I recently did a Google Image search on the word “career” just to see what it would turn up. There I found lots of pictures of signposts and arrows, lots of uses of the word Career in various typographic styles and, of course, eager, young (almost exclusively) workers attired in suits, ties and/or skirts, often carrying briefcases. While I wasn’t that surprised by the search results, I find myself continually surprised by the icons from the past that we still use to represent work and career. Almost like the stereotypical usage of an old, rotary phone being used to represent a telephone or any type of call, the use of the briefcase or the suit and tie is just as outdated..
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Yes, of course, many people still report to a standard office wearing the standard corporate uniform, but many others now work in companies, locations and even in attire quite different. In fact, I would say that the standard icons we use for career represent less and less of the modern workforce every day. They also highlight our outdated views of career at a time when we need new and more powerful ways of developing the career you deserve. The anachronism of these icons might fool someone into thinking that today’s work world is just like our parents, or grandparents time, when I think it is clear that today’s work world is very much different, much more complex and filled with so many new opportunities.
So, I am asking all of you. What do you think the new icon for career should be? What visual metaphors spring to mind when you think of your work and your career? What single image springs to mind when someone says the word career? I’d love to hear what you think and what might envision. Share your ideas in the comments on this column, on the Career-Op pages on Facebook and Google+ or reply to me via Twitter at @careertips. I’d love to see your ideas!
For myself, my own thinking about new career icons follows a number of tracks. Here are a few of my ideas:
Since its invention, the telephone has always represented communication and, in many ways, business itself. “Let your fingers do the walking” through the Yellow Pages used to be one, major way of finding business and services and even customers that you needed. Today, with the ubiquitous nature of computers in business, along with the more recent counterparts, the tablet and smartphone, I think a good case could be made for making these devices the “briefcase” of our era. Instead of folders of documents, the daily newspaper, magazines and perhaps a lunch crammed into a briefcase, we carry our data and our knowledge around in these smaller and smaller digital “briefcases.” I think it is safe to say that the smartphone alone could become an icon for overall human productivity, not just career. So much, both good and bad, useful and not, occurs on these devices that it seems likely they will become the new icon of work and career.
A network of interconnecting lines and arrows
One clear truth about careers in this age, and even in the past to some extent, is that your career is made up of a host of connections between people, companies, data and more. A network diagram with lines and arrows going in every direction certainly seems to reflect the nature of career. Rarely do you walk your career path alone. You are constantly connecting with new people, new technology, and new information. I think a good visual icon for career should clearly represent this integrated series of connections where we live and work every day. Not only would it better represent the reality of our lives and work, but also reinforce the importance of these connections both for us and for those around us.
People often appear as career icons — the dapper professional, the uniformed plumber, the rugged construction worker, but too often they are both stereotypical and generic. As I often preach here in Career Opportunities, your career is personal — one of the most personal aspects of your life. Your career is, and should be, unique from any other career in order to match your wants needs and desires. Stereotypes are less and less useful today, as more people are developing what could be considered very non-traditional careers. They combine a unique blend of skills, knowledge and desire to create their own, personal career. Perhaps this means that the best visual icon for a career should simply be a picture of yourself, doing what you do. Maybe you are simply the best visual icon for your career. Someone as unique and individual as the career they develop.
What images come to mind when you think of career? Do they help you in the building of the career you deserve or do they hold you back with archaic ideas about work and career? Share your best visual career icons with myself and all the readers and listeners of Career Opportunities. Perhaps, together, we can find a new metaphor that represents career in a deeper and more meaningful way and move “Beyond the Briefcase!”