How to Adapt to a World of Four Year Careers

Having a job for life is like something from a by-gone era, like video cassettes, floppy disks and Myspace. The average amount of time someone is employed in a job these days is a mere 4.4 years.[1] This means either by necessity or opportunity everyone is more adaptable and flexible, making the ability to change jobs and careers a key skill in its own right.

Photo by Waldemar Otto,Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation Licence Version 1.2

When we are looking for work, the way we market ourselves is now almost as important as the skills we bring to the table. The economy has contributed to these changes in our working lives. Job tenure is down, churn is up (especially amongst workers in their thirties) and more people are picking up new skills and training later in their careers, in order to future- proof themselves.

Henry Farber, a Princeton economist, has noticed that “employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to.” Those with decades of experience are competing on an even footing alongside those with only a number of years. People with demonstrable adaptability are now seen as entrepreneurial, and therefore of greater value to employers.

The New Constant: Change

The economic factors, since the dark winter of the recession, and continuing uncertainty have brought about this situation. We still live in an era of risk in the employment market which has also caused the increase in part-time work, freelancing, contract work, and startups. Earnings now peak at age 45 for men, 38 for women, and since 1980 the percentage of men aged between 35 and 64 who have been in the same job for over 10 years has dropped from 51 to 39%.[2]

How to Adapt to a Four Year Jobs Market?

  • Perfect your narrative: When change is the new constant, we manage it by telling stories. How we explain the narrative is more important than the black and white lines on our résumés and LinkedIn profiles. Fast Company profiled three people with interesting career experiences; a situation which is becoming more commonplace. The one thing they were all good at was telling the story of how they made numerous lateral moves throughout their careers.
  • Narrative needs background: The most common question potential employers might ask is “why?” If you can explain the background to your narrative then what could appear unfocused will start to become clearer. Plus, when it comes to selling your value: everyone loves a good story.
  • Age and experience aren’t the same thing: Penelope Trunk, author of The Brazen Careerist, says that the best way to adapt is to keep your résumé as age neutral as possible. Anything more than ten years old, including graduation dates, should be wiped clean of specific dates. It is important to demonstrate experience; especially where one line on the résumé can help you get the next, but too much experience could be a hindrance.
  • Repurpose and repackage: When you have skills which translate well into other areas, like sales into marketing or vice-versa, then a lateral shift can be quite easy to navigate. Some leaps take a bit more work. This might require extra education and training, sometimes even a downwards shift in earnings and responsibilities before moving back up the career ladder. You can repackage existing skills, pick up new ones and use this to transition into the role you are now seeking. The key to making a more challenging shift is planning and support: do as much as you can of each in order to make this as easy as possible.

More and more people are making their careers out of the intersection of their passions, interests and experiences. Since jobs aren’t as secure as they used to be, the best way to reduce personal downside risk is be armed with as many skills as possible and for marketing purposes, a strong narrative which sells your skills and experiences well. Being ready for anything will give you the confidence necessary to make career changes when necessary.


This guest post comes to us courtesy of Cream.HR, where they provide pre-employment assessments that give you valuable insight into a candidate before you sit down and talk. Check out  for more details.

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