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The Death of The Formal Career Plan

A confused career woman, standing by a sign post

Throughout your career you may find yourself being told you need to have a career plan. When I was told this, it didn’t motivate me or fill me with excitement. It made me feel anxious, full of dread and question my drive and ambition. I hadn’t got a clue what I wanted to do. There were literally hundreds of choices and I felt if I picked one, I would be stuck with it forever!

It’s ok in your 20s and even 30s to not know where your career is going to take you. At this stage in your career sometimes the best career plan is to not have a plan. You can then be more relaxed about trying a job and changing to something completely different.

As a Career Coach you might think this is a strange thing to say, but there’s a good reason.

Having a rigid career plan of roles / job titles could seriously limit your opportunities and we're not the only ones to think this.

Don’t get too hung up on creating a 3, 5 or even 10-year career plan. I know in the early stages of my career I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do. We all had that colleague or friend who had mapped out their next 10 years, but how many of them have actually stuck to the plan and are happy? Probably not many.

I had a dream to work for the National Trust after achieving my BSc in Heritage Conservation. It didn’t work like that as most roles in the sector were voluntary and with a student loan I needed to get paid!

With a rigid plan I may have continued to try to find those sector specific roles. Becoming more and more despondent that I couldn’t find the exact job I wanted.

I ended up going into an HR Administrator role. It was “well below” where I felt I was “supposed” to be as a graduate. However, looking back now it was where I picked up a fantastic grounding in HR and a broad set of experiences that I still refer to today.

Don’t get blinkered

With a rigid plan you can become blind to exciting opportunities because they don’t fit with “the plan”. Being more flexible and open minded about your next step means you become more aware of opportunities, no matter where they come from.

This more open approach allows yo u to pick up a broad range of transferable skills, great for your CV and have fun learning lots of new things along the way.

It’s ok to have a long-term vision or dream about where you want to end up e.g. working for myself or being a director of a Company, or enjoying the work I do because it makes a difference. Just don’t make yourself anxious in the early stages of your career about being really specific or how you’ll get there.

Chase skills and experiences and not job titles

I often shared with my employees who were struggling to identify the next steps in their career the advice to think about it differently. Create your dream or a vision, but leave it fairly broad e.g. working for myself, working in a foreign country, managing a team, working for a charity etc. and then do this task:

Write down:

1. What you enjoy doing and are good at.

2. What is important in a job / about an organisation to work for.

3. What you are good at (this could be different to what you enjoy).

4. What you want to learn.

5. What you don’t enjoy.

By knowing these things, it will help you evaluate any opportunity you are given regardless of the job title. If the role matches the positives you’ve written and you think the skills learnt will support you living the dream in the future, explore it.

Use the list to help inform your decision and at this point it doesn’t matter if it’s in a role or department you never dreamed of working in.

How do I know this type of career planning works?

I know it works because I did it.

I completed a totally random science degree in Heritage Conservation. It taught me the history of buildings, how to make lime mortar and count/measure pebbles on a beach, all important life skills that I have since forgotten. I ended up falling into HR. I applied right on the deadline for a HR Administrator role that just seemed interesting. There was no plan.

Whilst in that role, I took the opportunities to learn new skills and was steadily promoted from administrator to HR Officer. If I had a career plan then my next stop would have been HRBP and then HR Director.

I didn’t have a plan, so when an opportunity to become a Learning and Development Officer came up, I thought I would give it a go. That was my first career wiggle and I loved it. If I had stuck to a rigid plan, I would never have found this passion.

Collecting Skills

My next career wiggle was to become a Training Consultant, at first I thought I am not a sales person this isn’t the role for me. However, I looked at the skills I would learn and the opportunity it would give me and took the job. I sold over £250k of training in a year and developed a commercial mindset – even though Sales was never in my plan.

I remember my Manager assuming that my career ambitions involved taking her job when she moved on. She was shocked when I said I didn’t want it. The role really didn’t interest me and I could think of nothing worse.

Another wiggle later and I found myself in the world of Payroll, working on a Payroll Transformation Programme. This was the biggest wiggle yet!

I learnt more about Payroll and how it worked or sometimes didn’t. I learnt about Project Management, Change Management, analysed lots of data and solved lots of problems and really enjoyed it. If I had a plan – Payroll wouldn’t have featured on it, I used to say I worked in HR so I didn’t have to do maths! I would have missed out on learning all these great skills.

If you want to find out more about squiggly careers and where to start check out the youtube video below from Sarah Ellis and Helen Tucker, where they share their thoughts on the traditional career ladder.

We are an advocate of the squiggly career and if you want help with making the most of a squiggly career rather than blindly stepping up the ladder, you're exactly the type of person we love to work with. Those who are curious about where they could go and what that opportunity could bring. We help you look at the possibilities and be able to decide if a squiggle is a benefit or just a really long diversion.

A note of caution having a squiggly career doesn't mean having no plan and blindly going from job to job hoping to find one that fits. To make the best of this type of career you need to know what excites you and what doesn't, where your strengths lie, what you want to learn and what you don't want to try again!

Plan when you are closer to your dream

My final and largest career wiggle was setting up my own business. I had always had a secret desire to work for myself, as a HR consultant. It had been tucked away in my future dream world for 13 years while I gathered a huge amount of experience.

It was only when I had gathered this experience and took the opportunity to stop and reflect with the help of a coach that I started to plan how to make it happen. This was when I put a 3-year plan in place to make my dream happen.

This was also the point where I realised that hiring a coach was worthwhile. I had several different coaches who helped me plan and get the confidence to take the leap of leaving my safe and secure Corporate role and plunge into running my own business. Without them I would still be stuck, thinking that it would happen one day, but taking no action.

Don’t stop wiggling

I am still career wiggling now – I first thought my business would offer one service and over the last 2 years it’s moved and changed to where it is today. This flexibility doesn’t scare me, after all I have been career wiggling for a long time and I enjoy the excitement and challenges it brings.

So what do you do now?

A short-term plan about how to secure your first or next role, in a job you’ll enjoy is hugely helpful. Knowing what you want your role to give you and what it will allow you to learn / do is also important.

This is where Career Coaching can help even if you haven't got a 5 year plan. If you want a plan that just focuses on your current role or even the next role that's enough, if you haven't got a clue what you want from your next step, that's ok too.

Career coaching will help you understand what you are good at, what you love, where you have skills gaps and what you don't enjoy. By being really clear on these you'll know when the next opportunity comes knocking if it matches what you want and need. It helps you feel in control of the squiggle rather than it being a chaotic jumble.

My final piece of advice is don’t overthink it.

Answer the questions in the chasing skills section of this blog and then search for roles that tick those boxes that look interesting, working with a Company that appeals to you.

As you are searching create a CV that includes the strengths you've highlighted and also what is needed for the role and apply. It doesn’t matter if you are starting at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle, just start. Then work hard and keep your eyes open for the next opportunity and you will be amazed where you end up.

If you need any help with understanding your strengths, defining the squiggle or writing your CV get in contact today.




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