6 Ways to Future-Proof Your Career

How to redefine your job description

Illustration of people walking near a keyhole
When it comes to making a living, the world we live in requires you to continuously, consciously, dynamically adapt. Getty Images
Headshot of Shelly Palmer

If we were in a business meeting and someone said something was “future-proof,” I’d reach for my banned words money jar and fine them $20. “Future-proof” is on my banned words list because it conveys the idea that there is a state of being or condition that will automatically adapt to the future. That’s just wrong. When it comes to making a living, the world we live in requires you to continuously, consciously, dynamically adapt. With our new definition in mind, here’s how to think about future-proofing your ability to earn.

Don’t think of your job as a job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that baby boomers average 12.3 jobs from ages 18 to 52. That’s an average of 2.76 years per job. (Millennials are likely to switch jobs every two years or even more often.) At those time scales, you should not think of your job as a job; you should think of it as a project. Which means that not only should you think of your boss as a client, you should think of yourself as a consultant engaged to solve a specific problem. You are, for all intents and purposes, a “gig worker.” If you think of your full-time job as just one of your projects (you can and should have other projects), you are going to be well on your way to future-proofing your income.

Inject yourself into the process

Be a student of the world you live in. What’s new? What’s next for your business? Are you in a growth industry? Is your company likely to be the best in its class? If you got promoted, could you do your boss’ job? Would you be better than your boss because you have more competitive, productive skills? The best way to answer these questions is to inject yourself into the process. Pretend you run the whole company. What would you read every day? Whom would you speak with? What would you discuss? Seek out people who do what you want to be doing and get into their groups. There are plenty of tech tools to do this from social media to online meetups. (I host weekly online salons; you can learn about them here.)

Have a side hustle

If you work for a company in a specific job doing specific things, your skills are atrophying. Every day you are on the inside, you are getting weaker and people on the outside are getting stronger. The best way to keep your skills sharp is to do side projects. If your employment agreement prohibits moonlighting, or you’re not comfortable working directly for other companies in your area, just find a side project that will help you hone your skills. It could be doing a specific function for a charity organization. Avocational training can also have huge vocational benefits. When we evaluate new potential employees at The Palmer Group, the quality of a candidate’s side hustle is more important than where they went to college.

Get famous

You may not get “Kimye” famous, but “fame” is a relative term. You need to be famous in your world. Get permission from your company and start to blog. Create a body of knowledge that sets you apart from your peers as an expert in your area. Post a minimum of once weekly. The quality of your writing is more important than the quantity of posts. Take the most common problems faced by the people who might hire you and demonstrate through your writing that you are the best person to help solve them. Then, promote your work using social media. This is also a job. Treat it like one. Importantly, this is a career-long commitment. There is nothing more pathetic than an abandoned webpage with your name on it.


@shellypalmer Shelly Palmer is CEO of The Palmer Group, a strategic advisory, technology solutions and business development practice focused at the nexus of media and marketing with a special emphasis on machine learning and data-driven decision-making.
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