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What Happened to Your Career?

Years ago, there used to something called “the corporate ladder.” Now, it wasn’t a physical ladder, but it was real. As a matter of fact, you may have climbed it once or twice yourself. . .

Back in the “Beaver Cleaver [1]” days, if you wanted to be a white collar worker, you would go to a decent college and study hard. During your summers off, you would grab an internship with one of the local corporations you were interested in working for. Hopefully, you’d impress them enough to warrant a formal job offer after you graduated.

1950's businessman [2]

Then you’d start climbing the ladder.

If you were a fairly decent ladder-climber, every few years you’d get promoted, which meant more money and some added perks. Expense accounts, more vacation time and maybe even a nicer office were some of the more common perks back in the day. As strange as it sounds, you may have even been able to pick out your own company car.

Those were the days.

Fast-forward to 2011. I remember attending a conference in which Steven Little [3] was the keynote speaker, several years ago. What he said in that speech still kind of freaks me out.

He said that today’s college graduates will have seven different careers. That’s not a misprint. Little didn’t say, “seven different jobs,” he said, “careers.” If he’s right, I’m wondering how college students go about preparing for a life of career changes, as opposed to job changes.

Some of the changes that are taking place in people’s careers are speed-related; business changes so fast these days. Technology [4] has certainly played a huge role in these changes. The Internet has opened doors that were once impossible to open. Small businesses can be big businesses online. It’s a lot easier to do business globally.

Companies are doing more with less. Amazing computer software systems have eliminated the need for huge accounting and human resources departments. Automation systems in the manufacturing sector have enabled companies to scale back on the amount of employees needed to run shifts.

The downward trends in employer loyalty are also contributing to the death of the traditional career.

Milan Moravec, a management consultant, recently wrote:

“Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today.”

Read his comment on The Performance Improvement blog [5].

So, how can you adapt to the huge career shifts that are taking place?

1. Mentally become a “free agent.” It’s absurd to think that your current job will last more than five years or so. (Obviously, lots of factors can affect this, but I’m using a broad brush here.) One-page resumes need to always be at the ready. Employees need to anticipate when things at their companies are about to change. Take calls from recruiters, and be nice to them. Pay it forward. They’ll remember you.

2. Find ways to generate extra income. Check out online income opportunities. I’m not talking about those lame “make money online” infomercials that are on television during the wee hours of the night. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that there are ways to generate some income via the Internet. My friend (and Small Business Trends contributor) Jim Kukral has a fantastic Internet marketing resource page [6] set up. There’s bound to be something there to explore.

3. Take a class. A plethora of classes are offered day and night. Brush up on some skills. Learn something new. Learn a new career. Online classes are affordable and convenient. Community colleges can be great places to take a course, too. Here’s a list of community colleges [7], state by state.

4. Buy into a company. I know that lots of people have been left holding useless stock options from the companies that they’ve worked for and that have gone under, but it’s still worth looking into employee equity opportunities. Maybe there’s a small company that’s super-entrepreneurial in their thinking, and they only want to hire people who will buy in. Some people actually love their jobs; having real equity can be pretty exciting, too.

5. Become the owner of a franchise business. Franchise ownership provides a corporate structure (which can be good for those used to working within one) and real ownership. It’s true that the franchise business model is a rigid one (which means that there are rules to follow), but it’s still your own business. You are the one opening the door to your  business, every day. It can be quite empowering. Here’s what’s trending in franchising [8].

Traditional career tracks are becoming extinct. Working at the same company for 30 years is a thing of the past. Don’t be frightened by this change. Instead, feel a sense of ownership. That’s because you’re really in charge of your own career–like never before.