The Multiple Careers Paradigm

If I recall correctly, in the 1990s there was a so-called “paradigm shift” which produced a new bit of conventional wisdom that said people could no longer expect to have a slow, steady progression in one career with a single employer from graduation to retirement; that instead the norm would be for people to change employers and even careers every few years, with mobility, versatility and adaptability being key to long term success.

Except. What I’m seeing in my recent job search efforts is that a large number of companies seem to want to hire someone into a position who has been doing exactly that job. So if we’re supposed to be changing what we do every few years, how do you manage to break into another field when you don’t even get a look in because you don’t already have a long track record?

Now I already have had some success with career changes: I graduated with an engineering degree and had a successful career in the aerospace field, at least until economic conditions made the industry downsize (I was one of those downsized in the process).

Having developed my computer skills during that phase of my professional life, I was fortunately able to transition to the IT world and had another successful career, starting with Programmer/Analyst responsibilities and working up to Project Management. During that time, I was posted to France for 4 years to the company’s head office to work as the project manager on an implementation of a global system. After returning to Canada, there was some restructuring in the company’s North American IT operations, and my position was eliminated.

The next of my careers ended up being in management, in the field of Customer Care. Huh? From engineering to IT, that doesn’t seem such a leap perhaps. But customer service?

Well, it’s not such a leap really. Throughout my careers, I had excelled at serving internal customers; in particular I had a strong philosophy that ultimately what I did to help them was in support of what they did to serve the company’s external customers and they are the ones who buy the products that paid my salary.

I was fortunate; the company that hired me as a Manager of Customer Care saw that I possessed the characteristics they needed to supervise a customer service group and look after the needs of demanding customers. My technical background was also useful as they manufacture an engineered product that is sold primarily through industrial distribution channels and to OEMs. My computer background was another key for this position, as it involved managing and developing strategic enhancements to the company’s customer-only extranet.

This job ended when a re-organization of the management group occurred due to a change in the company’s strategic objectives.

So, with a track record of adapting successfully to new career challenges, you’d think I would be perfectly placed with regard to the “career mobility paradigm”. But it seems like this is not the case, and perhaps it’s because of another recent paradigm or two: “Shareholder Value” and “Sarbanes-Oxley/Good Corporate Governance”.

Companies are afraid, it would seem (at least from my perspective), that hiring someone into a position that isn’t an exact clone of the job description is too risky. And risk is, these days, unacceptable from a shareholder value point of view; I’m less certain of the corporate governance effects but I suspect that increased attention to “internal controls” makes everyone a little more nervous when it comes to making a decision that could end up being questioned.

So, there we are. Is the career mobility paradigm dead, killed off by the power of risk-averse investors? I’d be interested to find out what other people’s recent experience is telling them about this subject.

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