What is a 'career'?

Guest Post by Victoria Geary - Independent Career Consultant

You are not alone if your experience of careers advice at school consisted of either filling in a questionnaire that resulted in some seemingly random career suggestions or simply being asked “what do you want to do?” as if the answer to this was something everyone should be expected to know. The problem with both approaches is that they assume that ‘your career’ is something to be decided upon in advance and then mapped out in a linear fashion with defined steps to get there. This is simply not how most careers work anymore and they are even less likely to in the future. In particular, this holds true considering the impact the Covid-19 global pandemic has had on the labour market.

But what if there was another way?

In their book, ‘Creative Career Coaching’, Liane Hambly and Ciara Bomford talk about ‘career scaffolding’ rather than the ‘career ladder’, which I find a really helpful image to describe how modern careers unfold. While those at the start of their career journey often believe otherwise, it’s much more usual to have a career unfold as something like this: You start a job, maybe get a promotion, then move sideways into a different sector using some of the knowledge and skills you’ve built up, possibly take a career break then return to work in a different type of role or different sector again after some retraining or a professional qualification.

Another great description of modern careers I’ve come across is in Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis’ book, ‘The Squiggly Career’ … arguing that modern careers are as far from linear as you can get, they are much more ‘squiggly’!

As refreshing and reassuring as I find these analogies to be, they do present a problem to many … how on earth do you prepare for and manage a career that is as messy and unpredictable as the squiggly scaffolding I’ve described?

Thats why i have gathered the following three principles you an follow...

3 things you need to know to future-proof your career

1 – Portfolio Careers

This is something that has been widely accepted as the norm in the creative industries for a long time now but the concept of the portfolio career is becoming much more widespread, particularly as companies have moved to remote working, part time work and shorter term contracts since the Covid-19 pandemic. A portfolio career is one where you have multiple income streams that make up your work hours and salary.


So, you might have a salaried position for 3 days per week and work on a freelance basis either in the same or a different industry for the rest of the week. When you consider your career in this way, it opens up a whole new world of opportunities as suddenly those short term project contracts, provide you with the opportunity to do some consulting for a friend’s start-up, part time jobs and that side-hustle business you’ve been plotting in your head are all viable options!

2 – The Career Pivot

You only have to look at a handful of LinkedIn profiles to see that changing the trajectory of your career is really common nowadays. Changing jobs and even moving into a new sector entirely is something that is likely to become even more prevalent in the post-Covid world as so many people have been made redundant, reconsidered their priorities and been in a position to take advantage of new opportunities in growing sectors.

The Benefits

Moving around isn’t the problem that some people perceive it to be. Having a wide range of experience enables you to show a prospective new employer that you bring a fresh perspective and/or skills and knowledge that their organisation may be lacking. Professor John Krumboltz’s ‘Planned Happenstance’ career theory encourages us to be prepared for the prospect of a career full of pivots and changes by purposefully upskilling and seizing opportunities, arguably this is the key to becoming an agile and desirable member of the workforce.

3 – Reframe for resilience

It is an essential skill for your future career but how exactly do you build resilience into your career planning? Consider reframing your concept of career more in terms of a personal purpose and motivation to build that resilience and ensure a sense of progress and fulfilment even during uncertain times. Get to know what your strengths are through platforms such as CareersKitchen, think about what motivates you, which causes you’re passionate about, which problems you want to spend your time solving and prepare yourself for the prospect of moving jobs and careers in order to fulfil these ambitions. Also think more broadly about ‘career’, some career theorists argue that your ‘career’ can be made up of paid and unpaid work, voluntary work, freelancing, family commitments and hobbies. All these things can come together to create a fulfilling, purposeful career.

Its a journey

I truly believe that your career is a journey you’re on and not a destination you’re striving to arrive at. So rather than agonising over what you should ‘be’, instead go and do things that you want to do, solve problems you want to solve and don’t be afraid to try new things along the way. After all, if you don’t have a set destination, it’s impossible to take a wrong turn, only an unexpected one. You can always turn back or grab a different bit of scaffolding! Be brave!

About the author

I'm a careers consultant and registered career development professional. As a careers consultant within education from school to postgraduate level I have worked extensively with students on their transition into the workforce. Not only that, my experience in the recruitment industry and as an independent careers consultant has allowed me to work with new and established professionals on their career development. I strongly believe that one's career is not a destination. It's a journey.

Learn more about Victoria here!

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