The fear of Career Stagnation
I am afraid.
This fear doesn’t have me quite waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats. But it’s still a fear I have in my career path. It’s in the back of my mind each time I make a career decision. It is part of the reason that the only permanent job I have held is also the shortest job I have held.
I belong to Generation Y (otherwise known as Millennials) – that generation that people like to analyse and predict and tell you how different we are but conclude we aren’t that different (if in doubt, pay Business Trends a visit). And it frustrates me to no end. I recall 5+ years ago undertaking post-graduate studies and participating in a tutorial discussion careers. This was probably around the time when Gen Y overtook Gen X in workplace generational discussions. I found myself as the only Gen Y up against the rest of the class of Gen X and Baby Boomers. It was a debate I could not win. Any counter-argument I attempted would only prove their point.
Millennials expect a good salary. Millennials like interesting work. Millennials always want the new shiny toy. Millennials expect a career path that is fulfilling. Millennials expect a promotion every year. Millennials don’t follow natural attrition and turns when it comes to promotions. Millennials are ungrateful for investment in training the. Millennials are impatient. Millennials are not loyal.
I was insulted (and still am when I read some articles). But then I paused and reflected on what was being said. I could see how most of the conclusions could be drawn. I tried to put myself in someone else’s shoes analysing me: The only permanent job I have held is my shortest job and that was 12 months long; I do have a good salary and negotiate with a high expectation; I do hate boredom; I am impatient when necessary change is delayed; I don’t see why I should wait 10 years for an opportunity to appear because there is an unofficial queue; I do always look out for what’s the next big thing. I have an opinion and am prepared to voice it without consideration to how senior the person is that I am talking to. I change jobs every 6-12 months and companies every 1-2 years. My resume would probably flag a red alert as someone who won’t stay. I am loyal, however, but your definition and mine might be quite different here.
This reflection got me further wondering as to what was my true motivation for the way in which I approach my career path. And then it hit me – my fear is career stagnation. More so, it’s what it results in that scares me.
I’ve held a job in some form since I was 10 years old starting with the paper run. If I have to follow retirement rules in my county, I know I have another 35-40 years left of work (gee I hope not). I have been in workplaces where it is obvious that a person is in a job they are miserable at but cannot leave due to financial responsibility. I am afraid career stagnation could result in me spending the next 40 years of my life in my own living version of Groundhog Day. I really don’t want to spend years turning up to work each day trapped and counting down the time til I can leave.
Okay, I’ll heed the message of “toughen up princess” when it comes to boredom. But boredom to me is more of a risk to career progression and a sign of career stagnation. I could sit back and be a team player – join the invisible queue – and patiently wait my turn to attend that conference or training course or be assigned an interesting project. But if I sit back and patiently wait, I may find myself de-skilling. I could find myself on the same system or in the same job without any growth. Economic downturn and suddenly I find myself being pulled aside by HR and Management telling me it’s not personal but my services are no longer required.
But hey, being made redundant in my 30s in nothing in the grand scheme of working the next 40 years. Fine have a partner who takes some of the financial burden away. Or your previous employer provided a generous payment that provides you enough time to find alternative employment. I’ll stay positive here and ignore my fear. So the time comes for me to update my resume and sift through jobs boards looking for my new opportunity.
And now, this is where my fear is realised. If I have spent my career waiting patiently and trusting my employer I might find myself with an outdated skillset and have zero match on mandatory skills. I might find that my resume is lost in the pile of better qualified candidates. I might find that my salary expectations are quite inflated for what the current market is prepared to pay (even though my lifestyles matches it). I might find myself struggling to obtain future employment. I question why I borrowed so much for my education and wonder when I will repay it. I could then depressingly realised the long hours and staying back later or giving up weekends account for nothing now if I’m unable to market myself to potential employers. A feeling of despair as I wonder why I worked so hard for the past 10+ years to have little to show for it.
So what can I do about it?
My approach has always been to invest in my career and take ownership of it. The fear I have of career stagnation and ultimately, unemployment will more than likely stay with me for most of my working life. It may subside as I become more financially secure or my career ambition and priorities change. But for now, I use this fear as motivation. I am motivated to avoid career stagnation and have the following beliefs:
- I am accountable for my career: I consider it my responsibility to determine my career path and am responsible for my success and failure. If I am required to set objective and goals I try to find ones that are mutually beneficial to my employer and myself.
- I invest in my skills: In owning my career and my future I seek out my own training opportunities. I consider it a bonus for my employer to pay for it but I will find a way to self-fund my training when possible. I will not sit and wait 6+ months to find out if there is a training budget available.
- I establish my networks: this is new to me and I have SCN to thank for a fair part of it. I reach out and have conversations with people in similar backgrounds to me. Networking is an activity I hate doing but I make myself establish and retain professional relationships
- I practise to the point of obsession: I got out of my way to understand a topic to a very low level of detail and find as many alternatives and options as possible.
- I get qualified: This is a mixture of SAP certification, university qualification, private certifications and general study. I do my best to back up my practical skills by looking good on paper. I recognise HR departments screening my resume won’t know the specifics of my skill sets but will recognise certain buzz words.
- I track the job market: Even when I am happy in my current job, I still search the jobs bulletin boards and connect with recruiters. I read the job ads and personally assess how closely my skills match what the industry is asking for skills, qualifications and salary expectations. This helps me identify if I need to further invest in my skills.
- I keep up with the industry trends: I take interest in the new products coming out or changes in position and approaches for solution. It may not directly impact me but being aware allows me to observe and prepare for change.
- I diversify my skills: I jokingly tell management that I am collecting shiny new toys (right now it’s HANA, SuccessFactors, Ariba and IdM) for my resume. However, I do not attempt to chop and change between products without first mastering the current. I realised by specialising in security, I needed to diversify across the different products (as a contractor, I also try to work across different industries to minimise risk of economic downturn). But I also realise I need quality and depth in my skills development.
The reality is, in my next 40 years of work I probably will face redundancy or contract termination. For now, I can prepare myself to minimise the impacts and avoid the long-term unemployment by preventing career stagnation. If that means I’m part of the generation that is not considered loyal and has high expectation then I guess I can live with that.
My question to the community: Do any of you have a similar fear that you are willing to admit (if so, what is your strategy to prepare for it)?