How to make turbulent times work for your career
By Lawrence Wakefield
The world in 2016 is an uncertain one. Britain is leaving the EU, and no one seems to know what that will mean. A bonkers billionaire is about to become president of the United States, and no one seems to know what that will mean either. In the news there’s talk about a climate apocalypse, robots of the future stealing all our jobs, and as if that wasn’t enough, the dependably brilliant John Lewis Christmas advert isn’t even that good this year.
As a job hunter or career ladder climber, you might worry about what all this means for you (other than a few less tears in the commercial breaks over the festive season). The signs don’t look great: job adverts fell by 700,000 following the Brexit vote, nearly half of all jobs are at risk of automation in the not too distant future, and Trump’s victory has brought instability to the UK’s financial position. But some evidence shows there may be reason to be optimistic, and the good news is that there are steps you can take to help weatherproof your career against any brewing storm.
“It’s true that political volatility can unfortunately translate into job market chaos,” says Cheryl Simpson, a career and job search coach. While noting that “it’s too soon to tell at present” how recent events will affect the job market, she believes it’s becoming increasingly clear that workers need to do a more proactive job of managing their careers — whether they are currently looking for work or not.
But how do you go about job searching, nurturing your career, or even holding onto the position you’ve got in such unpredictable times? Here are some ideas:
Specialise — but generalise too
When it comes to staying employable in a precarious jobs market, should you go all in on becoming a specialist in your field, or keep your field of opportunity as wide as possible by becoming a jack of all trades? The answer may lay in doing a bit of both.
“It really depends on the job,” says Dr Harry Freedman of the Careersadvicecentre.com. “In a technical job, you should try to specialise around core tech skills and keep up to date with new technologies in your specialist field. In a people-facing job, you should try to broaden your skills to make them as valuable as possible to the widest possible audience.”
Sofie Lundberg, content executive at graduate job site Milkround, agrees that it’s important to consider the kind of work you want to do, but adds that a well rounded range of ‘soft skills’ will stand you in good stead, whatever your career goals may be.
“A well-developed skill base has become a key requirement for many top UK employers,” she says. “Candidates should look into which skills are requested the most by their preferred employers and then strive to add them to their skill-set.”
Once you’ve dazzled a potential employer with your spread of soft and technical skills, how do you go about making sure your position is safe when the going gets tough? Redundancies may sometimes be unavoidable, but, according to Lundberg, there are things you can do to ensure your name is at the bottom of the list when it comes to making cuts.
“Be reliable. Ensure that your employer knows that you keep time, that you attend meetings prepared, that you will complete a task you have been given,” she says, adding that you should also not be afraid to suggest ways things could be done differently. “Don’t just highlight what should be changed, offer solutions. This shows that you not only have a sharp eye, but that you take charge and strive to improve both yourself and the company.”
For Freedman, it’s about realising what you bring to the company that no-one else does — and building on it. “Understand what you uniquely offer the employer and play to your skills,” he says. “And make sure that your achievements are recognised — without bragging!”
Be ready for robots
Political uncertainty aside, there is also the ever looming threat of fast-improving tech that could pave the way for automation to replace all of our jobs in years to come. According to Oxford university economists Dr Carl Frey and Dr Michael Osborne, 40% of all jobs are at risk of being lost to computers over the next 20 years. But according to Freeman, it might not be time to panic just yet. “Computers were supposed to usher in an age of leisure but we are all working harder. Robots are likely to do the same,” he says.
However, Simpson is more cautious, and suggests taking steps to robot-proof your career. “Workers who take the time to invest in the right credentials, develop superior people skills, and broaden their skills base are much less likely to be displaced by a robot, no matter how sophisticated it might be,” she says. Lundberg adds that some sectors are more at risk of automation than others. “I don’t think we will be seeing a robot lawyer any time soon!” she says.
Keep calm and carry on
Ultimately, uncertain times don’t have to mean armageddon for your career, but as Simpson suggests, it pays to keep an eye out for trouble and expect the unexpected. “Monitor your employer’s financial health and your industry’s overall well-being so you can see the writing on the wall that unwanted change lies ahead,” she says, adding that by consistently networking and working on your skills you’ll be ready to find a job before you’re even thinking of looking for one.
While everyone will face potential challenges over the course of their working life, Lundberg says you shouldn’t worry too much about hypothetical dangers. “It is impossible to protect yourself against every circumstance that may or may not come true,” she says. “The job market will always swing up and down – a career can last 50 years!”