Squiggly careers: How to thrive in a changing work environment

University of Surrey Careers Consultant, Tom Yates

In this blog, I’d like to introduce the concept outlined in the ‘Squiggly Careers’ book, written by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis. They suggest (and I agree) that career journeys are changing. Within the UK at least, it’s no longer necessary to work in the same company all your life, nor to remain working in a sector that is not right for you.

The benefits for you and your employer

Whilst employers used to look negatively on people switching careers, they are now noticing the benefits of a more transient workforce. Employees from different sectors bring new and exciting skills to help their company move forward, and shorter-length employee contracts can help minimise risks.

Whilst this shift brings uncertainty and potentially less job security to workers, it does also provide additional freedom. You can repeatedly adapt your career to suit what you value and enjoy. Take promotions for example. You don’t need to wait in line for a promotion in your current job, you can just apply for a better role in a new company. This is important information to remember, even if you are still a student.

It can take several job changes to settle into a career you enjoy, so don’t feel your first graduate role has to dictate your entire future. You can also use your time at university to improve the skillsets that help you thrive in this new working environment. Squiggly Careers highlights five skills in particular that will help you.

The 5 skills you can work on while you are a student

1. Play to your strengths. We all have many strengths, but we aren’t always aware of what these strengths are. If you have a clearer idea of what your strengths are, you’ll be better at expressing/describing them in applications. Ask yourself these questions – what are your main strengths, what tasks energise you, and why would they be good in a workplace? If you can’t confidently answer these, it’s worth investigating what your strengths are. Luckily, we have a resource that can help you do this! Self-Awareness Resource

2. Discover your values. Similarly to strengths, we all have a unique set of values and ethical beliefs. If you work in a company and a role that aligns well with your values, you’ll probably enjoy your job more. Use the self-awareness resource to discover your values, and you’ll have a better idea of what to look for when exploring new job opportunities.

3. Improve your confidence. If you are confident in your abilities, you will be more likely to embrace new challenges, step outside your comfort zone, and more easily recover from setbacks. These are all vital skills within the world of squiggly careers, but don’t worry if you don’t feel that confidence yet.

Confidence usually comes from experience and actively working on yourself. This useful blog discusses how to improve your resilience. Guidance appointments can help you to recognize what you’ve already achieved and believe in the skills that you already possess. Students and graduates can book these via Surrey Pathfinder.

4. Build your networks. You are surrounded by many likeminded people while at university. Try to connect with your classmates and tutors on LinkedIn whilst you are still physically in contact with them. Career fairs are also fantastic places to make useful connections with employers. Book an appointment on Surrey Pathfinder to improve your LinkedIn profile and learn how to maximize your experience at career fairs.

SurreyConnects, the University of Surrey alumni network, is also worth considering. It’s a scheme where you can connect with alumni for mentoring support on topics including graduate applications and industry insights.

5. Explore your options. Not sure what you’d like to do as a career? That’s ok, university is the time for exploration. Get involved with clubs/societies to start figuring out your interests. Prospects is a great way to explore obvious career paths – but maybe you’d like to go off the beaten path?

Whatever degree you are studying, you’ll be picking up valuable transferable skills that will be useful in many sectors and industries. Are you a Psychology student with a budding interest in business? Why not visit the business school and book a meeting with a business tutor to discuss your interests – all academics and support staff are here to help, support and guide you, no matter what their discipline is.

Take time to improve your ability to thrive

You don’t have to be an expert in this stuff straight away. In fact, any time you put some thought into each of these categories, you are improving your ability to thrive in your future career. Take it one piece at a time and consider creating a plan for things you’d like to action while at university.

If you want to learn more about ‘Squiggly Careers’ by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, we have a copy of the book in our campus library.