Tag Archives: transferable skills

Career path is dead

Career Path replaced by Cluster Career

What’s happening to the career path?

We all know the concept of  having a career path has shifted. Initially this was almost imperceptible, but in the last few years, it is well.. dying, some would say already dead. We saw the arrival of the portfolio career and now I’m seeing the start something else.  What I’m calling a cluster career.

That is a series of diversified professional activities. Not be confused with a career cluster which is quite different.

Linear Career on the wane

The notion of a vertically linear career path, is disappearing, at the same pace as agile and lean are commonplace. The expansion of the “gig”, on demand or collaborative economy is a key part of that shift. It is estimated that 25% of the total workforce will be working on demand.

In certain traditional professions, linear promotion may still apply for a while longer: law and, medicine, come to mind. But even those knowledge based professions will face change, as they are replaced by artificial intelligence.

Portfolio careers

We then saw the arrival of  “Portfolio Careers,” where career management was based on the identification of transferable skills, which could be used in a range of sectors and functions. This was based on strengths and interests, to create a career strategy which met identified goals and allowed people to manage their own careers.

This approach was blocked by older school hiring managers with traditional mind sets, struggling to cope with a model that doesn’t fit a “copy paste” recruitment mode, which facilitates filling openings with “Mini-Mes”

Cluster Career

This concept has been taken a step further by the Cluster Career, with even further diversification, to include multiple, activities in seemingly unrelated fields.

It can be one activity at a time, in rotation. Pete (The Feet)  is a marine engineer, who is also a chiropodist. Isabella is an auditor who responded to a recent call for graduates to retrain as maths and science teachers in the U.K. Elinor, trained as a lawyer, worked as a journalist, then as a media consultant. Olivia is an environmental scientist, turned tree surgeon.

Or it can be multiple activities simultaneously to suit demand: Martin, works in Instructional Design and as a chef and a hairdresser and switches between all to suit the market. Janice does ad hoc editorial and content marketing, plus beauty therapy (mani-pedi and massage.) Dylan, an events manager, works in a bar, as well as gigging as photographer.

What they have in common is fast and continuous learning skills, an ability to change direction, open mindedness and mental agility. They also have acute trend spotting skills.

Strategic diversification

For this type of career management to be effective, some key concepts have to be applied to take a strategic global overview of a career and then project long term. There has to be clear answers to the following two questions:

  •  Will my knowledge be needed by anyone? Ever?

Demand and supply for skills comes and goes. Technical skills gained in university are out of date before someone has graduated. The list of Jobs being automated gets longer every day. Knowledge and access to skill training is becoming easier, pushing down the earning power of certain skills, as competition increases because of over supply. We have seen that with the glut of life coaches on the market and social media “experts.”  Pete-The-Feet is targeting the 65+ demographic, which after 2025 according to W.H.O. will represent  63% of the global population. Pete’s logic is “we all need feet”

  • Will anyone want to pay for what I know?

The trick will be to position yourself on the right side of demand/supply curve, so that any professional activity you pursue, will generate enough revenue to pay your bills. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still out there. The talent will be to identify long term skill gaps, where certain competencies are in short supply and take the necessary steps to up-skill. This is a difficult one and why we have seen so many unemployed graduates, because high numbers are studying topics that will soon be obsolete. Any profession involved with the aging population will be in demand. The skills will presumably be anything that can’t be automated or robotized. Ironically, many seem to involve manual work.

Career Planning Today

Previously we have talked about pursuing a passion and finding the ideal career, as if it were one single object or objective. Most people embarking on a career will change jobs every 2-3 years. They are now more likely to be pursuing multiple professional activities, in sequence or concurrently. These activities may, or may not, have compatible transferable skills.

That will make career planning today more challenging. Having an open mind and being a life long learner will be critical. People are going to have more options than ever, which is going to make positioning and pitching, to what will eventually be a new breed of recruiters and hiring managers,  who should be trained to assess diverse skills, across multiple disciplines.  Currently at their core many are still conservative, but they will retire eventually.

The need to be self-aware, self-advocating, self-reliant, self- sufficient, self managing and self- promoting, maybe even self- taught and adaptable is going to increase.

The days when anyone took care of your career are over.

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Portfolio careers: What are your tent-pole skills?

tent poleOne of the buzz words reverberating around the job search market is the need to identify our tent- pole skills or skill.. This is rooted in company jargon which according to Bruce Watson means:  “the tent pole  is  a term that refers to a company’s most promising or prominent product. Generally, a tent pole generates most of an organization’s income, making it possible for workers to make products that may be less profitable.”    

Believe it or not there are people who are so multi-talented and have such an amazing combination of left and right hand brain competencies that they excel in every activity they turn their hand to. They have a wide range of interests, passions and skills and have built up excellent portfolio careers.  Hard to imagine that this could present difficulties – but it does.

