The Dark Horse

Last night I gave a talk on the future of work and its implications for careers. One of my themes was that while analytics and automation are changing our work opportunities, there are new horizons for us to do what humans do best: creativity, uniqueness, collaboration, adaptation and so on. I highlighted that global connectedness enables people to be found and their talents to be leveraged in ways that were never possible before.

At the end of my talk, a parent of twenty-something challenged my positive spin and asked “How do you get found when you haven’t had the experience yet?”. They noted that the same dynamics of global connection also mean that your competition is global and the skills and scale of others competing is daunting.

Like any great question, the answer all depends on your perspective.

The Commodity Candidate

The future of work is going to be very unkind to commodity candidates.  If you look similar to lots of others in your field, then there’s a real risk you will be a commodity candidate. In picking from a vast array of similar candidates, organisations are going to pick on extreme criteria or distinguish on differences like price or willingness to do the hard yards for little return.

Publicly advertised roles have already reached this point. There are so many similar qualified applicants that organisations now have started to use candidate management systems (ie algorithms) to filter the applicants to a short list.  Suddenly the test is not your unique contributions but how well you beat the algorithm.

This process is one that can take time, changes to skills and experience and just dumb luck. The questioner was right – going in through the front door is harder than ever when it involves a pipeline of similar candidates.

The Dark Horse Candidate

My career doesn’t fit any usual template. There are very few people who have similar skills and experience. When I used to go for competitive roles (admittedly before algorithmic filtering), I embraced the fact that I did not fit the usual type.  I deliberately pitched myself as the dark horse candidate, the one added to the interview list because they brought something unique and different. It wasn’t easy. As the dark horse, you have to work hard to get on the list and harder still to maintain attention.  It doesn’t work most of the time. However, when it works, I was chosen because of the unique skills that I brought to the role.

The future of work benefits the dark horse. Unique skills, insights and experience are the foundations of global reputations. These are the opportunities that can get you roles through the back and side door as connections, networks and reputation help you to differentiate yourself and to step around the algorithms that assess the commodity candidates. Not fitting the algorithm at all can be better than almost fit, if you get a human to consider your case.

A theme of my talk was that the power of the globally connected networks of work today is that we can all develop our own unique skills, insights and experiences. We don’t have to wait for jobs to give them to us. We can use our insights, our passions and our projects to build connections and tackle problems. The work we do through interest, hobbies, communities and more is the foundation of our future uniqueness.  That work is also how we discover our purpose – the purpose is in the work. The challenge for each of us is to experiment our way to uniqueness. We also have to do that in a way (ideally working out loud) that enables others to find us.

My work on collaboration came from a side project while I worked day-to-day on other roles. My work today in healthcare payments came from that role and a variety of projects while I worked the last few years on collaboration. Working out loud shared that with networks, communities, colleagues and others. Mixing roles, projects, experiments has been a learning journey and all of it contributes to building a unique portfolio career.

The future of work favours dark horse candidates over commodity candidates. What roles, projects and experiments are going to demonstrate your unique value? When are you starting?

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