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Tips for future-proofing your career

It’s about being positive and embracing change while being strategic and focused

By Brian Kreissl

This post focuses on the advice I would give to young people just starting out in their careers and really anyone at any stage in her career who wants to take a nimble and agile approach to career management. The idea is to have a “future-proof” career that’s proactive and embracing of constant change while also being strategic and focused on one or more specific paths.

This is relevant to HR practitioners not only for their own careers, but also with respect to career planning and recruitment of employees.

Unsustainable career paths

We probably all know people who work in dying industries, organizations or functions where they should be seeing signs that their gigs will be coming to an end shortly — yet they bury their heads in the sand and refuse to consider that their career path likely won’t be sustainable in the not-too-distant future. The strange thing is those people act dumbfounded when they finally do lose their jobs, when the evidence should have been right in front of them all along.

The tragedy is many of those people have a hard time retraining if they haven’t kept their skills current or haven’t at least considered the possibility of doing something else. Taking time to retrain for a new career after a job loss can be a long process filled with frustration and economic hardship.

Because so many people are resistant to change — and because career change is often difficult and scary — people just don’t want to think about what will happen if they lose their jobs or their entire industry goes belly-up. But with so many industries these days being disrupted by new technologies (a la Uber or Netflix), it’s a possibility most people will need to be prepared for and have a backup plan for an alternate career in case their main vocation becomes unsustainable.

‘Slashers’ and portfolio careers

One possibility is becoming a “slasher” or having what some people refer to as a portfolio career. While many employers these days seem to act like people should only be focused on one career, so-called slashers pursue two or more careers simultaneously. For example, an HR professional might have a copyediting or web development business on the side, or an individual might work multiple part-time jobs in different fields.

The good thing about being a slasher is that pursuing more than one career allows people to hedge their bets and diversify their income. However, such a strategy isn’t without its drawbacks, including loss of leisure time, the potential to fall afoul of anti-moonlighting policies in one’s main job, perception that slashers are “Jacks of all trades and masters of none” and difficulties convincing employers and clients they are as knowledgeable and skilful as people who only concentrate on one career.

It can also be difficult for career changers and people with portfolio careers to create multiple personal brands. For example, unlike a resumé, LinkedIn only allows users to have one profile.

Additional suggestions

The following are some additional suggestions for building resiliency into a career:

  • Obtain a broad education that includes exposure to many different disciplines, but choose a major or specialty that is practical and in demand.
  • Keep your options open as long as possible while also following a specific career path.
  • Be able to position yourself both as a generalist and a specialist.
  • Choose a career that’s likely to be in demand in the near future and unlikely to be automated or offshored.
  • Maintain a fall back career wherever possible.
  • Become as computer literate as possible and maintain your skills in the latest tools and technologies.
  • Learn to communicate effectively in a business context.
  • Become bilingual or at least obtain a working knowledge of French (and possibly other languages).
  • Pursue part-time and continuing education.
  • Remain current in your field through reading, courses, conferences and experiential learning.
  • Learn to spot trends and be able to see the writing on the wall when your gig is likely coming to an end.
  • Begin the process of reinvention before job loss.
  • Be flexible and willing to move beyond your comfort zone in your job and career.
  • Learn to leverage transferrable skills in a new career.
  • Develop and maintain a large and varied personal network.
  • Create a short “elevator speech” that explains who you are and what you do.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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