Death of the Career Path

Do you have a career path or a career portfolio? Read this article to see how to develop and manage your career as a portfolio.

Back in the mid 1990’s as an HR Manager, I noticed that the conventional career path was a dying concept. Lifetime employment was an artifact. Lateral moves became the new way to advance your career. And downsizings were a constant threat.
The ‘security’ of a straightforward career path was gone. That left many mid-career professionals wondering what to do with their career plans.

I recently read an article at asking “Are Career Paths the Best for Professional Advancement?” The article concluded career paths are no longer relevant. I’m not surprised. They were on their last leg years ago.

Yes, it’s true. Linear career paths are dead.

So, what has replaced the good old fashioned career path?

Career portfolios.

I recommend managing your career as a portfolio. Based on your strengths, interests, and level of risk tolerance you make career moves that appeal to you and fit your goals. You choose opportunities that stretch and expand your skills instead of focusing only on grabbing the next title on the rung. You find security in being in control of each move, rather than feeling at the mercy of your boss, your company or the economy to decide your fate.

So, how do you build a career portfolio?

You diversify. The more options you have, the less you will be dependent on the company or the economy for your security.

Know your “most profitable skills”. You recession proof your career by knowing exactly what your strongest competencies are and you strengthen them so that you’re among the best at what you do. And the more transferable you can make your skills, the better.

Stay current on the trends in the economy and your field or industry. Look ahead a few years and make sure you’re moving toward opportunities that align with the trends (instead of leaving you on the chopping block).

Let me give you an example from my own life.

In the mid 90’s I was a happily employed HR Manager at a fairly large corporation. But, the writing was on the wall that much of HR was going to be outsourced, industry wide, in the next 5 to 10 years. I noticed a great deal of focus on becoming more strategic, and on being able to support company-wide change efforts (which makes sense given all the organizational changes we’ve seen since the late 90’s). I decided it was time to diversify in order to avoid a dead end career track.

In order to diversify my career I made a few specific and planned moves.

I went back to grad school to earn my Masters Degree. I minored in Organization Development, to diversify my knowledge base beyond the scope of traditional HR functions. I also had an interest in teaching, so I took electives in adult learning. When I graduated, I took a job in Consulting where I could get experience leading organizational change and experience a variety of industries. From there, I expanded my experience base by taking on a part time college teaching position.

All of these moves were designed to expand my career portfolio so that I had options, no matter what happened. I could be an HR Manager, I could consult, I could teach. I knew traditional HR functions and I knew how to implement broad scale change. All of these moves made me unique and more valuable in the marketplace.

If you’d like to start developing your career portfolio, here are 5 questions to get you started:

What are some current and emerging trends you see in your field or industry?

If you were to make a career change in the next year, what would you most want to do?

What are the skills, experience and knowledge you would need to make that move?

What’s one or two moves you could make to expand your skills/experience over the next year?

What’s one action you will take in the next 30 days?

Have fun building up your portfolio and experimenting with new assignments, and possibilities. This can be an exciting process because you pursue things that interest you and allow you to grow. It pulls you out of the rut of worrying about what will happen and puts you in the driver’s seat so you’re ready for anything.