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Surviving in an Expert Based Economy

This morning I am writing this blog with an unusual circumstance in my life. My extraordinary husband – previously a CFO and with technology M&A achievements – has passed his one year mark of unemployment. A number of my closet friends have been recently downsized and my brother will work his last week at a global consulting firm and then join the rest of the displaced population in the category of workforce reduction. To add insult to injury much of this community is receiving their college graduated son or daughter back home because they too cannot find work.

What is a common thread here? They are generalists. Each has served inside a certain function of corporate America with, to this point, stable and admirable careers. Their resumes will show they had ascension of titles and worked in a variety of industries spanning more than a twenty plus year period. They are loyal, consistent, and hard-working results deliverers. Their 50 to 80 hour work weeks did build Corporate America to its point today – and now – they are judged for their path in ways unimagined.

The current economy is hostile to generalists.

I would appreciate comments to this blog identifying any company you are aware of that still recruits at college campuses. In the 1980s, I was a newly minted college grad preparing to enter the workforce. I ran the career fair at Ohio’s Youngstown State University and was hired by NCR six months before I graduated. Would this have been possible for me today? Does NCR still look to hire college graduates or is the hiring spec for a sales role today require established working experience, an MBA, proven quota achievement, selling to a specific industry, and experienced in a specific technology platform? Would I have gotten work if today’s economy existed in 1988?

My heart aches for our kids graduating from colleges – because they are starting out as generalists.

My heart aches for everyone in the population that has been displaced from their careers.

The dawn of the expert based economy began with the Internet, data driven management, quarterly driven performance tracking, globalization of low cost labor, and extraordinary geo political instability – 9/11 and banking failures started the era of hoarding corporate cash versus funding growth for many companies.

Going back to a 2005 Fortune article titled, Permanent Vacation? 50 and Fired the writer sited, “Some people assume that people north of 50 are marking time, or lacking in energy and up-to-date skills. In a survey of 428 HR managers by Society for Human Resources Management, 53% said older workers ‘didn’t keep up with technology.’“

A workforce system has evolved that rewards specific focus on deep areas of expertise and use of that expertise for short bursts. This is concerning when you examine the questions of: “How is institutional knowledge relevant now? Is it OK to create a company of strangers that plug in and unplug technical input but have little perspective on the history or holistic view of the business? Is it OK to go outside to hire the newest, hottest specific skills instead of organically investing in already proven talent that understands the business and the people in it?”

So we have this strange displacement in our country now – generalists are abundant and scrambling – and then inside corporate walls company recruiters are scrambling to find the perfect match – in fact – they may feel as though there is a shortage of exacting expert talent to fill their most pressing jobs.

Here are some real examples:

A web analytics director has multiple job offers

A mobile technology consultant’s phone rings off the hook with recruiters calling him

A company is struggling to fill technology positions for Cloud expertise

A company opens an organizational development position – but you must have a Phd ..

MBA is now a standard requirement for almost all jobs out there– dated MBAs I hear have little value

Displaced careerists who have reinvented themselves are succeeding if they were able translate their bank of generalist experience into marketable consultative points of view and have the scrappiness to go drum up business …

So how do you survive as a generalist in an expert based economy? Some of these may feel counterintuitive but try them on for size…

Accept the hard choices, the hard realities, and do not mourn over them.

Accept that new people you don’t know may be better networking help then the people you’ve known for years.

Find and learn from people who have translated a corporate career into a freelance consulting career. If you decided to consult – develop expertise in a very specific area

As painful as it can be – get out there into the community – don’t isolate. And don’t isolate if you get the next corporate job…

As bad as you need help and doors to open – open doors for others when you can as much as you can

Get someone to help you package your institutional knowledge either by industry or by function and write an eBook – you can market this to an industry or field more easily on the internet than ever before

Source your courage from your faith not from your performance

Inventory your passions and lean into them to live the rest of your life on your terms – start investing in your own self awareness and growth

Cast a vision of a different life and let go of the past

Uncertainty is the new certainty – build personal life agility – examine what that means for you

Get rid of everything in your life that is useless clutter – don’t pay for stuff that no longer serves you

Manage your boundaries with people in your life that can’t accept the reality you are facing – they must adopt as well

Stay close to the people that encourage you to be someone better who cherish your individuality and gifts as person not as a paycheck

Work diligently on your mental, physical, and spiritual health – this will be the source of your strength