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Unless you plan to retire early – not a bad option – you’ll work for 40 to 50 years, so choices you make now can affect the rest of your working life.

An employer once offered me promotion into general management. My friend, an older American with Harvard masters’ degree advised against the move.

His logic remains sound. He said: “The world is full of general managers – it’s another way of saying ‘semi-skilled person in a suit'”.

General managers are a commodity. You get them by the bus-load. Experienced editors and publishers are rare.

During downturns, less skilled workers are first out of the door. Specialist are kept-on. General managers typically go before lawyers, accountants and knowledge workers.

Specialist skills, no matter how obscure, always have currency.

Someone, somewhere will need your talents. It’s important to keep up with developments in your field – there’s not a lot of work for typewriter repairers these days – but skills learnt fixing IBM golf-balls translate readily to modern areas.

Knowledge workers are by definition specialists. Most employers will willingly pay handsomely for your expertise and those skills can be sold on the open market if you go down the freelance or consultant route. But there are pressures to take up more general positions as you climb through a company’s ranks.

2 thoughts on “How to build a bullet-proof career

  1. I’m not so sure that senior management or boardlevel appreciate knowedge as much as they like people who do as they are asked or told. Freelance and consultancy, absolutely, they can be brought it and used to meet their needs. Hopefully they are used to make better informed decisions. I see that far more in smaller companies where individuals are still the major shareholders. They have more to lose and gain by listening to specialists in their fields.

  2. I think it’s not so much a matter senior management appreciating knowledge workers, it’s more a matter of needing specialists to get certain non-negotiable parts of their business to work — even if that means hiring them as consultants rather than keeping them on the books.

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