Shooting down some common career myths

I came across this article in one of the many newsletters I receive in my in-box; this one struck me as a well constructed set of “myths” that many of us have bought into over the years. This blog post is from “Tech Republic” which is an IT centric newsletter, so the blog itself is IT-centric and also US-specific. The original blog entry is here and is well worth skimming through. In this posts, I’m going to explore some of these myths and provide some further commentary on them, from my perspective as a business junkie and career coach:

1: College will gain you entry

Having a college or university degree is probably better than not having one however it is no guarantee of meaningful employment. Today, developing career traction is more about how good you are at presenting your skills, interests, and capabilities in a way that allows the prospective employer to readily see how you can help them accomplish their business & organizational goals. Having a formal secondary education as your foundation is certainly helpful however not sufficient in and of itself.

Contrary to traditional thinking, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that formal secondary education is going to become LESS IMPORTANT going forward. What’s my reasoning? Increasingly businesses are getting access to lots of very capable people who are proving themselves to be effective researchers and editors (think Wikipedia), software developers (open source projects), creative problem solvers (web-based innovation hubs), and the like. These web-based properties allow people to do what they love to do and to readily show that they excel at it. And ultimately businesses are looking for enthusiastic people who can get the job done, regardless of their formal “credentials”.

I think of college and university degrees as nothing more than “brands” — the thinking being that if I don’t really know what I am hiring, then at least I know that if I am hiring a software designer that earned a computing certificate from a reputable college they are probably competent. Essentially I am buying into the “brand” of the school. However if instead I can pick up some person who has excelled in writing code for an open-source initiative and that has been celebrated by her/his peers as a highly competent designer then I don’t have to rely on some 3rd party brand — I can have extreme confidence in the capability of the individual directly; effectively the open-source community has become the 3rd party brand. There goes the need for a high-powered degree.

So, while much of the workforce will continue to enter the working world from secondary schools, there are alternate paths emerging where other activities can also gain you ready entry — it is really about building the confidence of the employer that you can do what you say you can do and what kind of credible 3rd party endorsement you have.

In Canada anyway, I don’t get the sense that the universities have figured out that their monopoly position might be in danger. I believe they are in for a rude awakening over the next decade or so…

2: You will climb the career ladder

The point the author of the original post was making was that we used to believe in some relatively straight, upward career progression through the hierarchy.  However organizations these days are much flatter and much more volatile, and senior management increasingly recognizes the value of having employees who have more varied backgrounds and have worked in multiple different functions, divisions, continents, and even other companies. So now career progression often looks like a series of lateral moves and upward moves. The “ladder” inside a company looks a lot more like an escalator or a moving sidewalk.

3: You will work for one company

I worked in the high technology sector (telecommunications) for 25 years and in that period I worked for a university research lab, 2 mid-sized firms (from $500M to $2B in annual sales), 2 global firms ($15B – $30B size), and 2 start-ups. I firmly believe that the high tech sector is indicative of where all industries are heading — it is the bleeding edge of the “creative destruction” theory of Schumpeter (see Wikipedia entry for more context). All private-sector industries are becoming as volatile as the high tech sector, driven by new technologies, relentless competition, and globalization.

4: Your career will bring you happiness

Well, it can if you want it to. However it is not a given and it almost for certain won’t happen if you are not actively managing your career and paying attention to continually discovering what you are passionate about, what you want to learn, and what experiences you want to have. It is all about proactive, ongoing career design and management.

5: You will have one area of expertise

6: You will retire with the highest salary

7: Benefits will remain part of your pay package

8: You will be able to retire when you expected

9: Your pension plan funds will be there for you when you retire

10: Social Security will be there for you as promised

I can comment further on the remaining 6 myths, however you probably already can guess my thoughts on most of them if you are an active reader of my blog.Generally I don’t believe that any of these “myths” are even close to reality in our modern work environment.

Your thoughts on these?


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