Career Path

The Deep Dive into the Nomad Economy

People are job-hopping much more than before. Here’s how to stop it from being aimless.

Jen Rubio dropped out of Penn State to be a full-time blogger, then moved into marketing, and later cofounded a luggage company. Mario Igrec started his career as a pianist, then became a piano technician, and finally segued into a chief technology officer. And Cindy Turner traded in her years of graphic design to become a nurse, working 12-hour shifts three times a week. 

These professionals, along with many others in the workplace, are part of today’s “nomad economy,” where careers look more like jungle gyms than ladders. Indeed, 91% of millennials, who now make up the largest generation in the workforce, expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to a survey by the advisory Future Workplace.

A willingness to volunteer or work part-time can help you dip a toe in without sacrificing much.

Which means those incoming generations could hold as many as 20 or more jobs over the course of their career, making the ability to be flexible and adaptable all the more important. “As job silos break down more and more, there will be increased ambiguity and flexibility with roles,” says Karen Huang, senior manager of search assessment at Korn Ferry. “This can foster a sense of possibility and reduce the feeling of being stuck in a rut.”

Of course, not everyone wants to ping-pong their way through a career—particularly if you’re someone who thrives in places that provide structure and predictability. But if you’re ready to climb the jungle gym, here’s how to decipher your next move.

Start with your strengths.

It’s quite difficult to make a big career move without using some existing skill set. To that end, Korn Ferry Advance coach Val Olson recommends making a list of your best skills and then identifying complementary skills that may take you to the next rung or position. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, maybe you can look into a role as a user experience or user interface designer. “Most people aren’t able to make a switch that doesn’t build on something they’ve already done,” Olson says.

Get to know people who are doing what you want to do.

One of the best ways to figure out if the next role is for you is to speak with people in the field and read books, blogs, and posts on social media about the industry or position. It’s key to drill down on both what these people like and dislike about their job, and to get a sense of the daily demands and pace of the position. While roles will vary based on culture, the more people you can speak to, the better your chances of understanding the challenges and opportunities.

Don’t be above a pay cut or volunteering.

A willingness to volunteer or work part-time can help you dip a toe in without sacrificing much. Whether that’s inside your company or elsewhere, you can get a sense of whether this work is right for you before jumping ship from your current role. Taking evening classes or traveling to seminars can really test your appetite for learning new skills and understanding if the industry is for you.

It’s OK to move on.

In the nomad economy, professionals proceed in different directions—including making lateral moves and sometimes even stepping down in order to play the long game. Keeping an open mind can help you find your way, so long as you set reasonable timelines and goals to help you figure out if the shift in jobs is right for you. And the best part of being a nomad? If you realize the gig you chose isn’t working out, you don’t have to wait five years before moving on.

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