Conventional job wisdom no longer sounds wise

When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me to get a job with a safe, secure company and my career would be set. "Go to work for a big utility or large manufacturer," he advised. How things have changed. The career landscape is not only drastically different from that of the seventies and eighties, it is evolving at cyber speed.

To stay marketable and viable in this morphing environment, you need to understand how the old rules are changing. If you play today’s game by the old rules you could lose big time. Here is some conventional wisdom that no longer applies, along with some new direction:

§      Work for big companies because they are more secure.

Over the last few years, big companies have shed employees and the small companies have added them. In fact, most Americans now work for companies with less than 100 employees.

The war for talent has forced small businesses to give employees the same kinds of benefits and compensation the big boys offer. And many small employers view work/life balance and flexibility as necessary tools in the battle for scarce employees. Big companies are often slower to embrace these changes. Their size and complexity make it more difficult to implement customized, creative perks and a casual environment.

Big companies are now fighting just as hard for good employees as their smaller counterparts. Employees no longer view them as the safe havens they once were.

§      Move up the ladder so you have more security, status and salary.

In spite of the shortage of workers, companies laid off more employees in 1998 and 1999 than in any other year in the past decade. Many of the people who lost their jobs were in the management ranks.

Today’s careerists are more closely wed to their chosen profession than to their employer. After the tumultuous eighties and nineties they don’t think any company merits their loyalty. They are constantly on the prowl for resume-building projects that feed their career growth. They are more likely to move from company to company, in search of bigger challenges and more money. Many of them prefer job surfing at the technical level because they are in demand. They don’t want the headaches that accompany a move to the ranks of senior management and they prefer the freedom and flexibility their technical status affords.

§      Stay in one company to get retirement and other long-term benefits.

Many employees don’t trust that a pension will be waiting safely for them when they retire. Many companies have shifted to 401K plans or related programs that allow employees to take their funds with them when they leave. In the past, companies would make employees wait years to become fully vested. There is no patience for that anymore. Employees don’t want to wait a year for vacation or five years to be vested in a retirement plan. They want it now-and they’re getting it. Although there are merits of staying with an employer that offers a rich plan, the price is more than some people are willing to pay.

§      You must sacrifice your family for your career or you won’t advance to the top of your profession.

Although some organizations still believe that sixty and seventy-hour weeks are necessary to make it to the middle and senior ranks, perceptions are changing. Even some of the top law and consulting firms are starting to relax their rules for becoming a partner in an effort to attract and keep top performers. Younger workers are demanding more family friendly policies and baby boomers are raising their voices along with them.

§      Job-hopping is no longer considered a career limiting condition.

In the past, job stability was viewed as a desirable trait. Job hunters were viewed with scorn if they didn’t stay on their current job for at least three to five years. Today, the opposite is true. If you have spent most of your career with one employer, you have some explaining to do. An interviewer will wonder if you’re afraid of change or if your skills are up to date.

If you like your company and plan to stay awhile, you would be wise to move around. Take on new projects, rotate into a different department and apply for lateral positions. In other words, you may want to do some job-hopping inside your own company.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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