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Future Proofing Your Career

By Donna Weston – Career Coach

I feel lucky to have been able to take a break from my career to spend time exploring what I want to do next and putting the foundations in place for the second half of my career, which has included studying for an MA in Career Development and Coaching Studies.  Not everyone can take or wants to take a career break, however, any lull in normal activity can be a good moment to reflect on your career to date and to make plans for your future.  You may well be experiencing this now during the summer period; a bit of in-between time after the dramatic, high energy spring resulting from the emergence of the pandemic and before gearing up for a new ‘normal’ in September.

The pandemic has also reminded us that the world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). This has important implications on how we manage our careers which will be long and will inevitably be disrupted in ways we can not predict.  With that in mind, based on my exploration of career over the last few years, here are my top 6 tips to future proof your career in a VUCA world:

  • Design your own Career Model: The classic 3 stage career model (school, work, retirement) is now atypical; with increasing life spans careers need to be viewed through a different lens so look out for new models. For example, John Fitzgerald talks about a 3 year project model, Tim Ferriss the 4 hour work week, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha plan A, plan B and Plan Z, or find someone whose career is enabling them to lead a lifestyle that you find appealing that you can learn from. Take what you like from these models and design one that is appropriate for you and your context. In my experience a transition to a preferred career model will take a number of years, however, holding your desired state in mind as you make crucial career decisions will improve your chances of success and lead to greater career satisfaction.


  • John Fitzgerald talks about disrupting yourself before you are disrupted: This requires proactive career management and like the commencement of any new project, you first need to understand your “as is” state by examining the data.  I like John Fitzgerald’s Future Readiness Index which assesses where you are now and your ability to deal with a changing future. Identify where your gaps are and what you need to do next to close them. On the same theme, Charles Handy provides the ‘second curve’ as a metaphor that he applied to his own career, changing jobs regularly just as things were going well.  Whether you prescribe to this approach or not it is still worth doing the work well ahead of your next move.


  • Get clear on your purpose and values. My role as a Career Coach is to enable clients to make more informed career decisions whilst also dealing with uncertainty resulting from the complex nature of careers.  And where you can’t know everything, being clear on your purpose and values will act as a magnet that keeps returning you to what is important,  enabling you to maximise opportunities and generate energy when things seem tough. Steph has made a wonderful short video about values if you want to explore this further.


  • Build on your strengths and be known for them. One of Helen Tupper’s and Sarah Ellis’ five skills to manage a squiggly (non-linear) career is to identify your top 3 super strengths and spend 80% of your time developing them, the other 20% of your time on your weaknesses that you will need to improve to make your job easier. Then make sure you are known for these strengths, use them, talk about them, make sure they are emphasised when anyone else talks about you and establish ways to gain feedback to assess your progress. This will help you to develop a strong personal brand that will increase the chance of job opportunities finding you.


  • Make a commitment to continually learn. When nothing stays the same you will need to continually learn and adapt. This involves undertaking small experiments so you can assess their impact and learn quickly. In a career context this may mean talking to someone about a job they do to assess whether it would be right for you or looking for opportunities to try a new skill. Secondly, pay attention to what you know – how is the world of work changing, what new skills will you need for the future, what do you need to unlearn? Aim for a T-Shaped skills model, which focuses on both breadth and depth, when designing your personal development program.


  • Develop your network. Future proof your career by actively extending your network, be interested in people – what they do and how they do it. Network outside your normal social bubbles (within the constraints of the current pandemic!) and live by the principle to “help first”. Zella King and Amanda Scott use the “personal boardroom” as a metaphor to provide structure for your network. You may find assessing your network against these roles particularly helpful at this time when it is not so easy to develop your network organically – it might just point you in the direction of a new and rewarding connection that is mutually beneficial.


Sources and Further reading 

Charles Handy – The Second Curve

Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis – The Squiggly Career

John Fitzgerald – Future Proof Your Career

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha – The Start-up of You

Tim Ferriss – The 4-hour Work Week

Zella King and Amanda Scott – Who is in your Personal Boardroom?