The job market today is characterized by short-term employment and frequent job change, sometimes by choice, sometimes not.
The people who are now between the ages of 47 and 56 have held an average of 11.7 jobs since turning 18, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nearly half of those jobs were held before age 25, but it was common for people to hold three jobs from age 25 to 29, two-and-a-half jobs from age 30 to 34, and two jobs from age 30 to 39.
The takeaway from the longitudinal study: You may have only a year or two to make a strong impression during your prime years of career advancement.
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Here are some ideas about how to shine in a new job:
▪ Choose wisely. Take jobs that fit your interests and aptitudes in organizations that you care about.
▪ Plan a career path. Aim for industries or professions that have growth potential, and companies that are growing.
▪ Find mentors or advocates. Once hired, watch carefully and seek advice from co-workers or bosses who are the organization’s leading thinkers or have the most power.
▪ Dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have.
▪ Be on time every day. Put in the time expected and then some. People will notice if you’re still working when they leave.
▪ Be nice and polite to everybody. It’s fine to develop workplace friendships, but don’t get affiliated with a clique of complainers or poor producers.
▪ Listen and learn. Don’t brag. Don’t tell people how you did it in your last job – at least not right away.
▪ Take initiative. If you finish assigned tasks, ask for more. But don’t reach for more than you can handle well.
▪ Understand the organization, the hierarchy and your role. And if you can’t figure it out by research or observation, ask an “old pro.” Just choose wisely if you need to express ignorance.
▪ Don’t make mistakes because you’re afraid to ask for help. But don’t be so needy that you’re a pest. See “choose wisely” above.
▪ Don’t gossip or complain about co-workers – at least not yet. You need time to figure out who shares confidences with whom and who is trustworthy.
▪ Keep quiet about your personal problems or family issues. You don’t yet know what revelations might work against you in people’s opinions.
▪ Share your goals or ambition with your supervisor after you’ve proven that you can do the job. Expressing a desire for promotion too soon might be threatening to your boss.
▪ If you intend to change jobs by choice, aim for more pay or more responsibility in your next position. Employers don’t mind seeing job changes that show advancement.
Getting a variety of experience from different employers can be a plus. The economy has made it less likely that those with more frequent job changes are tagged as flighty job hoppers.
You can prosper with job changes – but only if you leave a good impression at each landing and grow from each.
Diane Stafford is a business writer for the Kansas City Star, where she focuses on workplace issues. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.