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Career Development Building Blocks for the “New Normal”

As one of the most pervasive health crises of the 21st century, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically created uncertainty and changed how we live and work. However, it provides an opportunity to take a break from our habit-based life and routines to do some self-examination and take the time to set new professional and career development goals—essentially, looking deep within, reevaluating our strengths and weaknesses, and determining what skills we want or need to develop.

Covid-19 raises a number of interesting lessons for career development. We can draw some parallels between its rapid spread and the changing world of work we are increasingly experiencing as well as what our students will continue to experience. In exploring how we learn and adapt as influenced by our environment, we can reference Balda and Mora (2011) who discuss the lifespan developmental approach and the complexities of leadership during a time of change. In this article, we dive into five important career development building blocks to cultivate to be more efficient and effective in your career development in the “new normal.”

 

Build on Adaptability

According to Balda and Mora (2011), one prevailing value of today's workforce is the ability to be open to change. As the global environment changes rapidly and unpredictably, being adaptable is a key skill for succeeding in the workforce of today. In order to thrive in the “new normal” of our globalized world, the 21st century professional will have to come to grips with unexpected changes and how to adapt to them. The ability to embrace change and adjust accordingly is critical for success in today's business landscape. Knowing what skills to sharpen in order to be successful and develop as a professional are essential considerations in navigating a career, particularly one characterized by frequent changes throughout your working life.

The world is changing fast. Your career path will likely change multiple times. The opportunities are vast and fleeting. Whatever you have done up until now may not be sufficient for the future. Tomorrow's opportunities will require new skills, knowledge and abilities.

In order to stay competitive in the future, one must be able to adapt. Evaluate your career path needs and make changes as needed - in skill sets and attitude. Professionals who are able to do this will be better positioned for success. Adaptability is not just a good idea – it's best practice for today's global marketplace. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works in every situation, so it's essential to be adaptable - quickly evaluating and implementing new approaches that meet the unique needs and wants of your career path - now.

 

Build on Soft Skills 

Although millennials represent the largest segment of the US workforce, little is known about what they consider to be an ideal job profile. In light of this gap, Balda and Mora (2011) conducted a qualitative study and argued that an ideal job profile must be challenging, compatible with employees’ talents and skills, encourage peer interaction, and create opportunities for learning and collaborative work. Therefore, soft skills such as teamwork will be a key differentiator for finding professional success in the new normal.

This means that workers need to set themselves apart from their peers by demonstrating proficiency in so-called “soft skills”. These skills are often undervalued but have been shown to have a direct impact on job performance.

When faced with situations that require us to adapt quickly and be resilient, we also have to have skills that will allow us to be effective. It's not enough to have great technical skills - you also need soft skills that allow you to communicate well, remain calm, show empathy, and think critically under pressure, to name a few things, to get along with those around you. 

Malik (2015) discusses a framework that suggests starting by assessing where you stand right now in your own set of soft skills. Based on that assessment, choose the area of growth and development. Then look at how you can acquire these skills - what resources do you need? A coach? A mentor? Listen to a podcast? Read a book? In my personal opinion and based on my research - get a coach!!

 

Build on Networking 

Networking has been shown to be one of the most effective tools for career development. It is also the subject of a great deal of research and the focus of many professional development groups, particularly in fields and sectors where women, minorities, older workers, and other underrepresented groups are actively seeking to gain recognition, visibility, and an opportunity to be placed into the leadership pipeline. 

Networking can facilitate mentorship and sponsorship, both of which are beneficial to career development as discussed by Griffeth, Malik, Charas and Randall, 2021. The article affirms that in 2015 Kellogg School of Management Executive Management Program survey, 86% of participants cited sponsorship as an influence on their career trajectory. As a result, the "New Normal" requires professionals to effectively connect with colleagues and others within their community in order to provide professional mentoring and sponsorship opportunities.

Connecting with people allows for career growth. Opportunities for a new job or promotion can occur quicker when you have someone advocating for you as discussed by my peers and I in Sponsorship: An Intervention to Accelerate Women's Career Velocity.

Successful networking has evolved beyond merely looking for employment opportunities to actively seeking out opportunities for developing skills and enhancing your professional reputation. Networking can no longer be considered a single event but rather a process that can be developed over time into a strategic career-management technique.

 

Build on Potential

Malik, 2015 looks at the key element of having a clear understanding of where your strengths lie and then aligning yourself with opportunities that will give you the chance to make use of those strengths.

Employers are looking for people who can do the job. If you have potential, you need to demonstrate it by producing results, not just talking about it. What have you done that demonstrates that potential? What work have you done that shows your ability to follow through on commitments? How will future employers know how good of an employee or team member you will be without seeing what you've already done? Potential only counts when it's demonstrated; otherwise, it's just talk!

 

Build on the Global Environment

Covid-19 provides a useful illustration of how complex and interconnected today's world has become. Smart career decision-making involves a holistic approach where you try to understand all the variables that may impact your potential for career growth. This understanding will help you make better decisions in all aspects of your life- not just in the workplace but also in areas such as education and personal development.

The global environment is made up of many interlocking variables that can impact your career. Covid-19 is an extreme example of how a variable in this global environment can dramatically change your career situation without you even being aware of it. All the variables in the global environment impact your career in some way and affect its growth. Learning how they interact can help you be more aware of them and make better decisions about how to manage them in relation to your professional and career development.

Humans have always been subject to the whims of nature and its forces. The global environment in which we live and work is constantly changing. It can be difficult to identify and understand these changes, but they can have a significant impact on our lifelong careers. In fact, many people are rethinking their career plans entirely because of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. 

In the end, the last two years have put us in a situation of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that requires a willingness to improvise and modify as needed. As referenced by Balda and Mora (2011) when looking at the lifespan developmental approach, it is important to consider the intricacy of your leadership during a time of change. A lot of the insights that can be drawn from the pandemic are important for professional and career development, regardless of where you are in your career. With the future increasingly shaped by change and uncertainty, it's critical to keep in mind that career success often hinges on the ability to work well with others and being adaptable in the “New Normal.” 

 

References

Balda, & Mora (2011). Adapting leadership theory and practice for the networked, milennial generation. Journal of Leadership Studies. 5. 13-24. 10.1002/jls.20229.

Griffeth, Malik, Charas and Randall (2021). Sponsorship: An intervention to accelerate women's career velocity. IUP Journal of Soft Skills. (15) 3. 7-22.

Malik (2015). Turning up the volume: How executive coaches use assessment tools to inform their learning in the coaching process. Dissertation, UGA.

 

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Rubina F. Malik, Ph.D., is a senior assistant professor of business administration at Morehouse College.