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Career Risk Assessment – Leading Career Indicators®
(abbreviated version)

We have developed 40 Leading Career Indicators that can help individuals and organizations invest time and energy in careers with a future. Twelve of those indicators are in the quiz below.

    Take this quiz to determine whether your choice of profession, industry, organization or job has put you in a low, medium, or high risk career situation. How likely are your career investments going to pay off?

Answer Yes or No to these statements. Read the summary at the bottom.

Profession/Trade – a field of study or action, with boundaries, that takes care of one or more of the basic human needs in the Web of Work, e.g., finance – investing, economics, banking, financial planning, accounting, etc.
1. My profession or trade is essential for this organization to fulfill its primary purpose.
2. I can easily carve out a career path in my profession or trade – adding more depth, breadth and skill – without needing to move into management.
3. People want to work in this organization because of its reputation for expertise in my profession or trade.

Industry – individuals and organizations working on similar basic human needs – e.g. economic security, transportation, housing, health and well-being, etc.
4. My industry serves a basic human need that will exist for many years to come.
5. My industry is expanding - with growth potential - nationally and globally
6. My industry has products or services that fill a variety of niches.

Organizations – people united around a specific purpose or mission.
7.My organization has a clear mission and inspiring sense of purpose.
8. My organization supports people to move easily from one area to another – multiple career paths.
9. My organization leaders come from core professions - they are well-known and respected in their profession and industry.

Jobs – arbitrary ways to package work and projects that need to be done to achieve the mission of an organization. Jobs are usually made up of a small batch of tasks in a given profession or trade.
10. My job requires knowledge, creativity and growing skill – not easily automated.
11. My job is in one of the core professions/trades of the organization.
12. My job “fits” my values and interests – engaging my mind and heart.

Score one point
for each

Scores 9 – 12 =
Smart Investment

Scores 5 – 8 =
Potential Risk

Scores 0 – 4 =
High Risk

This mini-quiz is adapted from The Career Risk Assessment – Leading Career Indicators®. When used as part of an enterprise-wide career management system, associates begin paying attention to the entire system of work – their job, profession, organization and industry. Millions of associates are doing their best to “do a good job” and paying little or no attention to the changing environment that surrounds them. Thousands of employees and managers, who’ve used the test, have seen that their future viability is limited if they stay in a particular job, profession, organization or industry. They’ve taken steps to stay viable. They designed their career paths with their eyes wide open and had confidence in their decisions. The questions helped them see the entire system of work. As HR professionals or members of talent management teams, we, too, can look at any job or profession in our organization and see its future relevance. We can better prepare our employees for future changes and help them design wise career paths.

1 K. Anders Ericsson, The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, 2006.

2. George Leonard, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment. Penguin Group, 1991.

3. Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat, A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2005.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph.D., is President of MasteryWorks, Inc. in McLean, VA. She has been a consultant, entrepreneur, and educator for over 30 years, Caela has worked with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to get them on their mastery path. Caela’s practice and company builds strong links between changing trends in industries, changing strategies of organizations and the talents and aspirations of individuals. People who work with her company discover their passion, their mastery path, and bring renewed contribution and high performance to their organizations.

Caela is known internationally for her expertise in developing talent management products and services. Her solutions are user-friendly systems that serve the needs of both organizations and individuals. She is frequently quoted in the media regarding her thoughts and advice on changing careers and work patterns in the nation. Hundreds of organizations have implemented talent management solutions from MasteryWorks, Inc. — consulting, workshops, assessment instruments and web-based talent management portals.
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Career Empowerment: Help Employees Invest in Smart Career Paths
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.
     No matter what position or job we hold these days, new learning and remarkable energy is required for excellence. Time and money invested in work and learning is increasing. Our associates and managers are doing their best in times of rapid change and “iffy” futures. This article will give you some ways to support associates in making wise career investments – choosing and designing career paths with a future. You can provide guidance for associates to take some of the fear out of the future. A greater sense of peace and purpose will bring energy to your organization. Your investment gives them power.

