Career Resilience


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A number of researchers and practitioners are interested in resilience specifically applied to career transitions and trajectory. In practice this often seems difficult to distinguish from general resilience development; just placed within a career context. For example, Beverley Jones, a coach, offers six key steps to career resilience:

  1. Get connected

  2. Choose optimism

  3. Learn something new

  4. Think like an entrepreneur

  5. Look at the big picture

  6. Get in shape

(Beverley Jones, interviewed by Hannon, K., 2012)

Of these probably only one of the steps, “think like an entrepreneur”, is specifically career related. However, Jones makes a very telling point relating to this which is that “Even if you feel like a cog in the middle of a big organization, you can run your career like a one-person business.” This is a positive and active way to think about career development and fits with an emphasis often made in this area about the need for career self-reliance.

This idea also includes thinking about your personal brand. One of the largest global management consultancies, PWC, provides a useful open access on-line workbook for developing your personal brand (http://www.pwc.com/us/en/careers/campus/assets/img/programs/personal-brand-workbook.pdf).

Interestingly the content of this has a clear cross-over with the key aspects usually highlighted to enhance psychological wellbeing and resilience, the four main themes of the PWC resource being: Soar with your strengths; Tap into your values; Pursue your passions; Define your purpose. Essentially resilience is important for health and wellbeing as well as career development and there is evidence that targeted interventions can simultaneously make a difference on both fronts (Vuori et al., 2010).

A key aspect of career resilience is understanding and developing your strengths. A strength is something you naturally do well and enjoy doing. Of course we all have weaknesses and it’s important to recognise yours in relation to your career development and ambitions. However, focusing only on developing your weaknesses is a recipe for a distinctly average outcome. For career development it is particularly useful to identify and develop latent or under used strengths. For example, perhaps you are a very capable negotiator and have enjoyed doing so to reach a successful conclusion in the past, but your current role provides few opportunities to use this strength. How could you open up possible avenues to use this strength more frequently? Perhaps your manager would welcome an offer of help to support negotiations with suppliers or agents?

Career resilience is also about having strong adaptive coping mechanisms in place particularly when you face major transition or uncertainty. Generally it’s useful to have some flexibility around the coping mechanisms you can draw on. You may have a strong rational coping approach enabling you to easily and logically think through how you are framing an issue. This is likely to be very helpful but it might be a mistake to over-rely on it and under-utilise other proven coping techniques such as drawing on social support.

Burn-out is a risk that needs to be managed as your career progresses and changes, but so is rust-out. The latter refers to the risk of becoming progressively disengaged, demotivated, and frankly bored. The consequences of psychological burn-out are usually painful and dramatic with health implications. Bust rust-out can creep in slowly and less visibly, particularly in the early stages. It is avoided by actively ensuring you stay connected to activity that has meaning for you. There may be a period in your career when rust-out is a greater risk for you than burn-out. You may tolerate the former for longer than the latter but the results of not recognising and addressing it will be negative for your career and your long term wellbeing.

References

Hannon, K. (2012) 6 Key Steps for Career Resilience. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryhannon/2012/12/26/6-key-steps-for-career-resilience/

Vuori, J., Toppinen-Tanner, S., Mutanen, P. (2012). Effects of resource-building group intervention on career management and mental health in work organizations: Randomized controlled field trial. Journal of Applied Psychology,97.2, 273-286.


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