In 2004, Daniel Pink predicted in his book Free-Agent Nation that in the near future nearly all employees would operate as free agents. Ten years’ later and that forecast has become reality for most employees.
Just as baseball players switch from the Detroit Tigers to the New York Mets to the Chicago Cubs, so do most employees change jobs every couple of years. The days of lifelong employment and gold watches earned for 25 years service are long gone.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The average person born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held 11.3 jobs from age 18 to age 46.” That’s substantial job movement and research suggests that job changing is even more active for millennials.
In a more recent survey summary the same Bureau reports that young adults born in the early 1980s held an average of 6.2 jobs from age 18 through age 26, which outpaces baby boomers that had 5.5 jobs by a similar age. Changing jobs has become more frequent for the average worker of this generation. In your career, you can expect a good deal of employment changes.
That’s why you need to think about nabbing that next job the minute you’re hired in a new position. Starting on your first job after graduating from college is simply a steppingstone in your career. The minute you start on the job, you need to set in motion a strategy for finding the next job. Because the odds are strong, you’ll have many jobs in your life and will experience several divergent careers.
The minute you land the job is the day you start thinking about your next one. Where do you want to be next? How does the current job help propel you to move up or land the new one? Your attitude should be hungry, looking for opportunities, thinking innovatively and never accepting the status quo. The odds are that the status quo is going to face upheaval so keep your options open and be on the look-out for new opportunities.
Psychologically, the best time to compete for a new job is when you already have one. You have security, a steady paycheck and your confidence is high. You’re not desperate; you’re just looking for the next opportunity.
But finding that next job won’t happen by itself. It requires an open and eager attitude, a strategic plan and a willingness to take risks. Here’s how to start planning for your next job from day one.
Start Looking for a Job the Day You’re Hired
How long do you expect to work at your new job? A year, maybe two years, three at the most? For many people, the entry level job is just that, a starting point. It strengthens and builds your resume, but it’s the first stop on a long, and likely detoured road. So you’ll need to start plotting your strategy the day you’re hired.
Your strategy needs to map out what you think your next job will likely be. For example:
- If you’re an assistant buyer at a fashion company, then buyer is the next stage.
- If you’re an editorial assistant at a literary agency, how do you move up to become an agent?
- If you’re a first year auditor at a financial services firm, you could become a financial analyst, audit manager or specialize in one of several areas.
What skills must you master? What challenges do you need to take? What special projects can you initiate and work on? What conferences can you attend to help you along the way?
Think and Operate like a Free Agent
The reality in the working world these days is people move around from firm to firm. Those who stay at one job for a decade are viewed as playing it safe and risk adverse. But it’s up to you to take control of the situation. Knowing you’re only going to stay at a job two to three years suggests you have to create a strategic plan to plot your next move, from the minute you’re hired.
Pink noted in Free Agent Nation that, “Investing all your human capital in a single company makes little sense.” Staying put year after year can be self-defeating and lock you into a narrow job environment.
Each person is responsible for his or her own development, improving one’s skills, adjusting to changes in the industry and tracking industry trends. The more skills you can develop, the more marketable you will be.
Start thinking and operating like a free-agent. Complacency is never an effective way to operate. Everyone can be downsized and laid off, so getting a fast jump on considering future options is critical to your success.
Develop Your Networking Skills
The minute you start on the job, start networking. Who are the influencers and decision makers who can clue you in on the growth companies in the industry, who’s recruiting, and who are the leading HR directors on the prowl for new talent. But it’s not just managers who can lead you to the next job after you’ve started your first. The secret ingredient to nabbing that second job is your peers.
Getting to know your colleagues can be critical to moving ahead and moving on. You’ll learn from them which companies are hiring, which firms are proliferating and what new types of jobs are out there. Sharing information and exchanging data often play a pivotal role in leading to the next move.
While social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook help form virtual networks, savvy workers are taking the next step and assembling face-to-face meetings. Find five or six people at your company who are in the same situation as you and start a luncheon meeting where you discuss business books, leading trends, and work together to move up. It may not be acceptable to talk about job opportunities at these meetings, but discussing the trends and expanding competitors can get you there indirectly.
Build a list of contacts who know what your main strengths and skills are. Cultivate senior leaders who can recommend you for task forces and be used as a reference when you’re ready to search for that next job. None of this is manipulative, but is based on their knowing your strengths and capabilities. You’d do the same for them if the situation arose.
Take Control of Your Development
Who you know and the connections you make are important, but what you know and how you improve your skills are also critical. The more skills you can master, the more marketable you will be. If you’re a computer programmer, learning new coding techniques are paramount to advancing. If you’re a chef, mastering new dishes and sauces is crucial.
Always look for training opportunities and accepting new challenges. Consider volunteering for task forces that go beyond your specialty.
