By Jamie Wright
Today’s employment environment is challenging. That’s not a euphemism; it’s just extremely tough to stand out in an age of mass media, citizen journalism and with an ever-growing number of people determined to put themselves ‘out there’.
Inevitably, the ‘why buy?’ question lies behind every decision employers make. Among the deciding factors, there’s your academic performance, any professional experience, extra-curricular activities, and, very importantly, there’s you as a unique person. These disparate elements go into the proverbial melting pot to forge today’s modern worker, be they a graduate setting out in their career, a salaried high-flyer, or an entrepreneurial go-getter working in a start-up.
Certainly, your technical skills and any relevant work experience will count in your favour. But the softer skills such as negotiation, verbal communication and writing ability, are crucial in today’s employment market. The convulsions of the global economy over the past decade since the widespread economic crisis have transformed both the workplace and typical career paths. Today, agility is key to a sustainable career. Millennials can, according to research by my colleague Adam Kingl, Executive Director of Thought Leadership at London Business School, expect to have 15 or 16 employers during their working life. To thrive in this environment over the long-term will take huge amounts of flexibility and adaptability, combined with an appetite to refresh skills along the way.
As the rules of the workplace develop, you must work out how to navigate this brave new world in order to do well. Employees who succeed will generally maintain an open mind, be committed to continual learning and willing to remove themselves from their current responsibilities in order to take on bigger and, on occasions, different roles.
As we embark on the fourth industrial revolution, the dynamics of employment are changing exponentially: temporary roles, dramatically evolving work cultures including the potential for remote working, an employee’s social network and, of course, personal brand are all becoming essential elements for career success.
And then there’s that evergreen, widely-used term – innovation – which applies as much to emerging workplace practices as it does to the pace of technological change. Your ability to innovate is really what might have been called ‘Social Darwinism’ many years ago – it’s all about keeping ahead of the curve, learning to adapt and exploit shifting, and even unstable conditions. This is what really matters today.
You might see all this as great, if rather conflicting, advice. But the real challenge – and the opportunity – is being able to bring together your particular mix of fragmented experiences, social skills and academic performance.
So it’s skill alignment that really counts. Which means occasionally taking a risk and embracing new challenges in order to learn and broaden your outlook. It’s only by truly taking a step into the unknown, or, at the very least, challenging yourself with unfamiliar environments, that today’s professional can be exposed to fresh, or even contrary – yet essential – new perspectives. To paraphrase U.S. billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, ‘the chains of habit are too light to be felt; that is, until they eventually become too heavy’.