If you haven’t noticed, the way the world works has changed a lot. Daily life is going to be a lot different for my children than it was for my parents. In times of change, we yearn for security. Unfortunately, the places that we’ve traditionally found security – career, families, culture – are where most of the changes are happening. One area this is obvious is the lack of traditional job security.
From a historical perspective, it was way easier when you knew that someday you would take your parent’s job. Millers milled, Porters ported, Smiths smithed (I’m pretty sure I know what my forefathers did for a living…). Even during most of the twentieth century, stable employment was the cultural norm – you worked for the same company until they gave you a gold watch and (hopefully) a pension.
These days, long-term stays with the same employer aren’t expected – by the employer or the employee. Needless to say, this has caused a lot of stress as we bounce from position to position through periods of “career transition”, trying to find a stable paycheck in an unstable world. Even if you are highly skilled at your trade, outside variables have a profound impact on your employment.
It might not be possible to get rid of that stress, but it is possible to mitigate it. One of the easiest ways of doing this is through building a strong professional network. No matter your industry or profession, the more connections you have, and the stronger your relationships, the more support you will have when you transition from one position to another.
In Free Agent Nation, Daniel Pink wrote about a trend he saw in which short-term work teams would come together to work on a project and then disband to go onto other projects. Whether or not you are a freelance graphic designer or corporate HR manager, there is much more fluidity in your career path. If you accept that fluidity, and attempt to flow with the currents instead of fighting them, your professional opportunities will increase and your stress hormones will decrease.
How do you go with the flow and still pay the bills. If you are unemployed, your most valuable resource is information: Who is hiring? What skills are employers looking for? Who is a center of influence in your profession? What are the trends in the industry? Although you can get some of that information online, the most direct way is through your contacts. Especially because they act as filters – they give you the most relevant information to your success because they want you to be successful. They help direct your attention and efforts, and make it easier for you to act on the information, e.g., facilitate an introduction to an important contact.
The key to having this network in place is constant cultivation. Building your network can’t be an activity you start the day after you are laid off – it has to be a consistent part of your professional life. Too often, people are scrambling to make networking connections, and trying to leverage them too quickly, because they didn’t lay any foundation when they were still employed. Take the time now to build those relationships, because when you know that there’s a safety net of contacts and connections underneath you, you won’t feel the stress of walking the career tightrope. You’ll know that even if you fall off, you’ll have a clear path to your next opportunity.