Career Moves: An Unconventional Payoff

“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.” -Emily Dickinson

I sat along the far front corner of the partner’s desk, trying not to sulk in the chair. This particular partner, an attractive Chinese woman in her mid-30’s, sat quietly behind her desk while she studied my professional profile like an archeologist attempting to decipher an ancient scroll. She even put her glasses on at one point. The partner’s sister — also a partner, and just as attractive but a few years younger — smiled at me like I was a special child about to get on the short bus for the very first time.

They asked me a series of questions about my experience and skills. They finally warmed up to me as we continued to talk about career aspirations, Silicon Valley, VC’s and HR-related tech startups.

Finally the older sister took her glasses off and said, “You know, you’re very unconventional. You’ve done a lot over time, and have been quite diverse in a short time, especially on paper. Now you’ve engaged with us to help give it all context. And it’s a pleasure, by the way. But still, it’s hard to put you in a…bucket. You know?”

I do. And so do many others who have carved and crafted their way into unconventionality by learning new skills, making career transitions, job hopping, consulting, freelancing, starting business endeavors and any combination thereof.

Professional Mobility Goes Mainstream

Nancy Friedberg, president of New York City executive coaching firm Career Leverage, recently said in a Fortune article, “Partly because of all the economic instability lately, and partly due to the entry of Gen Y into the workforce, people increasingly see themselves as free agents. It’s all about the portfolio of skills you bring, not loyalty or security. Moving around has become the new norm.”

This was a recent candidate experience I had with an executive search firm in Silicon Valley. Lovely, smart women who knew their business and understood the power of the professional skill portfolio. But as I noted earlier this week, we are naturally stalwart creatures of comfort and habit. Talent selection, mobility and succession planning have long been determined primarily by literally matching hard skills and experience to a job description, and of course gut instinct.

This is not to disparage any search professional working today, but saying that talent strategies should focus on hard skills is no longer enough. The softer skills — communication, empathy, team-building — are just as integral to selection and development, if not more so. The partners I met with understood this and made it clear during our conversation.

Looking at Talent Through New Eyes

This week on #TChat Radio, Josh Bersin emphasized the importance of looking at human capital management challenges through a more strategic, holistic lens. Rather than emphasizing the need for hard skills alone, high-impact organizations seek people with a full spectrum of capabilities — and develop both hard and soft skills. As organizations reinforce and expand these combined capabilities in real-time, and provide flexible context that responds to workforce competencies, we can expect talent selection, talent mobility and business performance to improve.

Those of us who pursue unconventional paths should take heart – it seems the tide is turning in our direction. If only unconventionality paid better, right? Actually, for the progressive individuals and companies propelling themselves and the enterprise forward, it does.

I’ll tell you more about my new bucket soon…

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

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