Creative Commons License — Emily Morter | Modified by Ideascape, Inc.

10 Questions to Test Your Career Adaptability

The future of work and careers is… disconcerting. And sort of exciting.

The scope of job functions, where work is conducted, how work is performed and the ways that workers are managed are being re-imagined daily. The nature of work itself is changing.

How about taking a shot at defining the word career? Maybe it’s now just a succession of contracts or temporary jobs, to accommodate shrinking product and service lifecycles, a job-hopping mentality, and companies that appear and disappear ever more quickly. And why not toss in the wildcard impact of technology, including artificial intelligence or machine learning, that’s driving automation of jobs and re-inventing business models.

This level of change shows no indication of approaching a plateau. There is no turning back the clock to a simpler time.

So how do you plan for, well, the unplannable? Maybe you don’t. Perhaps you’re better off asking a different question: How do I shape my career to adapt to constantly changing work and economic conditions? Yes, it’s all about your adaptability.

I’m convinced of this because I’ve been sustaining an adaptable entrepreneurial career for decades. My interests and curiosity, new opportunities, changes in the communications marketplace, and client requests guided my career transitions. These influences changed what I do through my company, resulted in co-founding startups and even provided chances to acquire equity in other entrepreneur’s ventures. Client niches for my services varied considerably across the private sector, federal/local government and non-profit organizations. There’s more to that story, but my point is that I adapted to change out of necessity. I accomplished this via ongoing education, lots of reading and listening, experimentation in new fields, openness to seeing and ceasing opportunities, as well as acceptance of some risk and failure.

I firmly believe that we — especially older freelancers/contractors — must adopt entrepreneurial style adaptable careers. The following are 10 questions that might help you determine if you’re positioning yourself for an adaptable career that can thrive now and in the future:

  1. Are you reading about trends and developments within and on the fringes of your current industry and areas of expertise?
  2. Are you listening to colleagues, influencers, friends, network contacts, clients/customers, and people outside your profession and industry to pick up on emerging needs?
  3. Are you building your creative and critical thinking skills through self-directed or other training?
  4. Are you preparing yourself to be resourceful when it comes to problem-solving and maneuvering around barriers?
  5. Are you consistently adding new skills to enhance your ability to successfully pursue opportunities?
  6. Are you interacting with and expanding your business network to position yourself for referrals, references, offers and advice?
  7. Are you experimenting with your career by testing new interests in different ways within and outside your areas of expertise?
  8. Are you always building your personal brand and marketing yourself or your business to prepare for lost clients/customers, evaporating jobs and shifting marketplaces?
  9. Are you developing a flexible mindset when it comes to your career so that even if you find work that you love to do, you are devising ways to make it align with future changes?
  10. Are you always asking probing questions about your own and industry assumptions, the relevance of your expertise, the future of your employer/clients, etc. to prevent a moment in the future when you ask, “Why didn’t I/we see that coming?”

Not to be a harbinger of bad news, but an Oxford University study titled, “The Future of Work” published back in 2013, concluded that technological advances likely could result in mass unemployment. The authors stated that “…47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two.”

To address the emergence of this trend, venture capitalist Art Bilger founded an organization called Working Nation. It’s a nonprofit campaign on a mission to “…expose hard truths about the looming unemployment crisis and bring the country together to create and amplify solutions for a changing economy.” In an interview about Working Nation he said, “So ask yourself: ‘Am I Future-Proof?’ That means taking an honest assessment of one’s own employment, education and skills. It means understanding your current and future employability and beginning to plan for the challenges ahead.” This is his advice to avoid being on the wrong side of impending “structural unemployment,” which is large scale unemployment caused by a mismatch between workers’ skills/education and demand for them in the marketplace.

Thomas Freidman, Pulitzer Prize winning author of “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” says that globalization is a part of the problem when it comes to lost jobs, but he believes that technology has been eliminating many more jobs and that trend will continue. Friedman stresses the need for individuals to adapt by planning on lifelong education, whether this occurs as a self-directed effort or as part of the “social contract of the future” between companies and employees.

It’s especially critical that age older, say age 40+, workers pay serious attention to the adaptability of their careers. Sadly, we’re seeing far too many citizens being left behind in an economy that’s accelerating in directions where their skills are becoming obsolete and their experience is in industries that are fading or being completely reinvented.

Making your career more adaptable requires personal commitment and lots of small actions. I’m convinced that you must adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, as you are the product and service competing for relevance in the changing marketplace. Adaptability will help you thrive in the chaotic intersection of work and careers that looks like the norm from now on.

Doug Freeman, co-owner of Ideascape Inc., is a business communications professional. He advocates for and writes about entrepreneurship for age 50+ workers.