     For years, the Leading Economic Indicators have been a guidance system for assessing various economic investments – stocks, bonds, real estate, CDs, foreign investments, gold, etc. We trust a wide network of financial experts to guide our decisions. These experts cover a broad section of our economic security – accountants, bankers, investors, economists, financial planners, analysts – people who have devoted much of their lives to studying economic security. They’ve switched positions and organizations but worked primarily in the financial services landscape. Their sub-disciplines vary – economists, researchers, investors, bankers and analysts. However, their familiarity with the breakdowns and opportunities surrounding their industry and the needs of consumers are common characteristics. In fact, anticipating or seeing those needs has given birth to thousands of successful organizations in the past twenty years.

     In this article we will: 1) present a quiz, based on Leading Career Indicators, that can guide you in helping associates make smarter investments in their careers; 2) provide examples of four different career paths found amongst todays workers and showcase people who’ve chosen those paths; and 3) raise several questions for HR professionals to better shape the investments managers and associates make in career development and talent management.

Leading Career Indicators
     Countless business publications have formulated various indicators of health and risk in professions, industries, organizations and jobs. Most, however, present a partial-systems view, focusing on only one or two aspects of work. So, how does one design a career path in these days of major restructurings, upheavals in customer environments, dislocations, new technology and shifts in where and how work is done? Individuals need mental maps that help them navigate wise pathways and feel like they are in charge of their own careers – their own life journeys.

     A web is a useful metaphor for the system of work because it evokes intricacy, complexity, interconnectivity and strength. Using our Web of Work map, individuals can move easily from one work situation to another, carrying skills and applying them in new situations – industries, organizations, professions or new positions.  

The Web of Work Model
© 2007 MasteryWorks, Inc.

The Web of Work model
    As seen in our Web of Work model, work is an interdependent system. Movement and activity in any part of the Web of Work will be felt throughout the rest of the work system. The spider is ever-vigilant to see that its web is strong, well-positioned in the environment, and can be repaired or adapted quickly if conditions change. When individuals see the whole system of work, they are better able to anticipate changes and make strategic moves (change industries, organizations, jobs, etc.) in order to maintain control of their careers and put themselves in personally powerful positions.

     In order to better give systemic career guidance, our research for three years focused on the following questions:

  • What did the fastest growing, most resilient industries have in common?
  • What were the characteristics of the most-admired organizations?
  • Did the least-admired organizations have anything in common?
  • What professions would be required given the trends in various industries?
  • Which were the riskiest jobs? Why?
  • What were the characteristics of workers who seemed to rebound, no matter what happened to their job, profession, organization or industry?

    The product of our research is The Career Risk Assessment – Leading Career Indicators® – forty factors that associates and talent management teams can use to assess the vitality of any sector of the Web of Work. People who have used this tool view work as an interconnected system in which jolts to one part of the Web have implications on others, e.g. changes in computer technology have impacted the jobs of brokers, bookkeepers, bank tellers, and macro-economic theorists.
    Much of the information employees want about career options is available in a Job Posting system. But, this information is only available when jobs are open. What would happen in your organization if all of that information was available to any employee, whether the job was open or not? Managers and employees could see the “whole court” and prepare for several different positions simultaneously. They’d have a great game plan and several reasons to stay and learn. No promises! Simply opportunities!

Four Distinct Career Paths
     Until the Industrial Revolution, the work destinies of most people were determined at birth – the uneducated or educated classes. People were “jobbers” – working in semi-skilled roles, with little chance of education or advancement; professionals – the educated class; or tradespeople, learning in an apprentice/master relationship. Few had the ability to move from one class to another.

     The Industrial Revolution changed career opportunities and created a middle class.Although many of the trades were automated (dressmaking, shoemaking, car making, apothecaries, cooking, farming, etc.), better work opportunities occurred for the masses. Semi-skilled jobs proliferated requiring minimal education and training. Millions of workers were on a career path of sorts within a particular organization. Their fates were tied to organizations. Many workers identified with their jobs rather than their trade or profession. Large manufacturing organizations became a safety net. The symbiosis could last for a generation and people could do well without necessarily mastering a profession or trade. In a sense, we had a new kind of semi-skilled “jobber.”

