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The Surprising Benefits of Managing Your Career Like an Academic

The traditional view of careers looks something like a straight line that hopefully slopes in an upwards direction. Professionals seek to get more money and bigger jobs, year after year, until they just can’t do it any more.

But this is a model for a world that changed slower than ours does today. First Blockbuster and now Radio Shack are disappearing from retail strip malls… Kodak went from everywhere to nowhere… large public companies have all but stopped growing.

To top it all off, social media has changed the balance of power. Without even knowing each other, customers of a firm band together to ridicule their service, quality and prices. News travels in seconds. Social influence is even toppling entire governments today, so how can you expect your career path to still go in a straight line?

In this environment, you have to be flexible. Leave your expectations behind, and change as the world changes. The future belongs to the most flexible, not the strongest or smartest.

The problem, of course, is that no one knows how the future will evolve. That’s why I’ve been looking at a wide range of possible answers.

One out-of-the-box idea is that academic careers might serve as a new model for other types of careers. To illustrate, here’s a thought-provoking passage from a research paper by Yehuda Baruch:

…lateral and even downwards movement are accepted (e.g. when a Dean returns to serve as a Professor, conducting research and teaching, it is not considered “demotion”). Upwards mobility is limited, even not desired (becoming a Dean might take scholars off the research route)… Sabbaticals are part of the career. Perhaps more fundamental, the academic career model builds on networking within and across organizations.

The main reason this idea caught my attention is that while professors aren’t always known for their flexibility, they are expected to both conduct research and drive learning in their chosen field. This quest for knowledge should power your career as well.

Thinking of your career through the lens of this “academic” model might lead you to a much more interesting and robust career than you would get from employing a traditional corporate mindset.

For example, your goal might morph from trying to get promoted as often as possible to becoming a leading expert in your field. You might compare yourself to all experts in your field, instead of to all the managers in your department.

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posted in: Education, Interviewing, news, Employer News
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