(FORTUNE Magazine) – The fundamental premise of the new model, simply, that the goals of the individual and the goals of the organization will work out to be one and the same. The young men have no cynicism about the "system," and very little skepticism ...They have an implicit faith that The Organization will be as interested in making use of their best qualities as they are themselves, and thus, with equanimity, they can entrust the resolution of their destiny to The Organization...[T]he average young man cherishes the idea that his relationship with The Organization is to be for keeps.

--William H. Whyte Jr. The Organization Man (1956)

Well, scratch that. These days you have a better chance of getting a gold watch from a street vendor than you do from a corporation. When the organizing principle of many companies seems to be ceaseless reorganization, it's hard to know what a career is, let alone how to keep yours on track. Downsized, outsourced, flattened, reengineered, people have learned--often at awful cost--new clichas. "We cannot offer job security, but you can learn marketable skills here." "You are self-employed, working for Me Inc." "Manage your own career." Like breast milk, these make a nourishing beginning. But then what?

It is one thing to mouth the new truths, another to live them. Try saying this in your next job interview: "Look, we both know this job isn't forever. Tell me what I can get here in three years that I can take to my next job." On second thought, don't try it. Says Gary Knisely, CEO of Johnson Smith & Knisely Accord, a New York executive recruiter: "Companies still talk about 'a great career opportunity in this great and growing company.' They honestly think they're offering an old-fashioned job, while across the desk the candidate is thinking, 'I know better.' "

Take courage. (Take Prozac too.) True, confusion and contradiction abound. In one breath the CEO tells his engineers to broaden their skills; the next moment, he says the company must focus on its core competence--engineering. And true, job security is gone, maybe for keeps.

Today's economic seas therefore cannot be navigated by the old stars above, but by internal compasses and gyroscopes. Instead of security, seek resilience. Chart your contribution, not your position. Careers will be defined less by companies ("I work for IBM") and more by professions ("I design RISC chips"); they will be shaped less by hierarchies and more by markets. There are new rules for success and new warning signs of trouble (see boxes). But when risks are higher, potential rewards are too.

The changed model of a career follows from the changed nature of work. As consultant William Bridges describes it in his book JobShift, the "job"--a more-or-less set task you do every day--is disappearing as routine office and factory work are automated. We spend our days on projects: designing a new jetliner, launching a product, preparing a lawsuit, reengineering the billing process. Projects are conceived, staffed up, completed, and shut down. Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California says this kind of work leads to "adaptive, rapidly changing temporary systems . task forces composed of groups of relative strangers with diverse professional backgrounds and skills organized around problems to be solved . People will be evaluated not vertically according to rank and status, but flexibly according to competence. Organizational charts will consist of project groups rather than stratified functional groups." This is not altogether new: Bennis wrote it, albeit in the future tense, in 1968.

Three things are new. First, says Gene Dalton, a partner at the Novations Group, a Utah career-management consultancy, "you no longer have a choice"; the old path is gone. Companies used reengineering to jackhammer out the middle-manager staircase, and now rely on computers to gather and analyze information.

Second, businesses have redrawn their boundaries, making them both tight (as they focus on core competencies) and porous (as they outsource noncore work). As a result, work follows a contractor-subcontractor model, not one of vertical integration.

The third change is of scale. Project-based (vs. position-based) work has been the norm for decades in industries like construction, Hollywood, and many professional services. Now even the bastions of bureaucratic careerism are breached. Chrysler brought out new cars by deploying cross-functional "platform teams" rather than passing work from hierarchical department to department. The growing importance of project-based work is shown in the sales of products that support it. Microsoft Project, a software program whose sales doubled in the past two years to total well over a million copies, started mostly in construction and aerospace, then rolled rapidly into banking, telecommunications, retailing, and general manufacturing.

Life in the projects has profound implications for careers. "There are basically four levels, and four types of career," says Frank Walker, president of GTW Corp.Ê This Seattle outfit sells project-management consulting services and software (in an alliance with Microsoft), and construction-management services. It helped Boeing and contractors from Baugh Industrial choreograph and manage an enormously complex schedule to design and build a 500,000-square-foot high-tech testing lab for airliners.

In Walker's schematic, the top level sets strategy: It is the land of CEOs, presidents, and executive VPs. Few people live there. Next come resource providers, who develop and supply talent and money; they are the CFOs and CIOs, human resources managers, or VPs of marketing or engineering who manage staffs of experts. Third, project managers; they buy or lease money and people from the resource providers and put them to work. Fourth is the talent--chemists, finance guys, candlestick makers--who may report to a functional boss but spend much of their time on project teams.

