How To Stretch Your Career Into The Future
Are you one of the 70 percent of the disengaged zombies at work? Are you facing obsolescence? It’s time to stretch, to prepare for tomorrow’s workplace and put yourself in control of the career of your dreams.
In order to point ourselves in the right direction, first we need an idea of where we are going. Here are seven mega-trends that will certainly have an impact on the types of jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities and skills needed for workers in the future.
- Globalization. McKinsey estimates that half of the world’s largest companies will be headquartered in what are now emerging markets, such as Brazil, India and eastern European countries. Pressure from global competition and other factors resulted in over 40 percent of the companies that were in the Fortune 500 in 2000 falling off the list by 2010. These were replaced largely by new global entrants and technology companies. The types of jobs most affected by globalization will be ones that can be done anywhere in the world and shipped over the Internet. We are all interconnected.
- Demographics Shifts. In many economies around the world, advances in healthcare and declining birth rates have resulted in a population that is graying and a workforce that is shrinking. Diversity is also on an uptick. An increasingly diverse workforce will demand more representation in leadership positions and in pay equity.
- Explosion of Data. Experts estimate that from 2009 to 2020, data will grow 4300 percent. Organizations that can mine this data to reveal customer trends will lead the markets of the future. No matter what field you are in, the interface with data and machines will increasingly become a factor.
- Emerging Technologies. In April of 2015, the first driverless car to cross the United States arrived at its destination in Manhattan after nine days. With 3D printing, manufacturing will move from being a subtractive process to an additive one, where objects are built in layers by printing rather than by machining a block of material. How soon will you interact with a robot providing customer service? The answer may be sooner than you think.
- Climate Change. The OECD anticipates that by 2050, more than 40 percent of the world’s population will live under severe water stress, resulting in floods or drought that, combined, can put the economic value of assets at risk at record highs. Becoming efficient with resources is socially responsible and cost beneficial.
- Redefined Jobs. The nature of work is going to be increasingly a transactional task exchange, which is to say; those with in-demand skills will be hired to accomplish one specific project, rather than given a full-time position.
- Complexity. At the organizational level, complexity multiplies with layers upon layers of government regulations, in multiple countries, combined with requirements from customers with their own unique specifications. At the individual level, the need to master this complexity and balance competing demands is also on the increase. Stanford researchers identified a number of stressors that affect overall health and wellness for employees, including long hours, job insecurity, extraordinary job demands, work-family conflict, unfair work situations and others.
Studies agree resoundingly that these mega-trends are forging the working landscape of the future. The question is not whether you have a sell-by date. You do. The real question is what you are doing to extend that date.
To keep stretching your work possibilities, maintain control, keep your options open and set goals.
Before entering the professional world, you are surrounded by parents and teachers who can point you in the right direction and straighten you out if you get off track. But after college, you’re more or less on your own, even though there’s still a great deal of growing, or stretching, that needs to be done.
That’s why there are three stretch imperatives that every professional hoping to stay at the top of the game should keep in mind.
The first stretch imperative is to remember that you are in control. If you’re unhappy with a job, it can be easy to blame your boss or be too lazy to do anything about it. But this isn’t good for you or your employer.
Let’s look at a typical career: You graduate from college and decide to pick up a job in construction because you thought you might enjoy working with your hands. But after a while you realize that you’d rather work with people. What do you do?
You take control and find another job, this time as a camp counselor. But here you realize you’d rather work with adults instead of kids, so you decide to work in sales instead.
And this leads us to the second stretch imperative: Give yourself options and broaden your horizons so that you have a healthy amount of possible opportunities.
Let’s say you hate your boss in the sales department but you don’t have the qualifications for anything else. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you take action. You sign up for adult education classes and earn a second or third degree, such as an MBA.
And this brings us to the third stretch imperative: Setting goals.
These don’t have to be related to your career; they just need to be realistic goals that will help you stay on track, especially during tough times.
Everyone hits a rough patch at one point or another in their career. When you hit one, remember that gaining experiences is always productive and will help you in the search for what’s right for you.
Be open to learning on the job and listening to feedback.
If you’ve worked at enough office jobs, then you’re surely familiar with the unhappy employee who dozes off at his desk, despite a veritable drip feed of caffeine.
No one wants to be this employee. In fact, the best kind of employee is the polar opposite of dissatisfied and slumberous. She’s alert and engaged, learning on the job and continuing to develop her skill set.
If you have a full-time job, then you know how hard it can be to continue your education in the small amount of spare time you do have. That’s why you must learn on the job.
Let’s look at Jonah, who got a job as a teacher, but began to worry after realizing how difficult his work really was. He knew he needed to improve, but he had no time to get more training. So he took matters into his own hands.
Jonah performed a self-assessment and realized that he needed to be more organized, so he began interviewing other teachers on how he could better structure his class.
He also recognized that too much class time was spent with him talking, and that students learned more when they had time to practice. So he shortened his lectures and created more practical exercises that allowed his students to develop their skills.
The results were great: Jonah is now training other teachers and on track to becoming the next school principal.
The key is that Jonah was open to change and feedback, a quality that is essential to keeping yourself from getting stuck in a career rut.
Chris, a frustrated executive trainer who was having trouble connecting with his trainees, is another good example of the benefits of openness.
Despite the trouble he was having, Chris remained open with his boss and receptive to the feedback he received.
This allowed Chris and his boss to work together and pinpoint the problem. Eventually it became clear that Chris wasn’t listening to his trainees. He’d developed a habit of criticizing their ideas before they could fully explain themselves.