1) Job-Centered Career Path – Semi-Skilled Workers
     Semi-skilled workers are at risk today. “Jobbers” are dependent on the hiring and firing power of another and are at risk of being replaced by technology or those who work for less money (tellers, migrant workers, sales clerks, financial analysts, customer service call centers, toll takers, etc.). If the jobs go elsewhere or become automated, the person is at risk. If the company fails or decides to downsize, jobs disappear. If the bottom-line is weak, higher cost employees may be dismissed.

     Moving from job to job, company to company without serious attention to building strong skill sets in one or more professions or trades puts one at risk. Jobs are less and less viable for the long term. Any job with repetitive, redundant skills is at risk of being automated:

  • bank tellers – ATM machines,
  • toll takers – EZPass, SunPass, etc.
  • check-out clerks – self-service laser scanners
  • call centers – automated phone systems, fluently bilingual at the touch of a button.

     In addition, our new global work landscape puts semi-skilled workers in great jeopardy. Highly educated people in India and China, willing to work for less, are quickly taking the jobs of semi-skilled workers in the U.S. Companies are outsourcing core and non-core work in order to innovate faster and hire more specialists. Outsourcing is a cost savings as well as a talent management strategy for quickly acquiring the knowledge and skills required for the future.
     Unfortunately, much of our current literature and employment tools, center on jobs. We have developed job-posting systems,,, careerbuilder, etc. The majority of organizations still base compensation systems on positions rather than mastery of basic practices in a profession or trade. Unless, individuals see their skill set in a wider context (the Web of Work), they risk losing their jobs and being unemployed. One of the most comprehensive books on the changing landscape of work is Thomas Friedman’s, The World Is Flat. He sounds the death-knell for the semi-skilled worker. Taking a job is simply a way to discover the kind of work that best suits your talents, skills and purpose. Keeping a job requires learning and mastery of one or more professional areas and choosing an organization or industry that needs what you offer.

The semi-skilled administrative workers of a large Federal Agency were facing obsolescence in two years, with the advent of new computer technology systems. The Director and Executive team worked with MasteryWorks for those two years to help 600 workers ready themselves for the change. As a result 470 chose a profession or trade relevant for the Agency or another organization and moved into an educational path. Although their work disappeared, hundreds of them moved into a professional career path with a future.

2) Multi-Functional Career Path – Generalists
     Millions of workers choose to be generalists. Their career paths span two or more functional areas (marketing, sales, customer service, management, biology, biotechnology, etc.). People move from one field to another, either in the same industry or organization or in others. One successful financial services executive called it the “hitchhikers approach” to careers. She systematically took whatever open positions she could land, not becoming an expert in any one field, but a very successful generalist.

People choose to be generalists for a variety of reasons:

  • Gain Breadth in an Organization
    Many of today’s careerists move temporarily into another profession or functional area in order to get breadth, depth or experience in another line of business, product or service. They see this as career enhancing, positioning themselves for multiple opportunities that may show up based on changes in organization strategies or industry trends.
  • Prepare for General Management
    Many organizations and individuals create cross-functional career paths in order to prepare general managers. The prevailing philosophy for many years is that managers need not specialize in a specific functional area in order to be strong general managers. MBA degrees have fostered this kind of “jack of all trades” thinking for millions of people. In fact, many high potential programs systematically move new employees from one functional area to another as part of grooming them for management. My own philosophy is that you will be a better leader or manager if you have mastered one of the core professions essential for your organization. You will naturally command respect if you are already seen as a leader in a functional area. This does not mean you have a degree but rather that you have the respect that comes from successful practice in a field central to the organization purpose.
  • Looking for Passion
    Others discover the functional area they may have majored in – finance, marketing, political science, biology, automotive engineering, communications, etc. – is not really of interest to them. They move into different functional areas to experience and discover a niche of greater interest.
  • Lack of Opportunity
    Still others discover, after taking a job, that there are very few opportunities in their profession in the current organization. Because they like the organization for a variety of reasons, they move from profession to profession in order to either find a “fit” or stay employed.

