Yet, there is no need for doom-mongering; while it is certainly a challenging time to be someone considering their future career, it is also an immensely exciting time, full of opportunities in rapidly evolving, growing, and, as mentioned, in some cases not-yet-existent industries!
In a recent virtual graduation ceremony for those who missed their in-person graduations, former US President Barack Obama spoke of what the coronavirus meant for those graduating and contemplating their futures. He said the pandemic had pulled back the curtain on a hard truth. "All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing?" he said "Turns out they don't know all the answers. A lot of them aren't even asking the right questions. So if the world's going to get better, it's up to you. Now that realization might be kind of intimidating, but I hope it's also inspiring. With all the challenges right now, nobody can tell you "no, you're too young to understand" or "this is how it's always been done", because, with so much uncertainty, with everything so up for grabs, this is your generation's world to shape." Here's a closer look at some of the skills you need to shape your career today.
The days when many people would start at a company, work there for 40 years and retire are long gone. With industries and the economy changing so quickly, it is important people are adaptable, so they can face new roles and challenges as they arise. For me, the old idea of the mid-life crisis with its drastic change of career has faded, as people change jobs, and even industries often. According to the Balance Careers, while it can be hard to define what exactly counts as a 'new' job, due to promotions and transfers, workers now have an average of more than 12 jobs in their working life. A drastic change of career no longer carries the stigma it used to for some people; in fact, I would argue, in many cases it is positively applauded, as a charge to renew oneself and embrace new challenges.
Even without the coronavirus, the global job market is very changeable and volatile. Companies can be bought out, jobs offshored, and industries can turn on macro forces out of the control of the vast majority of people in the industry. For example, about five years ago the oil price, the one metric which essentially determines the success of the whole oil industry (and to an extent linked industries too), dropped from $110 a barrel to nearly a third of that in just a year-and-a-half, sadly making thousands in that industry under- or unemployed. Both of these are hardly the fault of the individuals losing their jobs, but this is the world we live in now, and those who are more willing to adapt in the face of the awful, unfortunate prospect of redundancy are more likely to find employment after it. Even if industries do not necessarily go downhill, they often morph and merge with others, further illustrating the need for adaptability.
Networking, ‘marketing your brand’, and 'selling yourself'
With job markets increasingly flexible, it follows that it helps to be good at promoting yourself, far more than the way you do in a traditional job interview. Many industries rely to a large degree on networking, which can be tricky; reading the room and judging the line between things which are interesting on a personal/political level and...too interesting.
And these days you don't just have to read the proverbial room, but cyberspace too, since a large proportion of jobs in today's economy are filled through 'informal recruitment' on social media (typically LinkedIn). Similar in-person issues also apply to social media. Depending on the employer, you can have too much information or -- especially for jobs involving social media, marketing, heavy client contact, or cultivating networks -- too little. As demonstrated by the recent Dolly Parton Challenge, it can help to find the feel and atmosphere of different social networks, and conduct yourself on them accordingly. It's far from easy, but you can find tips for LinkedIn success to help you on your way.
It's not all about fretting about the various debatable etiquette points, however. Especially when networking/socializing within the same company, a lot of it can just boil down to being nice and sociable; saying happy birthday or getting cards for colleagues on their birthdays, going for those after-work drinks, volunteering to plan a social activity and so on.
While the most technically demanding positions are typically specific roles, most employers in today's business world expect workers to have a basic level of technological know-how. For example, the ability to use Excel and Powerpoint competently, to send an email calendar invite, and to conduct Zoom meetings in a professional manner is expected. (Although it can provide a lot of laughter to colleagues when this is not the case!) This is especially true following COVID, as millions are working from home much of the time and it is not necessarily so easy for your colleague sitting next to you or the IT support worker to help you out with technical issues.
While much of the above may have changed from two, three, or four decades ago, some things stay the same. Even if the means have changed, and sometimes dramatically, the vast majority of businesses do not function and prosper without the dedication, professionalism, and creativity of their employees. Therefore, the willingness to work hard is still a must for job seekers today!
So, as Mark Twain asserted, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”