Look at the work you do; chances are this four-piece template more or less fits. At Andersen Consulting, about 80% of workers are busy with one or more consulting engagements--projects--that may last a few weeks or several years. (Most of the other employees have regular "jobs"--for example, a permanent assignment to an Andersen unit that runs information systems for companies that outsource that function.) Newcomers to the firm-talent-are assigned to a regional office. There an HR group--a resource provider--nurtures the fledgling consultant. It works with lead consultants--project managers--to find assignments for her, to coordinate feedback, and to help her gain the technical and communication skills she needs.

Soon she joins an industry group, such as financial services; it too has an HR team that acts as a resource provider and career developer. As her ability grows, she may become a project manager, leading teams of talent in engagements of increasing importance. Not everyone aspires to or attains that role; an expert programmer, for example, may choose never to lead a project, being chiefly valued instead for her wizardry.

Though Andersen has various levels--consultant, manager, experienced manager, partner--that determine pay, the real career action isn't defined by the hierarchy but by increasing levels of skill and by the market of buyers. Says Carol Meyer, Andersen's head of human resources: "Demand comes into the pipeline when someone makes a deal with a client and says, 'I need 25 people to do X on such and such a date.' Supply comes in as people free up. We match supply and demand."

To be sure, at Andersen as anywhere, there are careerists whose ambition is to climb the ladder (even if it's a stepladder). Says Gene Dalton of the Novations Group: "People at Exxon used to say that the company did two things: It looked for oil, and it looked for the next president of Exxon--not necessarily in that order. Every manager who came in was considered a candidate." That career track will persist in some places. Mostly these will be industries in which skills and markets are not quickly eroded by the pace of change (not many of those left) or where high capital requirements raise entry barriers (even companies in these industries--phone companies, for instance--have flattened hierarchies to leverage their capital investment).

For the rest of us, how much more ambiguous, now, are the paths ahead, and more various the strategies we might pursue. The new way of working affects career choices in five important ways: A CAREER IS A SERIES OF GIGS, NOT STEPS. Familiar signs of career progress--promotions from junior engineer to engineer to manager, etc.--have gone the way of the Taylorist division of labor. Says Daniel Burnham, president of AlliedSignal's $4.6-billion-a-year aerospace business: "The signs of career progress are the richness of your work's content and the size of its impact on the organization." You might toggle back and forth between roles--now a manager, next month not. Says Terry Curtis Fox, a member of the board of the Writers Guild of America, West, currently working at Sony Studios: "Someone who works for you on one TV series might be your boss on the next one." What distinguishes a star in the corporate firmament from a dim bulb in the basement is not his level in the organization but the value of the projects he works on.

"The goal is growth in your profession, not turning into a supervisor," says Michael Hammer, the educator and author whose proselytizing for reengineering has probably made him the world's No. 1 cause of white-collar career disruption. For models, Hammer looks to the traditional professions and to sales. "A great lawyer like Joe Flom couldn't waste his time being managing partner. Great sales people don't want to be managers--they want big accounts. Sales managers are burnouts." Titles matter little. Says Linda de Mello, executive director of Alumnae Resources, a nonprofit career management service in San Francisco: "People who identify themselves with their title are the first to go because they don't have the flexibility to move with the organization. Rasumas will tell what I did for the customer. Whom I did it for is just a byproduct."

PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS THE FURNACE IN WHICH CAREERS ARE FORGED. Not long ago, the last thing a manager wanted was to be assigned to "special projects." Says Chris Holt, a human resources executive at Chevron: "Special projects used to be the kiss of death. Now it means you've been pulled out for something important." In addition to her day-to-day responsibility for leadership development, Holt has served on three project teams in the past six months--one revamping succession planning, one defining competencies HR staffers should have, and one a workplace-safety project. At Walt Disney Imagineering, says human resources chief Mel Warriner, "our book of business is a list of projects." In that kind of ledger, it's easy to earn credit for success; it's also hard to blame "them" for failure, for "they" are on your project team.

