I had lunch recently with a career coach who works for one of those big outplacement firms. She told me something that really opened my eyes. Whereas until about five years ago, many companies would include “career development” in their definition of employee development, they don’t do that anymore. Why? The average time people stay at their jobs these days is between three and four years. So companies just felt that in helping people with their careers, they were helping them leave the company.
I think this may be the wrong way for companies to think about this topic (which I’ll address in another post soon), but what it means for the employees is that no one’s looking out for your career… but you. Even if your boss is the helpful coaching type who’s open to helping you develop your career skills, they’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. More often than not, no one in your organization is incented to help you think about how you’re developing yourself for your next career move… which leads me to a BIG QUESTION…. (drumroll)
Who do you work for REALLY?
Of course you work for the people paying you right now, but when Mary Brodie and I were discussing this topic, and what it meant for our readers and clients, she dropped the big bomb… If you don’t believe you’re also working for yourself, then you won’t have the kind of perspective on your current job—and future ones—to lead you to the smartest career moves.
Since entire career is going to be a series of jobs you decide to accept, then in the end, you’re really working for yourself, aren’t you?
Think of yourself as a Free Agent
This is hard for many people – who aren’t interested in entrepreneurship or contract work – to wrap their minds around. Many of these people have other focuses in their life (family, fun etc.) and they want to go to work to do a job, get paid well and go back to the fun stuff. Others are more aggressive in their career goals, but want to focus on the work they do, not all the business marketing and management stuff that comes along with running a company or constantly looking for their next gig.
But the “gig economy” is a reality; even the Bureau of Labor Statistics said so! Not only is the average tenure in a single job now under five years, but more and more people are chucking “the full time employer” for a series of “gigs” at different employers to string together an income. This is similar to the way professional athletes string together a series of teams they play for. They give their all for the team they’re on, until they’re traded or negotiate a new deal with a new team. That’s when they say good-bye to a lot of their teammates, fans and even city of residence and move over to the new team and give their all for the new team. They move from contract to contract, but are not “contractors.”
So how can this analogy serve you if you’re working for a company, but thinking that the job you’re in has a limited lifespan?
Get into a Free Agent Career Mindset
Just like a sports star who’s giving your employer your “all” right now, imagine that the agreement you have with your employer is a contract. If you don’t have a termination date on your actual contract, then imagine it says, “this job will terminate when the employee (me) has gotten most of value I can get, and has given all the value I want to give to this (i.e., about 2-4 years after I start).” At that point, you can nullify the contract and move to another opportunity, either at this firm or at another. (Note, if you do have a written contract there may be other provisions you agreed to when you signed on, so you should revisit it to be sure.)
In this scenario, it’s up to you to decide if you’ve reached a “value ratio” that is no longer giving you as much as you need from this particular employment relationship. And if it’s not, it’s time for you to take action and start developing your career for your next step. Why? Because no one else is going to do it for you. If you want help getting a good deal, you can explore career coaching, but it’s got to be to your own initiative, or you’ll wait too long and start to be frustrated. Don’t wait that long. You don’t want to take a frustrated attitude into your job search!
On the other hand, when you take a Free Agent Career Mindset, you just might find yourself staying more up to speed on what else is out there and valuing yourself more in your current job until you’re ready to switch teams.
The point is that if you think of your career as a series of contractual agreements with various employers and clients over several decades, you might manage it differently than if you think of a your career as the thing you do when you’re not doing other stuff. You might plan for it differently and set different goals that helped you find more satisfaction along the way.
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What do you think about switching your career mindset to that of a free agent? Does this make sense to you? Is it uncomfortable? Been doing it for a long time and have some advice to offer? Share your thoughts in comments below.