The biggest shift in the context of careers is that we are moving away from what has traditionally been the ‘Job Economy’ to the ‘Gig Economy’. In the old system, people thought of their careers as a lifelong contract and professed loyalty and commitment to one or a few employers over their career, and transferred all responsibility of their career growth to the organization. However, in the gig economy, which has gained momentum in the past decade, we make a living by taking up multiple, project-based gigs, work when we want and with whom we wish to.
The gig economy is rapidly changing the way everyone, particularly, the newer generation of workers, is thinking about their careers. Recent surveys have shown that nearly 35 percent of adult workers in the US are doing some type of freelance work. More importantly, more than 80 percent of global workers have said that they would consider joining the gig economy.
The concept of the gig economy is not just for those who are moving to freelance modes of employment. Even within organizations, we are seeing networked structures: small, clusters, or closely-knit teams that form naturally, around solving problems. These teams can get created and recreated depending on how business requirements or priorities evolve. There are no fixed roles or departments or linear hierarchies of career growth in such organizations.
Even organizations are embracing this change because it gives them access to top-quality talent without having to hire them for full-time employment. It is more cost-effective because they pay for talent only when they need it, rather than use the talent that they have hired full-time. Finally, the shift to the gig economy increases talent measurability; because when organizations pay a fee for a project, they will make sure that the deliverables are achieved as desired.
The change is here
Creating income from short-term projects and engagements is seen as an advantageous alternative to a long-term employment contract today. Yet, it is not all rosy as individuals face many challenges as they move away from the comfort of life-long employment contracts.
- First, you have to be prepared for uncertainty. No longer can one have the comfort of receiving a fixed salary at the end of each month. Workflow tends to be erratic and often, lumpy in nature, with a mix of busy and lean periods. Your financial planning of cash-flows has to be very different from the typical full-time job scenario.
- Second, you have to learn to sell yourself. There are likely thousands of others who are offering similar services for the same work and that means that you are now competing for work. In a full-time job, you have to sell yourself once, and you are assured of work henceforth. However, in the gig economy, you have to win each job by differentiating yourself from all the others. Building unique skills and learning how to sell your capabilities is critical.
- Third, you are on your own. Gone are the days of having a boss mentor you, showing you the ropes to move your career forward, and introducing you to new roles and responsibilities. There is no boss or human resources department to blame for your career planning and training. Now, you make your choices of what to do next, invest your resources in developing yourself and preparing yourself for the future.
You are the product
As a gig worker, you are marketing yourself and your capabilities. In competitive markets, you are only as good as your most recent work; but by creating your unique selling proposition that accumulates your past experiences and capabilities you can bring longevity as well. Here are three tips for building a winning proposition:
- Identify your unique position: Find out what you are good at and keep getting better at it. It is okay if your chosen position is narrow or niche; what matters is that you build uniqueness in your chosen area.
- Create intellectual advantage: Invest in the cycle of learning-doing-learning. Not only should you be learning from other best-in-class benchmarks, but your continuing experiences should also enhance you as a new benchmark. Every project is part of that learning process.
- Build a personal brand: Be known for your capabilities and make your presence felt. Whether it is by networking on freelance portals or displaying your work on professional platforms, remember you are the product.
Since you are the product and the brand in the gig economy, you need to build them both carefully and meticulously to ensure long-term success. The rules of the game have changed, and it’s time for you to change as well.