Melissa, a reader from New York asks, “How can I plan for my career when the nature of work is changing so quickly?”
I have written before on how automation is changing the job market and therefore career planning. But apart from evolving technology, there is market volatility, environmental concerns and geopolitical issues that lead to change, unpredictability and uncertainty. How do you build a long-term career plan with so many influential forces at work and the end results still unclear? When the only thing you can be certain of is more uncertainty, then you need to build a long-term career plan that maximizes your flexibility, adaptability and alternative options . Here are five career building principles to guide long-term planning in a short-term environment:
Beware of experience leading to insular thinking
Experience is a good thing when it brings wisdom and perspective, but in times of change, unpredictability and uncertainty, relying too much on experience (or what happened before) might cause you to miss or misread new trends. Make sure your experience isn’t leading you to insular, or same-old, thinking. Proactively tap into other industries, companies and people outside your immediate area of focus – read publications outside your specialty, follow companies outside your industry, expand your network beyond your day-to-day role.
Some skills need to be learned, and some skills need to be unlearned
Digital skills – navigating social platforms, using mobile technology, basic website programming — are an obvious example of a whole new set of skills that most people need to learn to stay competitive. Equally important to new skills that need to be learned, some skills need to be unlearned. For example, more companies have flat structures and fluid hierarchies, so a command-and-control management style might need to be unlearned in favor of a more collaborative approach. Look at where you are dependent on other people to get the job done, and identify if anything you are delegating now is actually something you need to learn for yourself or risk becoming obsolete.
Connections need to be refreshed or replenished
Just like some skills will serve you better than others in a changing environment, so will your network of connections change over time. Depending on where you are in your career, you will need different expertise, different information, and different levels of support, so your connections should change as you change. If you don’t tend to your existing network, you won’t have any relationships to rely on. If you don’t continually add to your existing network, your relationships won’t reflect your current interests and goals. Check your networking habits: When was the last time you connected with someone outside your immediate day-to-day work? When was the last time you met someone new who is now an ongoing part of your circle?
What got you this far will not get you further
Being mindful and proactive about updating your experience, skills and network is about recognizing that what worked before won’t necessarily be enough to progress more. What got you this far will not get you further, when the world around you is changing. Be willing to question what you are doing and look for a better, more productive, more efficient way . Stay vigilant of areas where you haven’t made any changes or are coasting on past accomplishments. Look at your next quarter, year and three-year plan: what initiatives are on your calendar that will lead to meaningful results – i.e., accomplishments that can move your career in a new direction?
Remember you are always in-between projects
As you tend to your experience, skills, connections and mindset, give yourself a sense of urgency by reminding yourself that today’s changing market means we are always in-between projects. Permanent, full-time employment doesn’t mean permanent opportunity or a rich, full schedule. You have to continually ask for stretch opportunities and projects that will develop you. For entrepreneurs, this means you continually expand your service capabilities and product offerings. You have to stay marketable and well-connected, so that changes in your employer or customer base don’t leave you suddenly without options. You have to maintain a pipeline of alternative opportunities so you ensure that you’re staying where you are because that’s the best option, not the only one.
Today’s long-term career planning is not about knowing exactly where you will be in the future – there is too much uncertainty, unpredictability and change to make specific future plans. However, if you build a career that continually expands your experience, skill base, network of connections, mindset and options, then it doesn’t matter exactly what changes you face. You will have the agility, flexibility and adaptability to meet those changes and build a career that makes sense for you for that market.
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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career change expert and author of Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career. Her latest career change is running CostaRicaFIRE.com.