Your guide to job flexibility in the 'real world'

October 09, 2015
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If you’re nearing graduation, you probably know to expect the unexpected. According to Forbes, today’s fledgling professionals are expected to jump between jobs, companies, and entire fields with unprecedented speed. To deal with the instability of the job market, it’s important to develop skills that will allow you to transition between roles and industries with relative aplomb.

Meet the expert

New Zealand accountant, Israel Cooper CPA, knows more about career flexibility than most. Having completed a Bachelor of Business and a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Queensland, he spent six years at consulting firm PwC, before leaving to help launch animation software firm Massive Software which was later sold.

Having worked in and around industries as diverse as film, music, media, bionics, charity and IT, he co-founded construction company Buildtech in 2011, in response to the devastation of a horrific earthquake in Christchurch. The success of Buildtech belies the fact that Cooper had no experience in the construction industry prior to founding the company, and speaks to his mastery of job agility.

Having gained experience in businesses ranging from large corporates to minuscule startups, Cooper says it’s vital to transfer skills across roles. He describes each of his jobs as “stepping stones” towards his current position, and clearly recognises learnings that he’s carried across what might initially seem to be unconnected industries. “If I hadn’t been through my time at PwC,” he says, “I think the Buildtech context would’ve been really difficult for me to manage."

Having contacts with different areas of expertise, who can offer diverse perspectives on a given issue, is a serious advantage...

Establish mentoring relationships

Many students who’ve secured part-time roles or internships in their desired fields can attest to the value of establishing mentoring relationships with colleagues. Cooper is similarly appreciative of his mentors, having accumulated what he describes as an “incredible group of advisors” from a variety of fields during his career. He says that these figures have collectively offered him “a huge amount of wisdom and experience”.

For Cooper, establishing connections with people from different industries has made coping with the instability of the business world easier to handle. “The past is no longer any predictor of the future in a business context,” he says. “Suddenly a truism, or a methodology, or a bit of wisdom that held previously is a lot more tenuous … you really need a broad base." Having contacts with different areas of expertise, who can offer diverse perspectives on a given issue, is a serious advantage in such cases.

Take your alumni network seriously

Cooper has also kept in touch with uni contacts, who’ve offered both friendship and professional advantage. He recognises these networks as one of the most valuable gains from his university years, and believes these networks will continue to bear more fruit. “In another ten years’ time,” he says, “my colleagues who I went through university with …we’re going to be real leaders. And to have those networks is going to be hugely beneficial.”

My colleagues who I went through university with…we’re going to be real leaders. And to have those networks is going to be hugely beneficial.

Make decisions on your ‘personal purpose’

Although his career might seem exceptional in its diversity, Cooper says each and every move has been underpinned by consistent values and goals, and that uni students should make decisions based on a sense of personal purpose. “For me, the purpose was always to be involved in business to make a positive impact in people’s lives,” he says. “I’ve continually allowed that purpose to drive my choices.”

Describing his approach to job flexibility, Cooper refers to an analogy used by his grandmother. “The moment concrete sets it gets hard,” he says, “and when concrete gets hard you can’t do anything with it.

“It becomes set in that structure. I knew that the longer I stuck at one place doing one particular thing, it would be much, much harder for me to then keep myself fresh and keep myself adaptable.”

This analogy seems particularly apt (or, perhaps, ironic) given that Cooper is now firmly established within the construction industry. One imagines, though, that any setting of concrete in this instance would be entirely Cooper’s decision.

John Rowley

John Rowley studies a Bachelor of Arts (Media & Communications) at the University of Sydney. Between eating pistachios, writing and tweeting from @JohnLRowley, he doesn't have time for much else.


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