By Crystal Lim-Lange
SINGAPORE: You’ve probably heard the rule that one year to a human equals seven years for a dog.
These days, career coaches joke that one year in a single role for a millennial is the equivalent of seven years for a Gen X-er.
Frequent career transitions used to be a sign of failure but today, being career mobile and having a diverse array of experiences is not only common, but is rapidly becoming aspirational.
Long gone is the notion of the career ladder, where the ideal CV looks like a narrow, vertical progression. Today’s gold-standard CV looks like a career matrix, with horizontal and vertical moves signifying depth and breadth of experience, skills and exposure to different cultures.
Employers have gone from being cynical about hiring job-hoppers to becoming accustomed to seeing diverse CVs from top talent who are in frequent demand.
I recall being asked “Why didn’t you stay for longer?” in job interviews 10 years ago. Today I hear many employers asking candidates “Why did you stay in one role for so long and not stretch yourself?”. It smacks of complacency.
WHAT CAREER MOBILITY LOOKS LIKE
However, it is important not to confuse career mobility with job-shopping or job-hopping.
A more positive definition of a career-mobile individual is someone who constantly pushes themselves to grow and develop their skills by taking on fresh, professional challenges rather than stagnating in their comfort zone.
Career mobility could mean staying in the same firm while moving to a new role, or taking on an overseas posting or stretch assignment. Or it could mean choosing a different job intentionally to explore broadening one’s skill base.
Career mobility is about playing at your competitive edge, expanding your boundaries of competence. To possess career mobility, one must have self-awareness to understand where one needs to grow, and also strategic awareness of the bigger picture of where opportunities lie.
When I read about the Government’s plans to improve career mobility for all workers to prepare them for a future of disruption, I was pleasantly surprised by this pragmatic approach.
Companies are constantly in a state of disruption these days. Experts predict that the majority of the jobs in a few decades do not even exist today.
As companies restructure internally so frequently and start-ups come and go, it is only sensible that our workforce learns to identify opportunities, continuously add to their toolbox of skills, and transition well.
The data suggests that career mobility is here to stay. In Singapore we already have one of the most career mobile workforces globally, at least in orientation.
Thirty-four per cent of Singapore professionals have no intention of staying with their current employers for more than a year, well over the global average of 26 per cent, according to a LinkedIn 2017 report.
Yet Singapore workers are also the least confident of gaining access to and pursuing their desired opportunities among the ASEAN countries surveyed by LinkedIn in 2018, with the study suggesting that the lack of strong networks are a major contributing factor.
To thrive in today’s world, companies must examine how they can work with the career mobility trend by providing their employees more opportunities for growth and development rather than have them leave to pursue options elsewhere.
First, companies can introduce initiatives focused on deliberately developing employees’ breadth of competencies.
For example, people can be encouraged to set one of their Key Performance Indicators to centre on company projects not associated with their usual job scope, or spend a portion of their week in another department to develop new skills.
For example, having salespersons being exposed to data analytics will allow them to learn how to use surveys and statistics to tell stories. Having engineers spend time in marketing helps them develop empathy and design better solutions for consumers.
Second, it is essential for organisations to have learning and development programmes targetting social emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness, empathic communication and influence because these abilities are timeless, transferable, highly correlated to success in the workplace, and help individuals adapt to disruption.
Harvard University Professor David Deming’s research finds that if you really want to ensure relevance in the future, social skills are a much stronger predictor of future employment and wage growth than cognitive skills. Social emotional skills combined with technical competencies make for an upwardly mobile workforce.
Third, companies should rethink their approach towards hiring for career mobility. Most still prefer to hire candidates not actively looking for jobs, spending vast sums of money on recruiters who identify these “passive” candidates and persuade them to leave.
However, Wharton Professor Peter Cappelli warns that there is no evidence that passive candidates are better employees. In fact, his analysis suggests that the number one factor that encourages “passive” candidates to move is cold, hard money.
In contrast, “active” career mobile job seekers are more motivated by career opportunities, have higher levels of passion about their work, and are more engaged in improving their skills.
Lastly, employers need to make sure that they are constantly “courting” their own employees by repegging their salaries to market rates.
Research suggests that the total direct and indirect costs associated with someone leaving can be up to two years of their salary.
Yet in many companies it is the norm to cap the maximum salary increase for a current employee to low single digits, making it hard for talent to resist outside offers that may be up to a 30 per cent increase in salary.
I’ve encountered this myself when my employees have handed me a resignation letter while expressing disappointment that they have experienced being “penalised” for their loyalty.
Wharton Business School Management Professor Matthew Bidwell estimates that external hires earn 18 per cent more than internal promotes in the same jobs, yet at the same time, it takes new hires three years to catch up in terms of performance to internal hires.
It makes hard economic sense to actively invest in developing your existing talent and to continually let them know that you recognise their worth and contribution.
One example of this approach in action is the Biopharmaceuticals Manufacturers Advisory Committee, which commissioned a leadership skills development programme, which is unusual in that employees who I teach not only come from 16 different companies, but are also often direct competitors for the same pool of talent.
At the inaugural run of the programme, senior management from the various sites turned up to show their support and participate in a panel discussion on talent development.
“We did consider whether the participants would jump to different companies, but we ultimately realised that they would be more likely to leave if we didn’t invest in them”, Ronan McGarvey, one of the programme leaders said.
“And besides, once they talk to each other, they realise that we’re all dealing with common challenges; there’s no such thing as the perfect company, the grass is not greener on the other side.”
This piece is the first of a two-part series on career mobility by Crystal Lim-Lange. Part two will focus on how individuals can develop career mobility.
Crystal Lim-Lange is the CEO and Co-founder of Forest Wolf, a future-readiness and talent development consultancy.