When I was a little kid, my mom used to tell us about the ice-delivery guy who would come down her street in Chicago, delivering ice from a wagon. A wagon, pulled by a horse! She wanted to give us kids a slice of life in Chicago in the nineteen-thirties. We were astounded. Dag, Mom! We would say. Things were primitive when you were a kid. A horse and wagon!
My mom is having the last laugh, as I try to explain to my own kids how much things have changed since I was a kid in the sixties and seventies. You’ll find this hard to believe, I tell them, but we didn’t have iPods. No microwaves, no cell phones, no Internet, no iTunes. They listen with their mouths hanging open. No video games, no DVDs, no movies on demand. No cable.
They ask my husband, “Is Mom kidding, or serious?”
On top of all the change we see around us — from globalization to climate change to changes wrought by technology — there may be none that affects working people more than the shift from a ‘Job Security’ mindset to a ‘Career Security’ one. We can’t depend on our employers to keep us employed these days. There is no job security, in the old-fashioned sense of a job that can be relied upon to last. Last year, when people told me “I only need a job to take me ten years down the road to retirement” I would joke “You could try the Vatican.” Now, I’m not so sure the Vatican is hiring, as they’ve got bigger fish to fry….
In this brave new world of individual career security in place of old-fashioned job security, personal branding is critical. Back when, we’d hang onto our employers’ brands and bask in their reflected glow. “I work for IBM” was the decades-long mantra for a stable, well-appointed businessperson. Not any more! Nowadays, our individual brands take precedence. Maybe we’ve worked for IBM, but if our brand is defined today as “I work for IBM,” we’re in trouble, because “I work for IBM” is more likely to suggest a change-averse corporate drone to observers today than a mover and shaker. We can bemoan that shift in focus, but it’s taking place all around us. Today, staying too long at one job can actually hurt your resume. Here are five reasons why:
- After a period of time (which varies with the situation) staying at the same job past a certain tipping point makes a job-hunter’s resume less marketable, rather than more. Can we really point to the momentous, high-impact results we achieved in Year Eleven at the same job, as distinct from our accomplishments in Years One through Ten? In the typical corporate environment, significant projects don’t come around all that often. Our resumes — which are to say, our careers — rely on us to keep the energy moving and the milestones piling up.
- If your job isn’t giving you regular, increasingly interesting assignments to tackle, it’s hurting your career. Hiring managers need to see how you’ve made a bigger difference to your former employers every year you worked for them. If you aren’t using the latest tools, working on cutting-edge business issues and growing your sphere of influence in your industry, you’re falling behind.
- When your job stops giving you new mountains to climb and slots you into maintenance mode, it’s hurting your career. Employers need people who can make things happen quickly, and it’s hard for maintenance-oriented pros to make a compelling case that they can slay whichever dragons an employer is facing.
- When you’ve done the same things for more than a year or two, your job is pulling your resume backward.
- Lastly, when your job is serving another person’s agenda — for instance, the VP who is positioning herself for a promotion, and using you as the beast of burden to move long-delayed projects to the finish line to support her cause — your job is hurting your career. The next set of prospective employers is going to want to know “Why was this project important to your employer?” If the answer is “The VP wanted it done,” your chances at getting the job plummet
In the new-millennium workplace, business is personal, and your portfolio and brand are your assets, not your employer’s. You may have to angle for a new assignment, take on additional tasks that you have no time for, or even leave your job to regain the momentum a forward-looking professional needs. If you’re on the fence, here are some questions to help you choose your next step:
- Am I more marketable that I was one year ago?
- Can I truthfully say that I’m learning and using the latest tools my functional counterparts use?
- Am I on top of industry or functional trends, perhaps even a subject-matter expert in my area?
- Am I continually accumulating new contacts, peers and mentors inside and outside of my employer?
- Is the next year at my current job likely to boost my career in a notable way?
- Have I grown professionally, intellectually and emotionally during the past year in my job?
The new career realities require us to continually gain altitude on our careers so that we’re running the program – and so that our jobs are not running us. If you aren’t happy with your answers to the questions above, 2010 may be the year to shift your career into a new gear.