Way back, before most of us were working, you got a job with a company and you stayed with that company–making steady progression–until you retired. You were, of course, a man. If you got fired, you had done something pretty bad. Layoffs didn’t happen very often. There were career ladders that you took all the way from your first position to your last position.
This is so long ago that many people reading this don’t get it, don’t know why we still talk about it, and think this is a no-brainer. We still talk about it because this model still shapes our expectations in many ways. Our infrastructure is not set up to support the current reality–if so, we’d have portable health insurance and retirement plans. We’d also be much more focused on taking care of ourselves in our careers rather than leaving it to companies. It is time for our mental models to catch up with reality.
The current ‘career ladder’ looks a lot more like those cool folding ladders that can be shaped over obstructions and can bend in several directions as necessary to do the job.
The current ‘career ladder’ takes you up when that is possible and helps you deal with the plateaus, job losses, industry and functional changes that are necessary to remain resilient and successful in today’s economy. Today’s ‘career ladder’ needs to focus on skills and trends rather than specific roles in specific companies in specific industries. Find ways to “Genericize Yourself,” that enable you to move across industries. Find ways to specialize (I know, those sound like opposite pieces of advice, but they aren’t), so that your value (brand) is obvious. Build your resilience for all kinds of shifts in the economy–think of the shifts that have happened in publishing, electronics, e-marketing, and are happening in health care and communications now. You can’t know what is coming, but you can be ready.