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Career Cycles: What are they, and what impact do they have on our careers?

Career Cycles: What are they, and what impact do they have on our careers?

Have you asked yourself “what else could I be doing in my career?” recently? If so, then you’re already thinking about potential new beginnings and endings within your career cycles. And you’re not alone, thousands of people around the world are asking themselves the same question currently. COVID-19 has triggered significant change for us all. We’re taking stock of our lives, both our home and work lives.

A huge amount of who we are and what we are is linked to our work. For some, redundancy or job loss can be a positive event, whereas for others it’s a roadblock that they simply cannot move past. 

This is where I have a secret trick (or not so secret if you’ve listened to me speak or read my blog before!) to help people understand what triggers their motivations, particularly at work. My LAB (Language and Behavioural) Profile training allows me to listen deeply to the language patterns we use. Using this psycho-linguistic tool, I am able to coach clients to play to their strengths and perform, wherever they are in their career cycles, at their best.

Back to career cycles, which of the following describes you best?

  • Early stage (first 5 yrs working)
  • Mid stage (6-15 years working
  • Mature stage (16+)
  • Re-entry (returning after career break or redundancy)
  • In education / re-educating?

Before we go on, what is the difference between a career and a job, and why is that important?

I like to describe a job as a more transactional thing. A job gets us money, which gives us a sense of security – potentially a roof over heads, or food on table. Whereas a career is about our identity – it is a means of achievement that gives us a sense of purpose. It means more to us than a job, and much more than just money! 

When we think of our career in those terms, it’s clear that it’s important that we take time to make the right decisions and choices at every step of our career cycle.

The traditional Career Cycle has three stages:

  1. Education
  2. Career (establishment, mid-career, late career)
  3. Retirement

A few years ago, if you knew someone’s age then you could take an educated guess at the stage of their career. But this neat, linear journey no longer exists. I often have clients ask me “is it too late to change career?”. And my answer is a resounding NO. Career cycles these days have far more stages, more twists and turns, more transitions. 

Just look at last year. How many new jobs can you think of that have been created? From ‘COVID Vaccinators’ to ‘Head of Remote’ roles. These are jobs that didn’t widely exist before 2020, and that people have been able to swiftly step up and move into using their transferable skills.

COVID hasn’t just given us new jobs. It has given us time to think and reflect on our careers and the career cycles we experience. 

I’ve noticed a number of post COVID career trends:

  • Increased self reflection. Now that we are living 100 year lives, our careers need to be more fulfilling than ever before. More of us are asking “what do I want from my career and my life?”
  • Remote and hybrid working. We’ve proven we can do it, so why return full time to an office environment? That working style might work for some, but not all. 
  • Personalisation of work. Making our careers work for us rather than being a 9 – 5 slog; improving our work-life balance and energy levels.
  • Skills are becoming the new currency. With all the changes in technology, we have to keep up to date. It’s more important than ever to continue learning, growing and staying relevant in the job market. 
  • Multi careerism. That longer lifespan allows us more twists in the career cycle road! How many careers and professional experiences could you have before you think about retiring? 

Here are three top tips to navigate your career cycles: 

1. Understand what motivates you.

This is the first step towards finding the right career for you. Once you understand your motivations, you’ll know what career choices to make. There’s a massive (negative) impact on our careers when we stay in them too long, or not long enough! Whichever way it is, there is no point plugging away at a career feeling unfulfilled, and eventually burning out. 

Think about what sort of job you might like. Do you like an environment where every day is different, with major change? Or one that gradually improves and progresses? Or one with known routine and constant stability? There’s no right answer here – it is totally personal to you. Get to know what your change motivators are, so that you can make the correct career choices when career cycles come along.

2. Know what you know, but more importantly what you need to know.

Lifelong learning has never been more important. When you refresh your CV, what skills can you demonstrate on it? I’m not just talking about your school education or formal training courses. We learn in everyday situations too – learning with others and from others! 

Why not do a regular skills audit, asking yourself “what did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday?”.

There has never been a better time to do this. This year the UK Government announced a flexible loan for learning, available to all adults. It’s never too late to learn something new! When we are learning, we are growing…

3. Know who you know, but also who you need to know.

It’s easy to surround yourself with similar people – as human beings we feel safety in familiar surroundings with similar people. In today’s constantly changing world we need to push those surroundings. Look for people that are different to you; they will help you to learn, to grow, to move in different circles. 

A phrase I’ve heard recently is boundary spanners – referring to people who are very good at building diverse networks, reaching across different areas of business, and making wide connections. The more connections we make with different people, the less blinkered we become. And this in turn increases our perspectives on the possibilities our careers hold, and most importantly, who our future selves can be. 

I will leave you with a quote from Sarah Ellis, co-author of the aptly titled book The Squiggly Career:

“In our experience it’s a person’s mindset that determines whether someone can successfully change careers rather than their age or experience… People that are adaptable, have a beginner’s mindset, and are curious, experience the most positive career changes.”

Sarah Ellis, Squiggly Careers