In Flux

Get the scoop on how the career landscape is changing

by Henry J. Lindborg

In September 2010, professor of public policy Robert Reich anticipated what he expected "to be the worst Labor Day in the memory of most Americans."1 Turns out, he was correct. In July of that year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 9.5%, contrasting with just 4.3% in 2017.

To get a pulse on careers in this improved economy, I interviewed Elizabeth Lions, author of Recession Proof Yourself!2

Working as a recruiter and career coach, Lions has a unique perspective: "I have a full-time job in which I recruit and hire security and network professionals for a large banking and financial services organization. I also have a private career coach practice. Clients are people in career transition or who are seeking leadership development."

Lindborg: Given the job market’s recovery, are career paths changing?

Lions: "I don’t know if career paths are changing as much as people are changing. People want more from their jobs, and the Baby Boomers are working longer, if their bodies will allow it. Younger people (Generation Y) want to get into leadership right away and don’t think about why or whether they should. Mid-level people (Generation X) continue to chip away at continuing education or gaining certifications to stay relevant and earn the next salary band for the next job."

About that next job—is there a big mistake that candidates make?

"Taking a job for more money as the primary reason for making the move. Don’t do that. Think about your career, not just about the next 10 grand."

How has the employment landscape changed? Where are opportunities greatest?

"The opportunities are greatest in IT and, in particular, security. One security breach can land you on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and end your entire organization. The threats that are out there are extremely dangerous. Even the press isn’t as versed in cybercrime as they should be. I’ve learned a lot being on the inside and hiring these professionals. More than I want to know. Some days, I worry.

"In 2017, the job market is as good as it will get around the country. Candidates can end up with multiple job offers, and organizations are, in general, spending money for top talent. There is no shortage if you want a new job. This trend will shift and change in the next two years."

In addition to technical skills, what do employers now look for in candidates?

"This has changed. Employers now talk about influencing skills, not just soft skills. Influence is the ability to sell your ideas to any level of a business unit. The demand used to be for tech people to get along with others. Now, they must know how to sell their ideas and bring them to a close. Their tendency is to dump the solution on the executives’ desks, make recommendations and walk away. Organizations don’t need or like that approach. If it’s your technical solution and suggestion, you sell it."

What is the state of career coaching for the current workforce?

"Most people are open to career advice, and more so since 2008 when so many lost their jobs and homes. When I wrote my first book, for example, there were few career experts. Now there are many, all professing to have knowledge enough to make a business out of it. Leadership trends are going the same way. Women’s leadership topics are hot, and many women want career advice."

Recently, we have read about women in technology, especially at Google. How must organizations change to develop inclusive cultures?

"Inclusiveness starts with us and how we see others. For example, if a woman feels like she is less than a man in her position, she needs to ask herself how she can bridge the gap. Perceptions and inclusion start with our minds, followed by our actions."

How can women not only survive in the tech world, but also assume leadership roles?

"Women must understand there is a game that is played in the office. Most women don’t even see work as a game, but it is. There are rules and parameters that men follow. A code, if you will. Women must understand the game and play it.

"Once a woman is successful, she needs to promote other women through verbal support or by hiring another woman onto her team. Studies show that women move into management and are bottlenecked there. Few make it to director or vice president.

"It’s us—women—who get in our own way. My upcoming third book, Hear Us Roar—Unapologetic Women Leading in Corporate America, addresses that and provides some strategies to overcome it."

If you’re in the market for a new job, consider the following from someone on the front lines of recruitment and coaching:

  • In an improved economy, we’re asking more of our jobs.
  • Technology and risk offer new opportunities.
  • It's easier to change jobs but don't divert a career path just for money.
  • For innovation, employers want more than a note in a suggestion box.
  • We need influencing skills to sell our ideas.
  • We shouldn’t just blame corporate culture.
  • Inclusion starts with the individual and requires understanding of the hidden codes at work.


  1. Robert B. Reich, "How to End the Great Recession," New York Times, Sept. 2, 2010.
  2. Elizabeth Lions, Recession Proof Yourself! Aardvark, 2009.

Henry J. Lindborg is executive director and CEO of the National Institute for Quality Improvement in Fond du Lac, WI. He holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches in a leadership and quality graduate program. Lindborg is past chair of ASQ’s Education Division and of the Education and Training Board. He is a past chair and current member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Career Workforce Policy committee.

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