Without a career plan you’re doomed! So goes the conventional thinking. A well thought out career plan is the “must have” prerequisite for success. Ideally you’ll have had this plan since school. You’ve been moving towards your perfect job via work shadowing, internships and perhaps even a gap year. The scary alternative is a life of zero hour contracts asking “do you want fries with that?”
Well that’s not quite right!
Career plans are certainly powerful tools. There are many examples of people who have known exactly what they wanted to do from a young age and have followed a plan tenaciously and achieved great success. But many students come to university without a clear career plan and go on to achieve success doing things which they’d never dreamed of. And this highlights one of the drawbacks of rigid career plans – they depend on what you already know.
Unknown Unknowns and Known Unknowns
It’s difficult to make long term career decisions when you don’t know what all the options are. Jobs like solicitor and teacher may spring readily to mind, but can you honestly say you’ve considered becoming a plasma exhaust physicist or community wildlife engagement officer? How do you pick the “perfect job” when you can’t possibly know about all the options available? What’s a “perfect job” anyway? A position which suits one person will not be right for another. People are not square pegs to be slotted into square holes. The reality of career decision making is more complex than that!
The careers landscape is changing at a furious pace and jobs which didn’t exist ten years ago are now rapid growth areas.
It’s tricky to make life decisions based on what the job market will look like in another ten years, let alone another twenty. Nobody can tell you where the next opportunities might be coming from. Who could have predicted the success of Facebook before it happened? If Mark Zuckerberg had been following a rigid career plan then perhaps, rather than developing Facebook, he would’ve entered an established profession. He could’ve missed his big break and deprived millions of us of a major distraction!
So what does this mean for those who don’t yet have a plan?
Be curious! University study is all about asking questions. The more curious you are about what openings exist, the more likely you are to find that something interesting presents itself unexpectedly. It might be an opportunity which others on more linear paths have missed!
There’s no getting away from it, some careers rely on luck, not prescriptive strategies. For each famous actor or musician there are many more who aspired, who were just as good but didn’t get that all important big break. We can’t all be Justin Biebers or Miles Cyruses!
Clever tactics might help though! You need to be smart to be able to take advantage of your own big break. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can lead to something you’d never considered. You need to try to be in as many places as possible, as often as possible. Lots of people say that they “just fell” into successful careers. Some will have put a lot of effort into being in the right place to do that “falling”!
Loading The Dice
There are lots of opportunities for you to develop a really successful career even if you haven’t been following the perfect plan. Some forethought can load the dice in your favour! Research and self-awareness can help you take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. So here are my tips on career tactics in the absence of a grand strategy.
Meet as many people as possible. This doesn’t have to be about linking up with people who can get you jobs later (although that’s great if you do) it can also be about widening your understanding of what possibilities exist
2. Try new things
Whatever you end up doing you’re going to have to push boundaries. Doing new things gives you insights into different fields and helps build your confidence for point 1. Societies, voluntary work, extracurricular projects may all shed light on your strengths and your passions
3. Be persistent
What you get wrong is at least as important as what you get right. Learn from mistakes and don’t give up. Keep doing points 1 and 2, even if occasionally it doesn’t work out
4. Be flexible
Predicting the future is hard. Sometimes you’ll have setbacks. It happens to all of us. You’ll need to pick yourself up, think what the experience has taught you and move on. You might find that you move in a completely different direction which suits you more.
5. Take action even if the grand plan isn’t in place
The big one. Lacking a definitive career goal does not stop you from taking action on points one to four. Even if all around you seem to have their careers mapped out in perfect detail – take heart. Very few careers follow straight lines!