Truly employable or only employed? How a successful candidate knows the difference


Employability is now firmly on the workplace agenda, playing its part in the major shift in attitude towards employer-employee relationships. Here Tony Vickers, who has written extensively on career psychology, gives his perspective

Neatly defined career paths and the golden age of a job for life are fast disappearing. Expecting to be employed on a 30-year contract in exchange for following the company rules, serving your time and being loyal is no longer a feasible option, especially for younger managers and professionals.

What is emerging is a very different beast: being expected to slot into different teams and work at different sites within a company, full-time and casual workforces, lifelong, continuous learning and fixed-term contracts.

With rewards becoming more performance based and set within team cultures, the skills increasingly sought after are innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial flair. Boundaryless careers are not only now possible but, with the rise of virtual knowledge based organizations, are becoming increasingly prevalent – clear signs of structural change.

All this raises an interesting question. Do such developments constitute a threat to future job security and if so, what can be done about it? The answer, it seems, is no and yes.

The opportunity

On the one hand, recent UK figures show a distinct narrowing of the gap between job vacancies (currently one million and set to rise) and unemployment (1.2 million and set to fall). When this happens managers’ and professionals’ fear of being made redundant declines sharply. At present, this particular group may feel there is much to look forward to.

Advertised vacancies are expanding, especially via the net. Scare stories about major downsizing and redundancy are far less prevalent. There are more jobs being created as a result of the recent development of the Internet and the resulting e-commerce boom.

Skill shortages are also very much on the agenda in certain regions. In the US for instance, prospects in the executive Labour market look especially good.

The threat

On the other hand, time for celebration may be premature. People may feel more secure, but the opportunities for promotion and the freedom to work in the way an individual prefers, still have to be tackled. Employees may have to face the fact that they will have to learn new skills and take on extra responsibilities, especially if they wish to work in a high performance culture.

Factors such as age, the speed of technological advance, the state of the economy and mega-mergers are clearly out of a candidate’s control. Yet improving performance, raising profile, enhancing competences, or improving job search skills are very much within an individual’s grasp.

This is why a radical audit is needed so that ambitious managers and professionals can cope with unexpected events such as takeovers, falling profits, or the arrival of a new boss. Sound advice is to follow the two steps below, which should make up the central planks in a personal strategy of employability security.

Phase one: clearly establish an identity

While part of a person’s identity involves who they are, where they work and what they do, even more importantly in today’s climate is assessing whether a candidate is seen as employed or employable.

If a person is employed, then identity is dependent on the company and not on competency. The individual will be imitative rather than innovative. A true ’employee’ will usually be on a long-term contract with a firm, performing to prescribed standards and fitting into the prevailing culture, which rewards seniority and loyalty and in return offers long term job security and a set career path. In other words: the employee joins an ocean liner, cruises through their career and disembarks on retirement.

However, there is a big risk in relying on others and not plotting a sound exit policy. In this situation, evidence of personal skill enhancement or professional self-development is likely to be scarce. For these people, convincing another organization to take them on will be that much harder.

Phase two: becoming employable

Being employable is very different. An employable candidate’s identity is in the market place; security is based on competency and marketability, with an individual being committed to investing in their own career development.

An employable person is far more of an independent contractor, and sees careers in terms of lattices rather than ladders. The focus is on lateral moves, while the contract is transactional.

The message on these people’s screen saver reads, ‘you are only here while it lasts!’ – a timely reminder that trust between employer and employee can be tentative. Yet being employable means a candidate embraces much of the new management thinking about changes in the psychological contract between employer and employee.

An employable individual is actively taking responsibility for their career and self-development. Conveying a sense of being employable is a critical part of personal job security. If the job comes to an end, there is a planned escape route. Finding a new one will be far easier.

Becoming a free-agent manager

Becoming a free-agent manager involves a drastic change in attitude. Devoting far more time to personal career planning as an independent operator is a must. The current job is only one of a series the employee will have during their working lifetime.

Adjusting to uncertainty, unpredictability and temporary short-term assignments is all part of this new deal. The focus has to be on number one. Free-agent managers have loyalty to themselves but commitment to their current project.

Recognition and identity will be firmly based on what an employee can deliver in terms of transferable skills, reputation and performance. While rewards will be based on contribution, networking will establish contacts and contracts.

The twin-track approach is to look to enhance the value of what can be offered to an employer, while simultaneously continuing to hone job search skills. Career paths are no longer clearly defined. You are in a particular job only as long as the role is useful to the company and you can hit your targets.

By adopting this new approach, a candidate has gone some way to solving the paradox of being employable, while remaining a valuable employee.

Share with:

candidate, HR, jobs, jobsearch, Labour market