Creating Career Longevity Isn’t About Length of Years.
“He’s switched jobs every three or four years…shouldn’t we disqualify him?”
“Maybe he’s not good at stability.”
“Maybe he’s not loyal.”
The team was hesitating about a job candidate. As we hovered around our speakerphones in different geographies, our doubts grew. Spending a lot of time in one job has long been a measure of success.
And while each of us knows that success in today’s economy is not necessarily about sticking around for the gold watch, we may not realize how much job tenure has changed. In 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers had been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years. And that number doesn’t capture the freelancers and solopreneurs (nearing 50% of the US economy) who live in a gig economy; on oDesk for example, an online workplace for freelancers, the average assignment lasts 33.5 days. So in fact, the 3-4 year tenures of our job candidate, above, were not unusual and depending on optics, could even be a long-term commitment.
The real question is this: what does a “successful career” looks like in the Social Era? Right about this time of year, you’ll see or have seen countless great commencement speeches as young people embark on their career. They’ll talk about being entrepreneurial, pursuing your dreams, and even “leaning in”. Most of those sentiments are right for those just entering the workforce. But what about the rest of us? A new book by Mitch Joel, a fellow Harvard columnist entitled Ctrl alt del offers us relevant advice on modern work. It answers the question, what does career longevity mean today?
3 pieces of advice from him:
Don’t be a luddite. A CEO of an ecommerce company recently remarked to me, “Why would I need to be on Twitter? I have plenty of ways to be connected to the right people.” I remember shaking my head wondering how to explain the value of trying new things. Whatever you choose to call it, the connected economy, the relationship economy, or the social era, it is emphatically clear that the rules of value creation have changed. It is, in management jargon, a paradigm change. To understand a new paradigm, you can’t just sit back and observe it to understand it, you have to live it, to embody it. Or, as Mitch advises in the book, stay really aware of technology, trends and the impact those things are having on the world. “Don’t be the one who says you’ll never join Facebook. Act like a digital native (even if you are a digital immigrant) by trying it, tinkering with it, and even if need be, pretending it is the greatest thing since sliced bread.” This will keep you understanding what Is going on enough to decide you want to participate in the new economy.
Share. You – as an individual – now have unprecedented numbers of spaces to create and share who you are and how you think. Beyond that, you now have unprecedented numbers of community spaces to connect to like-minded people. “It’s critical that you spend some of your time formulating your thoughts and publishing them online,” says Mitch. “It’s not about creating an online resume, or becoming famous. It’s about critical thinking and gaining a better understanding of what it means to make your thoughts sharable and findable.” It’s not enough, he would probably argue, to have your thoughts in a journal, or talk them through with your professional networking group because the idea is to allow others who are like-minded to find you. Don’t contain that to a geography or small circle because work is often geography independent. Take the editor in Boston, you can work with anyone around the world. Or, the professor in Michigan can teach globally. Sharing is the way this lets you be seen, and find others.
Avoid Ghettos. When thinking about where to work, avoid the business that claims to be moving in the direction of becoming a more social business, what they often mean is a social media department within another department (like marketing). They don’t get that social is more than media. Or they use the terms social media to mean social business, and lack the understanding of the differences and distinctions. “This is the ghetto-ization of the social spirit, and will ultimately lead to failure.” writes Joel. When social is implemented throughout an enterprise, it becomes a seismic shift that let’s values fuel value. In other words, Mitch says, “it is not a campaign … It is who you are, as a business.” Of course, as consumers, can tell when organizations use social as an add-on effort, or genuinely. Watching AT&T persistently apologize for poor service on Twitter (but never fix anything) is almost worse than if they just avoided social tools. For each of our businesses and our careers to have relevance, we have to remember one basic truth: humans love working with and buying from other humans. Social isn’t a single strategy, it’s a way of being. When you are social, you will be listening loudly to the market, learning with them, and possibly even co-creating value. Being social, therefore, means you’ll stay relevant and solve the right problems. There is no greater protection for one’s career than this.
The bottom line?
Your career should not be measured by longevity at one company; that’s a relic of industrial era thinking. We live in a world where important projects get done in short periods of time. The important issue is how you remain relevant, so that you have longevity in your career choices. The most successful entrepreneurs and business people don’t have linear career paths. We no longer have ladders to ascend, but interconnected webs of opportunities to play on. What the past generation would call jumping around from job-to-job is actually the modern generation being impatient for results. And as long as you are achieving those, you’ll have career longevity.
Now some of you already know that Mitch Joel and I have known each other for a few years. As we’ve shared our work, our ideas, and talked through problems, we’ve become friends. A few weeks back, he and I jumped on a call together and we agreed to share that conversation, here. In so many ways, Mitch truly embodies that which he teaches, which is one key aspect of why I trust him. I hope you’ll love his book as much as I did, buy it here.