Change is always happening. Look at the last two years alone. Were you planning on a pandemic? Did you ever think that you and many others would be working from home for a couple years? Did you foresee the war in Ukraine and its implications on the world? Did you anticipate the U.S. and its political and media systems would become more and more polarized?
My question to you today is: Are you — and your career — ready for all of the impending changes in the years to come?
Changes such as:
- Launching new products in the metaverse
- Using AI to write and edit our communications
- Virtual reality meetings and trade shows
- Blockchain to verify the trustworthiness of your news releases
- Invite-only social media networks
- Wearable or implantable communications devices
- Getting paid for your communications work with digital currencies
… and many other new developments we can’t yet imagine.
Over my career, I’ve provided advice and insights to many people involved in public relations, advertising, marketing and sales, from those right out of college to industry veterans with decades of experience. The pattern I’ve noticed through countless informational interviews and career check-ins is that most of us don’t think about our careers beyond the next year, promotion or job switch. This isn’t surprising. Many of us have a difficult time thinking about the future.
As someone who studies foresight and works with clients to incorporate futures into their communications, it’s important to understand that many possible futures await you. However, only you can take action today toward envisioning the future you desire and prefer. In other words: your future self.
Whether you intend to or not, the work and career moves you make every day have an impact on where your career will be years from now.
If you don’t think the future will impact you as a communications professional, I urge you to consider the plight of today’s journalists (or former journalists, I should say).
According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of U.S. journalists have lost their jobs since 2008, coinciding with the introduction of the iPhone and the rise of social media. It’s not likely that many of those jobs are coming back.
I can say with confidence that nearly all of us dream of three things: the freedom to choose the work we do and the people we want to work with, financial certainty and purposeful work that not only feeds our souls but makes our world better.
I believe these dreams will be just as true in 2042 as they are today.
The only problem is what lies ahead that could delay, distract or derail the opportunity for you to achieve those dreams as a professional communicator. Here are 10 tips you can start incorporating into your career development today to help you achieve your future self:
- Build resilience into your career. The next two decades will be a roller-coaster ride. Now is the time to build your resilience. Build an emergency savings fund, work for companies that are financially strong, avoid industries that are clearly dying (e.g., coal) or susceptible to such factors as climate change or automation, and keep investing in your career (more on that later). More importantly, be ready to pivot. Grab opportunities to challenge yourself.
- Make a career plan. Lay out a career plan with five-year increments, from now until the time you anticipate retiring. For every five years, write down what you’ll be doing for work, for whom you will be working (for an organization or for yourself), where you will be working (the physical location), and why you’re doing that particular work.
- Enhance your storytelling skills. In a conversation with Theo Priestley, a futurist from Scotland, he noted that regardless of how much automation affects white-collar professions such as public relations, the art and craft of storytelling — helping leaders sell the idea of preferred futures — will remain a critical skill. Invest time to enhance your storytelling skills, including writing, speaking and presenting.
- Network, network, network. The combination of LinkedIn, Zoom, Slack and other connectivity technology means you can network with other communications professionals anywhere in the world. The doors to collaborate with others virtually on global or local opportunities have been flung wide open. Employers no longer need to hire someone who’s going to sit in a desk in the firm’s office; they can hire the best fitting talent wherever that talent is, so long as you’re linked by a strong internet connection. This is why you need to increase your networking efforts and open yourself to traveling in more circles to enhance the insights you’ll need to collaborate with others anywhere.
- Get ready to communicate in the metaverse. Anticipate communicating through new technology platforms, such as the metaverse, and with new virtual reality technology such as AI-generated avatars. With the Internet of Things (IoT), anticipate being able to obtain unbelievable amounts of data that could impact communications decisions. Beef up your video skills. Now is the time to start becoming more familiar with the new technologies; but remember, a poorly story told with new technology is still a poorly told story.
- Invest in your career. Don’t put your career on autopilot. Be intentional and invest in your communications career every day. How about that master’s in strategic communications you’ve been thinking about? Take in-person and online courses, webinars and seminars (see career webinars offered by IABC here). Attend conferences. Become certified in communications or in specific skills and new digital technologies. If your employer will pay for it, great; if not, put it in your personal budget. You can’t afford not to invest in yourself.
- Find a reverse mentor. When we think of mentors, we often think of someone older than us. As our world experiences rapid change, it may be useful to find someone younger — a Gen Zer or an Alpha Gen — to help us stay up to speed with new technology and understand the mindset of their generations. For that matter, I recommend building a team of mentors who can travel through your career journey.
- Get smart about mega changes. What does climate change really mean, and how will it impact your local community? What about AI, automation and robotics? Or the political and economic impacts of the war in Ukraine? Communications professionals need to immerse themselves in these issues and be able to speak and write critically to confidently communicate, internally and externally. This ensures stakeholders understand the impact of major changes on our world from the perspective of your organization. Every day, take a few minutes to scan for news, articles and videos that signal change.
- Travel more. The future will present a paradox: As I noted earlier, technology will enable people to collaborate from anywhere in the world. Yet, it’s more important than ever to travel to experience the world and its people. Nothing will replace the value of gaining an intimate, in-person experience with how people who live in other parts of our world think and how they create their own futures.
- Anticipate multiple careers. For those who are relatively new to communications, I think you can anticipate not just having multiple jobs in communications, but multiple careers over the course of 20, 30 or 40 years of working. With the internet (and someday, the multiverse), you can have multiple careers simultaneously — communications professional by day, YouTube fitness expert by night, artist selling their creative work on Etsy on the weekends. Regardless of what you choose, investing in your communications skills will serve your future you well.
Change is inevitable, and regardless of how it unfolds, the world needs professional communicators who can think strategically, listen with empathy and communicate with confidence. Don’t let the future happen to you. Embrace the future to become the trusted communicator that tomorrow’s leaders will desperately need.
Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA
Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules, a Minneapolis-based creative firm. He frequently writes and speaks about foresight and futures in public relations and communications. Learn more at his blog, stephendupont.co or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.