There’s a lot of career advice on the market. If you’re older, the advice tends to skew towards fighting ageism, figuring out retirement, and reinvention in ever-changing economic times. If you’re younger, the advice favors following your passions, finding your first job, and surviving the first few years. As a whole, much of this advice is recycled each year with some changes made, often with changes made with the transformation of technology like social media.
On my last job search, I got to thinking about a lot of the advice we give job seekers as I drove across the state looking for my next job. As a millennial, I get my fair share of advice as well, with peers and experts writing articles urging people such as myself to follow what I love (alongside articles that criticize my generation for being lazy, but that’s for another time). Through reading a lot of content, I felt that there needed to be something easier. After all, while finding a job can be a very difficult endeavor, should the associated theory of getting there be just as hard?
As the title indicates, my career journey has allowed me to distill the modern search for vocation down to three distinct categories and phases. To note, each of us goes through one, two, or all three of these phases in our career and each theme provides inspiration and motivation for us to show up to work daily. Furthermore, we also move from one theme to another depending on where we are. Each of these themes also allows us to move beyond the repeated messaging we constantly hear, and instead focus on the most important part of work at hand: ourselves
Career Journey Theme #1: Survival
What it sounds like: “I want a job for a job”
Who it usually is: The new college graduate
Millennials are saddled with the unfortunate curse of student loans. With higher education clocking in more expensive than ever, sometimes finding a job to find a job to pay down accumulated debt is the most pressing thing for the new worker. For older workers continuing to pay off debt, survival continues to be a theme particularly with crippling interest. Paying off debt is not the only theme for survival, since many are also seeking the right experience, looking to get back into the market, or transitioning from one industry to another.
The theme of survival can describe one’s entire career or the first five years, depending on what someone decides to do for a living. From an employer side, employing workers who are simply trying to survive is not ideal, since many may show up to work simply to get the paycheck needed to pay rent and basic necessities. Staying in this area of one’s career is not necessarily healthy nor comfortable, but for many it’s simply about making do, and sometimes, that’s okay.
Career Journey Theme #2: Purpose
What it sounds like: “I know why I am here today”
Who it usually is: Someone who has been working for 3-10 years
The comfortable medium of purpose is where most employees want to be in their career. Waking up with purpose each morning and going to work is the ultimate freedom. For the lucky few, this is an experience they get to have throughout their careers alongside the leverage of moving from job to job. Others jump straight to this theme, bypassing survival altogether since they have known what they want to do from the very beginning.
Much of the millennial career philosophy revolves around this particular theme, and for good reason. As the Great Recession wreaked havoc on career opportunities, many millennials opted to follow purpose-driven vocations since they had very little to lose. For older employees, the theme of purpose continues to manifest as they take on more roles, complete more projects, and move throughout their industry.
Career Journey Theme #3: Leadership
What it sounds like: “I want to affect change in the industry”
Who it usually is: Someone who has been working for awhile or is influential
As they say, it’s lonely at the top, and oftentimes that role is within leadership. Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean settling into a senior management or c-suite role, but can also be represented as thought leadership. In work, leaders are often at the forefront of inspiring innovation, speaking at conferences, and offering their thoughts on blogs. To some effect, the emergence of digital media has transformed all employees into leaders, but those who have mastered survival and discovered their purpose stand out the most since they speak from the deepest convictions.
Of the three themes, leadership is the most difficult to obtain due to access and experience, though some break through at a very young age. Being a leader can also be considered the least important for maintaining a career, as some simply prefer to work, and that’s okay.
Some Closing Thoughts
When I manage Albert’s List, I take all three of these themes into consideration. For one, I never urge prospective employees to pursue what they love because it’s an unfair approach to pursuing work. With everyone in different spots of their career journey, the best thing anyone can do for another individual is encouragement through the act of offering referrals, guidance, and introspection. Asking to add passion into the mix is not just a disservice to the job seeker, but also coming from a point of extreme privilege.
As I take a look at these three themes above, I approach each job conversation from the perspective of flexibility. Work has changed immensely over the past decade, and few stay at one company or organization for their entire lives. As the workforce continues to evolve with the arrival of artificial intelligence, robots, and automation, the themes of work will only change more.