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.

Boredom

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.

Redundancy

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.

Job Competition

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)?

Regards

Colleen

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22 Comments

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  1. JΓΌrgen L

    It seems some Millennials  are not much different to the Boomers, or is it the other way around? I can put a green checkmark behind each bullet point and grin about the fact that you have as much in front of you than I have behind me, which does not completely take the fear away, but it reduces it every year, which does not mean I put my skills on a rest. ERP on Hana – I am doing the open SAP course right now – is certainly exciting and able to fill a good part of time in the next years.

    The only steadiness is the unsteadiness – and we have to be prepared for any result.

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      change happens whether we want it or not. A lot of it is out of our control. I guess it’s a case of “careers preppers” (mmm I’ve been subjected to too many trashy reality tv)

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  2. Stephen Bonifacio

    I have the exact same fear- an outdated skillset. There was a fluryy of changes in my domain in the last few years (i specialize in on-prem Talent modules in SAP HR). SAP bought Succesfactors, the best-of-breed talent app (whether cloud or on prem) and has announced this to be the ‘go-forward’ solutions for Talent solution offering, which means  SAP on-prem talent opportunites is about to go the way of the dodo. lol Though ironically, I’ve seen surge in the demand of my skillset lately in my home country, the Philippines –  the region is not really known as early adopter of enterprise applications, so that’s understandable.

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Hi Stephen

      I agree – your area is undergoing a considerable shift. I witness a lot of people come to this space trying to figure out how to get into the cloud solutions

      The surge happens as the supply of skills shifts and suddenly demand is there. It’s similar to mainframe developers. They are a dying breed and it’s amazing what they can command as companies attempt to replace the systems and have no inhouse expertise to help them.

      Regards

      Colleen

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      1. Stephen Bonifacio

        Cloud applications has no similarity at all (when it comes to data model or the underlying tech) compared  to the ‘old school’ SAP GUI/dynpro applications were used to. It feel very much like starting from scratch. Like there’s a new world to be explored out there. It’s a scary and exciting all at the same time. :)))

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  3. Andy Silvey

    Hi Colleen,

    five star blog πŸ™‚

    Hmmm, how can express this,  if the beliefs you have described above as tools for avoiding stagnation are attributes of Millennials, then that makes me a 41yr old Millennial as I have used the same tools so far in my SAP career πŸ™‚

    To help you sleep a little better at night, allow me to give a little bit of feedback… if you keep your eye on the ball and never stop practicing those beliefs, you will have a super career.

    Best regards,

    Andy.

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Hi Andy

      thanks for your feedback and perspective.

      I guess a lot of us would have this “fear” in our careers. It’s probably why as much as people try to treat Gen Y as different and then ultimately draw the conclusion how similar they are.

      But for Gen Y I do wonder if we are learning a bit from everyone else: we witnessed the GFC and watching companies perform mass sackings. We can see how competitive the job market is. I’ve witnessed too many people older than me be made redundant and find themselves in a job market with fierce competitions. Maybe a Gen Y I have been fortunate to learn from other people’s situations early on in my career so I could establish my career approach.

      Regards

      Colleen

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      1. Andy Silvey

        Hi Colleen,

        regarding the GFC, you’re right this is a very useful life experience especially to see such a thing earlier in the career rather than later and to understand from the earliest age that nothing is for ever, nothing is granted, and to have no assumptions or expectations. With these understandings, people are placed to position themselves to be as ready as possible for the unexpected, which is what your list of criteria does – keeping yourself marketable and knowing your market.

        Myself and my generation in the UK, we grew up under Mrs Thatcher’s leadership, and consequently most will remember, mass redundencies, closing down of steel and coal and manufacturing industries, and so we really know, that nothing is guaranteed or forever. We experienced the boom of the eighties and the bust of the early nineties when Britain left the EMU .  During the late 80’s early 90’s the boomers in the UK started to get pension shocks, meaning they had contributed to pensions during their whole careers and then with the crash the value of their pensions were eroded.

        This same thing happened in the GFC, a lot of people saw their pensions and investments eroded. This is a huge lesson on investing. My generation have now lived through two major crashes.

        And for the sake of completeness let’s not forget the dot com crash in 2001.

        We in the SAP space are very lucky in many ways, especially that:

             . During the GFC most of us maintained our utilisation whether as employees or contractors

             . We are the ultimate definition of the mobile workforce – if the SAP area dries up where we are located, then if we so wish we can move/migrate to another location and find the same work – how many other people have such freedom and security

             . Infact, most of us can do what we do from anywhere in the world

        What to take from all this, as I said you are spot on with the elements and attributes you describe to keep yourself marketable.

        What advice can I give you – be thankful for what you have and invest your rewards carefully, and keep priority number one as being marketable. As long as you are marketable then during your working life you will always be safe. If you invest your rewards wisely then when your working life comes to an end you will have security for the next stage of your life.