People who lead or staff winning projects will get first crack at the next hot gig. The best project managers will seek the best talent, and the best talent--offered a choice as it often will be--will go with the best managers. Seniority matters less than what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Says Anthony Miles of the Boston Consulting Group: "This is a system that favors the strong. It's a negotiated relationship between employer and employee." Says Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems: "You have to somehow get into a position where you can come into me and say, 'I did the deal with AT&T,' or 'I was the chief architect of such and such new product,' or 'I ran manufacturing operations and brought inventory turns up from three a year to 30.' "

Not everyone can or should be a project manager, but those who can will be winners. What abilities do they need? First, enough skill in a specialty to be noticed. Second, knowledge of how the business makes money. A project manager need not be an expert in cash flow or procurement, but she must know how these can make the difference between a trot around the bases and a slow walk to the dugout. Third, the "people skills"--communication, team building, networking--that general managers have always needed, for this is general management in a nutshell. Fourth, the initiative and negotiating ability to put themselves up for project-management roles, land them, and parlay success into rewards: bonuses, a reputation for accomplishment, a better gig next time.

MOST ROLES IN A PROJECT CAN BE PERFORMED BY EITHER INSIDERS OR OUTSIDERS. Whether you're a strategy setter, resource provider, project manager, or talent, you don't have to work in a company to work for it. Yes, even strategists--in fact, the old strategic-planning staff was the first out the door. As Harvard business school professor John Kotter points out, only the top cadre of strategists remains in-house: "The internal strategy guys all said bye-bye and became investment bankers and consultants, where they had a lot more upside opportunity."

The rise of the contingent worker began long before the recession of 1990-91 accelerated the process. By 1992, the latest year for which figures are available, 13.6% of federal income tax returns reported Schedule C income--nonfarm sole proprietorships--up from 7.8% in 1970. Large numbers of other contingent workers are de jure employees, but of companies that are independent resource providers--"talent guilds" is the apt name given them by Mel Warriner of Walt Disney Imagineering. Talent guilds are becoming a significant part of business life. In 1994 the National Technical Services Association, a trade group for employers of contingent workers, surveyed contract employees. It found 37% said contract employment is "my career choice," vs. 23% who said, "I am between 'permanent' jobs."

William Wickham is an executive who has chosen to work from outside as a project leader. Wickham, 45, is currently at Coca-Cola helping to reorganize its New York metropolitan area distribution. "I get bored in everyday situations," says Wickham. "I like the jazz, the excitement." Wickham got a reputation as a change expert while employed by Occidental Petroleum, Xerox, and Amax. Three years ago he went on his own. Says Wickham: "Given the temporary nature of most change projects, it doesn't matter whether you're internal or external." He has a little company (Wickham & Associates, what else?), hires occasional help on a project basis, and contracts with small resource-providing companies to handle administrative work like benefits. A surprise bonus of freelance life: stability. Though he has seen the inside of more hotel rooms than most people, he says, "I don't have to relocate my family every five minutes." CAREERS ARE MADE IN MARKETS, NOT HIERARCHIES. It helps to conceive of yourself as self-employed no matter if you're "permanent" or an outsider. Partly, this mindset is smart defense. "Look at all the people who depended on the company, and the company disappeared," says Janet Arnold Myers, 49, a saleswoman for NetworkAppliance, a California startup that makes file servers. The company is her seventh high-tech employer, not an unusual number after more than two decades in Silicon Valley.

Insiders more and more often must compete with one another and outsiders for spots on projects. AlliedSignal, Andersen Consulting, Chevron, and other companies already build databases showing which employees have what skills, using them to create a virtual agora where resource providers and project managers shop for talent.

These markets won't be efficient until sellers--that's you--have as much access to them as buyers. A handful of progressive companies have taken first steps in that direction. Chase Manhattan Bank's Career Vision program, launched last year, offers employees confidential self-assessment tests; training in skills like project management, teamwork, and finance; career advisers who help them plan training, get project assignments, or even change departments; and access to a list of other employees who have volunteered to let, say, a wanna-be derivatives trader spend a day shadowing them to learn about the work.

New hires at Sun Microsystems receive in their orientation packets information about Sun's Career Resilience program. It began in 1991 as an outplacement service but now offers a full range of assessment and counseling services to help people in the internal labor market--and for those who want out, even an introduction to the independent Career Action Center down the road in Palo Alto. There they can network with fellow seekers, meet with counselors, research a library of fat clip files about local companies, check job listings, or attend seminars on subjects like rasuma writing, entrepreneurship, and careers in biotechnology or multimedia. Like Alumnae Resources in San Francisco, the Career Action Center began in the 1970s as a job-hunting resource for women and, unisex now, is jam-packed with people, mostly knowledge workers, who want to change careers or learn about the markets for their skills: 95% of Alumnae Resources' members have college degrees, and seven out of ten are currently employed.

