So, you work hard. You get the letters. You’re Chartered. You show your family the success pics. You get a scroll you are proud of. And have a few drinks with your work mates.
Job done. Career in the B.A.G.
Or, maybe more commonly, not.
For many, the focus on getting professionally qualified and securing a role in a great business is a key driver which, once achieved can leave us asking, ‘errrr, what’s next?’
For me, I know I was left with a feeling that I loved bits of my job but there were other bits that I either didn’t like or (brutal honesty here) was not very good at.
Whilst I’d achieved what I set out to (in my case becoming a Chartered Surveyor and having a Masters in Construction & Real Estate), there was a slow realisation of a few things:
The sector was much broader than I ever imagined when I started at 18 to train to be a QS. This was good as it meant there were loads of opportunities.
I needed to make some fundamental decisions about which path I took on next, because I craved another neat path and the structure that qualifications gave me. When I completed my MBA I felt a bit lost for a time. I had grown accustomed to having things laid out.
I needed to be open to opportunities and learn to craft my own path.
I’ve now worked in and around the professions (mainly in the built environment sector) for almost 30 years and my career has seen some planned and unplanned turns in the road. Much like driving, some have resulted in metaphorical car crashes, whilst others have seen me cruise in the fast lane for a time only to slow back down into a layby at times. Add into this mix, leaving London and having a baby as what many might refer to as an ‘older mum’ (I was 41) and I’ve experienced many transitions.
For anyone struggling right now with the ‘what next?’ question, here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
Recognise where you are. It’s easy to forget how much work you’ve put in. Even if you are looking for your next challenge – maybe you are bored or realising that your next step is unclear, think about what you have achieved in the last 5 years. Write it down and reflect on the good stuff. Which bits did you love? Which bits would you never want to do again?
Self-awareness. I can’t stress this enough. Online tests, the book ‘Strengthsfinder 2.0’ by Tom Rath and other texts such as ‘The Big Leap’ by Gay Hendricks, which talks about your zone of Genius: All are superb worthy ways to spend time developing and understanding yourself, your strengths and where you next step may lie. All of the world’s most inspiring leaders have dedicated time and attention to self-mastery and leveraging their own unique talents. No professional qualifications will give you the level of depth you can discover simply by laying out your own development path. There’s a wealth of information out there that will allow you to develop your own unique style of brilliance without attending a single course. Dedicate time to reading and exploring the aspects of you that you want to cultivate more. Anyone can get the same professional qualification as you, forging your own unique development path will be a game changer.
Take your time and don’t obsess about having ‘a plan’. I really struggled with this. I think it can come from the Chartered route being so clear and rigid that once you get it and reach a cross-roads, it’s often hard to decide on the next path, though you may feel pressure to do so. I know I wanted the next steps laid out neatly. Inside, I knew it was my decision. If you are struggling, instead of looking up courses and a ‘formal next step’ just make a habit of noting down each day what energised you. After 30 days, reflect on this and you’ll see some signposts as to the bits you love and the bits you don’t.
Play and learn. There have been many times when I’ve looked for my ‘concrete career path’ so I can follow it rigidly. I now realise that this does not need to be in place to move ahead. Alongside my day job, I’ve had a few ‘play and learn’ experiences that have seen me become an NLP Practitioner, gain a Post-Grad Learning and Development Diploma, become a Reflexologist, lead a Rainbow Pack and become a published author. Some relate to my day job. Some don’t. And that’s ok. I’ve learnt from all of them and the notion of a linear path is less important to me than ever. Do I enjoy it? Does it use my strengths? Does it develop me? That’s good enough. I have a ‘career patio’ made up of skills flagstones, more than a neat career path!
There’s lots of talk about working in a ‘VUCA’ world: one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. This in itself requires different skills. The ability to cope with change. To opportunity spot. Creative Thinking. You may simply want to spend time skills building in an area that will equip you as a member of the workforce of the future before you think about ‘what’s next?’
Finally, be brave. Personality profiles, assessment centres, 360 degree feedback – all of these can help you develop your understanding of yourself and are very valid. But only you have a sense of your internal career compass. Look for your signs of passion, what you love doing, and your areas of technical strength and only THEN have the conversation about how they match the business you are in or the industry at large. Have THAT conversation – where you influence and craft your next step. Look for the opportunities that tie your skills to business or industry need. And then go for them!
About the author
Sue Willcock began her career as a Chartered Surveyor. She quickly moved into business management roles in professional services firms and has been a Partner in a large consultancy and Director of her own business. She currently works in a business change role and is the author of Amazon HR Bestseller, ‘Help, I’m A Manager – A practical guide to success as a first time people manager in professional services’. Her new book, ‘Help, I’m Starting Work’ was released in July 2018 and was written to help new starters be successful in the world of professional services. https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=sue+willcock