The Rise of the Free Agent Era and 5 Strategies to Survive It, Part 1



(This is the first of a 2-part post)

When I was in college in the mid 90’s, I was still hearing the phrase, “employed for life” a bit.

This was when an employer could virtually guarantee an employee’s financial well-being from fresh-graduate to even beyond retirement.

Twenty to thirty-year careers were commonplace and a societal norm.

If you managed to be employed by say, San Miguel Beer in the 80’s, you were literally set.

All you had to do was to work hard, and the company would take care of you – for life!

When I graduated in the late 90’s, I think this sort of reality was already facing upheaval and was rapidly fading.

In 1998 (just as when I entered the job market – what great timing I had), the global financial crisis (and the first internet bubble) happened.

The desperation of firms to save costs, coupled with the latent internet technology base, resulted in the widespread adoption of outsourcing and offshoring – further pushing us into a brave, new global economy.

This new economy was (and is) marked by blazing technological advances – fueling revolutions which now occur at an alarming pace.

Bottom-line? We live in an era of unmitigated dynamism. Nothing can be forecasted with accuracy anymore.

When I graduated, companies were talking about 5-year, even 10-year plans. Nowadays, its almost folly to plan that far – because the newest revolution could just make your plan obsolete overnight (literally).

How does this sort of dynamism affect careers?

No employer wants to make a long-term commitment anymore.

“Employed for life” is extinct. (it now exists in typically very marginalized positions)

Like it or not, everyone is now a free agent.

Trust me, even if your employer says “we value and take care of you,” some global decision in Bucharest can lead to the dissolution of your department. Your company can merge with another and you can be declared redundant. Your company can decide to outsource your job to a crowdsourcing site the new marketing manager recommended to the COO.

You can work like a dog for years, do an awesome job, and STILL be out of a job.

You know I’m right about this – you probably KNOW people who have had this happen to them. (I can rattle 2 dozen names off very very easily)

So what do you do? Here are five strategies to live by.

1) Here’s what NOT to do – Float Aimlessly

lost at sea

If you ever take anything from this post, let it be this. The LAST thing you want is to just act like flotsam, riding it out where the waves take you. There is an infinitesimal chance you end up where you want to be if you don’t plan for it.

I spent the first 7-8 years of my career like flotsam.

I wanted to do marketing, but there were no marketing positions around (you know, during the 1998 global financial crisis). An HR job was presented to me. I took it and justified it in my mind while saying, “I like people, so I must like HR.”

My family got into financial trouble, forcing me to move companies and go to greener pastures. Then, to another greener pasture. Then after around 8 years, quarter life crisis rammed me at full throttle.

How can it be?! I’m not happy in HR!

This was when I started planning a startup where I could one day end up in.

DON’T wait around 8 years floating endlessly. Take your career planning seriously.

Start drafting a plan.

2) Aim for Ownership


In corporate, we aim for positions. Throw this paradigm out the door. Aim and WORK for ownership.

I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to own equity in a firm that’s blessed with success: your equity earns passively, appreciates in value, and is a powerful source of motivation (you work harder for something you own). You can also be very flexible with it – you can hold on to it or sell it. You can never be fired. You get board votes.

How can a free agent make a firm loyal to him in this day and age?

Well, he can own part of it.

Be a company owner and develop a startup.

Want to stick it out in corporate? Insist on shares and equity rather than cash compensation.

(Watch out for the last three tips on the next post!)