It used to be that finding a good paying career was the path to adult-life stability. Those days are over. What we think of as stability has to change, and how we get to that stability has to change.
Here’s a summary of the new employee of today’s workplace: Most will change jobs every two years. Most will start their adult life by moving back in with their parents. Most say that money is not their number one concern in evaluating a job.
You think it’s a recipe for instability, right? But what else is there to do? Work at IBM until you get a gold watch? There are no more jobs like that – companies are under too much pressure to be lean and flexible (read: layoffs, downsizing, reorgs), so workers have to be, too (read: constantly on the alert for new job possibilities).
In fact, stability is a big goal for new workers today, precisely because the old paths to stability don’t necessarily work.
For example, staying in one job forever is today’s recipe for career suicide. At the beginning of one’s career, it is nearly impossible to find something right without trying a bunch of options. After that, you will experience more personal growth from changing jobs frequently than staying in one job for extended periods of time. And if you change jobs frequently you build an adaptable skill set and a wide network which are the keys to being able to find a job whenever you need to.
Another example of the fact that common paths to stability no longer work: Professional degrees used to be viewed as a safe path, but now they box you into uncomfortable spots. PhD’s are having lots of trouble finding work due to the documented glut of qualified candidates, and the MBA is not a huge help to your career unless you go to a top-ten school. Doctors are having a hard time working a schedule that accommodates kids and pay back school loans, which is creating a surge in interest in the field of opthalmology – probably not what your parents had in mind when they were encouraging medical school.
The lack of stability is affecting people across the board: “All well-educated workers, even those at the top, are at much greater risk of economic reversals than they used to be,” wrote Jacob Hacker, professor of political science at Yale.
Finally, tried-and-true paths to financial stability are no longer reliable either. This is the first generation that will not do better financially than their parents. Anya Kamenetz describes in her book, Generation Debt, that young people today are in a much worse financial situation than their parents were, so the expectations for stability have to change. This financial situation is due to increasing college costs and decreasing parental ability to foot the bill. And real salaries are decreasing for entry level jobs. So new workers start life with more debt and less ability to pay it than their parents’ generation.
So it’s not surprising that the new vision of stability is not a house, two kids and pension. Most young people are priced out of housing markets in the cities they want to live in, like Boston. San Francisco and New York are seeing an increase in one-child families because people can’t afford two, and there are no more pensions. Period. The goals are more fluid – and they do not focus on old tropes of financial success like a house and a 401K.
Key values today are time and relationships. Stability means knowing you can get yourself work that is fun and accommodates those values. The stable people are those who can manage to consistently get work they enjoy that pays their bills.
It used to be that you worked really hard and paid your dues so you could retire rich and do what you love. But we know now that most people don’t really retire, so paying dues in order to get that is nonsense. Stability is knowing you have a life where you can do what you love, during your whole life, not just at the end.
The new way to find a good job – one that creates this stability — is to change jobs. A lot. And to keep an open mind about what a job really is, because what it is not is a lifelong commitment to one company.
Here are ways to use frequent job changes to create stability in your life:
1. Build up a strong skill set quickly.
Go to a job to work on a great project, and leave when your learning curve flattens out. The faster you build up your skills to create an expertise, the faster you will be able to set yourself apart from everyone else, and find good jobs quickly.
2. Get good at making transitions.
There are moments in a person’s life that typically throw everything out of whack because you can’t continue working in your job. Sickness, relocation, unexpected wrenches in one’s plan. When you are used to changing jobs, and you have taught yourself to deal with work transitions, then when your personal life requires huge transition, your work can accommodate that instead of get in the way. Changing jobs will be easy.
3. Make the most of the in-between-jobs time.
You can use job changes to make transition less risky. It’s very hard to know if you’ll like something until you try it. If you have been in corporate marketing for ten years and you want to try entrepreneurship, that feels like a big risk. But if you think you might like to start your own business but you’re not sure, taking a pause in between jobs to try this new business isn’t such a risky move at all.
4. Get out of paying your dues.
The idea of paying dues worked fine when there was actually payoff (think: Retirement communities in Florida funded by pensions.) But today paying dues doesn’t have nearly the payoff it used to, and in fact, creates instability by creating unreasonable expectations for a job you become overly invested in. So get out of paying dues by changing jobs frequently. Laura Vanderkam, workplace reporter for USA Today, wrote a book called Grindhopping about how to hop from job to job as a way to avoid paying your dues.
5. Keep your finances in order.
As long as you keep your overhead down, so that you don’t need a salary that requires 100-hour work weeks, then job hopping is actually a way to ensure financial stability. You know you are not going to stay at a job forever, and you don’t know when it will end. But you will always able to get work when your needs or your company’s needs change if you are good at changing jobs. This won’t be true, however, if you are a financial mess and have enormous overhead.
The best financial security today is to have great job hunting skills that never stop. Go to the best job, do it until you find another best job. This is the kind of person who will always be able to get money when they need it.
And don’t let people tell you that job hoppers will get penalized in the marketplace. Generation Y is job hopping every other year, and they are in incredible demand throughout the workplace. Demographics are shifting, and forcing hiring practices to shift as well. Take advantage of this. Create a stable life by getting good at changing jobs.