Finding Work, Not a Job

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Frank CoheeYou can barely turn around these days without bumping into discouraging news about the pace of the economic recovery and job creation. Here in Washington state, unemployment is 8.9 percent. That’s down from a few months ago, but the last time unemployment reached these levels was way back in the early 1980s.

While it’s clear we live in difficult times, I believe this focus on unemployment distracts us from facing facts about what’s really going on in the world of work.

Most of my career transition practice is with managers and executives over 45 years of age. They come to me focused solely on finding another “job”—meaning, a full-time position. In some cases, they’ve spent considerable time looking before we meet. With fewer companies hiring, that search has left many dispirited, especially those seeking executive positions.

With some guidance, these men and women have discovered a new mindset, one that is energizing and filled with potential. It results from accepting that the nature of those things formerly known as “jobs” is changing, probably forever.

Here are three of the most important “new realities” in the world of work.

1. There are far fewer opportunities called “jobs” but many more opportunities called “productive work.” To control costs, companies are hiring fewer full-time people. Consequently, what is commonly referred to as a “job search” is no longer about finding a job, it’s about finding work that leverages the specific things one does best—what I like to call one’s “magic.” Opportunities for meaningful work that match one’s magic come in many forms: an open-ended full-time position as a contractor, a full-time project for some specified period or a part-time activity. The opportunity may be as an employee or as a consultant. The more flexible one can be to meet the needs of hiring organizations, the better.

2. We are all free agents whether we like it or not. People need to embrace this concept rather than the old paradigm of the “employee-employer relationship.” Too many folks in career transition get stuck reaching closure on their last position, a preoccupation that delays getting ready for the next adventure. They anguish over the loss of an implied system of mutual loyalty between employer and employee. These days, people need to shift their loyalty from the company to the excellence of the work they do. Everyone should define the things they do especially well—separating what they are “best at” from what they “can do.” And once what they do best is defined, they need to focus on it and make it the source of their “job satisfaction.”

3. People who understand this new perspective often find themselves busier than ever. Nearly all of my recent clients who came to me with a narrow focus on finding a job are now actively engaged in very interesting, though not full-time, work. They found well-paying projects or engagements that needed the specific, special skills and experience each of these men and women possesses.

These people are creating their own success by single-mindedly focusing on matching the things they do best to marketplace needs. They have evolved the notion of one job/one company to a “portfolio career” consisting of several different types of work.

To be clear, they’re making tradeoffs. They face more uncertainty because engagements can end abruptly. There isn’t a regular paycheck, and reaching or exceeding past earning levels takes time. They have to manage their own health care. Finally, not everyone enjoys the networking and marketing required to develop new engagements.

In addition, this notion of a portfolio career wasn’t necessarily their first choice. With a nod to Shakespeare, these folks have had “greatness thrust upon them.” But because they’ve done the hard introspective work to identify their magic and accepted the reality that the world of work has forever changed, many have found that they are as fulfilled in their current roles as they ever were.

Frank Cohee is co-founder of Find Your Way To Work, a career transition services firm located in Bellevue. He can be reached at cohee@fywtw.com.

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