Where project-based work is long established, these markets are in full swing: Think of Hollywood, with its world of casting people and talent agents. As virtual corporations become widespread, predicts Mel Warriner of Walt Disney Imagineering, "if you're not in a company's core group, you'll end up a free agent, connected with human-resources brokers. Talent brokers are the analogue for the new millennium of the financial dealmakers of the 1980s."

THE FUNDAMENTAL CAREER CHOICE IS NOT BETWEEN ONE COMPANY AND ANOTHER, BUT BETWEEN SPECIALIZING AND GENERALIZING. In the days of Organization Man, we looked on companies not only to employ us but also to define us. We were IBMers in white shirts, Alcoans in black wingtips, Citibankers, Ford men. Nowadays, that way lies not only a career crisis but an identity crisis too.

Far better to peg your soul to your talent. You are a chemist (currently working for Du Pont), a manager (your paycheck says General Electric), a human resources professional (once at Procter & Gamble, now with Intel, thinking of going on your own).

"I'm a salesman," says William Paine, 27, when asked about work. Where do you work? "Six hundred California Street." What do you sell? "Bonds." It takes four questions--for whom do you work? --before he says, "Gruntal & Co.," where Paine is a bond salesmen in the San Francisco office. Not that he doesn't feel loyal to Gruntal: "I'm very loyal. I'll remain loyal if they supply me the things I need. They owe me phones, a computer, execution, and inventory. I owe them integrity and production." Paine's self-description--you are what you do for your customers--is as clear a description of the new career contract as there is.

It leads directly to a crucial, career-defining choice: specialist or generalist? Do you follow your talent to a lofty acme of expertise or make it the central massif of a range of skills? Consider the management of a football team, Michael Hammer suggests. One group of coaches are generalists: the offensive and defensive coordinators, whose very name defines their generalist role. They plan, drill, and supervise the execution of plays ("projects"), melding players into a team. Another set are specialists: the position coaches for the quarterbacks, linebackers, and receivers, whose job is to develop players' particular functional expertise.

The conventional wisdom is that generalists are better off. Says Burnham of AlliedSignal: "A designer can't be just a designer. He needs a broader dimension of skill--got to start reading the Wall Street Journal, got to understand Peter Drucker's thinking." When you come to a fork in the road--say, a choice between two projects, one of which will broaden your knowledge, one deepen it--choose the path that increases your flexibility, headhunter Gary Knisely says. He explains: "Never narrow your options. To the extent that technical expertise narrows your market, you've made a bad career decision. Companies may love it at the moment, but if you've got that good a crystal ball, get out of a job and into investing." Betting your career on a speciality is like putting all your money in one stock.

On the other hand, that stock might be Microsoft. Says David Hatch, a human resources vice president at PepsiCo: "It's a little dangerous to be esoteric, but companies treat specialists very well--as the scarce resource they are--compared to people who are more interchangeable."

This year the consulting arm of Price Waterhouse introduced a new career model to its 3,300 staffers. Instead of the traditional "up or out," 12-years-to-partner timetable, the new structure creates three levels--consultant, principal consultant/director, and managing director/partner--with no clock. The purpose: to make it easier for specialists to stay.

The old way worked for years. Now customers demand great expertise in, for instance, computer networking. Says Fran Engoron, a Price Waterhouse partner and chief architect of the new system: "You can't go to the table with people who are just smart; they need deep, hard skills. We were shoving people out the door just as they began delivering the most value to our client."

Often, Engoron says, specialists left for niche consulting firms--talent guilds. That's not surprising. Independent resource providers will concentrate in technical fields like law, computer science, and architecture. It makes sense for people with one skill to make themselves available to more than one customer. As a rule, therefore, your choice between generalizing and specializing should be powerfully influenced by frank self-assessment: A specialist should be willing to bet on the long-term value of his specialty, do whatever it takes to be among the very best, and take the risks and seek the rewards of a more entrepreneurial career.

Specialist or generalist, we all need the resilient faith that our careers can be in no better hands than our own. A century and a half ago, in "Self-Reliance," his glorious, prescient excoriation of Organization Man, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office within one year seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life." There is a better path, Emerson cried: "A sturdy lad...who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls... He has not one chance, but a hundred chances."