    One of the better visual representations of career paths shows up in Johnson & Johnson’s career website. Individuals at J&J can choose between single-function career paths or multi-functional career paths. Both are rewarded and visible.
photo of Louis Rukeyser

Louis Rukeyser Economic Advisor & Host of Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser
Louis Rukeyser brought to his role as America's top financial expert more than four decades of globe-ranging experience as an award-winning television, radio and newspaper correspondent. His remarkable career straddled three distinct areas of the newspolitical analysis, foreign correspondence and economic interpretation--and he won unusual honors in all three. His financial expertise came from this cross-functional movement. More...
photo of Michael Bloomberg Michael Bloomberg Mayor, New York City
A well known philanthropist and current mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has followed a cross-functional career path, although his financial acumen is probably the basis for his success. He graduated in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and then worked for Salomon Brothers in equity trading, sales and systems development. He then founded Bloomberg L.P., selling financial information terminals to Wall Street, created a radio network and became Mayor of New York City.

    Well-managed, talent-centered organizations present multiple career paths. Individuals need not switch professions or move into management in order to build economic wealth or respect from their colleagues. They have a choice.
3) Profession-Centered Career Path - Specialists
    Countless others define their career success as growth, learning and development in one profession or trade. Their loyalty is to learning and gaining more and more mastery – depth and breadth. People are willing to change jobs, organizations or industries to continuously learn and excel in their profession or trade. Such people want to hang-out with others like themselves. Early in their careers, they find internships and apprenticeships that allow them to work with the “best.” They seek out mentors and coaches for feedback and colleagueship. They raise the bar in terms of the types of projects and problems that capture them.

K. Anders Ericsson, in his 2006 book, The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, (1) refers to the Ten Year Rule, an intriguing finding dating to 1899. The rule shows that “even the most talented individual requires a decade of committed practice before reaching world-class level.” He echoes the work of George Leonard in his book on Mastery, saying that it takes a minimum of ten years to master any profession or field (2). “Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of practice, connoisseurs of the small, incremental step. At the same time – and here’s the paradox – these people are precisely the ones who are likely to challenge previous limits, to take risks for the sake of higher performance, and seen to become obsessive at times in that pursuit”.

    Our research shows us that some sectors of the Web of Work are more fundamental and enduring than others – especially professions and trades. We believe that choosing a profession or trade is the most important career decision people make. When HR professionals help associates see the trends in their professions and the needs of customers, more innovation and strong progress will be made, organizationally and individually. In fact, innovation only happens in these instances.

Scott Cook, the founder and director of Intuit, claims “Innovation happens at the junction between business and customer needs, not from executive ideas or lonely geniuses within the company. Indeed, innovation bottlenecks are often at the top. Creating a culture of innovation is about nurturing customer observation, incubating new ideas, reading the trends, celebrating failure, and staying out of the way.”

         Those keen observers we hire and nurture with a systems view, deep skill in a profession or trade, and confidence in themselves will lead us to the innovation required in so many of our industries today – health care, transportation, environmental health, education, finance, housing, etc.
     As HR professionals, we can position and display all jobs within the professions or trades in which they reside. Our experience shows that even in an organization of over 350,000 workers, there are only 12-15 core professions. The largest volunteer organization in the world, The American Red Cross, had a little over three million paid and volunteer staff when MasteryWorks consulted there. However, there were only twenty-six distinct professions and trades. Functional and Multi-Functional Career Paths could be designed by individuals and managers, once that organizational map was clarified. People could see the entire system and design accordingly.
photo of Peter Lynch

Peter Lynch Mutual Fund Manager, Magellan Fund
Peter Lynch started with Fidelity as a young man, analyzing the textile industry. Lynch ran Fidelity's Magellan Fund for thirteen years (1977-1990). In that period, Magellan was up over 2700%. He retired in 1990 at the age of 46.
Learn more
about his investment strategy.
photo of Gail D. Foster Gail D. Foster Executive VP and Chief Researcher for The Conference Board
Prior to her current position, Ms Foster was SVP of the Conference Board, Finance Director at Caterpillar, Inc. and Finance Director, Baxter International, Inc.
She moved from organization to organization to hone her skills in finance. More...