By being open to change and feedback, Chris learned that being a leader isn’t about him – it’s about being part of a team. And once he began listening to his team members, his leadership skills greatly improved.
Preparing for a changing future requires that you allow yourself to be open to options you may have rejected in the past or to approaches you find uncomfortable at first
Job opportunities come with networking and gaining new experiences.
It’s generally a good idea to give yourself options. Most people don’t apply to only one college or send out applications to only one job. They put their eggs in multiple baskets.
Use the same approach for your career and increase your options by utilizing a broad network of contacts.
Everyone has at least two different kinds of contacts: professional colleagues and personal friends. Both can be used to provide more options as your career progresses.
For example, Zach started out in a marketing company, working day and night and never taking the time to develop a social life or expand his contact list. And when Zach decided to strike out on his own, he was working even longer hours, but still not giving any attention to his contacts – even though he was growing quite concerned about his lack of clients.
Luckily he had one good personal contact – his dad, who was an experienced entrepreneur and recognized his problem right away. He explained to Zack the importance of having good contacts, especially in the world of sales.
Sure enough, after focusing on his network and sharpening his social skills, Zach’s company began to thrive.
Social networks are powerful tools that can help us develop, maintain and expand our contacts. Having the largest number of followers or contacts is not necessarily a sign of network strength. The secret is to find the right balance for your career goals between online social networks and off-line relationships.
Another way to increase your career options is to collect a variety of experiences. You may not have a clear idea of what you want to do with your life, so why not try a number of different jobs and discover what’s out there?
Alexandra did exactly this after earning a graduate degree in international relations and feeling disillusioned after working for a financial service company during the 2008 economic crisis.
As Alexandra began to reflect on what she wanted to do with her life, she realized she had a real passion for nature and conservation. She was drawn to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, and began reaching out to people from the organization and adding them to her network.
Those within Lewa recognized that Alexandra’s experience in finance and international relations could be a great benefit, so they hired her as an international-development manager.
And with Lewa on her résumé, Alexandra was able to add nature conservation to her growing list of experiences.
Whether you are launching your career, considering a career shift or simply wanting to stay relevant where you are, it’s important to have a plan to manage and acquire a variety of experiences. The more varied you can make your experiences, the greater the likelihood of developing a broad set of skills.
Stepping outside your comfort zone into new situations that call for untested abilities is a great way to boost your confidence and discover new capabilities. If you don’t feel in over your head at least three to four times a year, you are not aiming high enough. You are not stretching
Use career setbacks to bounce forward, and don't lose sight of your goals.
When your career hits rock bottom, one of two things can happen to it: it can either shatter like a glass or bounce back to new heights like a rubber ball. With the right frame of mind, you can turn a career setback into the start of a new chapter.
If you lose your job, there’s no reason to give up – especially if you have your network in place and remember that you’re still in control. So keep in mind that any setback can be an opportunity to gain experiences and propel forward movement.
Even when things look bleak, you can come soaring back. All it takes is the right amount of positive determination.
When journalist Jill Abramson was run over by a truck in New York City, she had to face an enormous uphill battle to learn how to walk again. But that’s exactly what she did, because she never gave up her belief that she could accomplish the goals she set for herself.
And not only did she get back on her feet; she went on to become the first female executive director of the New York Times.
To help you hold on to your goals when times are tough, here are three “ounces” of advice:
- The first is to pounce. You’ve got to keep learning and takings risks. Don’t worry about looking dumb or falling on your face. It’s far more important to stay curious and always be asking questions.
- The second is to trounce. Keep practicing and developing your skills no matter how many times you fail. It’s not about reaching perfection, it’s about continuing to grow and knowing that sooner or later your continual practice will pay off.
- The third is to announce. Share both your goals and difficulties with your peers. This will keep you focused on reaching those goals as well as on improving yourself. After all, it’s easy to let a goal slip away if you’re the only one who knows about it, so improve your chances of following through by letting the world know what you’re aiming for.
Your career tasks will change, but emotional intelligence will prepare you for any future.
It’s common for people to have anxieties about an unpredictable future, but when you take the right steps toward becoming aware and prepared, you can rest easy.
One thing’s for sure: Whatever career path you are currently on will change within your lifetime.
Everything about the traditional workday is changing. The hours are becoming more flexible just as companies are becoming less tied down to physical locations. Even universities are responding to the constant changes by regularly updating their programs to match emerging fields.
Indeed, both universities and corporations know how important it is for adults to keep learning new skills. Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T, in an effort to keep the US workforce up to date and competitive, have pooled their resources to create a relatively accessible master’s degree program in computer science that only costs $7,000.
Workplace hierarchies are flattening out these days, so it’ll also be to your advantage if you can show employers that you come with your own leadership skills and the ability to turn visions into reality. Ideally, this should also include a strong capacity to collaborate and work with social media.
But being prepared for the future requires non-technical skills as well. You shouldn’t underestimate emotional intelligence as a key part of your continued development, which means learning how to accurately understand and respond to the emotions of others.
After all, it’s not just the economy that’s changing; people are changing, too. Lady Gaga recognized this a few years ago. In 2012, she launched the Born This Way Foundation to promote emotional intelligence, well-being and kindness in schools.
So if you really want to secure your place in tomorrow’s workforce, develop a sharp emotional intelligence. It will allow you to explain how your personality complements your skills, making you an indispensable asset for any company.
In order to stay competitive in the future, you have to keep learning today. So stay current and observe the changes going on around you. With the right perspective, you can stay ahead of the curve while simultaneously collecting contacts, experiences and furthering your education. With this foresight, you’ll be in a good position no matter what lays ahead.