The Perpetual Learner – where should he go?

This entry is a bit unusual as compared the last few. After interacting with several people & browsing through various ‘careers’ sections on websites of companies – I had the thought of articulating this post.

Before the MBA, during the MBA and after the MBA – we come across a similar set of questions. And then again who asks whom – Sometimes it’s us asking people, then it’s us asking ourselves, and then it’s others asking us!

How do we change courses in our career? Can I move from engineering to strategy? Is it possible to immediately land the right job-position for launching a new career path right after the MBA? As generic as these questions are, equally generic can be the answers!

I recall our Financial Accounting Professor jokingly remark often: “‘In Accounting the right answer is – It Depends”! I am tempted to extend the same to the search for “The Career Opportunity” as well.

Amidst all this it helps to have some guiding principles and an awareness on why there can be a (mis)match between recruiters needs and a potential candidate’s (read: job applicant) aspirations!

Potential candidates base the choice of their next career move based a variety of factors (a short but not exhaustive list) as below:

  • A promotion in a new job
  • Opportunity to learn a new skill
  • Opportunity to learn about a new industry/domain
  • Monetary gain – A higher remuneration
  • Opportunity to travel
  • Looking for a work-life balance – priorities can change right!

The weight assigned to these factors will define the profile of this candidate. I seek to define a candidate profile – The Perpetual Learner! If I were to plot these qualities on a Radar Chart for such candidate – it could look as below (0 – least significant, 5 most significant).

PerpetualLearner
The Perpetual Learner – Weighted Priorities

The Perpetual Learner can do this in two ways, each posing a different level of risk to the employer

  • Working beyond predefined responsibilities: Not being accountable for this: is it the right way to accelerate? What metrics can be used to measure success? Will it jeopardize the existing responsibilities?
  • Learning on the job: There will be a planned training to acquire these skills. It poses a calculated risk of failure to the employer – but can be mitigated by monitoring execution under a mentor

Organizations – specifically recruiters therein, seek certain behavioral qualities in their (future) employees. A few of them can be:

  • Level of expertise in their current role
  • Stickiness (If I may call it so)! – The hope that the employee will stick around until eternity and his/her skills will be useful for the same length of time
  • Willingness to grow, accept higher responsibilities
  • Capability to move across functions, adopt to new roles
  • Risk taking ability

Specific to an organization, each of these qualities will bear a specific weight in the bigger picture. This can be a function of its strategic priorities, the values of the organization, the risk taking ability, etc. Some people centric companies might believe in empowering their employees with new skills & expertise over time – readying them for greater responsibilities in the years to come, putting at risk the probability of success in the short-term – let’s call them “Employee Booster”. If I were to plot these qualities on a Radar Chart for an “Employee Booster” organization – it might look as below.

EmployeeBooster
Employee Booster Organization: Weighted criteria

Moving on – Lets Simplify! In order to unravel the sweet spot for job-seekers and recruiters likewise, I am making an attempt to plot this chart below. The two axes indicate

  • Learning needs of the Perpetual Learner – Along the X-axis
  • Employee empowerment motivation in an organization  – Along the Y-axis

HiringSweetSpot

For career changers, it is thus important to find a match on the top-right quadrant of the graph above. Assessing corporate culture in the target company is important while seeking opportunities. Will they recognize my thirst for knowledge? Will they consider my “quick adapting capability” as a skill? Affirmative answers to these show that you are looking at an Employee Booster! The second route – the much talked about “Transferable Skills”! Pitching these right can help lower the perceived risk for the employer. If this bet works out right – both the employer and employee stand to gain; if not, both stand to lose out in the short term.

An employer’s profile, as stated before, could be a function of its strategic priorities. Employee Boosters choose to build the capability to change. Building this adaptability to change opens opportunities for innovation.

  • Technological innovation can result from investments in researchers and R&D capabilities
  • Process innovation may result while striving for operational excellence
  • Business Model Innovation (BMI) will result by exploring new ways of business/corporate decision making

Which of these is the Employee Booster’s priority is a choice each organization makes, and needs to execute accordingly. The organizations (big or small) profile is evident from its hiring practices.

Perpetual Learners need to target companies which believe that ‘Change is the only constant’.  More importantly, the direction of learning desired will help shortlist the companies which value that direction more – technology, process, BMI!

A last word – Perpetual Learners need to have a plan B! After all, while every organization wants to project the Employee Booster image, not everyone is.