How can these individuals make informed decisions on which  tent-pole skills or skill to anchor their careers, when they need or want to make a change ?

One story

Jonas has had a glittering portfolio career. Multi-lingual and multi-cultural, qualifying as a lawyer in a Magic Circle law firm, he then pursued an opportunity in corporate law where at the same time he gained an MBA from a top-tier business school. A two-year stint in Marketing for a boutique law firm followed, where his creative marketing strategies attracted the attention of a major international player resulting in a successful acquisition. He then decided to  launch a landscape gardening business going on to employ a team of 16. This was eventually sold to allow him to pursue his passion for film, and he succeeded in winning a much coveted international prize for corporate video production.

Now at age 45 with an expensive divorce and child care responsibilities every second week, he is looking to refocus. He is despondent about this failure to return to the workplace as a corporate employee and is somewhat baffled by the response. Jonas stated his needs briefly “Put simply  my requirements are to identify which of my skills can make me revenue rich (or richer) without making me time poor.

Now that sounds like a universal goal most job searchers would put at the  very top of their wish lists.  Ironically,  Jonas has gone from feeling generally unique with high levels of recognition, to becoming simply one of the crowd. Words which have never been applied to him  before, he now hears regularly “flight risk” and “job hopper,” plus “lack of long-term commitment” to name but a few, with a demoralising effect.

Do you need help identifying your tent-pole skills? Check out the individual coaching programmes.

Key skills

Generally speaking the identification of  skills, tent pole or otherwise, has to be done with a dose of realism.   Strong soft skills without up to date hard skills can be high risk currency for many organisations. A law degree acquired 20 years ago would almost certainly need some updating and would be valueless today as a stand alone qualification. But it does tell part of Jonas’ story which needs to be re-created not just  in terms of the chronology, but in light of his  achievements. These soft skills, more tent poles if you like, are also more effective and powerful in clusters. They allow the canvas of a career story to be erected across a number of poles, rather than relying on one solitary support.

Cluster skills

What Jonas does bring to the table is a strong combination of a legally trained mind, combined with analytical business skills, commercial and entrepreneurial acumen, plus leadership competencies. He has gained experience in building diverse activities into successful enterprises attractive for acquisition, and pursuing personal projects to achieve international recognition. It’s not so much the time he has spent at anything, but the result. Not forgetting of course he has always achieved excellence.

Jonas is currently in negotiation with a consulting firm which has been fully appraised of his domestic circumstances.

What is the most marketable skill needed by future candidates?


Times they are certainly changing  and as an increasing number of our populations in developed economies are completing further education, only to become unemployed,  the cries from, and about, ” over/under-qualified ” candidates come  loudly from both sides of the hiring process. It’s hard to know what are our most marketable skill is.

This can cover:

  • too many/few  years of experience,
  • education levels above/below demanded level
  • too highly paid in current or previous job,  or simply unemployed

Both candidates and hiring managers are frequently guilty of wasting each other’s time. Candidates often apply for jobs sometimes in desperation, often times without any insightful or strategic thought, when their qualifications far exceed or fail to meet the demands made on the profile.

On the other hand organisations over- egg their job profile omelette assigning ludicrous qualifications and experience requirements to even low-level jobs.

Madeleine a research scientist  told me “ I recently passed through a hiring process down to the final short list. I was eventually rejected on the grounds that I had a Masters and an MBA and would get bored with the job.  My qualifications are clear on my resume.  Although no process is ever a complete waste of time I actually took 3 afternoons off work to attend the interviews with the executive search company and then twice with the employer. If every company did this job seekers would be trouble with their current employers”      

Alternatively, the concerns hiring managers have about placing candidates that are too highly qualified are in many instances valid. There could be repercussions for the team, the person could be onboarded and then leave because they lose interest or become disruptive or demotivated for the same reason

Do you struggle to identify the right candidates? Check out the executive search and research options?  

So with workplaces and technology changing at such a rapid pace and job functions disappearing or being re-engineered faster than we realise,  it is going to make the identification of the right calibre candidate hard to assess as transferable skills, training potential and cultural fit becoming increasingly important. By the same token it will also become increasingly challenging for candidates to know when they could the right fit for a particular job and  if they should submit an application.

Ideal marketable skill

In that case it will therefore be more helpful  for both parties to focus on requirements and qualities needed in the future:

  • Getting beyond job titles and focus on  skills and achievements
  • Examine team playing abilities and leadership experience
  • Look at personality, enthusiasm, learning styles and flexibility

If we are currently preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet then provided that basic skills are in place,  the most valuable and marketable skill candidates can have and need, will surely be the pace at which they can learn and adapt.

Add on other valuable soft skills which cement any career the lovely phrase “hire the will,  train the skill” will come into play.

What do you think?