4) Purpose-Centered Career Path
    Many seasoned professionals want to stay in their company and contribute their expertise to issues and problems of concern. They want to make a difference in critical issues facing their industry. The Lockheed Martin Company demonstrates one way to help professionals align their purpose with current organizational projects. The Career website lists a number of current projects that could attract key talent and harness a sense of purpose:

  • The multi-service Joint Strike Fighter
  • Classified systems for critical intelligence and vital national programs
  • Advanced live/virtual simulation systems that expertly train our troops
  • Awe-inspiring spacecraft for planetary exploration
  • Information technology for Homeland Security initiatives
  • Air traffic management systems that control 60% of the world’s flight traffic
  • Undersea, airborne and land-based unmanned vehicles
  • E-commerce, supercomputing and enterprise business systems
  • The world’s most powerful telecommunications satellites.

    Obviously, there are many projects within this company that are not included, but this is a great example of hooking individual purpose and interest with key organization initiatives. Areas for contribution rather than job or project boards can be a valuable tool for connecting the passion of workers with the multi-purposes of organizations. A real win-win!
    Frequently, people that are experts in their profession or trades become entrepreneurs and start their own organizations, foundations or social initiatives. They want to further a cause, create a new product or service or solve a particular social problem. They are driven to follow their hearts or minds – create their own paths – or follow their vision to create something new. In a sense, their passion and expertise helps them either transcend their position or profession and take on a larger purpose.

photo of Henry Bloch

photo of Richard Bloch
Henry & Richard Bloch co-founders of H&R Block
Henry Bloch saw an opportunity to help small businesses in Kansas City and formed United Business Company in 1946. The company offered bookkeeping and other financial services to small businesses. A client, John White, recommended they advertise their tax preparation business in the Kansas City Star. The response to the ad was overwhelming. The timing was perfect. People had just received their W-2 forms. And H&R Block moved into the tax preparation business. See the bios of Richard Bloch (bottom) and his brother Henry Bloch (top) to understand how their original purpose grew and H&R Block became a household word in the United States.

photo of Suze Orman Suze Orman Author, Speaker and Fund Raiser
Suze moved from a job (waitress) to a profession-centered career (broker) to an entrepreneur, dedicated to educating millions about finance. USA Today has called Suze Orman "a force in the world of personal finance" and a "one-woman financial-advice powerhouse." She worked her way from waitress to trader at Merrill Lynch to being among those "who have revolutionized the way America thinks about money." Orman is the author of five consecutive New York Times bestsellers and has written, co-produced, and hosted five PBS specials based on those books. Her current purpose is to empower women with their finances. More...

It’s evident from this article that there are many ways to design our career paths. One path does not suit everyone. And, given the length of time most of us will be working, creativity in designing a smart career path is becoming more and more important. Seeing clearly the four distinct paths, we can better advise and coach employees and managers on which paths are best for them.

Five Questions for HR Professionals, Talent Management VPs
& Executive Teams

     Based on our research about the importance of seeing the whole system and having alternative career paths respected and available in an organization, we raise the following questions for your consideration:

  • Has your organization clearly delineated the key professions or trades required to achieve the organization mission and strategic initiatives? Are these visible to all?
  • Does your organization have forums, newsletters, town meetings, websites, and communications that keep all associates abreast of the major changes in the Industry, so they can see the relevance of their profession and position?
  • Does your organization make it easy for associates to choose alternative career paths by making paths visible and providing comparable compensation? Associates can stay with their profession (functional specialty), increase their salary and value to the company and need not move into management.
  • Does your organization have a strong bias towards retaining, rewarding, and showcasing those associates who are clearly experts in their fields and on a mastery path? How are they spotlighted?
  • Does your organization consciously and consistently reward innovative ideas, create incubators for experimentation and employ the “best” in the core professions required for its mission?

If you and your executive partners can answer yes to each of these questions, your people will be empowered to design careers that bring them and your organization respect, dignity, and strong finanical futures.

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