Career advice

Expert advice: careers are about more than promotions

You don't have to worry that your career isn't following a straight line to the top. A good career is about prioritising the things that make you happy and not letting yourself be controlled by other people's expectations.

Traditionally, career has been about moving up the hierarchy. Being gradually promoted and given more responsibility until you ended up in a prestigious management position. In this way, making a career has been the preserve of the few and particularly successful.

This view of career is problematic for many. For some, it becomes stressful because they constantly feel they are chasing their friends and colleagues.

Others refuse to take part in what they perceive as a race of pointy elbows, overwork and ultimately a management position they are not interested in: 'I just have a job' is a typical response we hear from members who don't think career advice is relevant to them.

That's why we need a different way of thinking about careers, one that's not just about promotions, hierarchy and prestige. Instead, the goal of a career should be to create a good life for yourself and prioritise what makes you happy, whether that's new challenges, security or more flexibility.

Here are three things you can do to plan a career that doesn't just have to lead upwards.

You set the direction

Everyone benefits from setting out a career plan of what they want to achieve in the next few years.

But it doesn't have to be about how you move upwards. Maybe you want new professional challenges, a higher degree of job security and a good salary, or more flexibility in your daily life.

When you plan your career, you set the course instead of going with the flow, and you increase the chance of following your own dreams instead of others' expectations.

Every few years, you should take stock and scrutinise your working life. For many, the days flow together quickly and they forget to reflect on whether they're in the right place, but I've also spoken to members who have quit their jobs and moved to an island, travelled the world or done something else that felt meaningful because they found they weren't living by their values

Tip: It's a good idea to take stock of your career and set new goals at regular intervals - for example, every two or three years. You may be happy, or you may feel that something needs to change. The most important thing is to be completely honest with yourself and focus on what gives you job satisfaction – not what is prestigious.

Get coaching about your career

As an IDA member, you can have a one-hour career counselling session every six months, focusing on your working life, challenges and dreams. It can be about current challenges in your job, ambitions or sparring on how to increase your market value.

Book a career counselling session

Think about the life you want to live

Stress affects most people in the first half of their working lives. The early thirties bring many new commitments in family life, but it is also in the years leading up to the fifties that people take the biggest leaps in their careers and take on more responsibility.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to prioritise work, family, hobbies and friends equally, so you need to ask yourself; what is a good life for me right now? Then you can figure out how your career fits in.

The other day I was talking to a member who has three children. She has been used to working a lot and to traveling with work, but it's just not possible at the moment. Because if she looks back at her week on Friday and sees that she hasn't picked up the children from school once, she won't feel that it's a good life.

Having children is an example of an event that makes you reconsider your career, but such examples can be found throughout life. When you graduate, you'll need to find a balance between your work and leisure time, and as the kids get older, you'll need to consider whether to turn that newfound free time into pursuing a hobby, seeing friends more, or slogging through at work.

Tip: Accept that you can't do everything at once. Instead, ask yourself what's most important in your life. If it's time with family, professional challenges or a high income, you'll know better which direction to aim for in your career.

Be ready to deal with the unexpected

According to American professor John D. Krumboltz, you should write down your career plan with pencil and eraser. That way it's possible to erase and change it along the way.

You can set the direction of your working life by, for example, taking relevant further training or applying for certain jobs, but many things are also out of your hands. You may suddenly get an unexpected job offer, or miss out on your dream job because there was just one candidate better suited to the job than you.

In your personal life, children, illness and a thousand other unknown factors can mean you can't work as much as you'd imagined. So it's all about setting a direction and being ready to adapt if circumstances change.

Tip: Focus on what you can control. That is: setting a direction for your career and becoming aware of what you want to achieve. You can't control when a good opportunity arises, because often it happens by chance, but if you know what you want, you'll find it easier to recognise the opportunity and seize it at the right time.