No Such Thing As A "Permanent" Job

by: Joanne Meehl

The other day I was reading posts on a job hunters' email list serve, and saw an "I've landed!" email from one member. It's always great to see such good news, so I opened the mail. The person announced his new job, thanking everyone who'd helped him during his search to "land this permanent position after doing several temping gigs".

"Permanent"? Ouch. When it comes to work, there is no such thing, unless you're gainfully self-employed, and even then your business waxes and wanes with the demands of the market.

Author Clifford Hakim was prescient when he wrote We Are All Self-Employed in 1994. He maintained then, and he was so right, that a new social contract now exists: gone was the idea of lifelong employment with one employer. Parts of the country have seen this reality for almost two decades, others are just awakening to it. Which means in regions where layoffs had been rare until this recession, people are still reeling from what they'd imagined was impossible: that they'd actually been let go from a company where they thought they'd be forever.

In short, they were operating as if nothing had changed from decades before. It's tough to be hit with the reality that those days truly are gone.

A client of mine who landed a few years ago at a company doing a lot of defense research told me about the culture there, once he'd been there a while and saw the "self employed" model in action. There, when your project was winding down, you were not assigned to another project. Instead, YOU had to FIND another project within the company which would take you on. So you had to be able to articulate your value to Project Managers. And as a direct result of the culture there, everyone was very interested in everyone else's project: How was the project going? What were the goals? What's the funding? If you found no project to which you could contribute, you were out the door.

Will other companies take on the same kind of approach? Only time will tell. But many are no longer managing their employees' careers. That's up to the employee now.

In that way, Hakim's book's subtitle, How to Take Control of Your Career, is absolutely right. By shaping your attitude -- and your job search-- around the fact that you have to find your market and focus your message, then find your customer (employer), you are taking initiative. Continuing to think of work in this new way will get you as close to "permanent" as you can ever be.


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