Many people avoid calling attention to themselves. They want to do a good job and often are content to go unnoticed. Anonymity isn’t helpful in a world of social media where privacy has disappeared.
Knowing that you’ll need to change jobs every few years, necessitates that you differentiate yourself from competitors. Publicizing yourself is one way to do it:
- Let the newsletter editor at your company know what innovative projects you’re developing.
- Consider joining different associations where you can lead committees and become a speaker at annual conferences.
- Let the corporate communication people at your company know what inventive, new products you’re helping to develop.
- Work with your manager to publicize the team.
In addition, start making sure your bosses know what projects you’re working on. Send low-keyed emails to senior managers and HR directors. Calling attention to yourself can differentiate you from the masses.
Be Active in Your Niche Online
Social media can clue you in job leads, help promote yourself, and link you to people and eventually jobs. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated and consider joining groups that are in your specialty. Let your Facebook friends know about the job you just landed and what your career goals are. On Facebook, you can establish yourself as an expert or leading computer animator, registered nurse, rising hospital administrator. That description can help you build the platform to pursue your next job.
Twitter, despite being restricted by 140 characters, can also generate or lead to job leads. Let people know what you’re doing in your job, which intriguing projects you’re working on (as long as you’re not revealing any company secrets). You don’t have to ask for a new job; people will find you if you’re doing something inventive and ground-breaking.
But you need to go beyond communicating with your network on Twitter and Facebook. Consider starting a blog. Carve out an area or niche that you can specialize in that differentiates you form the masses. The ultimate executive assistant, moving from Iowa to New York, lost in Silicon Valley, the key to climbing the corporate ladder, an insider’s guide to R&D, nearly any topic or specialty can be turned into a blog.
Blogging can establish your own personal brand, which will give you a competitive edge when interviewing for your next job. Over on Brazen Careerist, personnel administrator Amanda Abella shares her story of how her personal development blog helped land her a full time job:
I just used my Gen Y personal development blog on a resume and landed a full-time job at a local career consulting agency that specializes in placing college grads in professional positions. The president of the company was so impressed by my interest in the business and my creative abilities that she hired me on the spot.
Countless successful entrepreneurs started from humble beginnings with building their personal brands. Barbara Corcoran was a leading New York realtor but she carved out a niche as an entrepreneurial saleswoman and created a mega-real estate firm. Determine what your niche is and build your brand around it via social media and blogging.
Start Looking Outside the Company
Most employees become inwardly-focused in their company. Everything revolves around their boss, the CEO, the manager and supervisor. And that’s fine, for now. But start thinking beyond your company.
Attending conferences, participating in seminars, visiting other companies, anything that gets you out of your comfort zone can help nab the next job. Avoid getting stuck in your current culture because the odds are strong you’ll be moving on soon and adapting to the next organization.
Look for companies in your area that are expanding. If you see several new jobs posted at a new start-up, write a note to the HR director. Explain what you’re working on, what your strengths are, and that you'd consider setting up a meeting.
Track Your Own Skills and Development
Most people get bogged down by the day-to-day of their job. They’re so consumed by meeting the demands of the job that they lose sight of their growth—the new skills they've recently learned and major accomplishments they’ve achieved. Start tracking all of this. The more you can trace your new skills, show your accomplishments, the better equipped you’ll be to compete for the next job.
Strive to improve your interviewing skills, which will be critical when searching for that next job. Consider taking classes in making presentations at Toastmasters International. The more you can think adroitly, learn to respond to questions spontaneously and come across as prepared and articulate, the better your chances will be of nabbing that next job.
Check Job Boards Regularly
Make it a daily habit to visit popular job boards:
But those are the larger job boards; there are also many specialized ones such as Mediabistro for advertising, PR and writing jobs, Teaching-jobs.org for teachers, as well as Authentic Jobs for web designers and developers.
Step It Up
You’ve started a job, you’re making money and gaining some security. But this is no time to let down; in fact, it is time to step things up. The time to search for the next job starts the minute you’re hired. We’re all free agents and temporary employees, always subject to the whim of a boss, the downsizing of a company, the need to cut costs. Start searching for new opportunities because one day soon, you’ll need to find the next job. The sooner you find it, the better off you’ll be.
This concludes our series on Planning Your Career. In this series, you've learned how to map out your long term career plan, land your first job, then springboard into the next, as you push your career forward.
- Read Daniel Pink’s Free-Agent Nation.
- Read Ford R. Myers book Get the Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring.
- Careerbliss helps you determine which job is best for you and also suggests where to look for new jobs. It also provides feedbacks of current employees and what they think of working at specific firms.
- Sites such as Vault.com and Glassdoor.com also yield employee feedback.
- On a daily basis, get into the habit of visiting job boards. Your goal is to gauge the job market, see who’s hiring at which jobs, and focus on what you need to do to get hired in those jobs.