        On the positive side, my prediction – the GFC is over and the next boom has already started. The boom will now be fueled by lower oil prices and low interest rates and flat inflation and in some places deflation. This will all contribute to more money in people’s pockets, more consumption and therefore the next boom. How long will the boom last, history has shown, maximum ten years.

        Therefore, let’s make hay while the sun shines.

        But don’t forget, if SAP ends, what do we do then ?

        Best regards,

        Andy.

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        1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

          Marketable is key πŸ™‚

          Ummm that pesky GFC and recovery…. depends on your country. Australia has some risk at the moment with mining sector which drove quite a few SAP projects. But you do make a valid point – a lot of SAP consultants are prepared to be mobile and accept that the work we do means you relocate or commute to do it. For me, I’m doing a 6 hour flight each fortnight for this and working remote for the rest. At the same time, my partner (also SAP) is on a weekly flight commute between cities.

          From this, flexibility is another attribute. Flexibility would assist with marketability.

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  4. Sergio Guerrero

    Colleen,

    this is a fabulous blog and I can relate to you. Fear of staying in the same place without growing is one thing we have in common. Cheers to you for taking the initiative.

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  5. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Gen Y?! Hmm, based on your wisdom I’ve always placed you with Gen X… πŸ™‚

    In the US there is an additional twist that with a job you might also lose medical insurance. Also for over 10 years due to US immigration being “super-efficient” process for me losing a job could also mean losing the country. And just wait till you have kids – this comes with the whole new range of fears. πŸ™‚ Personally I’ve been living with all sorts of fears for so long that I moved on to the que sera sera approach.

    I agree with all your points but, interestingly, somehow people who are better “sales reps” for themselves frequently do better than people who are more qualified. So here comes another fear. πŸ™‚

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Hi Jelena

      I was worried your comment would be “aghhhh not another millennial blog”” πŸ™‚ Yes I am Gen Y but towards the cusps of Gen X πŸ˜‰

      Agree – sadly too many weapons of mass destruction are very good at making themselves look good on paper and sell themselves in an interview. Too often you hear they are starting or go the job and you wonder “how?!?” as you know the quality of their work.

      One bit of the advise I do keep with me is “You are your brand”. We all have to market ourselves. Perhaps the sales reps should learn the details and some of us need to learn from the sales reps.

      I do live in a very fortunate country that healthcare and education is subsidies – there is a safety net.

      Regards

      Colleen

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  6. Simone Milesi

    Hello Colleen,

    you pointed out pretty well all my fears and feelings about my working life and carreer fears.

    I feel i’m in a swamp, trying to getting out of the mud, without too much success.

    i found pretty…reveling this point

    • 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.

    Mastering the new toys requires time (at least for wooden heads like me πŸ™‚ ) and honestly i do not have SO much time jumping between workplace to home with family.

    i try to follow as many OpenSap courses but without the availability of the new toys in all day work, the skill i gain i recognize are pretty…basic.

    i followed HANA dev. course and when i completed it i felt i can master HANA blindly (well, maybe not so good…) but after a couple of months sinked in ECC AMS i feel i wasted my time.

    Even more, when i look at jobs boards  i feel… belittled when my 10 years experience values less than a junior which left the school yesterday because the junior costs less than me(and we do not want to talk about jobs’ offers asking “New graduated with at least 5 years under the belt in developing and great knowledge of functional areas PP-MM-FI-CO”, don’t we?!).

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      1. Simone Milesi

        Hello Jelena,

        thanks for remember me this old blog i lost in the time πŸ™‚

        i read it when Graham published it but reading it now has a whole new light.

        Maybe it’s due my humor so..nostalgic in these days, so sorry for my rant, but i really need a place where to express my black humor at the moment πŸ˜›

        Now, let me go play with some new toys while i wait for customers’ replies πŸ˜€

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Hi Simone

      Thanks for your input here. It is a challenge to broaden and develop new skills when your employer won’t be upgrading any time soon. I am fortunate that I do not have the family commitments and can invest time as well as job change.

      I’m not sure what more to say here except that you are still ahead of others who choose to do nothing. Are there any non-product skills that you could develop to protect your career?

      Regards

      Colleen

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      1. Rajan Srinivasan

        Yes.

        Believe will be ahead of others who choose to do nothing.

        SAP professionals aren’t alone here. Every profession and career tech or otherwise go through the same challenge.

        Even if decide to live away from civilization in a forest you will face this challenge. Not trying to contradict anything said so far. Just pointing out the universality of “only change is permanent”

        Philosophical approach to life can be a very good help. And never say die attitude can help pull through. I draw heavily on spiritual resources to keep me on course and ticking.

        Easier said than done! This is my personal belief and approach that I follow.

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