Common Career Myth – Career Progression Requires a Formal Career Path

At one point in your career you may have developed, or been given, a career plan. In fact, the promise of a formal career path often attracts people to organizations. 

In such a planned path, the set of jobs and experiences outlined over an extended period, say five to ten years, brings a sense of predictability and comfort, giving people level of comfort that their career will take a certain course.

There is nothing wrong with having a career plan.  However, there is a more than solid chance the plan will need to be adjusted, or even thrown away, at one point.   

Last month I made a presentation to a group of 33 experienced professionals in which I asked the following question: how many of you are in a job that you planned to be in upon graduation from college?  Not one hand went up.

Then I asked another question: how many of you are in jobs that you even knew existed when you graduated from college?  Three hands went up.

How would you answer these two questions?

The reality is, markets, strategies and organizational structures always change over time, in the process changing the types of roles offered in a company; thus surfacing opportunities that previously were not available or even considered. This is especially true in the dynamic times we live. With globalization, restructuring, acquisitions and downsizing being the norm, there is little predictability in careers. Time and again we’ve seen opportunities emerge that could never have been predicted.

So, instead of developing a formal career path, the strategy should be to learn all you can while in your current role, and always be open to opportunities that allow you to do what you love. Call it career improvisation.

Career improvisation does not mean you don’t have career direction or a sense of the type of roles you want to assume as you progress through your career. Instead, it suggests that you are open to opportunities and not constrained to a defined path. One thing is for sure--your career will not be a straight road but instead will be full of twists and hills. So . . . be ready for the ride, and be ready to turn and change gears.

Truth – You can’t always plan a great career, be ready to improvise