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Career theories that can help you build a strong career even in highly volatile times

Whether you are a university graduate or have an established professional experience, it is likely that you would have faced the task of choosing your career path or have seriously reconsidered the path you are on. To understand how people identify the right career path and the factors that can influence this decision, we can look towards career theories.

With the current unpredictable nature of the global labour market, the degree of uncertainty faced by university students in the hunt for job prospects has seemingly intensified (Lee & Jung, 2021).

The prevalence of uncertainty is also likely to be common amongst working professionals, in particular, those who had plans to develop their career during the shifting times of the COVID-19 pandemic. When faced with career uncertainty, this can result in “the inability to make a decision at all, or…making an undesirable decision” (Gati et al., 1996; Kwok, 2018).

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Some questions to be raised include; What kind of mindset should job seekers aim to adopt? Which attitude and skill sets are important to have when dealing with career indecision?

THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • Understand that career uncertainty is a widespread dilemma faced by all types of people, no matter how many years of experience you have. Keep an open minded approach to career opportunities, and consider the unexpected events as a positive sign.
  • Be prepared to embrace changes that come along with uncertainty. Sarah Ellis, Co-Founder of Amazing If (a career development company) noted in a recent podcast that “On average, most of us are going to have five different types of career during our working life”.
  • Value each experience you obtain and be open to potential job experiences in order to find the career that is right for you.

THE CHAOS THEORY OF CAREERS (CTC)

Developed by Bright and Pryor, this theory aims to embrace the existence of uncertainty within the process of career development, rather than “treating ambiguity as a negative concept that disrupts career progression” (Kwok, 2018).

It challenges traditional career development theories that were identified as failing to consider key influences on career mindset such as “changes in individuals, working contexts…culture, economics, politics and the family” (Järvensivu & Pulkki, 2020). Thus, CTC defines career as an “emergent property” derived from the environment in which one typically functions in and the accumulation of one’s behaviour and experiences (Pryor, 2016; Järvensivu & Pulkki, 2020).

Chaos in career development is outlined through four principles including complexity, change, constructiveness and chance (Kwok, 2018). In recent developments of CTC, Bright and Pryor (2014) have been increasingly focusing on chance in career decision making as it is deemed to be a highly common aspect of people’s careers.

Supporting this, there is empirical evidence to suggest that a higher percentage of people are likely to come across numerous chance events throughout their lives, which “more often than not…leads to another” (Bright et al., 2009; Bright & Pryor, 2014).

THE THEORY OF PLANNED HAPPENSTANCE

The theory of planned happenstance outlines the concept of learning to factor in events and experiences that are unexpected, as a part of the development of one’s career, as well as making efforts to pursue such opportunities in order to enhance learning (Krumboltz et al., 2013; Kim et al., 2014). Such efforts include “taking action, exploring, and learning from diverse experiences to seize career opportunities” (Kim et al., 2014) and call for skills such as curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk taking (Mitchell et al., 1999; Kwok, 2018).

This theory has been developed to stay relevant with the constant changes in employment trends as well as globalisation and external influences on career decision making. Thus, it takes into account that people are likely to experience differing lives and have “unique characteristics or preferences” and “face all kinds of unpredictable events” throughout life that can shape their career development (Lee et al., 2017). It also aims to redirect unexpected events, both positive and negative, as a focal point of converting them into “opportunities for career development” (Lee et al., 2017).

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Having an open-minded perspective towards career opportunities is one strategy that is proposed to reduce feelings of uncertainty. In particular as existing research suggests that there is a significantly positive relationship between tolerance of uncertainty and development of happenstance skills to the satisfaction of one’s career (Krumboltz et al., 2013; Kim et al., 2014).

THE TAKEAWAY

By rethinking the way in which we manage uncertainty throughout our career, the unexpected can be treated as opportunities that may impact one’s career in the long term.

As highlighted in career theory research, the main objective of CTC and the planned happenstance theory is to “develop positive psychological attitudes toward ambiguity” rather than overlooking uncertainty, in order to facilitate a more confident and open attitude towards one’s career (Kwok, 2018).

Thus, we can gather that there is an increasing importance in providing graduates and professionals with updated career related resources and promote the understanding that uncertainty should not be seen as a barrier to finding the right career path.

By choosing not to mould oneself into the traditional routes of career development, the findings of modern career related theories can encourage people of all stages in their lives to rethink and revalue their potential in achieving further career success.

Alan Kwonhttps://pm-coe.com
Alan Kwon is a co-founder of PMCOE. Alan is a highly respected project manager with over 20 years of experience. Alan's past executive roles include Project Director at IBM, Partner at Accenture, and MD of Pilgrim Technology.

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