The Professional Individual Contributor is a subset of the more common term ‘white collar worker’ (WCW). I don’t use the term white collar worker because that WCW also encompasses management, both perceived (supervisor or director level but no real power to affect organizational change) and real (higher mgmt. level with primary decision making power on organizational structure, compensation levels and employment retention, i.e. they can hire, fire, and decide who does what and gets paid what).
So the P in PIC stands for professional… i.e. complex problem solving type jobs such as programmer, coordinator, generalist, specialist, etc.. Now we add another layer of complexity: Industry. A coordinator in a community college has a very different job than a coordinator at a logistics company. Both coordinate resources but the tools they use and the details surrounding the use, integration and deployment of those resources can get challenging. The third layer of complexity is corporate culture and norms. A large online retailer is known to be overly intense and requires work 24/7. When working at a large communications company you have to know how to get through the BS very quickly to get to the task at hand that actually is measured for your compensation. In government you have to know tremendous subtleties of the different complex funding streams, reporting arrangements, and how it all fits together… on top of that you have to understand personalities and motivations of the constituent players.
In all of the aforementioned job titles the amount of time it takes to learn the nuances of those positions can actually be measured in years, sometimes decades.
Juxtapose this against the corporate concept of getting up to speed “in six months” which is the most common term used by managers. I talked earlier about being setup for failure and unrealistic expectations.
This is why it’s so hard to secure a job outside of your comfort zone even though most PIC’s have the personal ability to many different professional positions in many different industries. It’s because it really does take years and decades to be a truly high performer and no organizations are playing the long game with their staff. Some of the motivations for the short game in business (a focus on the quarter or the year) stems from Wall Street, and some of it from the lack of loyalty have for their people.
So how does a PIC navigate their career options? One way is to be vague on your linked in, and lie on your resume so you can get into jobs you can do but may not excel in. Another stick with your niche.. and try to stay ahead of the game through moving throughout your own organization / industry frequently so as to not get downsized, right sized, or part of a ‘tough decision’. You can also drive your knowledge and credentials to the point where you are a rare commodity, i.e. an you are a registered nurse working in a position that requires an RN but pays less than the typical RN salary. You’re pretty safe if you do that, but you’re not growing your income or your potential quality of life, you’re just a little more secure until you are outsourced.
It really is a shame that the only growing commitments seem to be the kind that involve borrowing money.