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Recently, I came across two excellent future of work reports. The first was an 84-page beast commissioned by CBRE and Genesis looking at how work and the workplace will be different in 2030, with a distinct real estate slant tailored for a specific corporate audience.
The second predicted workplace changes and skills needed on a much closer timeline (2020), and was created by the Institute for the Future and Apollo Research Institute without an obvious industry or corporate slant.
What makes these reports different, for me, is their similarity.
I find it fascinating and telling that two vastly different institutions arrived at remarkably similar conclusions: process work, customer work and vast swathes of middle management are disappearing.
One report went so far as to predict that an estimated 50% of occupations that exist today will no longer be around in 2025.
It’s a prediction I agree with, and – frankly – am already seeing in practice.
We are rapidly becoming a world of freelancers, flex workers, contractors, and side-gig hustlers. Some sources predict a full 40% of the American workforce will be freelancers by 2020, and Australian workforce trends typically aren’t that different from those in the USA.
Large corporates are starting to embrace the idea of hiring teams of “on demand” and “in the cloud” contractors through online portals like UpWork, which will even do the recruiting for you.
Flex work is on the rise, and then – of course – there’s the fact that we’re becoming an older workforce. The idea that we’ll all retire to wine country at 65 is becoming less realistic, and many of us can expect to work past 65 to ensure we have adequate resources for our golden years.
If all this seems like a doom and gloom ‘the robots are coming for our jobs’ apocalyptic scenario, know there’s a definite bright spot: the work that’s disappearing is being replaced with something new, interesting, and likely far more fulfilling for the majority of people.
And that’s work that fits into life, not vice versa (if you’re interested in what that means, take a quick detour over to Medium to read F*ck Work Life Balance).
What Can I Do About It?
If you accept the world of work is changing, and we’re about to enter a stage of even more disruption than what we’ve seen so far, the question then becomes: how can I prepare for it?
Should you be worried? Excited? A combination of the two? And how will this affect you, on a more day-to-day career management level?
In other words, how can you future-proof your career?
1. Learn the Fundamentals Of Marketing.
When I’m talking to friends and clients ready to take the next step in their careers, I try to impart the message that when it comes to resumes, good is no longer good enough.
Fact is, job search 1.0 — where you peruse a job board, fire out your resume, and wait for the interview requests to start rolling in — is long gone.
Recruiters and hiring managers want to know who you are beyond a list of dates and duties, and how the unique value only you can offer will drive the achievement of a business’ core commercial objectives.
Crucially, they’ll increasingly make their decisions about who to interview, and who to pass over, based on holistic personal brands communicated through personal portfolio websites, LinkedIn profiles, and content marketing.
In other words, you need to grasp the basics of marketing and apply them to your personal brand.
The unique skills, experience and expertise you offer is a marketable product, which means a clearly defined Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and brand position are musts.
Your digital identity needs to communicate your value, and position you consistently across platforms and online channels, giving a holistic picture of professional youness that recruiters, hiring managers, and potential clients can use to inform their decision about whether to meet with you.
If you’re not applying the basic concepts of branding, positioning, and value to your own brand, you’re already missing out on opportunities, never mind the future.
2. Embrace Digital.
Indulge me for a minute as I take you through an eye-opening hypothetical.
Let’s say you’re a consultant invited to keynote to a C-level audience of potential clients at an industry conference.
Demonstrating your thought leadership and building relationships with your exact target market is a fantastic opportunity, and has the potential to pay off well into the future. But to participate, you’d have to take a few days away from billable work, travel to and from the conference, spend up to 10 hours preparing your talk and takeaways, and invest in networking while you’re there.
Would you do it?
If I had to guess, I think most senior managers would say yes: if you’re looking to grow your consulting business (or looking for a full-time engagement), the upsides in this scenario likely outweigh the downsides.
Now, what if I said you don’t have to be invited to speak at the conference to get ‘in the same room’ as hundreds of targeted Australian executives? That you can use technology and a solid digital PR strategy to engage with your target audience and position yourself as a thought leader?
In this scenario, you’d prepare the same content you planned to present at the conference as a blog post, publish it on LinkedIn, and pay to promote it to a narrowly focused group of executives.
Digital tools like websites, social media platforms, paid advertising, and search engines not only make this possible, but a smart and easily adopted strategy.
The tools themselves are cheap, highly advanced, and easily learned, which means there really are no excuses to not adopting a digital marketing strategy for your brand.
If you’re just getting started with some of this technology, the best thing you can do is to be curious about how it all fits together and keep up with key trends.
Read about it, engage with communities of interest on platforms like LinkedIn and Slack, and start experimenting with different tools as a way to promote your personal brand.
3. Define Your Niche.
You have a unique cross-section of experience, skills, personality and perspectives. The question is, who is that most valuable to?
Now more than ever, it’s critical that you find your golden career triangle where:
- the unique value you offer.
- matches what the market needs, and
- is something you enjoy doing.
Put those all together, and you’ve got pure career magic.
So take the time and really consider: who do you want to serve? Who can you deliver mountains of value to? What gets you insanely excited?
Prepare to be very specific as you work through these questions.
Are you a general manager who is particularly skilled at energising teams while navigating big change? Are you a CFO who helps startups prepare for their Initial Public Offering? Are you a strategic marketer who helps startups scale from $1m to $10m in annual revenue?
The answers to these questions probably won’t come quickly, and that’s fine. And they’ll probably change over time, too.
These are issues to be wrestled with over time, not answered, put on a mental shelf, and left to get dusty. The important thing is you start toying with these ideas now, and refine them over time.
4. Network Online.
If you’ve invested the time to define your niche and the value you offer, the next step is to leverage technology and your brand to connect with others who either complement what you do, or need what you have to offer.
Connecting can feel awkward, and I get it: if you’re not an extreme extrovert with bucket loads of confidence, it can feel pretty strange to put yourself out there, whether it’s online or off.
The key is ensuring you’re doing real, value-adding networking, and for that, mindset is critical. Don’t connect with someone because you need something from them. Connect over common ground, ideas, visions and issues, and from a helping and value-adding (rather than taking) point-of-view.
Here’s a few ideas to get the ball rolling with online relationships:
- Read blogs within your function or niche, and engage with the author and other readers by leaving intelligent comments, or responding to others.
- Share great content on your Twitter or LinkedIn account, using the at-mention function to let the author know you’ve shared their work.
- Publish and promote your own thoughts on LinkedIn, and personally follow up with those who’ve engaged with the article to strike up an in-real-life connection.
Key Point To Remember:
While the concept of working nine to five for 40 hours per week at the same company is nowhere near extinct yet (and it will be a while before it is), it is less likely this will be your default choice in the years to come.
There are already massively successful businesses that are embracing these new models of work, and to me, that means opportunities abound for early adopters and leaders in this new way of working and searching for opportunities.
Positioning your career and self to meet these future models now, and following some basic personal branding and marketing steps today, are the surest way to keep your options open and ensure you’re positioned for success well into the future.