Are we still happy about how our careers are panning out? Is it even possible to be happy for us to be happy at work? Who can we depend on to manage or realign our careers for us?
We need to understand that the relationship between employer and employee has evolved. In the past where the world was less technologically linked, employee loyalty was a desired and rewarded trait. Employers invested heavily to develop employees because they need the employees to be effective in contributing back.
In today’s fast changing and competitive business environment, employers now want the best people working on their projects in the shortest time, possibly at the lowest cost.
Unfair? This is reality.
It is every business entity’s right to account for their profitability and grow their businesses while maintaining low costs. Technology plays a big part in this because it has bridged distance and information, and allow global talent to be within reach from any part of the world.
We are not just competing with foreign talent; Uber-rization and freelancing services all make use of technology to allow easier ways for anyone in any part of the Internet connected world to deliver professional services.
Hence, this makes our career development even more important. We need to take ownership of it, be proactive rather than reactive because the business environment is only going to evolve faster.
Being proactive can help us get clarity on our preferences and needs, and build up on our networks and competencies. It can also help us identify possible areas we can move into – as our contingency plan in times of need – thus making us more resilient to face the future.
On the other hand, if we choose to be reactive or do nothing, the consequences from retrenchment or making wrong career choices will become painful.
How much of career development are we already doing?
A mini survey was conducted between January and February 2016 to find out how active we are in career development. The survey was completed by 106 respondents, of which 91% were of working age and their responses were used in the findings below.
Based on the data, it was observed that about 30% of the respondents do not regularly develop their skills and knowledge through courses even though regular skills and knowledge upgrading is crucial to help us stay relevant in the ever-changing skills and job market.
The observations also showed that more than 30% of the respondents do not network with others nor their friends to create work opportunities. Networking is vital as it gives us updated industry knowledge. Furthermore, it allows us to be acquainted with people who could help get us referrals or interview opportunities.
Based on our interaction with seasoned job hunters and recruiters, referrals are deemed as the best way to get us an interview or a job, and networking is an important prelude to these.
More surprisingly, the observations showed that more than 60% do not regularly take steps to build up their own online branding! While we are familiar with technology and are heavy users of social media, many of us are not maximising the use of this platform for our career development.
It is evident that social media has become an effective and popular channel for talent sourcing so we need to do better on this. In addition, the observations also tell us that we seem to place all our focus on our current jobs and fail to think beyond that.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to perform well in our existing jobs. However, we will be greatly short-changed if we only plan to perform our best for our existing jobs! We may cite time constraint or long working hours as reasons which prevent us from doing anything else outside of our existing jobs.
Let’s think about this – if we lose our jobs due to recession or we feel jaded and burnt out with our work, what can we do? Do we have a Plan B? Let’s safeguard our careers and reach our full career potential by actively doing career development!
What does career development look like?
The most important thing we need to do is to change our mindsets about careers. Careers go beyond our present jobs and should be viewed as a lifelong journey of experiences obtained across work and personal life, inclusive of paid or unpaid experiences.
We need to move away from the typical thinking of a career as one that is a continuous series of elevated titles and increasing salaries. We need to start thinking about how we can explore, cultivate and develop their interest areas outside of their work and take advantage of opportunities that come along. The diagrams below illustrate this point:
This ‘Enlightened Thinking of a Career’ requires a lot of planning, and additional time and effort, beyond your usual work. If we think this is unimportant or could be done during unemployment, think again.
This is our best form of career protection that we can give ourselves! If we wait till unemployment, it could be too late.
Unemployment makes it harder for us to cope and make good decisions when we have pressures from loss of income, piling debts, family pressure and lowered self-esteem.
How can we start planning to develop our career?
To give us a practical understanding how pursuing our interests can help with career development, four key steps have been listed out based on Dr John Krumboltz’s contribution via his Happenstance theory.
Dr Krumboltz is one of the world thought leaders in the area of career development and his Happenstance theory advocates for pursuing interests and opportunities in our fast-changing world today. Read on to find out the practical steps we can take!
1. Firstly, it’s all about our interests!
What are you passionate or interested in? Recall what others have told you that you are good at or what are you presently doing on a volunteering basis?
Our interests are likely things that we like to do, even if no one tells us or pays us to do. Use psychometric profiling tests such as the Strong Interest Inventory 8test to reveal more about our interests too
To Start: Write out a list of our interests and things we like to do.
2. Search intensively and extensively for people, groups, activities with common interests.
At this stage, it is all about meeting like-minded people, joining in their social circles, participating in their activities such as conferences or events.
Our goal at this stage is to know how and where to look for like-minded people or bodies, expand our network and
build relationships. This is Networking 101. Be genuine and add value to others through your service or time.
To Start: Identify the people, groups, associations, non-profits, that have the same interests as us. Find out how we can reach out to them and make an offer to contribute something to them.
3. Invest in ourselves. Start building up our skills, knowledge and experiences in these areas.
We want to start seeing ourselves as a budding expert in our interest areas. An expert is equipped with the relevant skills, knowledge and experiences; hence, that is something we need to build too.
Together with our like-minded network, read up on the latest developments, invest in training for ourselves, attend conferences and workshops, offer to do pro bono projects, write or blog about our thoughts and views to share them with others.
All these efforts build up our portfolio and showcase us as the expert we hope to be. Slowly, our network becomes exposed to more like-minded people and opportunities.
To Start: Identify courses and workshops we can take. Build up our online profile and start shifting it towards our interest areas. Offer our services in exchange for learning.
4. Take advantage of opportunities that arise.
This stage takes a lot of time and effort to reach but our investment in pursuing our interests, building our networks, increasing our skills, knowledge and experiences will culminate in new opportunities coming our way.
Our network by now would be strong enough to help refer or recommend us into a more senior role with a new company or help facilitate our exploration of totally new work areas stemming from our interests.
We could also pursue new business partnerships with like-minded people. At this stage, it is all about taking a leap of faith and seizing the opportunities after proper consideration of our values, priorities and motivations.
To Start: Actively seek out people who we know can help us make our interest become a formal work or business opportunity. Discuss with family, friends and make a considered choice.
The above suggested steps need to be repeated for different interests, all across our lifelong career journey. There are no two-ways about this.
It requires our investment of work and time to perform the four steps, but as the old saying goes, we reap what we sow.
One other important thing we can do is to engage a career coach or executive coach to help us think through our options and/or navigate out of any issues we may face at work.
We will be amazed at what these coaches can do for us in the short time-span of about 30 minutes to an hour. There are a lot of coaches in Singapore, in both the private and public sectors.
Speak to a coach first, and find out what they can offer us!
At the end of the day, we all spend at least eight hours a day in our jobs, working hard and hoping for progression.
We can do it in the way most of us have always done it – work hard in our job and pray that our stars continue to remain aligned for us in that job; or we can start developing our careers today, so that we can become more resilient and prepared for impending inevitable changes.
Now, what will you choose?