What Road Are You On?

Salopek_nearTarsus-CilikianPlainTK_Aug2014

Source: Paul Salopek, copyright 2014

With the economy going down and the economy going up and the economy leveling off over the past 20 plus years, and with corresponding commentary around the new “hot careers”, and booming industries, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing workplace,   the changing needs of organizations, and the evolution of work. I’m sure I’m not alone.

It’s pretty clear that the fundamentals are vital to being successful. As a worker (whether a line assembly guy or financial executive), you must develop your skills, substantiate (and maintain) your productivity, and continuously contribute to whatever your particular bottom line is to be thrive professionally.

However, even if you do all these things, if you’re in the wrong company or the wrong industry at the wrong time, no matter how good you are, your job may go by the wayside. You may find yourself updating your resume, searching monster.com, interrogating your linkedin network to find a new opportunity, or more basically, a way to pay the bills.

Thirty years ago when young people were coming into the workforce the experts talked about that generation changing jobs – even industries – five times during a career.

Fast forward to the Wild West of the internet / mobile technologies boom of the last twenty years. The job market saw people jumping from company to company, opportunity to progressively (seemingly) better opportunity in pursuit of the “big money”, the brass ring, the buy-out that would turn stock options into retirement pre-40.  People changed jobs like you might trade-in your car or update your wardrobe.

Then the bubble burst.  The hot industries, the hot companies matured, were acquired, or simply didn’t make it.  The sometimes crazy cash that was being thrown at any venture with “network” or “internet” in their name or mission statement dried up. Things stalled out. The recession hit. Many lost their jobs because payrolls needed to be trimmed. Others lost their jobs because the cool start up they were working closed its doors and the next best thing wasn’t around the corner.  Belts had to be tightened.

So where does that leave us today?  Over the last five years or so we’ve seen a bit of a renaissance emerge.  New technologies, new industries, new markets are again developing. Capital is being invested more wisely (some would say).  Entrepreneurs are being held to a more stringent standard to demonstrate their business ideas and that the products behind them are (or will be) viable in real time for a reasonable ROI.  Companies are turning profits, hitting their marks, managing their marketplace more successfully.

But a vibrant workplace is still slow to come back in some ways. And even as job opportunities have picked up, the nature of the work, and the underlying expectations, often now put the employee in a more dynamic (and precarious) position.

This central question must be answered:  What does one do to keep one’s prospects bright in the face of such a professional environment? There are two keys that we have to focus on in this case, and the good news is, we control them both.

First, not only do you have to develop your core work skills and knowledge base (whatever your discipline), but you have to keep on learning and improving. It’s all about attitude. You have to maintain a positive outlook and BE OPEN to learning new things.

Too often people that have been in the workforce for ten, fifteen, twenty years, get set in their ways. It’s human nature. But you have to turn that perspective on its head if you want to survive (even thrive) in today’s job market.

You need to be continually thinking about how you can improve, further the skills you have, and add new skills to your CV. Center your thinking around being innovative, progressive, efficient. Adding value is the key (see earlier post).

The second thing is be open to new industries, new fields, new arenas for you to apply your transferable skills.  Some people would disagree with me and that’s fine.  I maintain none-the-less that being willing and able to re-invent yourself and your skills is paramount.

Many people perceive that they are “stuck” in one industry (computer networking), one profession (accounting), or both.  If they lose their job, they don’t know where to look beyond other networking companies, other finance departments.  “I can’t switch now, not at my age. No one will consider me,” is an attitude I’ve heard time and again.

In the end though, if you’re looking for a job, it’s up to YOU to find your way, it’s up to YOU to sell yourself, it’s up to YOU to decide what job you will be happy with (title, responsibilities, compensation).  No one can do it for you.

Organizations are going to make the best decisions for themselves, which often means more 1099 workers (temporary/contracted) versus W-2 employees (with full benefits), and layoffs as the bottom line dictates.

You have to make the best decision for yourself, including the environment you want to work, creating your opportunities, being a relentless learner, being positive.

The question is, “What road are you on?”

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