In Defence Of The ‘Career’
In recent years there has been a wave of articles that have latched onto the impact millennials have had on the world through their choices. Whether it is decrying the various things that Millennials have “killed” or slightly less dramatically outlining the changing behaviours of a generation and the many ways in which the seismic shift from Baby Boomers and GenX’ers has manifested.
In the world of talent and recruitment the recurring millennial question has always been around changing attitudes to the “career” as a concept.
Often, depending on the author, you can find articles referencing the mistakes that millennials have made in their approach to their ‘new-fangled’ ‘so-called’ ideals of what a career should look like. Or on the flip side how stuffy / traditional it is to look at a lifelong career as a desirable thing.
There are a thousand and one different connotations and as ever opinion is far too intertwined with the subject. However, what I did want to point out is that although attitudes have changed, and yes, we need to factor in the different approaches that are becoming available, broadly speaking a ‘career’ is still a good thing to be cultivated.
But first what is a career – or at least what do people perceive a career to be now. Traditionally we have thought of a career in the sense of the noun, i.e.:
an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.
However, it is now a trendy quip (which I have heard utilised with varying degrees of success) to think of your career more in terms of the verb:
move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way.
If the press about ‘them’ is to be believed, Millennials fall in the second camp and you barely need scratch the surface to see articles/books telling you to
“redefine your career as a series of rewarding lifelong work and learning experiences”.
“Millennials look to change jobs at least every 2 years”
“redefine your career by just being yourself” etc…
There are of course good reasons for all of this and by no means is this all negative. Connectivity and the leaps made by the digital world mean that we can look at the workplace in very different ways. We can now brainstorm from anywhere in the world with anyone anywhere else in the world at the touch of a button. We are not reliant on the post or even fax to get the information we need. Knowledge is at our finger tips, we just have to ask, we know the news as it happens and as a result some of the more tried and tested tropes of the workplace do all of a sudden seem mildly ridiculous.
That said there has got to be an element of balance. If you were to follow the teachings of some of the more extreme new and disruptive behaviours, there can perhaps become a point of backlash.
Moving jobs frequently is much more common place than it was. Even over the last ten years attitudes to this have altered drastically. Where, previously if someone had more than two or three jobs within a year they would be almost universally considered as flighty, flaky and not worth employing. Now, however, it is not only completely normal but, in some instances, actively encouraged. We often hear of clients wanting to see people that have tried and failed at something as it is perceived that they will have the grit and resilience to do that again.
The stats coming from the last year or so seem to have compounded this and prove that the gig economy is here to stay. For example, Deloitte surveyed 10,455 millennials – born between 1983 and December 1994 from 36 countries – and found that 43 per cent of millennials plan to leave their current jobs within two years and only 28 per cent have plans to stay beyond five years.
This is very different from the traditional Baby Boomer expectation of getting a job and staying with it for the rest of your life or at least a good 10 plus years. Now that is admittedly becoming more and more of an outdated view on careers. But some key things are perhaps being lost through the cracks of this increased willingness to be a ‘job hopper’ and they are trust and loyalty and personal skill development.
Re personal skill development we need not look any further than the personification of the gig economy, namely the career interim. I.e. the people who have wholly embraced the project/freelance/portfolio career. Not to say this isn’t a completely viable route to take, but it really does bear remembering that in becoming a career interim you are making the conscious career decision to plateau aspects of your personal development.
No employee hires an interim who can develop and learn on the job, or at least if they do it is an extremely rare thing! They are looking for tried and tested interims who can slot in, provide a safe pair of hands, do the job in question and leave without a fuss. As such taking this approach is by definition limiting to persons learning and development. Again, not a bad thing per se if it is a deliberate and thought out approach, but a Fresh Grad analyst who ploughs strait into the world of interim work runs a risk of learning one thing only though repetition without the wider context of personal development that comes from staying in a company for a longer period of time.
This can lead to some strange blind spots and assumed bias that would never exist if they had ploughed through three years in a business where they might have to do jobs outside of their remit from time to time, or be encouraged to actively research, learn and train on things additive to their day job.
Linked to this is the point around trust and loyalty, which are vital when it comes to your career, arguably always have been and always will be. It is very hard to build trust and loyalty in a short space of time, not impossible by any means but, tricky. As such, whether you are millennial or not, the willingness to move on in less than two years does need to be balanced with at least an idea/ thought process of how that is going to reflect on your personal brand as an individual in any given market.
I hasten to add that moving jobs and being trustworthy are by no means mutually exclusive, but there are some very useful things attached to the slightly old-fashioned view of a ‘career’ that are worth thinking about. If for example you have spent three plus years in a high pressure, fast paced environment working at a highly skilled job it loudly and proudly points to you being really good at your job. Especially pertinent as you enter the middle phase of your career / life. Being able to point at something and say, yes that was not always easy, but I stuck at it and made a continuous success of it – obviously a very powerful tool to have when being interviewed by a prospective employer.
Also, some challenges simply don’t occur, or cannot become regular enough for you to be ‘experienced’ in a yearly cycle, the difference between having gone through the yearly cycle three times somewhere and only once is the difference between actual tangible track record ‘to might have done that once but can’t really remember’.
Similarly, growth comes in many shapes and forms and in the start-up world we see many people who can proudly, say I was with xyz company when it grew from 10 – 30 people before I left. Often however, clients are keen to understand how you would deal with a start-up after the initial quick wins and hype have died down. How to you scale from 100 – 300 is potentially a much harder question and if you left when everything was shiny and exciting you simply don’t have the scars and medals of the graft to get to that next level.
So as with all things balance needs to be considered when considering any given ‘career’. Not to say you shouldn’t leave a business if for whatever reason it is not the right place, neither should you blindly climb the ladder for 40 years if that is not the right thing for you.
However, leaving a job should not be done lightly, if there is a difficult blip, can you stick it out to overcome adversity. Can you build on the trust and loyalty to get around the problem and come out the other side stronger and better at your job? There are plenty of benefits to a ‘career’ in the traditional sense and if considered in tandem with the disruptive approaches to working life hopefully a balance can be struck.
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