Full-time work is going away, and what’s surprising is how little people are talking about it. First it was outsourcing, and then a big shift into contingent labor, which is another way of saying “temps and contractors.” The high-tech industry and others have been riding the contingent-workforce wave for years, and plenty of temp-and-contract agencies have benefited from the shift. Have workers benefited too? Lots of people would say no — when you work a contract, you don’t get your benefits paid for, you’re typically not eligible for promotions, and your rate is often pre-set by the agency you work for and fixed for the duration of your contract.
All that being said, people who have already built their entrepreneurial muscles — either by taking contract gigs, putting out a freelance shingle, starting a business of their own or even running their W-2 career like an entrepreneur — have a huge advantage over dyed-in-the-wool salaried people. Every working person needs to remember that the gig s/he’s in now could very well be his or her last full-time assignment of the sort that we used to call ‘permanent,’ not all that long ago.
The shift from long-term, steady payroll jobs to short-term gigs and assignments is jarring, there’s no doubt about it. It’s traumatic to lose a job that you’ve had for a couple of years, much less twenty or thirty. That being said, I have less concern than the already-laid-off people who have figured out that they’re driving their own careers now, and more concern for the still-employed, twenty-five-year veterans of their firms who don’t see the tsunami approaching the shore. How will they deal, when they lose a job that seemed rock-solid and don’t know how to sell themselves in a vastly changed labor market?
I hear from well-compensated people every day who tell me “If I lose this job, I truly don’t know where I’d go.” It’s not so easy to take five or ten years of managing Strategic, Cross-Functional Collaborative Process Improvement Initiatives and re-sell that talent to another buyer. Those types of sprawling, hugely expensive, far-from-the-sales-action programs that so many highly qualified folks have staked their careers on turn out to low on the totem pole resume-fodder-wise, in today’s job market.
These days, every one of us needs to know what our marketable talents are, what business pain we solve, the names and types of organizations that tend to experience that pain and how the market values the solution to the problem. It’s not enough to say “I have twenty years of corporate HR experience.” What does it mean? On its own, the statement is meaningless. We need to know how we made a tangible difference in every job we’ve held, whatever our job function. Beyond that, we need a list of ten or twenty other employers we’d talk to instantly if our current gig went away.
We need a strong network, whether we’re job-hunting or not. We need a clear and human personal brand manifested on our LinkedIn profile and wherever people are talking about us — people we know and other folks who’ve heard about us. We need the professional juice and mojo that come easily when you know that you’ve got skills the marketplace needs. We need the altitude to look at our careers holistically, not as dry lists of employers and job titles but as a robust and powerful story.
How’s your altitude? Are you ready for the new-millennium workplace that is bearing down on us right now? You’ll sleep better and your confidence will skyrocket when you put the pieces together to create your own post-full-time-workplace professional engine together. It isn’t tough to do, but you’ve got to get the ball rolling. What are you waiting for?