The New Rules for the Modern Workplace

Photograph by Gregor Schuster/Getty Images

The current state of our economy has transformed the workplace and how we manage our careers. There is no longer such a thing as a linear career path. A college degree doesn’t magically turn into a job and an MBA doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a promotion. Even if you get a job, it’s not stable and you won’t be staying with the same employer for life. The rules of the workplace have changed and therefore you must not only understand them, but be able to navigate around them in order to be successful. The employees who succeed have an open mind, are constant learners, and are willing to push themselves out of their current responsibilities (and comfort zones) to take on bigger roles.

The only thing that’s certain in today’s modern workplace is that you can’t rely on anyone or anything—you have to be accountable for your career and to take charge of your life.

Rule No. 1: Your job is temporary. Where you start isn’t where you’ll end up. Your job, company, and profession may completely change because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American will have about nine jobs from the age of 18 to 32. The job you’re in now is just a stepping stone along your path.

Rule No. 2: Do not let your job description confine you. If you solely focus on your current responsibilities without broadening out, you won’t be able to advance and will become expendable. Companies are desperately searching for leaders—those who take initiative and are willing to go the extra mile. Once you’ve proven yourself in your role, seek out new projects from your manager and even other groups in your organization. While you’re managing your role, you should be acquiring new skills to help carry you to your next role.

Rule No. 3: Your Rolodex is more important than your knowledge base. We’ve moved from the information economy to the social economy. Companies are hiring based on cultural fit, connections, and soft skills over a candidate’s ability to get the job done. It’s far easier to acquire knowledge through a simple Google search. What takes effort is finding your value, supporting your network, and reconnecting with its members over your career. In order to build a strong network, you have to have soft skills such as the ability to set priorities and work with others. Develop your soft skills, build your network, and leverage it to advance your career.

Rule No. 4: Your experiences matter more than your title. As Generation Y enters the workforce and takes leadership positions, we’re looking at the end of traditional corporate hierarchies and the rise of collaborative work experiences. Job titles will only get you so far. You need to be involved with projects and people that are making a difference—both of which become part of your career story, which is the most compelling narrative you have in selling yourself and advancing your career.

Rule No. 5: Your personal reputation is your greatest asset. As you move from job to job and from career to career, the one thing you get to take with you is your reputation. The results you’ve achieved, the projects you’ve been part of, and the way you treat people form your professional reputation. In the age of Facebook, what people find out about you online will influence how you’re perceived—and therefore your reputation. If you have a strong reputation, people will gravitate toward you and be proud to work with you. If you don’t have a good reputation, you won’t be able to advance and will struggle throughout your career until you can rebuild your rep.