Firstly, apologies to those of you who are expecting this to be a blog post about careers in writing – it’s not, but if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d be more than happy to chat another time.
Instead, I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts about how the process of writing can help support career development. I regard career development as a learning journey; a process of exploring, discovering and reflecting on experiences to learn more about ourselves and the possible pathways and possible selves that may interest us and how these fit within the wider world of work. Writing down and recording these reflections and explorations can help us to understand ourselves better and help us start to identify possible next steps.
Managing our careers today is less about having a fixed plan and more about being open to a range of possibilities, taking a “planned happenstance” approach. Mitchell, Krumboltz and Levin (1999) describe four steps to this approach and I think the process of reflective writing can help facilitate each of these steps:
- Clarify ideas: follow your curiosity, identify your interests
- Identify potential blocks and how to overcome them: think “how can I” rather than “I can’t because…”
- Expect the unexpected: be prepared for chance opportunities, chance encounters, impromptu conversations and new experiences, reflect on these and consider what you have learnt, where might this take you?
- Take action: learn, develop, remain open and follow up on chance events.
The characteristics required for this approach to career management are similar to those required by effective researchers: curiosity, to explore opportunities; persistence, to deal with obstacles; flexibility, to address a variety of circumstances; and optimism, to maximise benefits from unplanned events.
Writing can help us to consciously engage with our career management and help us to pay attention to the skills, qualities and strengths we employ in a variety of settings.
Some people find it useful to write a personal mission statement and often start with a mind map of their skills, values and motivations.
As Ibarra (2004) says,
“We need to understand our story, so we can take control of writing the future chapters”.
So, I’d encourage you to spend some time thinking about your career story: what have been some of the significant events? The highs and lows? The key transition points? What have you learnt about yourself, what are some of the strategies that have served you well in your career so far? And what might this mean for your future choices? Where do you see yourself heading? What options do you want to explore? Where do you think your skills, knowledge and experience will be most valued? How do you think you can bridge the gap between where you are now and where you might want to be?
Reflecting and writing down your responses to these questions can help inform your future career discussions and decision making. Knowing what drives us, and what sorts of environments and cultures we thrive in can help us take control, even in uncertain times.
The more we know ourselves, our motivators, our values, our capabilities, the easier it is to communicate these to others, whether that’s in career development conversations with a careers consultant, a mentor, supervisor / line manager, prospective employer or future collaborator.
Knowing who we are, what we stand for and what we want others to know us for, before we start developing/ updating our marketing collateral, can help us to have more impact. What’s the golden thread you want to weave through your CV, LinkedIn profile, research profile, personal website, blog etc? Being clear on this can help us to stand out and makes it more likely for people to want to connect and collaborate with us.
Remember you can book confidential, one-to-one careers coaching sessions with one of our impartial, professionally qualified Careers Consultants. These take placeeither by Zoom or MS Teams and can be booked by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with Requesting a Careers Consultation in the subject line.
Ibarra, H (2004) Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career
Mitchell, K. E., Levin, A. S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned Happenstance: Constructing Unexpected Career Opportunities. Journal of Counselling and Development, 77(2), 115-124.
Blog Post by Emma Francis, Careers and Employability Consultant at the Doctoral College. Emma works with Rana Marrington, Careers Consultant, and together they provide tailored careers support for PGRs, ECRs and Doctoral College Alumni.