Four Secrets to Career Agility

In a world where disruption is the norm, how can you ensure your professional life continues to soar?

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Much of the talk during the career panel at the recent Columbia Business School Pan Euro Forum focused on one word: disruption. “It’s certainly the key theme on many people’s minds these days, in all its forms: global, economic, and political disruption,” said Thomas Monaco, Executive Director of Experienced Professionals Career Management at the School’s Career Management Center.

Turbulent times affect both employers and employees alike, he noted. Job candidates wonder what skills will help them stay relevant in a changing marketplace. And employers seek to develop a corporate culture that will attract top candidates in a competitive talent market.

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All this is familiar territory to Antoine Tirard (left), one of the panelists and coauthor of “Disrupt Your Career: How to Navigate Uncharted Career Transitions” (2017, Lulu Publishing Services). Chazen Global Insights caught up with him afterward to get his top tips for surviving and thriving in uncertain times.

Rethink the notion of “career.”

“The whole notion of career has evolved considerably during the last decades. The old paradigm of ‘career’ has transformed from linear, structured paths based on job security for loyalty to multidimensional, dynamic, fluid directions based on employability for performance.

“This trend is accelerated by the rapid pace of change and the fact that many of us, especially our children, will live longer and healthier, which means that people will change jobs, professions, or occupations more frequently and radically, possibly reinventing themselves completely.

“I have found through my coaching that more and more people react negatively to the word ‘career’ which they — rightly or wrongly — tie to the idea of wanting to move up the ladder and wanting to increase status or salary. Given all the above I believe that the word ‘work life’ is better suited than ’career.’”

Look inward.

“Self-assessment is key. I advocate a four-step process I call the four E’s: Explore, Experiment, Engage and Expand.

“First, ask yourself: What do I love to do? What am I good at? (Include technical and soft skills in this.)  In the past, what have I succeeded in? And what do I need to have to sustain my chosen lifestyle? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Pull up earlier assessments such as 360 degree feedback. Write down your plans and thoughts, and carry a dedicated notebook for this purpose.

“Then experiment. Try new things in small steps, build new connections, and then reframe and hone your search. Moonlighting is a great way to try out new industries and capabilities. Many corporate executives I counsel who transitioned to NGOs, for example, did volunteer work in similar organizations first. You should also attend significant events in your targeted area. If you have a skill deficit, get training or further education.

“Then engage. This is where you find and launch yourself into your new role. There are lots of resources out there on job search tactics and interview techniques, so I won’t go into them, but I will say that this will be a confusing time. A constant learning for us as we study transitions cases is the importance of appreciating the skills gained in your previous career and understanding how you might put them to use in your new work environment.

“It’s also critical to have an onboarding plan. I like Michael Watkins’s “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.” Among the steps he advises: 1) Be respectful of the preexisting dynamics of the organization culture, relationships, business strategies and goals. 2) Build personal and leadership credibility by achieving quick wins. 3) Develop key relationships for your success.

“And finally, expand. This process of soul-searching and exploration never really ends. Deliver and thrive in your new role, consolidate and expand your capabilities, and continue to reflect on your worklife journey.”

Be resourceful if you’re returning to the work force.

“We studied the challenging case of people returning to work after a long break. Almost all of them shared their disappointment with traditional recruiting channels such as recruitment agencies and headhunters. What worked for many of them was networking and leveraging ‘local’ job opportunities, often in smaller organizations. For example, I know a brilliant lawyer from the UK who stopped working for family reasons. She tried to go back to being a lawyer in a big firm, but a prevalent belief in big firms is that if you stop working you will quickly be obsolete. She found fulfilling work in a small, local, boutique firm.

“For mid-career professionals, your search strategy should be built on your network. That’s nothing new, but it’s truer for this subset, because the usual channels don’t work as well.”

Give it time.

“It can take anywhere from two to five years for a successful transition to be completed. It takes time to learn how to function effectively in a new job or industry, and you may need to budget time and funds for going back to school. And it may take a while for family and friends to adjust to the changes that come with assuming a new role.

“But the benefit is that you’ll have developed the resilience and adaptability that enable you to be in charge of your own worklife. You’ll have enough focus and direction for stability and enough flexibility to allow for change along the way.”

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