can terminate the relationship, the employee can move on at any time. In fact, an increasing number of recruiters and managers suspect complacency when someone stays put in any job for “too long” (vague as that notion may be).
“Mobility” today is not so much about going upward within an organization; it means going wherever there is a good place for your next step. I know several publishing professionals who have switched jobs in the same metro area back and forth among three major companies, with no apparent hard feelings on anybody’s part.
Trade advancement for growth.
In traditional careers, mentor relationships are about getting the individual ready for set career paths with defined positions. “Advancement” is achieved when the individual climbs a rung in the organizational hierarchy and is a capable performer in the higher-level position.
In protean careers, mentor relationships are about fostering the individual’s capacity for resourceful delivery of solutions. “Growth” is accomplished when the individual achieves incremental competency building and attains recognition for these competencies by internal or external clients.
Communicate your own identity, not your organization’s.
Your current employment relationship is subject to change, so there may be a different organizational culture to assimilate from one job to the next. Moreover, you might start freelancing, or otherwise start your own business; in that case, there wouldn’t be any employer to define who you are professionally.
In the 21st century, you as a career individual mold your own substance by integrating the various sources of educational background, training, and experience. As a business of one (and current or potential job seeker), you need visibility in your own right. It is for you to communicate your know-how, your passions, and the solutions you provide. That is who you are, separate and independent from any past, present, or future employer.