27 February 2016 12:51:05 IST

Career changes — choice or challenge?

Today’s volatile market requires an agile and globally mobile workforce

At a recent alumni reunion, I got to meet one of my batch mates, who was my good friend and the class topper, after 20 odd years. In his student days, he had shown deep interest in branding and advertisement and was a human Wikipedia on brand trivia. His dream was to work in a company with great brands and eventually, create a global brand.

Armed with an MBA, he joined a prominent advertising company through the campus recruitment programme. It was good to meet him and after the customary enquiries on family, children and cholesterol levels, our conversation veered to profession and jobs. I was surprised to hear he is now the chief sustainability officer of a large company, and the nodal officer for the firm’s CSR initiative, with multi-crore budget. What was more, during the course of 20 years, he has worked in three different industries and four distinct functions, including a stint in operations and human resources.

Reversible choices

For the generation before mine, a career choice was an irreversible decision, something that people stuck to until retirement. One of my friends’ grandfather had joined a leading film studios as an apprentice when he was 18 years old. Today at 86, he still spends a few hours every day at the studios as their consultant for documentation and archiving!

Meeting with my old friend made me reflect on the career trajectories of today’s professionals. At the time of MBA programme, people may state very specific preferences on what they would like to pursue in their career, but opportunities and life situations take people on a very different route.

Whims and fancies

These days, people switch careers on a whim. Moving between industries and fields is common to the extent that being in one place is considered to be stagnating your growth. Such mobility is beneficial for individuals and organisations alike. Companies look to hiring people from various walks of like, as long as they have the desired competencies to perform the defined job.

Surprising as it may sound, jobs are not that drastically different from each other that one cannot make a beginning in a new career. Unless you want to turn a ring master, or a performing artiste, jobs in corporates can be learnt and work delivered if one has the attitude and passion to do well.

It is not only in field of cinema that a humble factory worker Norma Jeanne Mortenson becomes world famous Marilyn Monroe or a bus conductor Shivaji Rao Gaekwad ends up as superstar Rajnikanth. Such radical and successful transformations occur in the corporate world too. Agreed, career changes do not assure actualisation of grandeur dreams as in case of the film stars. Great success is result of hard work, passion and often times sacrifice.

Passionately perfectionist

I know of a CEO who asks job candidates how to hammer a nail or change a car’s tyre. If there is interest, detailing and precision in the process described by the candidate, he/she is hired. If the candidate is nonchalant about the question as it seems irrelevant and trivial and answers casually, other existing competencies notwithstanding, the candidate does not get hired.

This CEO feels whatever one does, , one has to demonstrate passion and commitment towards perfection and excellence. For only these qualities will underpin a person’s diligence and success at work.

It has been seen that people who move careers are successful if they have a positive attitude towards making their choice worthwhile and meaningful. There is a lot of effort required to sustain the change and make the new career rewarding. But it is not impossible. Default job options may seem easier and more accessible, but until one tries different things, one would not know what the true calling in life is.

Doing something different

People are moving towards ‘doing something different’. For a lot of reasons, be it monotony in the current job, or challenging status quo and experimenting with a totally new line, professionals today are moving away from the familiar arena to gain experience and expertise in a completely new field of work.

Those with financial security strive to become entrepreneurs engaging in work that could be alien to them but is in demand in the market. And there are those who need a steady monthly income and yet are bitten by the change bug. Such people explore jobs which are vertically and horizontally different from what they have been doing so far.

Thus careers are no longer linear. As the pundits say, we live in a volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) world. The corporate world is volatile with lot of uncertainties, it is complex and ambiguous. Companies need highly agile workforce and globally mobile talent. No more do job adverts insist on industry experience. Interest, enthusiasm and commitment to learning and performing are the key ingredients in making any job successful.

Constantly look for opportunities and alternatives to jobs. Professional wandering is accepted as long as there is a goal and a purpose. Mere meandering without a purpose will only result in an unstable career marred with aimless changes. Tread various paths to see which one would make the career journey enriching and then make an informed decision. Flexibility, a learning mentality and ability to go with the flow are critical attributes for career changers.

Wear a ‘never say die’ attitude and make a kill in changing careers. Unless one braves changes, one never knows about the opportunities available.

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