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Career planning: facing the unknown

by
01 June 2009, at 12:00am

Dr SARAH CORRIE discusses ways of planning your career in a time of uncertainty

WE are in unprecedented times. World leaders grapple with the financial crisis which is of such gigantic proportions that it is difficult for anyone to understand, but the effects on veterinary practices might well include areas of the country where jobs have either disappeared or are being lost by clients of veterinary practices. 

Uncertain futures for clients leads to a trend where they want to see what money they do have being well spent in the interests of their animals, and so they want to see vets providing a service that excels rather than just satisfies. 

There is nothing particularly new in this concept because it was there well before the recession, but it is likely that the vets who are best prepared will survive and do better, while the vets who are not proactive in their practice and career development will lose out. 

There has been a tidal change in the veterinary profession in which a swing has begun from where we used to be at point A, where if you qualified as a vet the clients and earning power came to you, to B, where vets need to be proactive at improving and continually keeping pace with changes and challenges in our marketplace in order to stand still or hopefully with some careful planning to go forward. 

New landscape 

Unprecedented times pose many challenges. But they also harbour many opportunities. Amidst the gloomy forecasts, a new professional landscape is emerging – one that is forcing us to think about our working lives in different and more creative ways.

This landscape calls for a new kind of professional – one who can combine subject matter expertise and business acumen with expertise in self-knowledge and career management. 

My interest in career development comes from my work as a clinical psychologist and more recently as a founder member of the Special Interest Group in Coaching Psychology established by the British Psychological Society. 

For many of my clients, dilemmas relating to career, and in particular career transition, can be a source of discomfort and distress. But seen through a slightly different lens, they are also a gateway to something new. 

The first thing I ask my clients is what they want their careers to accomplish for them. Having a career means different things at different stages in a person’s life. Evolving priorities as a function of professional experience, family responsibilities, extra-curricular roles and unplanned life events will all shape your level of investment in your career and the extent to which you see work as a source of identity and self-worth. 

Permutations increasing 

The second question I ask is what type of work would most fulfil and inspire them. There are many ways of designing a career, and with the economic downturn, the potential permutations are likely to increase. 

You may feel most fulfilled by having a single career focus, or prefer one that comprises multiple components. You may choose to have a full-time, organisation-based career, favour self-employment within a single industry or develop a peripatetic or portfolio career in which you combine projects that relate to one, or several fields of expertise. 

One of the tools I have found highly effective in helping my clients monitor, manage and develop their careers is MAP. This is a coaching model that combines original work by the Professional Development Foundation with career theory to help you establish your priorities, identify areas of untapped potential and devise a strategy for achieving your goals. 

MAP stands for: 

Mission. The vision you have for your working life, what you are aiming for and why it matters to you. Questions to consider include: What purpose does your career serve in the broader context of your life goals? What results do you hope to achieve in the long-term? If you could redesign your career at this point, what form would it take and why? 

Attitude. The attitudes and beliefs that you bring to your career and career planning, as well as your ideas about what it takes to succeed. For example, do you see your career as central to your sense of identity, or as secondary to other commitments (such as family)? What are your beliefs about what is possible for you and what it takes to succeed? 

■ Process. The methods and tools you need to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Based on your mission and attitude, what specific steps do you need to take? What new information, knowledge, or techniques do you need? 

Better match 

By examining your motivations, interests, strengths and needs close up, you can create a better match between your professional “type” and your working context. 

The closer the match, the more fulfilled and successful you are likely to be. 

For example, if you place a high premium on autonomy and thrive on the prospect of developing your own unique brand, you are unlikely to fulfil your potential in a general managerial position that involves motivating others to achieve corporate targets. 

Similarly, if you are at a stage in your life where security is a priority, tenure in an organisation is likely to prove more rewarding than setting up on your own. 

Once you are clear about your mission and attitude then it becomes much easier to design a process to help you move forward. Here are a few possibilities you might want to consider: 

1. Conduct a regular audit of your strengths and limits to ensure that you have up-to-date information about your needs for continuing professional development. 

2. Identify those projects and tasks that have given you the greatest sense of achievement. Look for ways of building more of these into your life and work. 

3. Seek out those who have made the kinds of career choices you find most appealing. See what you can learn about their attitudes and methods. 

4. Be aware of how the different strands of your working life impact on you at all levels. In what ways do they facilitate and constrain your choices? How could you capitalise on the opportunities and manage any constraints? 

Clear strategy 

As the scientist Steven Rose reminds us, we each have the ability to create our own futures, even if this is not always in circumstances of our own choosing. 

Having a clear strategy for monitoring and, where necessary, revising your career trajectory will put you in a strong position to make informed choices in uncertain times. Good luck! 

■ For more information about MAP and how to use this as a basis for career planning, see The Art of Inspired Living by Dr Sarah Corrie: scorrie@tiscali.co.uk.