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Building a Parallel Career

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parallel-careerBy Dr. Robert Lee Gordon
Faculty Member, Reverse Logistics Management at American Public University

On average, businesses have to replace half of their employees in four years, half of their mid-level managers in five years, and half of their senior executives in seven years (King, 1997, 1). Individuals can no longer expect lifetime employment at a single company or even within the same profession as the number of relatively safe fields continues to diminish (Whymark, & Ellis, 1999,2). The working life for an individual will be around fifty years while the life expectancy of a successful company is only thirty years (Drucker, 1999, p. 163). Organizational roles are changing so rapidly that individuals should expect that they would need to change their career, trade, or role several times during their lifetime. To ensure that a person can remain gainfully employed for fifty or so years, while a person is already gainfully employed, they should start to build up their next (parallel) career.

Due to this shift in the marketplace, individuals must be continually honing their skills and preparing for the next move in their career. Business is changing quickly and because of this change professions have to transform just as quickly. Because professions are changing so rapidly, a prudent individual should develop a parallel career. This way, one can have an orderly transition into the new career rather than finding themselves downsized and without valued skills to attain a new job with a different firm.

The most versatile way to manage a parallel career is to increase your education and training portfolio. Anyone can gain longevity of service by remaining employed at the same organization, but if one is not training for their next promotion or their next career move, one is potentially falling behind others in the field. Experience and past results might have been important in the past, but now organizations are evaluating how that experience can be applied successfully to the future. Education builds a person’s potential career options by exposing the individual to new experiences and new information. Everyone should consider what educational goals that they need to strive for, be it for an advanced degree, or just courses that are applicable to fields that one is interested in.

Specialized training is another value added parallel career strategy. 

It allows an individual to showcase other skills and document knowledge. It is another impartial way to show knowledge that others may not have been exposed to. Training can be earned formally or informally.

Formal training includes training courses through professional organizations that can result in certificates or awards. This credential building can help show how a person is remaining current in an ever changing business environment. Furthermore, continuous training can show career growth and could be seen by potential employers as having an interest in upper management.

Informal training can be on the job training or volunteer work, as both are excellent methods to increase knowledge.

For example, if an individual has a passion for animals, he or she may want to do volunteer work at a veterinarian’s office or animal shelter. Volunteer work has the ability to help an individual explore the field to determine if they enjoy the filed or not. Additionally, this volunteer work can also reflect an individual’s diversity of skills and commitment to the community on his or her resume.

Business is no longer static. Business today moves too quickly, and every business needs to find the next big thing before the competition does. If an individual is not improving in his or her career, then he or she is getting worse in their career. A one time great success might be dismissed as luck, but a continuous string of successes cannot be attributed to luck. Therefore, one should not expect luck to propel a person through their entire career; one must focus on education and training as the path to continued success.

An individual must dedicate themselves to pursuing a parallel career. In the past, companies were charged with evolving a person’s career. However, this is no longer the case. Individuals must replace logo loyalty with loyalty to self. They must take charge of their destiny to find their passion, and strive towards a commitment of self-improvement.

Loyalty is now something that one token that should be added to one’s profession, their trade, and their personal business. A person’s selected profession must be treated with respect, while the individual must remain focused upon the future. Today, few companies, if any, can offer employment for life. Few can actually offer guaranteed employment for five years (Whymark & Ellis, 1999). There is a new social contract where the individual is responsible for his or her own actions, a contract where an individual must become self-reliant. Loyalty is no longer a trait that an individual should give away to an organization without remuneration. If a company is not offering a premium for loyalty, then one should not offer it to the business.

As an individual you should explore more personally meaningful pursuits, such as learning about music and the arts rather than only taking courses that expand existing skills. Alternatively, if one lacks a passion in those areas, they should educate him or herself in the emerging markets where skilled labor is scarce. Such diversification can become lucrative in the future, and it could offer a welcomed relief from the daily routine. The creation of a plan helps solidify the goals of an individual to the point where great things can happen.

In conclusion, individuals pursuing advanced education are already following some of these recommendations. Moreover, U.S. companies driven by quarterly earnings and stockholder value are changing the character of the employee. The employee no longer can expect to retire from the company of his or her parent. Furthermore, the employee no longer can expect loyalty from an employer. It is imperative that individuals invest in themselves, as well as in finding their passion in order to achieve long-term employment in a field that they are passionate about.


Drucker, P. (1999). Management challenges for the 21st century. HarperCollins: New York, NY

King, A. S. (1997). The crescendo effect in career motivation. Dekalb, IL:Career Development International, 2,6, 293-301.

Whymark, K. & Ellis, S. (1999). Whose career is it anyway? Options for career management in flatter organization structures. Career Development International, 4(2). Bradford. Available: APUS online collection: Proquest.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is currently an associate professor with American Public University System in Reverse Logistics Management program. He has four published books, three regarding project management and one regarding reverse logistics in addition to dozens of articles. Dr. Gordon curates a Reverse Logistics topic at http://www.scoop.it/t/reverse-logistics-by-robert-gordon2.

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