No career idea? No problem.

Serendipity…good careers can
sometimes occur unexpectedly

It seems contradictory as a careers consultant to advise you to ‘embrace uncertainty’ and not to worry if you do not have a career idea or plan. Careers consultants spend a lot of time advising students to develop a plan and work towards a goal. It seems self-evident that you are more likely to achieve your career ambition if you plan it and take the appropriate steps to make it happen. But I have been struck over the years by how many successful alumni I have met who have said how unexpected and unpredictable their career journey has been. Not having a plan can be liberating. It can take away the pressure of trying to develop a plan for a decision you do not feel ready, or know how to make. It may not score well with an employer panel in an interview if you say ‘I really don’t know’ to answer the ‘where will you be in 5 years time?’ type question, but it is perhaps a more realistic answer given the uncertainty we all face in life.

This is not to say that career plans do not work or are not necessary for some of us – lots of people carefully research and plan their career and may not have been successful without that plan, given the competitiveness of some job roles and sectors. Gaining relevant experience, becoming commercially aware and making connections can all help to make career plans achieve success. Managing the variety of options students have can feel overwhelming though, so don’t feel under pressure if you haven’t got a plan. There are other ways to develop a career and ‘chaos theory’ , developed by Jim Bright and Robert Pryor may be a method of helping you start your career. Bright suggests that ‘we move away from a predict and control attitude…and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves in unanticipated ways.’ In this approach certainty about the future is not possible and if we embrace it, we can create our own luck.        

What could the ‘chaos theory’ approach look like?

The ability to connect with people and build a professional network can be really helpful in ‘chaos theory.’ Using Linked In to connect with alumni, attending events and conferences and gaining experience could all potentially lead to an unexpected opportunity. Above all, speak to people! You just never know who you might meet, if they cannot help you they may know someone in their network who can. If you are an aspiring playwright for example, you could get a job in a theatre and you might get to meet a writer – ask them for feedback on your work. They may recommend you to others in their network if they like your writing style and the initiative you have taken. A Warwick graduate I met at a careers event said a key moment in his career in the creative industries was when he chatted to someone who was sitting next to him on a train. The person worked for the UK Arts Council and that chance encounter was an important first step in the Warwick graduates career development.   

There is an element of luck and being in the right place at the right in this approach to your career. Opportunities will not inevitably follow these unplanned events though, you have to follow them up and take initiative to make it productive.  If you meet someone at an event or conference for example, try to connect with them on Linked In afterwards. Tell them how helpful they were and that you’d like to keep in touch. Showing enthusiasm and initiative can take you a long way.

What type of personality can make ‘chaos theory’ work?

If you like predictability, certainty and the idea of a clearly defined plan, this may not work for you. If you are curious and enjoy spontaneity however, it could. There will be setbacks and disappointments and someone may not respond when you have contacted them, but never take it personally. Persevere and be resilient, it’s all part of the process. Consider any opportunity to gain experience and make connections. Who knows where it could lead? Being a runner for example, may feel like you are wasting your talent and degree. But if you want to make it in the creative industries, think of the writers, producers and directors you could meet. You could impress those industry professionals with your interest, commitment and potential – show them what you could do if you were given more responsibility.   

Reflect on what you discover

Perhaps you try volunteering for example and realise how important it is that what you do makes an impact and has a social value. You may try a society exec positions and realise how good you are at influencing and persuading, leading and motivating other people. ‘Chaos theory’ curiosity may help you to discover a hidden strength and interest you never knew existed that influences your future career choices.

 5 Top tips

  • Take calculated risks: the conversation you initiated or the experience you gained may not ultimately create a career opportunity. But on the other hand, it just might
  • Be professional: thank anyone you meet for their time and advice. They are more likely to remember you and get back in touch if you created a good impression.
  • Practise your ‘elevator pitch’: if you meet an employer or an alumni in an unplanned situation, could you tell them what you could do for them. Why would they be interested in you?
  • Be proactive: get out there, meet people and do things. You are more likely to create opportunities.
  • Take small steps: however insignificant it may seem at the time, that chance meeting or conversation could be the start of your career.  


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