Go to Menu Journeyman Or Partner?
By Nick Corcodilos

If you're a talented worker in today's economy, the future is rising before you like a summer morning's sunshine. It's up to you to capitalize on it, and to take a hard look at how you're plowing the career field for your growth.

With all the job changing that this economy is encouraging, there seems to be a tendency among people to view themselves as hired guns, or journeymen (and women) who take their toolkit from place to place, doing the work and moving on. It's a proud tradition in America, and I don't use the term pejoratively. But competition for highly-skilled workers may be misleading some to adopt a narrow perspective on their long-term prospects. And that's a mistake.

Companies are hiring more carefully.
In spite of what you read in the press, good companies are hiring. If downsizing has taught them anything, it's that every hire needs to be considered carefully. Every hire needs to be regarded as a potential partner who can directly affect the company's success. If it seems some employers are taking longer to make hiring decisions, it's because they need to be sure they are hiring people who can deliver the greatest value, not only today, but as the business evolves.

If you regard your next job as a quick stop on your path to career success, realize that your attitude may hurt you in a job interview. A company can hire a contractor almost with its eyes closed, and the risk is small because such journeymen are easy to dispose of. But, when the company wants a permanent hire, it's likely to evaluate you as a long-term partner. Can you step up to that level of commitment, or is your attitude going to get in the way?

Are you a journeyman or a partner?
In a business culture where the role of outsourcing is being reassessed, it's wise to reconsider what being an employee means. It's worth asking whether you present yourself as a potential long-term partner, or as a short-term journeyman. Do you have the kind of reputation that, in the best of job markets, makes you stand out as a known entity and as a sure thing among a sea of opportunistic job hunters?

The distinction between a journeyman and a partner is one worth making, without disparaging the value of the journeyman. A journeyman can be a world-class worker, but his connection to his employer is tenuous by agreement. If you're a permanent employee—a partner in the company's future—that's reflected in your work style. Whether you stay for one year or five, while you are part of a company's business you should be involved in it lock, stock and barrel. Even when you leave, the impression—and profit—you leave behind can make all the difference to your career, not just in the company's opinion of you, but in your perception of yourself.

As a partner, you don't just do your work; you leave a mark that identifies you as a professional who was a true partner of the business while you were there. That's the reputation you want following you through your career.

Don't assume that "journeyman" refers only to consultants or to independent contractors. A permanent employee can be a journeyman, if he moves from job to job with the attitude of a hired gun. Likewise, a consultant can be a very committed partner to his client.

Let's look at some of the differences between journeymen (and women) and professionals who act like partners in an enterprise.

  • A journeyman focuses on his piece of the work puzzle, and does it well. A partner considers the broader value of the work he's doing and suggests ways to increase it. That is, he improves both the process and the product, and contributes to the success of the larger project his work is a part of.
  • A journeyman stays up all night solving a problem by himself because he's self-sufficient. He doesn't need anyone else. A partner works himself into the fabric of the company. He maximizes the value of his work by integrating the skills and knowledge of others in the organization. In doing that, he gets their buy-in to his work, and he gets their support.
  • A journeyman regards the problem he's solving as his job. A partner recognizes that everything connected to that problem is his job. A partner wonders how the problem might be woven through other parts of the organization. He looks around the company to find out (a) what might have contributed to causing the problem, (b) whether his solution has been used before and what the outcome/impact was, (c) quickly prototypes the solution and runs it by people whose work it might impact, and (d) asks himself whether the problem may be a recurring one that the company needs to factor into its long-term cost structure.
  • A journeyman develops smart, but sometimes quick-and-dirty (I didn't say illegitimate) solutions in an effort to get the job done. A partner may work just as quickly, but he considers the long-term consequences of his choices and leaves behind documentation that will enable his manager and the rest of his team to support what he did after he's gone. Accountability is the mark of true responsibility.
  • A journeyman regards the people working around him as potential competitors. A partner learns all he can from those he works with and makes sure he gives something back of greater value. Because every professional community is limited in size, we again and again run into those with whom we've worked. How will you be remembered?
  • A journeyman accepts the pay a company offers, and sometimes the payment is handsome. A partner commands a premium, sometimes in the form of equity, because her work builds her employer's equity—and she knows how to prove that before she's hired.
  • A journeyman selects jobs that pay best and utilize his talents most directly. A partner does more than select jobs; she selects companies. The compensation she seeks goes beyond pay. A partner selects a company because she believes her affiliation with it represents a kind of equity in itself. Such a company (a) provides work that challenges her, (b) offers relationships with people from whom she can learn new skills and acquire new knowledge, and (c) marks her as someone who has lived and worked with the best.
  • A journeyman asks what work needs to be done today. A partner makes a commitment to the risks and problems of the future, reveals his understanding of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and helps define the work that needs to be done to tackle them.
  • A journeyman says goodbye when he moves on to another job. A partner keeps an eye on his investment even after he parts company, and he stays in touch. (Any work you do is an investment because the relationships you form can pay dividends for a long time.)

An employee or a consultant can think and work like a journeyman, or he can act like a partner in a business. Making a commitment to an employer may not always protect your job, but failing to make a commitment almost guarantees that you will be an interloper—someone who does the work, but never builds a healthy career and a meaningful reputation within his professional community.

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