Career Mobility: Straight Up is Not the Only Way
There was a time not too long ago when one’s career began and ended at the very same company. Individuals would finish their formal education (either school or college), start their first full-time job, and continue there until retirement. Either that or they stayed at the first one for decades, later switched, and continued the rest of their careers at a second company. Most of our parents and older relatives have had this experience.
People complain about millennials and members of Gen Z being serial job-hoppers. While the prior generations are praised as loyalists. However, we need to be mindful of both sides of the fence, and be cognizant of why older generations chose not to move as much as today’s generations.
The world economy looked drastically different in the time of our grandparents and parents. They had severely limited options compared to what is available today. Without this problem of the plenty, the majority were happy with whatever they got (even if it was under negative circumstances) and not rocking the boat too much. The reality of getting a job in the first place, and being secure in it were major perks.
Careers play out very differently today
The economy has almost exploded post-liberalization across the world combined with advances in technology. Owing to which there are way more career options available to people today.
Things are different today. Employers offer more and employees expect more.
Switching careers involves taking some risk to step out of the comfort of one’s current position. However, that risk was unacceptable in the past. In the past people generally chose stability for various reasons. Loyalty to an organization was also a more prevalent value. The scenario is different today. People are not shy or hesitant to capture opportunities with the right support.
Higher income, better work environment, better-perceived growth opportunities, culture-fit issues, harassment, a difficult boss, a shorter commute; any or all of the aforementioned perks could be key considerations for people to want to move on. What is right or wrong is a very individual choice.
But the truth is that having a wider array of experiences gives us a greater exposure to what else is out there. We can test the waters, see what we like, and learn not only about the market but also about our own preferences
Having said that, it is important to note that there are serious advantages of staying at one company for decades too. There could be considerable career growth and visibility if one is at the right place.
Career mobility in today’s world is not a luxury
We can try as much as possible to speculate about the future of work and the state of industries. However, the big picture globally is evolving so tremendously fast that predictions are becoming less and less effective.
For example, the way we built software and technology systems 20 years ago was immensely different from the way we build technology today. Earlier, they were all large, monolithic systems. Today, it’s all about collaboration, partnerships, and how we can build smaller pieces to integrate with someone else’s.
Technology has gone in a direction that no one had predicted.
The media landscape is also shifting. Entertainment and manufacturing have also evolved drastically. Countless jobs that we pursue today that involve social media, artificial intelligence, data science, sports, FinTech, etc. simply did not exist back then. It is hence only sensible for us to be willing to evolve as well.
Being prepared from a career mobility point-of-view is not a luxury. It is a part of our evolution, and the best thing one can do is adapt as it happens.
Do we buy an umbrella after it starts raining? Sure, we can. But isn’t it better to be prepared when the clouds come out, or even earlier? We certainly can’t predict exactly where the ball is going to land. But our advice is to be prepared and hang around by making educated guesses. We’re no longer in a phase when we can afford to ignore this reality of a fast-changing economy and technology landscape.
Listen up, students and freshers...
The idea of career mobility is especially relevant to young adults and students who are just starting out. So many of us are pressured into believing that we need to choose a specialty, a focus, or a certain academic degree. We are made to feel that that decision will be an eternal one. This line of thought is now obsolete.
With the exception of a few lines of work where the entry barrier is really high (like for becoming a doctor, dentist, civil engineer, and so on), most careers today can be pivoted and switched from, with a little bit of effort and learning.
So if we do not know what we want to do down the line, that’s all right because career mobility can help open doors for us if we understand what we need to do, when.
Kinds of career mobility
Career mobility can be of two kinds.
- Intentional or voluntary mobility, and
- Forced mobility
Intentional or voluntary mobility
If one chooses to move on from their current employment with the purpose of gaining something positive or avoiding something negative at the old place, that’s intentional mobility.
Either one leaves their current position and moves within the company. Or they exit the company and move to another role elsewhere. This could be in a lateral (sideways) move, or even a step-down to work towards a new career path. We might even choose to take a sabbatical and catch a break or start something of our own.
This is a situation when an employer decides to restructure or layoff employees. They may choose to either relieve certain employees (team, product line, division) of their duties, or move them laterally into other units across the company.
In extreme situations, it could be the entire company that goes. We see this all the time: the Lehman Brothers in 2008, Deutsche Bank and Jet Airways in 2019. We don’t need to recount the damage to organizations and businesses Covid-19 played a role in, globally. This list can go on; it’s a reality of business.
Companies undergoing mergers and acquisitions go through this process too. They either are able to mobilize employees sideways into different departments, or they are made redundant completely. With the constant changes in macroeconomic conditions, technology improvements, and global political circumstances evolving, such things will continue to happen.
Note: Layoffs can be extremely painful and stressful, but we need to accept them as part of life and minimize their negative impact on us personally.
Often these situations force us out of our comfort zones and enable us to move in directions that we would ordinarily not pursue.
After losing their jobs, many individuals have chosen to find new paths or even start their own ventures. The same thought process works even if one chooses to exit intentionally to start one’s own business or try our hand at something new.
Okay. So what can we do about it?
The only thing we can really do when the future is uncertain is to prepare in advance.
This preparation can serve as an investment in our careers that will benefit us lifelong.
Here are some tactics that are a part of this preparation.
- Invest time and energy in building strong networks before we need help,
- Build on transferable skills that will enable us to be agile when needed, and
- Become financially literate and build financial stability
(We have a follow-up article that explains each of these tactics in more detail.)
Armed with this preparation and perspective of looking at our careers with the lens of mobility, we can evolve to the next level of career planning. This will give us an edge over those who do not see things this way. It can open up our professional, and indirectly our personal lives to more fruitful and satisfying opportunities and experiences.