The new world of work is unstable in ways that previous generations could not have imagined. In fact, the structures have changed so significantly that the landscape is barely recognizable. So the adages that used to make sense — keep your head down, focus on excelling at what you do, work your way up the ranks — often don’t apply.
Today, to build a successful career, you need to always be looking for work.
To understand why, let’s start with the big picture. More and more businesses have entered the “gig economy.” While that term, for many people, conjures up images of Uber and Instacart, these types of platform-based businesses are only a small fraction of the overall gig economy.
Increasingly, all sorts of businesses are hiring temporary or contingent workers rather than traditional full-time employees with benefits. NPR reports that one out of every five jobs is held by a freelancer, and that within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half the workforce.
They often lack benefits. They’re also often the first to be laid off when an economic downturn comes along, and in most cases they cannot collect unemployment.
Meanwhile, even people who have full-time jobs with benefits are often scraping by. A recent Bankrate survey found that 45% of workers have a “side hustle,” including 43% of full time workers. The most common reason is that they need the money to get by.
Meanwhile, in another survey, 78% of workers reported that they are living paycheck to paycheck.
As co-founder of Steady, a startup assisting people in creating a stable monthly income, I hear from users all the time who share stories of their struggles. Some are young workers who aren’t making enough to live and pay down their massive college loans. Others have been in the workforce for decades, and always thought they’d have a job until retirement — only to find that their jobs are being replaced by contractors or, in some cases, automation.
They come from a wide range of industries and report that their hours are cut back, their side hustle isn’t paying as much as it did, or they’re suddenly in danger of being laid off. Some are from high levels of a corporate hierarchy. In fact, a LinkedIn analysis found that traditional employees have lost their lock on managerial roles in an organization. Contractors now “work in higher seniority roles a year sooner than peers in non-contract roles on average.”
Stability is becoming a relic of the past. The deck is stacked against workers. And while we do need new laws and policies to help give people some guarantees and improve their pay, the most important step individuals can take to protect themselves from the tumultuousness of this reality is to always be looking for new, better opportunities.
I recommend making it a daily habit. Every day, take action toward discovering new opportunities.
For starters, get your profile up on any and all jobs boards that include the kinds of positions you may be interested in. Keep updating your profile with your latest achievements, accolades, and recommendations. Do the same with your resume. (Check out “the anatomy of a perfect resume” for ideas.)
Set up notifications for all the relevant jobs boards as well. Take five minutes each day to look at what positions have just been loaded up. It helps to move quickly if one interests you, and it’s also a matter of educating yourself. The more you look at the kinds of positions opening up at different companies, the clearer a picture you’ll get of the job market.
Perhaps most importantly, take the time to consider and analyze your skill set. Many people don’t realize the full scope of their skills, or how well those skills can transfer from one field to another. (See how an opera singer discovered that his skills could help make him a great sales leader.) Berkeley offers tools to help you determine yours.
Once you’ve done this, look into how other people with skills similar to yours have progressed in their careers. LinkedIn can be very helpful for this. Look at the skills of people in your network, and ask them about their career progressions.
And if there are any “dream jobs” that interest you, reach out to people who currently have those jobs and ask them how they got there. Often, you’ll find that people are happy to give advice.
You owe it to yourself to always chase a better professional situation — more hours, more security, better benefits, and higher pay. By taking a step in that direction every day, you’ll be on your way.