Redefining the Career Plan, Part 1

I have recently had the opportunity to take up a sessional teaching position at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. Anyone who engages in this type of sessional or adjunct teaching in Canada knows that it is not done for the money (of which there is very little) but for the love of teaching and the opportunity to engage with bright young minds. As I have managed to navigate a successful transition away from the strict practice of law an additional benefit I receive from teaching is a steady stream of students who seek my thoughts on career planning and specifically career planning in a way that may lead to opportunities outside of the practice of law.

Career planning for new lawyers and in fact new graduates in any discipline is a difficult task to accomplish given the current work and economic environment that we find ourselves in. As a result I have developed a somewhat unorthodox approach to the subject that borrows heavily from the strategic management and risk management disciplines that are effectively employed by corporations and government to manage in uncertain times. In the first part of this three part series I want to set out three basic principles upon which my theory of career planning rests. In the second and third part I will outline a basic process for career planning that is based on strategic and risk management principles.

Principle 1 – Work has changed

The world of work and careers has changed drastically over the last 50 years and this statement should come as a surprise to no one. It is worth noting however some of the specific elements in the world of work and career that have shifted over the decades and the current realities faced by those entering the job market. This includes realities such as relatively high levels of unemployment, especially among young workers, increased labour strife and stagnating income levels. Perhaps the most important element of work that changed however is the lack of job security and related tendency of this generation of workers to shift their career path multiple times.

Principle 2 – We are playing a role in the changing work space

There is little that any individual can do about the macro conditions facing workers in the job market today and I would argue that it is not necessarily these conditions that should be considered when setting out to career plan. The current and continuing reality is that we live in a rapidly shifting and unstable environment that is caused in part by factors beyond our control. My point with this principle however is that the current generation of workers is playing a significant role in creating this instability and that we must recognize and embrace it. To illustrate this point I would like to relay a story.

The story is of a young man who enters the working world at age 19 with a job at a call centre for a local credit union. Upon spending 8 months in this position, the young man decides that the position is not for him and quits to become a teller at a bank. After 4 months in this position the young man quits to become a teller at a different credit union that he heard had a nicer workplace. After part time work at the credit union over a two year span the young man quit the credit union and joined an insurance company from which he promptly quit three months later to take a customer service position at the local university at which he was finishing his undergraduate degree. Upon graduation the young man decided to attend law school to further his career. Upon graduation from law school the young man received a summer position and articles at a prestigious national firm. Upon completion of articles and practicing for three months the young man tendered his resignation from the firm to move to a different town and join a mid sized firm. After six months at the mid sized firm the young man quit and made the daunting decision to establish his own practice. After building a successful practice over a two year period, the young man then decided to shut down his practice to follow his passion and establish a consulting company.

Now to anyone of my father’s generation this is the story of a foolish young man who cannot make up his mind. My father would point out that this young man has secured and quit at least 7 good jobs that could have developed into long term and stable careers and is likely to end up a failure. In fact this is somewhat close to words that have been expressed to me by my father, as this is the story of my own career path. To those of my generation and those in the generation below, constant change and seeking for the ideal career is the norm and it is this fact that has changed the working world and the nature of career planning more than any other factor. Statistics from the legal profession in Canada uphold this theory with the 5 year retention rate for new lawyers at a somewhat startling 75% meaning that after working 8 years to become a lawyer, 25% of the profession will leave within 5 years.

Principle 3 – We must change the way we career plan

Given the above, it is obvious to me that we must change the way that we think about work and career. In my view, tt is no longer appropriate to engage in a static process to identify aptitudes, match aptitudes to a job and map out a long term plan to achieve that job. What is needed is a dynamic process that takes into consideration the ever-shifting nature of the work place and gives the individual the tools to successfully navigate this space.

In part two of this series I will introduce a process for career planning that is based on the disciplines of strategic and risk management that are employed by corporations and government to assist them in dealing with uncertain futures.

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