By: Scott Steinberg
So much for job security: The average amount of time that you can expect to work at any given gig is roughly 4.6 years (or 3.2 years if you’re aged 25 to 34), and most of us are expected to work 12 or more jobs in our lifetime. Given ongoing economic uncertainty and growing geopolitical volatility in the wake of COVID-19 and other ongoing disruptions, it’s safe to say that the traditional career ladder is looking more rickety than ever. However, as we point out in the recent book FAST >> FORWARD, there are still many ways for forward-thinking working professionals to find ongoing success despite disruption – no matter your chosen field or specialty. Below, you will find a number of expert hints and tips designed to help you enjoy continuing growth in your career, regardless of your chosen industry or experience level, no matter what tomorrow (and rising market uncertainty) may bring.
Rethink Your Career Roadmap – Trade secret: A steady upward climb is no longer the only way to advance a career. As you think about charting your path to the top of the corporate world, also think in terms of the sidestep, backstep, and all-important slingshot. In other words, sometimes when you look for new opportunities, you’ve got to take a sidestep (e.g. moving into a position of equal rank and pay) or take a backstep down the career ladder to acquire essential experience. For example, A backstep might involve moving to a new organization that promises fewer accolades or financial gain but provides helpful training and experience in new areas – including insights, skills, or grounding in emerging market sectors that will be more widely applicable or in-demand going forward. Case in point: Suppose you’ve been out there in the field for a while and find your career plateauing. You might consider moving sideways (sidestepping) into a position of equal rank and pay, in an organization that promises more opportunities. Or you could take a backstep, working for less pay or a less prestigious title, at a more innovative startup that offers new hands-on learning opportunities. Alternately, you can go for a slingshot move as well: In effect, doing both a sidestep and a backstep at the same time – making fewer instantly gratifying moves, and more choices that actually help you advance towards your career goals. When you apply the knowledge, experience, and skills gained through these moves, you increase your chances of leaping far ahead of where you started.
Maintain a Long-Term Outlook – Think you’re having it rough out there in the job market, or coming up short on job security? Researchers at Boston University found that the most successful professionals in contract IT and filmmaking—among those careers most lacking in stability—pursued stretchwork, roles that emphasized learning new skills over increasing their income. Over time, they came out ahead of their peers. Keeping this in mind, it pays to not only push yourself to learn new things, but also emphasize long-term growth over immediate returns. If a volunteer position or chance to help a colleague at no charge helps you expand your work portfolio, demonstrate your talents to another industry or market audience, or make crucial contacts, don’t be afraid to contribute. None of this is wasted time. You’re building resilience and elastic (aka highly-versatile) skills that you can apply in any context. This moment also gives you a chance to explore the question that leaders ask themselves when they reach career turning points: What do I need to do right now to get where I want to be later?
Ask Your Professional Network for Help – The most successful people understand that if they want to solve big challenges and spot potential areas for business or career growth, they need to surround themselves with a network of diverse individuals with different backgrounds, skills, and experiences. And they are constantly working to build these relationships. If you are one of the many people who is searching for a new work opportunity in the wake of COVID-19, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more that you make others aware that you’re looking for work, the better off you’ll be. If you’re shy about connecting with peers, find an excuse to be in their inbox, even if it’s just to share an article you think they would like. You can also proactively network and make introductions between your connections, especially if they have similar interests or complementary skill sets.
Don’t Be Afraid to Improvise – Continuous change is the new norm in business. Happily, in today’s highly disruptive world, innovation is just another word for improvisation—and anyone can adapt to new and novel problems the same way leading innovators do: By studying problems, brainstorming original solutions, then steadily trying and improving as they go. To thrive in fast-changing times, change with them; to future-proof yourself, become more flexible. Today, winning isn’t about having more resources, rather being more resourceful; getting ahead not about being a genius, but more ingenious instead. To succeed in unpredictable environments, you’ve got to find the courage to take chances. In uncertain times, everyone wants to be risk-free. Instead, you can create a competitive advantage by being risk-averse—recognizing that change is coming, and making smart, calculated, and cost-affordable bets that can help you gain the insights, talents, or capabilities today that will be in-demand tomorrow.
Capitalize on New Technologies and Trends – If your industry or career path has been upended by COVID-19, now’s your chance to think about where your experience could be an asset, perhaps in a way you’ve never explored before. The world’s business leaders pay attention to signals, emerging innovations, and disruptions that show where the marketplace is headed. And you can do the same. Familiarize yourself with your industry’s leaders and their competitors, and recent events in your current space, and any related fields. Be on the lookout for developments like new startups and investment activity. Set up Google alerts, sign up for virtual conferences and talks, seek out relevant academic studies. As you start to see the same terms or names come up in your research, that’s a good indicator you’re on the right track, and you can begin to adapt or expand your skillset accordingly – or utilize your talents in new and novel ways to help employers in other spaces achieve their goals. Finding long-term career success is about constantly keeping an eye on where tomorrow is headed and taking the steps necessary to either start down this path or put yourself back on it today.