Planned Happenstance or My Plan for Not Having a Career Plan

By Danna Redmond

There is a school of thought on career planning called Planned Happenstance that I subscribed to. Planned Happenstance was introduced by John D Krumboltz, a Stanford Professor, as a career theory of built on making connections and use developing skills and experiences to “plan” for “chance” career events.  I really believe in this way of thinking and I even take it further to say it is OK to just go with “happenstance” at times too.  This goes against what you were taught at all the career development courses you’ve taken, this goes against much advice from career coaches and many career development articles, but hear me out – I am saying you don’t need a career plan but you do still need goals. There is a saying that “You can’t see the forest for the trees” and I believe this happens frequently in career planning when we get so bogged down in looking for that next linear step according to our career plan.

Here is the plan for not having a career plan – is it ironic to have a plan for not having a plan?

1.        Do your job and do your job well

Nothing leads to more opportunities like having a good reputation for a doing a great job. Think about this in your job and in your volunteer opportunities. If you are going to spend your time doing something, then do it well. Doing a good job in your current role becomes part of your reputation, your credibility, your brand. There is a halo effect – if you do a good job at one thing, people will think highly of you and assume you will do great at other things too. Your reputation will precede you so make sure it is a good one.

2.       Put yourself out there - volunteer, ask

Volunteer for new projects at work, ask your manager for new work, come up with a new way to do the work that you are already doing.  If you work in a large company look out for opportunities to work with other teams – is there a project for another team that needs your subject matter expertise?  If you work for a small company – you likely have the opportunity to wear many different hats, so see how one or more can be improved and take action on those steps. Remember you are looking for places where you can be valuable and useful.

3.       Know your core competencies

Define what you are good at and enjoy in terms of competencies vs. specific skills or knowledge.  These core competencies are your transferable skills. An accountant can say they have a good knowledge of GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles) but what does that mean in terms of competencies - it means they can understand complex policy and apply it in various settings or to different situations.  Thinking in terms of your core competencies lets you expand your view of jobs or roles that you could be good at and enjoy.  

4.       Say “Yes” to new opportunities

Say "yes" even if they don’t seem totally aligned with your career plan.  Be willing to take on new activities or tasks – say “yes” more often than you say “no” and you will build your portfolio of competencies and interests.  Saying “yes” and having new experiences can also help you understand areas where you don’t excel or don’t enjoy and that is good information to have also.  To say “yes” to opportunities, you have to be okay going into something and not having all the building blocks totally lined up. Know that you’re going to learn those as you go, and be ready to learn those as you go.  The world is evolving quickly so you have to get really good at learning quickly and adapting.

5.        Have confidence in yourself

When an opportunity comes up you need to have the confidence to go for it.  As I’ve mentioned in previous points, it is ok not to know everything. Expect to learn on the job or in the new environment.  Don’t be afraid to apply your core competencies (remember these are your transferable skills) in new areas.  If you are concerned that you won’t be able to learn a new area or new skill, think back to what you were doing ten years ago and how much you have evolved and grown. If you can’t find good examples in your career, think about your everyday life.  You have learned new technology like smart phones or new ways of communicating like social media.  You are a learning and evolving machine – so be confident in your ability to take that new opportunity.

Lastly, I know that this way of thinking may not be for everyone. You may be the sort of person who likes to plan out all the details and march to a specific plan – great if that is working for you.  I will challenge you that your career plan might be holding you back from other opportunities so be mindful of that.  And for others of you this concept of not having a plan and letting planned happenstance occur might be just the idea you were looking for.