Are you frustrated by the lack of upward progress in your career? Have you had to re-invent yourself several times as many women do? Did you end up moving sideways rather than upwards? Have you perhaps got stuck at one level and just sat there for a while?
Then you are probably one of those people with a bit of a patchy CV, where it takes a while to see a clear thread.
I bet you are also someone who thinks that to get to the top one needs a straight line, and there is no hope left for a proper career for you. You are thinking “Actually, you might as well give up now. “
Well, hold your horses and prick up your ears: It may just be you are on the career path of the future!
The end of competitive advantage
Recently I heard Rita McGrath speak on her new book: The End of Competitive Advantage, at an event organised by HBR London. She argues that competition is no longer about just competing against competitors and getting the best competitive advantage. On the contrary, more than ever entire industries are being wiped out by changing parameters. Entry barriers to industries have become lower and new entrants to the market come from unknown sides.
As a result competitive advantages are only temporary. They are transient. To understand what she means. Just imagine how the market is shifting to emerging economies like China, imagine what the Internet is doing to the newspaper industry, imagine what on-line teachers are doing to business schools and what digital photography has done to one-time industry leader Kodak (- in case you have missed it, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012) .
Rita McGrath argues that for businesses it means the end of a sustainable competitive advantage. She states that the only thing that is sustainable in future are specific types of assets: trust, relationships between people and the networks organisations have. Those don’t change.
As a result organisations that want to survive need to keep on innovating. They need to discover by working with multiple small pilot-projects at the same time (aka: lean development or lean start-up). It is about planning only to the point that they know, then re-plan once they are there.
And that is where your chance is. To help businesses work like this, they will need people with diverse experiences. People that have been outside of their industry, can grow quickly with the changing demands of their customers, can see external threats coming, think outside of the box or don’t even see a box.
In short: people like you, with diverse work experience. I believe a patchwork CV perfectly qualifies you for this.
What you have that others don’t
Typically careers are about advancing upwards. But imagine someone with a straight-line career. Let’s say a university professor, who has worked hard to get there, making the right career moves at the right time and now has arrived. How easy would they find it to adapt if people stop coming to universities and business schools and pick up what they need to learn from on-line guru’s? The university professor may find it hard to adapt, and will possibly even refuse to.
But that’s not you. You have adapted before. You have seen more of the world. It is so much easier for you to adapt. It is so easy for you to bring new perspectives. Like most women, you have probably been forced to re-invent yourselves several times. You have been forced to stop, think and review your values and priorities. You have moved sideways and taken on board new things. Suddenly what you have, has become a key skill.
On top of that of course, if it is all about networks, trust and relationship, that might be something you are good at too!
Become an entrepreneur of your own career
Last just a few tips on how you can make the most of this development. Obviously it isn’t going to work to wait around till the world needs you. What you need to do to make the most of this development is: Become an entrepreneur of your own career. This could include some of the following steps:
- Keep on developing and adding skills. Develop sideways. Develop deeper.
- Try new things. Keep stepping out of your comfort zone. Where is the world heading and what can you do in that area? Do you need to be vlogging? Do you need to keep up to date with Social Media or biochemistry? Where will you learn most?
- Always keep a focus on client-skills. Ask yourself: what is it that will help you, with your capabilities, be more useful for others
And of course, at your next job interview, make sure you mention your diverse experience as an asset. Explain how you have become more open to change, more resilient and how it help you bring new insights and ideas into the business. Explain how you have an asset that can help the organisation in this rapidly changing world.
Author: Inge Woudstra, working women’s expert, trainer and researcher. Inge is the founder of the flagship portal Mum & Career that shows professional working mothers how to navigate career and family.
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