In a world of employment gloom where graduate jobs are on the decline it seems to me the time is ripe to inject a bit of planned happenstance theory into our careers sessions.
Many successful people, when asked about their career, will talk about an element of luck. But being in the right pace at the right time usually involves taking action to get there. The person fortunate enough to be offered a job during work experience gets the opportunity not only because they had the initiative to get the experience in the first place but also because they made an impact once through the door.
Planned happenstance is a useful tool for advising in a difficult economic climate, when the R-word hold sway. First, because it encourages open-mindedness in career planning, rather than searching for a rigid career goal. Secondly, it promotes positive action regardless of whether this leads to an obvious outcome.
But how does this impact on our work?
A planned happenstance approach is not about providing the quick fix many students want but rather encouraging students to develop a sustainable set of behaviours and small actions that will enable them to put themselves in the right place at the right time.
Sometimes the problem with careers advice is that it is lacking in the specifics. The suggestion to get out and do some work experience, for example, is only going to be effective for the most able of students. We often need to do far more foundation building in a careers session to get the client in the right cognitive mode to (a) feel confident to create opportunities, (b) recognise less obvious opportunities, (c) seize opportunities and (d) make the most of an opportunity once it is secured.
There are five key qualities below associated with planned happenstance:
- Curiosity: to want to learn new things regardless of where they might lead
- Persistence: to keep trying, even when faced with rejection or silence
- Flexibility: to respond to change positively by adapting yourself or your aims
- Optimism: to believe that opportunities are within reach and that you can benefit from every experience
- Risk-taking: to ‘just do it’ in the face of an unclear result
Many of us will be trying to develop these qualities in our clients, even if we are not consciously thinking about planned happenstance. We might help someone to see the value in trying something new or set a small goal that plugs a skill or knowledge gap. This can be particularly useful for the client who is overwhelmed by the process of career choice. Using anecdotes or case studies can help people to see that persistence is often the precursor of career success. We could spend a session coaching a client to get them to the stage where they are confident to approach someone and effectively pitch for an opportunity. Optimism is infectious, so conveying this to our clients is important. Asking ‘if you did this what is the worst thing that could happen?’ could make a client realise that taking a risk may not be that bad.
Some questions might help reflect on the planned happenstance approach.
- Did the client or participants leave the session feeling energised?
- Did I see evidence that I had encouraged them to be comfortable with some flexibility in their career plans?
- Did they leave with a small goal that will expand their learning?
- Are they less focused on the big career plan and more focused on the first steps?
- Are they more confused than when they first came in — and is that a bad thing?
- Do I apply this philosophy to my own career?
- Hambly, L. & Neary-Booth, S. (2007) The role of chance in career choice: Planned Happenstance in action. NCGE News, 27, 13-14.
- Mitchell, K.E., Levin, A.S. & Krumboltz, J.D. (1999) Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77, 115-124.
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