This guest post is from one of our regular contributors Dan Bruneau. Here he gives a fresh perspective on career planning in the unpredictable, challenging yet rewarding world of public sector communication.

Shine a New Light on Career Planning

About 15 years into my career, I worried that the 11 positions listed on my resume made me look like a job hopper. Then an interviewer complimented me on my “diverse experience.”

That was when I began to see my professional self in a different light. To this day, I find that slightly turning the figurative prism can illuminate a different perspective on many challenges, including career development for an unpredictable future.

Our focus has to be on ourselves much more than a particular job or career path because the work world will shift in ways we cannot foresee.

Change is the Only Constant

Entrepreneur and innovator Peter Diamandis says the only constant is change, and the rate of change is increasing. 

He has ample to support that outlook. Since I graduated from college in the late-1970s, a work environment that was fairly stable has become one characterized by:

  • Limited job security in the private sector
  • Employees moving more often
  • Motivating factors beyond income
  • Emergence of the gig economy
  • Constantly changing technology
  • Tectonic shifts, such as a pandemic

We are far more likely to see an acceleration than a reversal of such trends, so the critical question is how do we plan when we have little idea what changes we may see in the next 5-10 years or more? 

Ladders vs. Rivers

Journalist and consultant Bridget Thoreson abandoned the ladder analogy for career development in favor of a river.

“The ultimate goal of the career ladder is: reach the top,” Thoreson wrote last year. “The ultimate goal of the career river is: reach your ocean—a thriving, wide-open ecosystem fed by other rivers to explore.”

Especially when the future is so difficult to predict, the ladder is unlikely to serve us well, because:

  • While you climb one rung at a time toward the top, the next rung may vanish in organizational or environmental shifts.
  • The ladder is a numbers game, and only one person can be at the top. You have no guarantee it will be you.
  • You may encounter another seismic shift, such as a pandemic, at any time.
  • You may achieve your dream job only to learn it’s a nightmare.

The advantages of the river include:

  • You paddle your own canoe rather than trusting development of a career path to your employer.
  • You find fertile ground to explore along the way and when you reach your ocean.
  • Opportunities for innovation are greater.
  • A wider diversity of thought may lead you to new career paths you had not considered.
  • You may find something even better than your dream job.

Write Your Own Story

As I look back on my career, I see a story that went quite well—especially considering I never had a real career plan. I studied subjects that were interesting to me, worked hard and kept my eyes open for opportunities.

Rather than wait to see how their stories end, I recommend young professional communicators develop them now. Write the stories you want to see; then make them happen. 

The story will also support a simple, three-step career planning process that will help you:

  • Decide what you want to do by listing career options and identifying your skills, values and interests.
    An honest self-evaluation will help you determine if you need more training through formal education or on-the-job programs.  Be open to training that may not seem relevant but could enhance your job performance, such as a comedy or acting class for a communicator who struggles with stage fright.
  • Create your branding and marketing plan. Develop achievement stories, essentially a personal commercial you want to share with recruiters.
  • Implement your plan through networking, social media and professional contacts. Continue development of additional skills.

Each of these steps can be broken down into specific strategies.  You can see more detail in the attached graphic.

Your Rewards

Of course, all of this takes work, but I assure you the rewards will be worth the effort.

Your career story may help you to turn the prism and see your achievements in a new light.  The challenges that previously frustrated you may become accomplishments that demonstrate your ability to overcome obstacles. 

In short, your story will be a career biography in progress.  You will decide when it needs revision and what you need to do to write the chapters you want to add.

In the end, I am confident you can have a career that will offer you positives at each stage. You will be able to reflect on your professional journey and take pride in knowing that you controlled your own destiny.


Find more about Dan Bruneau here and connect with him on LinkedIn. Dan is managing director of Bruneau & Associates, a consulting firm in communications and professional development.

August 11, 2022
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