Not long ago I had a conversation with an older group of friends who asked me about my latest job. Their question came across as a bit condescending because they know my philosophy is much different than theirs. See, every couple of years for the past several years I’ve taken a new job. To them, a much older generation, it’s taboo to take on new opportunities outside of your current organization of employment–they see it as a sign of disloyalty and lack of commitment. However, this is the reality of our day and age. I see it as being loyal to what’s best for me and being committed to progression.
It’s an old school world view versus a current one. Neither one is right or wrong, or better than the other, in general. However, I think it’s important to understand the differences between the two.
I’m not advocating that anyone else take my stance or mimic the way I manage my career like a business; taking on new clients/opportunities (employment) that put my business (myself) in the best situation possible.
The Company Man
The company man is either a man or woman. I couldn’t think of a non-gender specific name for what a company man is.
The company man’s allegiance is to his employer. His career goals are centered on working for one company until retirement, *hoping* to move up the ladder as his time progresses. His golden nugget is part job security and part comfort.
The company man’s career philosophy is a by-product of Generation X (post WWII era) where an economy on the climb provided job security with ample room for growth. There was no reason to leave an organization, for even those who worked in the same position their entire career were able to afford their lifestyle. As a result, the company man didn’t proactively seek advancement outside of his current situation because they didn’t have to. He was loyal to his employer and expected be rewarded for his loyalty.
The company man’s way of managing a career was conducive to the times of the past. But a new ‘way’ has been birthed because times have changed.
Birth of the Opportunist
Naturally, causes create effects. The birth of the opportunist is an effect of the times of Generation Y. Here’s a sprinkle of some of the ingredients to the cocktail responsible for birthing the opportunist (U.S. based):
- multiple stock market crashes and mortgage meltdowns
- industrial-size robots have taken away the need for manpower
- ancient organizations have collapsed before us
- we’ve witnessed government involvement in non-government business dealings (General Motors)
- education has tanked–we now rank amongst third world nations in many categories.
- college degrees are at an all-time high, per capita–but at an all-time low in career effectiveness
- we have very little to no expectation that we’ll ever get back the Social Security tax that we pay out of each paycheck (…and what is a pension?)
- we’ve witnessed huge organizations get bailed out of debt by the government while watching our neighbors loose their homes right before us.
What is an Opportunist?
Like the word hustler, the word opportunist has negative connotations that I don’t recognize. A Google search will tell you that an opportunist is a person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by principles or plans. I define an opportunist as someone that takes advantage of opportunities for her benefit first, completely within principle and with no intention to harm others. Her loyalty is not to a company, it’s to herself. She’s responsible.
Unlike the old school company man philosophy, the new school opportunists haven’t had the luxury of job security. At the time when jobs seemed to be the most stable, unemployment rates reached an all-time high shortly thereafter. In a business economy that mandates optimization, or trimming of the fat in order to be profitable, employees are always on the edge of the lay-off cliff. It’s a Lean economy where excess must be discarded.
Anyone who seeks the next best opportunity knows that the average Joe rarely finds that opportunity. It’s the ambitious, dynamic, creative and strategic minded people that get the most abundant opportunities. Mindful opportunists have an understanding that their next opportunity isn’t a thing of chance, rather a creation from their effort; they must manufacture their own luck.
Opportunists are game changers. They’re the folks that revamp old business practices into new ones–helping an old rigid organization become a more agile one.
It’s All Risky Business
Companies have very little loyalty to employees. It’s not that organizations are bad; it’s just the nature of the beast. In order for them to stay afloat and to remain viable, they must shave poorer performing employees as well as unneeded positions. In today’s climate, employers are demanding more hours while paying less.
I didn’t write this in hopes for people to adopt the opportunist way of managing their career. I wrote this to debunk the old school ideology that society calls ’the right way’. There is no global right or wrong way. There’s only a right or wrong way specific to you and your situation.
Being a company man has NEVER been something that I’ve considered. I’m a product of the socioeconomic climate. My road map has been to get a promotion within one year and move on to bigger and better opportunity at the 2nd year mark. I’ve learned that this is the best way [for me] to get 15-25% salary increases each year and not be stuck with the 2.5% average (US, intra-company salary increase, 2010–which is in decline).
It’s all risky business!
DISCUSSION: Soooo, of course I’m curious to know if you consider yourself to be a company man…and if you are your, why so and what’s been your experience? And if you happen to be on that smaller island of career managers–the opportunist, how has that hurt or harmed your career? Remember, there’s no right or wrong way how to manage a career. I realize that I wrote this very one-sided, that’s because being an opportunist is all I know.