By Nicholas Buck

Planning your career can be tricky. The rapid changes in job markets (and the creation of new ones) make any prediction about the future of work – including your work - fraught with difficulty. Nowadays, a carefully manicured 20-year career plan is like scheduling a July barbecue in Wellington: it might work out but, if it does, credit should go to good luck rather than sound planning!   It wasn’t always like this.  Making a long-term plan for one’s professional life could previously be based on a few valid assumptions:

·        That you would stay in one career/sector for life.

·        That success as a team member meant suitability for team management which, in turn, meant suitability for group or executive leadership.

·        That a good career path was a straight one with regular, obvious promotion points.

Unfortunately, in today’s turbulent job market, none of the above are necessarily true – and thank goodness for that. While job certainty has its obvious merits, ambiguity can encourage (or provoke) the freedom to more fluidly define one’s career in response to the current context. Whatever the effects of machine learning and AI, I predict that future job markets will be led by the agile, flexible learners. With this in mind, here are some career tips for the modern candidate:

Consider lateral. I’ve met many candidates reluctant to take on a role that might be perceived as a sideways step, rather than a progression, despite passion for the work and clear upside to their long-term employability. When these opportunities arise, consider them seriously: what are your ultimate drivers for going to work? How might this fit into the big picture of your career?

Niche is useful. General is good. Regardless of sector, candidates with rare and relevant technical skills will invariably be in demand. The challenge we see is for technicians to continuously seek out what’s leading edge in their sector and upskill accordingly. Stay hungry! The so-called “generalist skills”, such as EQ and ambiguity tolerance, are increasingly highlighted to us as formative qualities in executive leaders (a sentiment reinforced by the State Services Commission’s Leadership Success Profile). In fact, these skills are fast becoming hygiene skills and are (in most cases) a ‘must-have’, rather than a ‘nice-to-have’, especially for senior leadership positions. So, in thinking of your own career, a useful paradigm is to understand the ideal ratio of ‘general-to-technical’ that you enjoy in your work. Allocate professional development accordingly.

When it comes to careers, dead-ends are a state of mind.  Thankfully there is enough flux in job markets to remove any fear of becoming pigeon-holed. When it comes to careers, it is difficult to go wrong in the thoughtful pursuit of inspiration and contribution. It often comes down to the basics: looking at where you are, and planning where you want to go.

If you would like to know more about career planning and how it may be beneficial, please get in touch.

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