Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Career Planning is Wrong

A logo with "the muse" in white text.

No offense to previous generations, but careers used to be kind of easy.

What I mean is that, in general, you would settle into a company where you would have a career path lined up for you for years down the road—especially if you were really good at what you did. Sure, you had to work hard, but at least you knew where you were going.

These days, things are a little different. As Rita McGrath argues in her new book The End of Competitive Advantage, both businesses and individuals can no longer ride the wave of what they’re good at forever. Things change fast in this economy, and something that’s desired one day might be outdated the next. Instead, we live in a world where what McGrath calls transient advantage—meaning, constantly innovating and anticipating which skills or services will be most valuable next—is the key to success.

What does this all mean for your career? It means you have to constantly stay on your toes, or, as McGrath puts it, “permanent career management is here to stay.” Instead of just trekking along one career path, you have to think as if you’re permanently looking for your next job, regularly making connections and updating your skill sets to stay relevant.

Not sure how you’ll fare in the transient advantage landscape? McGrath provides a simple assessment in her book to help you figure out where you stand. Simply answer yes or no to each of the following statements:

  1. If my current employer let me go, it would be relatively easy to find a similar role in another organization for equivalent compensation.

  2. If I lost my job today, I am well prepared and know immediately what I would do next.

  3. I’ve worked in some meaningful capacity (employment, consulting, volunteering, partnering) with at least five different organizations within the last two years.

  4. I’ve learned a meaningful new skill that I didn’t have before in the last two years, whether it is work related or not.

  5. I’ve attended a course or training program within the last two years, either in person or virtually.

  6. I could name, off the top of my head, at least ten people who would be good leads for new opportunities.

  7. I actively engage with at least two professional or personal networks.

  8. I have enough resources (savings or other) that I could take the time to retrain, work for a smaller salary, or volunteer in order to get access to a new opportunity.

  9. I can make income from a variety of activities, not just my salary.

  10. I am able to relocate or travel to find new opportunities.

From The End of Competitive Advantage

Any “nos” are areas where you could stand to improve—and if you answered “no” to five or more, you’ve got some serious career development to do: stat.

None of this is to scare you, but to help prepare you. By seeing where your gaps are now, you can work on them and be ready to face any changes in your career that come your way.

Pick up a copy of McGrath’s book for more on surviving in a transient advantage world and filling in your own gaps to stay successful.

Photo of woman planning courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.