INSEAD

How Do Workers Succeed in a Changing Market? By Developing Career Agility

career agility

The Evolution of the Modern Business Leader

Over the next decade, technology will transform work as we know it. Tools like hyper-automation, faster digital transformations, and an increasing call for on-the-job learning will continue to shape career paths.  

These changes, in turn, also present opportunities for leaders with career agility. To thrive, you need to be open to exploration, unafraid of novelty, and willing to invent your own path.  You need to have career agility in order to rise to ever-shifting challenges.

What Does Career Agility Mean?

career agility

Long gone are the days of keeping the same job throughout your working life. Instead, most people can expect to change jobs an average of 15 times in their working lives. This means they may advance at their current companies, change employers, or transition into a new career vertical entirely.  

At the same time, professionals are expected to live longer than previous generations, which could mean they’ll also continue working later in life. Because of globalization and the Information Age, workers are also expected to acclimate to an evolving array of technological tools, from intelligent machines and sensors to synthetic biology. How, then, can we foster and develop an agile mindset, which becomes increasingly necessary with every advance?  

Professionals today need to accept the possibility of a seemingly non-linear transition. Those who prepare for this reality are able to adapt to an ever-changing market, new technology, and unexpected opportunities.  

How Can You Develop Career Agility?  

1. Take control of your career.  

Too many of us rely on chance when making our career decisions. A position opens, so we decide to put our names in the ring. For example, you might be offered a promotion, so you decide it “should” be the next step in your career. But what do you really want? What have you identified as an up-and-coming opportunity that genuinely excites you?  

In the book Disrupt Your Career: How to Navigate Uncharted Career Transitions and Thrive, INSEAD MBA graduates Antoine Tirard and Claire Harbour share 44 stories from global business leaders who have made radical transitions in their professional lives.  

Harbour and Tirard describe this ability to self-direct as “commitment” and “control.” They advocate for professionals to “probe your options and examine them with care and focus. By anticipating the moves you could make, you are more likely to make better choices.”  

Control, in turn, means that you should stop relying on happenstance in your career moves.  

2. Widen your circle.  

What if you can’t think of other career paths outside the opportunities you’ve already explored? INSEAD recommends connecting with others who can tell you about exciting trends and new occupations.  

Harbour and Tirard call this quality “curiosity”— asking yourself what avenues you can explore to find novel opportunities. They also advise that you build connections without putting limits on who might be most valuable. You never know when a person or experience will spur a lightbulb moment.  

career agility

3. Rise to the challenge.  

Adversity is inevitable—but learning from those experiences separates the average employee from an agile business leader. Do your best to welcome a challenge and come away more with more “creativity, resourcefulness, and self-confidence” as a result (Harbour and Tirard).  

4. Optimize your personal brand.  

When you’re ready to make a change, identify the skills and experience you need to qualify for a new role. If you’re choosing an unconventional career transition, learn how to leverage your skills and work history to highlight your key differentiators from an existing market. Making a successful career change doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch. 

5. Believe in yourself.  

You need confidence to make a career transition. You’re forging a new direction instead of following the path laid out in front of you. Trust that you’ll overcome hardship and emerge on the other side with more clarity and purpose.  

Cultivate Your Career Agility Skills

Taking control of your career begins by committing to your own growth and development. Agility can be cultivated if you seize the opportunities to foster it through both formal and informal educational frameworks. With the world changing at a faster pace than ever before, investing in developing your agility can provide returns for the rest of your career.


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About the Author

As one of the world's leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD offers participants a truly global educational experience. With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and Middle East (United Arab Emirates), INSEAD's business education and research spans three continents. The school’s 145 renowned faculty members from 40 countries inspire more than 1,400 students in its degree and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD's executive education programmes each year. INSEAD’s EMBA programmes are highly ranked by Financial Times, and ranked #1 by Ivy Exec in 2018.