The New Permanent

The New Permanent

This Sunday’s New York Times had an article entitled “Not Taking ‘Not Hiring’ for an Answer.” Its theme was that “baby boomers were more persistent job-hunters than other age groups.” The tactics they’re using, however, can be just as effective for Gen Ys and Millennials.

In particular, the article noted that more and more people are turning to a temporary job not only for income, but perhaps more importantly, as a bridge to a permanent position. It’s an effective strategy—one I’ve recommended myself from time-to-time—but only if you understand the new definition of the term “permanent.”

Traditionally, we think of permanent jobs as those that are long lasting. We know it’s unlikely that we’ll work for a single employer for thirty or forty years, but permanent employment seems much more durable than … well than a temporary job. We don’t expect it to end in a couple of months or even in a couple of years.

In the 20th Century job market, such expectations were probably not unreasonable. On average, people changed jobs four or five times during their career or about once every six or seven years. That’s why most of us liked them so much. They gave us something we could count on—so we could buy a house or save for a child’s college education.

Today, however, a permanent job means something else altogether. The volatility produced by a highly interconnected global marketplace and the frenetic introduction of new technology has installed a pattern of much more frequent job changes. Instead of making such moves every six or seven years, we will now probably do so every three or four years. In effect, impermanence is the new norm.

What’s that mean for those of us in the workplace?

We’re going to have to adjust our own expectations and those of our families. Taking what the Times called “an honest-to-goodness, full-time, permanent job” no longer provides any meaningful security. Employers can promise it, but they can’t deliver it. If you have any doubt about that, consider this: the average tenure of a CEO is now down to under four years. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone and everyone else.

Does that mean there is no security in today’s world of work? No. It means we have to rely on ourselves for protection. We have to provide our own security.

How do we accomplish that?

By staying in the hunt even as we’re holding down what’s called a permanent job. Or to put it more bluntly, we have to make our job search permanent because our job isn’t.

Thanks for reading,
Peter