THE idea of a “typical corporate career” has gradually disappeared. Most organisations have migrated to meritocratic systems of remuneration and reward.

This has introduced performance-based appraisals, where employees are evaluated on their achievement of key performance indicators (KPIs). The consequence is “employee churn”, where employees choose to leave or are encouraged to leave if they do not meet standards of performance expected by the organisation.

Furthermore, astute employers are now looking for candidates who are equipped with more than just academic or professional qualifications and basic soft skills to replace their exiting talent.

Employers want entrepreneurial potential — individuals with the ability to be creative and innovative who constantly look to re-invent processes, products, packaging and pricing structure. The candidate’s willingness to take on calculated risks is also valued by employers.

All this is the consequence of a highly globalised and interconnected work world. In addition, technological advances and the advent of a 24/7 mentality in many industries has raised productivity demands to new levels. Competing for jobs in a global arena has become more challenging than ever.

The implication for the young and not-so-young people of today is that engaging in lifelong learning and accepting zigzagging careers are non-negotiable.

Career research shows the average tenure of jobs is declining. It is headed down to about five years. Other studies show that people in their 30s and 40s in developed economies have held an average of between five and 10 jobs in their career. Further, the notion of retirement has changed, with a growing trend of employees choosing to work into their late 70s if they are able to.

How can you respond to all these changes? You need what psychologist Howard Gardner describes as “searchlight intelligence” — the ability to discern connections across spheres and see opportunities from cross-pollination. Here are some suggestions:


•   Think of fulfilling a customer need and add value: When you look at your job, don’t just focus on its specifications and requirements. Research your role to find out what you will have to do to perform very well.

If you are in a service-oriented job, ask how can you fulfil a customer need and add value to the product or service that the company provides. Can you innovate or improve the products or services offered?

If you can’t achieve this, the company will eventually replace you with “cheap labour” or outsource or automate the task. You will be made redundant or retrenched. Remember, the numbers of bank tellers are continuing to decline because of intelligent ATMs and telephone banking.


•   Identify unmet needs of the employer: Companies need to survive in a globally competitive environment and stave off threats from upstart new business entrants.

They constantly have to bring out new products or services to expand their range of offerings. Even high-end legacy airlines have budget-priced low-cost carriers to cater to different segments of the travel market.

In short, if you have an entrepreneurial streak, look for such career opportunities and highlight your business-minded qualities in your resumé and at the interview.


•   Pursue a learning opportunity to grow your career: Your well-being and continued career success depend on how you upgrade your knowledge and skills in emergent professions and industries.

You may not realise it but many of us plateau in our current profession or career track. It happens so slowly, we don’t even realise it. Build up your sensitivity to this phenomenon. You may be “over-priced” compared to a fresh new entrant. Jumping to a new role, profession, industry or type of organisation can put you in an entirely different career growth trajectory.


•   Move sideways in your company: Sometimes, making a lateral move in your company may provide an opportunity to develop not only a new skill set but help you to engineer new hybrid competencies.

Moving sideways has turned out to be a slingshot for some people to rocket to higher positions within their organisation. Due to their ability to see the organisation’s needs from a different vantage point because of their hybrid competencies, they leapfrog into senior roles over their former peers.


•   Develop new career strategies: John D. Rockefeller wrote: “If you want to succeed, you should strike out new paths, rather than travel worn paths of accepted success.”

The engine that drives success is you. Use “searchlight intelligence” and borrow tips from entrepreneurs to develop new career strategies.

Sometimes, you need to look closely at compliments from clients, customers and friends. Is there a pattern? For example, do people tend to say you are a great communicator?

Ask yourself how you can leverage this skill in another organisation or industry and you will begin to consider options and opportunities you never did before. Stay flexible and open to new possibilities — that’s the smart way to manage your career.