14 November 2015 10:44:44 IST

Make your move from mediocrity to mastery

Today, career changes are not unheard of. Here are some tips to keep in mind before taking that leap

In this forever moving world, speed and change are two constant factors in all aspects of life. More so in the world of work and business, where one change can impact several organisations, sectors and economies.

Let’s go back in time

Soon after liberalisation in the early 1990s, Indian corporate landscape witnessed extremes in the spectrum of changes. Innovative ideas got the philosophy of management, changing from the hierarchical traditional system to a flat structure, providing scope for informal but relatively more competitive and productive organisational set up. And the advent of information technology, which accelerated the pace of change in the space of business and commerce, upended many an organisation and even entire industries.

Lifetime employment

Amongst the significant changes that emerged since, has been in the concept of lifetime employment. The graduates of 1960s and 1970s faced limited choices. It was either government services or the private sector.

During the pre-independence era and even for a decade or more post 1947, there were only a handful of Indian business houses, subsidiaries and foreign companies operating in India. As such, career movement was a rarity; jobbers joined one organisation or service as an apprentice or a trainee and worked there till retirement. People grew from within ranks; lateral hires in companies were few and far between.

In the pre-liberalised era, government was a major employer and operated in every segment of the economy. Consider this:

An Indian citizen living in the 1970s and 1980s would eat bread, consume cola prepared by the Modern Food Industries and own a two or three wheeler manufactured by Scooters India. Diwali or wedding gifts would consist of a nice wristwatch from HMT, while special moments of one’s life were captured using “Indu”, a photographic film made by Hindustan Photo Films. All of these were owned by Government. It is needless to mention that banking, airlines and communications were all owned and run by the government as well.

Post liberalisation, however, some of these companies were privatised, while others turned “sick” due to their inability to adapt to new technologies and changing consumer preferences.

Loyal to the profession

All these changes gradually resulted in major shifts in people’s perspectives regarding their careers. Mergers and acquisitions gave birth to new companies on one side and caused disappearances of some on the other. To keep pace with these drastic shifts and turns, the modern day workforce grew mobile and footloose. The millennial cohort is loyal to the profession and to one’s own skills rather than to the employing companies. One research says a new employee entering today’s labour market will work in three different kinds of industries and on an average, do eight different jobs in the course of his career!

Say hello to Portfolio Worker

Charles Handy, the Irish author and Management Guru, advanced the concept of Portfolio Worker to describe the modern day employee. Portfolio Working is defined as a way of organising your working life in which you work for several employers and perform different jobs at one time, instead of working the entire time for one employer.

The models of employment, thus, are rapidly changing. The conventional method is full time employee or FTE (Full Time Equivalence); now we have temp workers, part timers, flexi workers, interim executives — and the list is only growing.

B-School preferences

Again, with such changes in the employer and employee market, it is only natural for workers to shift their approach towards careers. One of the primary reasons people attend business schools is to make a shift in their career. This is more prevalent in people joining a B-School after few years of work experience. A software engineer wants to do an MBA so he can have a career in finance or even marketing. A sales professional who wants to move into operations is looking at MBA to bridge the gap.

This is also equally applicable to those who are in their mid-careers and want to shift to a new job or sometimes, to a new industry.

Career Change vs Career Transition

But do career changes and career transitions mean the same thing? While the terms are used interchangeably, their meaning is, in fact, quite varied. A career change is a quantum leap in career transition.

One of the challenging aspects of switching careers is to know which of the current skills can be applied to your aspirational job. The good news is that many industries may appreciate your skills as much as your current one does. But it is important to assess your skills and competencies yourself, research the industry and role of interest you want to jump to thoroughly, explore relevant opportunities and then start the job hunt.

Christopher Bowe, who used to work as a reporter in Financial Times , covering healthcare industry in the US, has now made a successful career shift to consulting, where he advises CEOs of healthcare companies on thought leadership, and assists them in articulating their strategy to various stakeholders.

According to him, many people make the mistake of undervaluing their current skills. This is due to the trap of industry identity, where people associate their core skills with their old profession and assume that those skills are less valuable elsewhere. In reality, they might actually be worth more on the outside.

The “how to”

There are three key suggestions from Christopher Bowe for effective career transition:

Tap other re-inventers : Consult with people who have already transitioned from your industry to a different career. Discuss what core skills you might have overlooked and how they can be applied outside.

Confer with outsiders : Talk to a wide range of people outside your industry, and ask them about your core skills: How should you market them? What are the less-obvious functions or organisations looking for such skills? What are the obstacles to landing such work?

Create a strategic message : Distil your goals and skills into a simple statement to guide you.

Word of caution

However, there are bound to be some ‘from the frying pan into the fire’ cases in career transition too, but these are not about bad jobs or lack of opportunities. More often, they boil down to the individual’s inability to ‘find his/her feet’ and establish an identity.

A well-planned and executed career transition can be most rewarding and in all probability, better than the first phase of your career.

It can be a telling move from mediocre to mastery.

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