The Organization Woman
Reinventing the job: Motorola's Patty Barten (Jeff Sciortino)

Your Next Job

Workers of the world, untie: Get ready for the new American career.

By Daniel McGinn and John McCormick

Gary Barnett looks out for no. 1—and we aren't talking national football championships. Late in 1997 the talented coach of the Northwestern Wildcats told the world, "I'm here, and I will be here for the next 10 years of my contract... I stand by my promises." Never mind that his naked grab for the head-coaching job at the University of Texas had just flopped. This year, in a mid-January e-mail to his Northwestern players, Barnett pledged that "I will be back to take us to Pasadena" for another Rose Bowl—even as he was still under consideration for the top job at the University of Colorado. Sure enough, last week Barnett bolted out of Evanston, Ill., for Boulder, where he'd coached as a young assistant. So what if his national reputation took a hit, with one columnist writing that Barnett's restaurant in Evanston is running a special on snake. Barnett told NEWSWEEK he behaved ethically, and that "everything I said I totally believed at the time." But on his way out the door, Barnett taught his Wildcats a lesson about the economy they'll join after graduation: in a job market as hot as this one, it's Me First!

Where the Jobs and Dollars Are ...
It's a dynamic, ever-changing economy. Plenty of fast-growing, high-paying jobs didn't even exist just a few years ago. Who could have predicted the boming demand for Webmasters, desktop publishers and wireless engineers?
States with largest change
Mississippi    17.6%
Utah    15.3%
D.C.    14.8%
Tennessee    14.3%
Louisiana    14.0%
North Carolina    13.7%
Arkansas    13.6%
South Dakota    13.4%
Iowa    12.2%
Oregon    11.3%

States with smallest change
Alaska    -1.4%
Hawaii    1.1%
California    1.5%
Maryland    4.8%
New Jersey    4.9%
Maine    5.2%
Rhode Island    6.2%
Virginia    6.3%
Florida    6.4%
Connecticut    6.8%

Coaches on the make aren't a new species. But the cheekiness of Barnett's move is one small sample of what employers face across the country: a newly emboldened American work force. We're living through the tightest U.S. labor market in three decades—a hiring bonanza that is transforming the nature of work. The current hypergrowth in jobs can't last forever; fast-food restaurants won't be paying signing bonuses during the next recession. But the most remarkable changes in the workplace—and our attitudes toward it—will redefine careers well into the 21st century. Just as the Great Depression produced a generation of frugal worrywarts, those of us benefiting from the long jobs boom of the 1990s sport an often brazen self-confidence about how we connect to our jobs. Former Labor secretary Robert Reich, now writing a book on "The Work of the Future," sees signs of the shift in the exploding number of self-employed workers (up to 20 percent of the labor force, he figures) and in corporate employees' newfound willingness to hopscotch among jobs. "Loyalty is dead," Reich says.

What's behind the shift? Paradoxically, this new self-reliance is partly born of fright. Despite stunning prosperity, companies still face ferocious cost pressures—from Wall Street analysts who'll punish them for missing earnings estimates, from overseas rivals using cheaper labor and from a fear of raising prices in an inflation-free economy. Sadly, one thing hasn't changed: employees are usually the first costs that get cut. Despite the boom economy, last year corporations laid off 103,000 workers, the highest level in five years, according to outplacement specialists Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago estimate that in 1995, the most recent year for which they have data, workers faced a small but chilling 3.4 percent chance of being laid off. That risk has increased anxiety and forced workers to constantly re-evaluate options. If you can't count on Coca-Cola to keep providing your paycheck, why not consider that offer from Pepsi? Or just place a big bet on You Inc., selling your services to companies that are increasingly eager to give people work without giving them a job.

Page 1 of 2 Next Page