Choosing a career used to be very straightforward. It might have involved a cursory chat with a career advisor or a lecture from your parents. You then slid into the appropriate ‘career cannon’, lit the fuse, and ‘followed’ the career trajectory, as governed by the chosen cannon.
By using the cannon analogy, I am trying to convey that back then most careers were pre-baked with a set path. Lawyers, doctors, plumbers and farmers all followed relatively well-defined career paths, which over time, at the very least, resulted in some degree of mastery and in turn an increase in their economic circumstances.
But once you left that cannon, there was little you could do to change direction. Fortunately back then macroeconomic volatility was sufficiently low, so you were more or less guaranteed to follow the anticipated path.
Today is a different story. Global connectedness, technological disruption and economic power shifts are all conspiring to create high volatility. Today, no one in their right mind would opt for the cannon approach. There are no careers today that are guaranteed to give you thirty or forty years of employment. Plus there are many career options, which might be very attractive to you, but have yet to come into existence.
I believe that today you have to run your career, or more specifically your skills portfolio, as if you were ‘playing’ the stock market. So with this in mind here are five career investment moves I would recommend:
Buy momentum: Look out for roles that appear to be on the increase. As the digital economy itself gains momentum, roles that support this transition will be pulled along in its wake. The health industry comes to mind as does anything involving sensors, mobility or sociality.
Buy value: Look out for roles that the market appears to have undervalued. When the market wakes up to their importance your economic value will enjoy a quantum leap. But be careful, the market may have not have undervalued them. It may be that the market actually knows that their sell-by date coming up. Such a career cul-de-sac role might include enterprise sales executive. In my view, any role with a strong service element is likely to shoot up in value given that ‘service is the new sales’.
Buy quality: ‘Quality’ implies that the role has been around for a while, and so has a track record, delivers a decent economic return and has good long term prospects. Accountant comes to mind, as does hairdresser. But one cannot bet on an ideal future. Maybe globalised legislation will standardise accounting, such that it becomes fully automated? Maybe MIT will discover that visible body hair is strongly correlated to eventual death?
Buy growth: Growth careers are those where the demand-supply imbalance will become more acute over time. Cobol programmers come to mind. The challenge here is to ascertain what the likely growth duration is, and thus establish whether it fits with your intended / remaining career span.
Buy often: Each time you ‘buy’ a career, you make a commitment to invest in a set of skills. The advice here is to keep acquiring skills. By watching the career market carefully you can acquire key skills early and gain first movers advantage. Warren Buffet would also advise that you keep selling to a minimum. So each skill you acquire, even if you are not using it, somehow or other maintain it. Increasingly your value proposition will be based on your unique combination of skills and experience.
I recommend you keep all of these in mind in both your choice of career, if you are a pre-worker, and your next career step, if you are already in the market.
The digital economy is taking us away from ‘off the peg’ careers, because they lend themselves to automation. Bespoke career design is the future. Your role as portfolio manager of your skillset is to ensure it is constantly rebalanced to reflect the market.
You don’t need to be a day trader as such. But you do need to be a portfolio manager if you are to avoid ‘selling yourself short’.