By Ginny Clarke and Echo Garrett
The world of work has changed forever. Not only have jobs been lost, many will never return—at least not in the same form we are used to. Forty percent of the U.S. workforce is predicted to be independent contractors by 2019, up from 26 percent today, according to Joanne Sujansky, author of “Keeping the Millennials.”
The construct of conventional employment is becoming passé as many companies are choosing—or are being forced to choose, in many cases—to take on independent contractors instead of benefit-laden employees. Some are even rehiring their laid-off employees as consultants or contractors. Employers are crafting creative and cost-effective ways for their workers to manage their careers and lives. These efforts take the form of workweeks that are less than 40 hours, telecommuting, job sharing, and lateral moves.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009), people spend an average of 4.1 years at a job and have seven to 10 jobs in the course of their lives. This number is up from four to seven jobs five years ago. Since the best defense is a great offense, you’d best have a map, a strategy to guide you through this journey of inevitable job and career changes.
It is a common perception that one’s career path will lead to a single “dream job,” but in reality that “dream job” is largely an anachronism. Most people I know have a vision of what the pinnacle of their career climb looks like, but you’ll find that you actually are climbing a mountain range with peaks of varying heights. On each climb you’ll use different technical skills, and with each peak you conquer you’ll be rewarded with a different view of the horizon beyond.
This cataclysmic shift in the new world of work has huge implications for how you manage your career. First and foremost, it means you have to adopt a free-agency mentality. Just like professional athletes, you have to know what your transportable skills are, what you are worth, which teams you would consider playing for, and which factors will trigger a “trade.” The difference from the sports analogy is that in the world of work you are representing yourself without the counsel of a high-powered agent.
Having the mindset of a free agent gives you a huge advantage whether you are employed, unemployed, a consultant, or a small business owner. You are the captain of your ship. You cannot be pulled off course because you have your bearings, you know the value of your assets, and you are willing to create opportunities for yourself.
Years ago, during healthier economic times, a friend called to tell me that his position as a real estate portfolio manager had been eliminated. As an executive recruiter, I was used to calls like this, but John wasn’t asking me to keep him in mind for new opportunities. He said, “There are three companies I’ve been tracking and would want to work for. I know people at two of the three, and I know you know the CEO of the third. Will you introduce me to him?”
I did know the CEO; in fact, he had been a friend for years and a client for whom I had done search work. John and I had worked for the same company several years earlier, and I was more than happy to make this introduction. Not only did I hold John’s professional capabilities in high regard, I admired his forethought in considering other prospective employers while he was still employed and his ability to effectively leverage his network. I introduced him to my friend and former client, and in short order he received an offer from the firm, as well as an offer from one of the other three companies he targeted. I helped John analyze both offers, and he took the second offer, but he stays in touch with my friend, the CEO to whom I introduced him. This story occurred 10 years ago, and John was my prototype of a free agent. Now, in the new world of work, the free-agency model is more relevant than ever.
Free agents drive change within their organizations in addition to adapting to some of the current workplace and economic conditions. More employees are asking their employers for flexibility to meet familial obligations. Job seekers are choosing companies that honor their social and environmental values. Even with fewer traditional jobs, workers are exercising choice. We are redefining how we work—on our terms. If it sounds like a luxury we can’t afford, it is not. It is a paradigm shift whose time has come.
I am not suggesting anarchy, disloyalty, or a sense of entitlement. What I am suggesting is the convergence of workers asking for what they need to be productive, stimulated, and satisfied, and employers knowing they need “optimized employees” to build profitable, innovative, constantly evolving, and sustainable organizations. Talent management in countless organizations all over the world has become increasingly sophisticated, and companies are turning out recruitment, career development, and work-life programs and policies to get the most out of their employees. The timing of this development couldn’t be better, since free agents—that’s you—are emerging to take control of their respective careers; however, it is important to keep in mind that this self-directed, free-agency approach to career management requires introspection, discipline, and decisiveness.
Excerpt from “Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work” by Ginny Clarke and Echo Garrett (Morgan James Publishing; 2011; $17.95). For more information, http://www.mycareermapping.com.
Ginny Clarke is the founder of Talent Optimization Partners, LLC, which provides corporate consulting and executive coaching services. She spent 12 years at Spencer Stuart, a senior-level executive search firm, as a partner and the leader of the global diversity practice. Prior to joining Spencer Stuart, Clarke spent several years in banking and 10 years in the real estate investment management business.