Today’s new working environment demands an altogether more fluid approach where networking, chance and passion are often more powerful forces in developing careers than meticulous planning.

Even in law, where career paths have been fairly rigid, we are seeing changes afoot with new routes into the legal industry opening up, and partnership no longer the be-all and end-all for many. In addition, the path is circuitous for many of those entering the legal industry who are not lawyers.

Stanford professor John Krumboltz has long argued that his ‘happenstance theory’ is the way forward in career development. The theory places the emphasis on developing qualities that will lead you on to a better career rather than too much strategic thinking. These qualities include curiosity, persistence, optimism, flexibility and risk-taking. The theory goes that we need to create our own opportunities, putting ourselves where things might happen, and being proactive when they do.

The idea seems particularly apt for the current climate. A job is usually no longer for life – for many it’s not desirable; for businesses, it’s often impossible. Following the planned happenstance philosophy equips you to be able to respond positively to change and uncertainty. Indecision is no longer a bad thing but a way of keeping your options open, and entirely sensible given the different factors at play in our lives that are often outside of our control.

In their book, Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business, entrepreneurs Thor Muller and Lane Becker examine how to make your own luck. The people who are the most successful in life take advantage of chance happenings and are open to accidental discoveries. They argue that hard work, motivation, passion and acting on instinct are vital.

These methods require networking: but rather than looking at name badges and job titles, be open to the idea that opportunity can come from anywhere and anyone. Look outside traditional business events. They stress that everything is an opportunity. Even if you dislike your current job, use it to meet people and build experience. See it as a stepping-stone to better things. Pursue your interests, and consider taking on a voluntary role to expand your horizons. Crucially, when opportunity arises, always follow up on it.

However, while these ideas are inspiring, they need to work in tandem with some degree of planning. The saying that if you don’t know where you’re going you will probably end up somewhere else springs to mind. Having some kind of target keeps you motivated.

A combination of goal-setting while being open, flexible and tenacious makes for a sound approach to career development.


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