How to prepare for a solid career in a dynamic environment

Preparing for a career

Preparing for a career

At a recent prize distribution ceremony for a math competition, I had the privilege of speaking on leadership.  In addressing the audience on the topic of leadership and how people engagement skills must be developed to complement the technical mathematical skills, I briefly touched upon the topic of future careers. 

Thinking about a career, planning and preparing for it and actually embarking on one is also a leadership activity in which one leads his or her own self.

In today’s dynamic environment, where change is the only constant, picking a long-lasting career is not easy.  I’d like to list a few thoughts in this post that will help fuel some thoughts into the things to consider while choosing a good career. 

Let me first talk about the exception.  If you have a gifted child, who is an exceptional painter, or has a super voice and you know she is cut out for singing, then their career is already decided.  Such students are exceptions and exotics careers like painting or singing have a very high rate of failure.

For the vast majority of us, we need to consider three things in setting ourselves up for a career:

1. Have a good idea of the industry, and if possible a few companies within that industry

2. Have a good idea of the job and the skill-sets that are required to be successful in that role

3. Know your own strengths and passion and understand how that will help in the role

When we interview candidates for positions at our company, hiring managers are asked to evaluate candidates on the following parameters:

  • ·         Customer focus
  • ·         Problem-solving
  • ·         Time Management
  • ·         Working in Teams
  • ·         Self-discipline and organizational skills
  • ·         Ability to learn

Technical skills are required, but they are merely the first filter.  They are not a guarantee for getting an offer.  The above “soft skills” are gaining in importance, because these cannot be taught.  I am aware of more than one case where the candidate possessed the above soft-skills in abundance, but was lacking somewhat in the core technical skills required.  We decided we could take on the technical training part, but the soft skills the person possessed were of greater value, and the offer letter was written up.

The age of the industrialized division of labor and its stable, assured job and employment are over.  My dad had one career and served one employer during his 35 year employment tenure.  He draws a pension which reaches him every month, as promised and on time.  What’s more it even gets adjusted for inflation!  That kind of career is over. Done. Finished.

Employees are subject to constant changes and need to build adaptability.  There is also is greater interdependence in working (you can hardly find a job in which you can succeed alone).  Most work is done cross-functionally in teams.  In global companies you also have to work with folks in different countries belonging to different cultures.  All this requires skill-sets that are not taught in the standard 4-year degree program.

I read a recent report by the Corporate Executive Board, titled “The future of Corporate IT 2013-2017” in in a research covering 23000 people.  According to the report the percentage of workers that had to depend on others (or contribute to a team cause) for improving performance jumped from 22% in 2002 to 49% in 2012.  The report also stated that only 17% (10% in IT) of the respondents were both individual performers and network performers (i.e. able to work well alone and in teams).  And to quote a third, pertinent statistic from the report, the average employee experiences a major change every seven months.

So, as one prepares to embark on a career, it is very important to look at the following:

a.      Career that can have some longevity – as Seth Godin likes to say, the long run is getting shorter, so it is hazardous to predict anything in excess of 3-5 years.  But you can still, with reasonable assurance, make a fair determination of industries that will continue to exist and thrive.  More importantly, you should be able to identify industries that are on their way out and steer clear of them.

It is more difficult to spot companies that will continue to prosper and withstand competition.  Even in high-potential industries such as telecommunications, companies such as Motorola and Nokia have found the going very tough against some very relentless strong competition. 

b.      Build “transportable” skills.  By transportable, you need to cover two areas: one is across geographies and the other is across industries.

If you take the example of a legal consultant who specializes in German works counsel laws, this skill cannot be used say, in Brazil where the labor laws are very different than in Germany.

Conversely, an Oracle database administrator working for a pharmaceutical company in the US could just as easily be considered for a job in Finland for say a telecommunications company as long as they run Oracle.

c.       Your own passion.  In the end nothing beats your own passion.  If your passion is in aesthetically designing products, and you can do it with great zeal, enthusiasm and motivation, you will be able to make a great impression and add value to your results.  The worst thing from a personal satisfaction perspective is to get very good at doing something that you do not enjoy.  Conversely, if you enjoy what do you and build your expertise around it that will be a very healthy combination and help distinguish you from others.

In the next part, I will cover the skill-sets required to be successful in an age where most careers require knowledge workers and expertise, not just familiarity with technology is almost a necessity.

Image: (c) ; author: US Mission Canada