The Modern Career Path

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You can debate whether or not the recession is truly over; however, you can’t argue that the job market hasn’t undergone some drastic changes in the last few years. Full-time jobs are volatile, experience is the new mantra of HR reps and the top and the bottom of a company are closer than ever as mid-level positions are yanked like weeds. The modern workplace runs on a new set of rules, but we don’t want you to get caught off guard. Here are a few considerations for how things work these days, as well as ways for an employee to plot out their path to success.
 
 
 
Photo: photologue_np/Creative Commons

The bar has been raised on entry level
As new blood with graduate-level degrees becomes common to the point of devaluation, junior level positions are becoming increasingly saturated with well-educated talent. This means companies are hiring new employees with little related work experience for such positions, while also having the luxury to hand this new generation of entry level workers mid-level responsibilities, knowing that that are fully equipped to handle them. Because of this, it is now commonplace for new workers to run through a gauntlet of unpaid internships before snagging a coveted (and increasingly rare) full-time, entry level job, as well as for companies to cut down on mid-level positions that are no longer as necessary as they once were.

Getting a good education is the best way to take advantage of this trend, but if wallowing in student debt isn’t your thing, you also gain valuable experience by doing as much work on your own as possible: create your own iPhone app, start a blog, or do anything that gives you the tools to solve problems for a potential future employer. Internships are also valuable, but don’t make sense unless you have a substantial cash safety net.

Longevity vs. experience
It used to be that you could grab an entry level position and potentially work your way up to the top following the model that time, equals experience, equals reward. That’s not the case anymore as we leave the cozy era of the Boomers behind. In fact, many workers at age 23-30 have been through more tough times and great successes than some old fogey CEOs. With the consolidation of so many positions across the employment landscape, jobs are ever more likely to be on a contract or ad hoc basis. This saves companies money as they can use their resources for specific tasks, but translates into a loss of the job security that full-time positions gave.

However, today’s worker can use this to his advantage by attaing a broad skillset of experience without being tied down to one company, building himself up as a personal brand (and one that employers will always see as in-demand). Once you have enough real experience under your belt, you’ll be seen as suitable for more demanding, full-time roles. However, you may find that this isn’t the only way to make a lot of bank, as your experience allows you to eventually pick and choose what roles you’ll fill. Just make sure each of those part-time roles improves your resume in a specific way, in line with your personal goals.

Be very mercenary
With the market experiencing its ad hoc moment, remember that even if you do settle down for a full-time job, you should still always be searching for that better deal. And why not? Companies are, for better or for worse, seeing their employees as interchangeable talent (hence the shift toward part-time employment), so don’t feel bad should you return the favour. Just remember that a better deal isn’t necessarily one that pays more: it’s one that gives you yet more experience, and specifically experience that gives you unique skillset that can help set you apart from the rest. It’s not an employee’s job market anymore, and you can’t take anything for granted: companies can (and do) fail, jobs often disappear. The only way to be prepared for this eventuality is by moving around from challenge to challenge, building yourself up so that you can bounce back quickly.

Leadership matters, just not as much
How many job postings start with “Must be a able to work without supervision”? Today’s Millenial Generation is evolving self-starting attitudes and independent work ethics that are necessary to their survival in a part-time economy which sees them going from job to job, but still expects them to hit the ground running and perform without training. With fewer positions (especially around the middle), the result is that companies become more horizontally integrated and the gap between boss and grunt becomes a gap between boss and highly-trained worker. As an employee, this means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to strut your stuff without hitting the red tape, and, if you make the right choices, you can gain incredible amounts of decision-making and management experience that way. Then, when you apply for a leadership position near the top, HR reps will realize that you’ve been doing the job all along even though you’ve never held the title.

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