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Planning your career by “broadening your horizons”

by Fiona Christie on July 15, 2011

At our Postgraduate Futures Careers conference in June myself and my colleague Max Rawlings  (from Human Resource Development) ran a short taster session about Broadening Horizons which is a career development programme developed by Vitae  for research staff .  The “real” programme has been designed as a full 2 day course; so we were a bit cheeky to try and cover some key elements in an hour. However, our idea was to explain the aims of the programme to our audience with a view to gauge interest for putting on a one or two day programme at a later date.

Max and I focussed on some of the key themes of Broadening Horizons that appealed to us but that also happen to be the key components of much existing career planning theory and practice.

Knowing yourself

What are you really great at? What are you passionate about? What are your greatest achievements? What have been your biggest challenges? What do regard as a failure?

The recommended first stage of career planning is self-reflection and awareness. For many people this is a really hard process and questions such as the above can throw people into a bewildered state of confusion.

However, I’d say that having a good self-knowledge is a fundamental starting point for being able to plan your career;  nobody  says it’s easy but the Broadening Horizons programme makes it a priority for participants to spend time reflecting on the above questions and much more.

In our taster session Max and I gave examples of some tools such as Schein’s career anchors which aim to get individuals to focus on priorities and we also briefly talked about the Windmills Programme, which is another self-reflection framework which focuses on the individual’s whole life, not just work.

Knowing the job market

Good career planning also means investigating what career options there really are. People don’t always consider all their options and are sometimes unaware of potential occupations and maybe even pre-judge others incorrectly.  I used an exercise to illustrate this in which I put up the skills required for specific jobs but didn’t say what the job title was. It’s amazing how people will say “No, I wouldn’t want to do that job,” but then when shown the skills associated with that same job will say “I could do that”.  The Vitae programme has a particular emphasis around encouraging researchers to think beyond an academic career and to explore other areas of work.

Creative thinking as an approach underpins the Vitae programme which is very appropriate when doing exercises about the job market  and trying to get individuals to “think outside the box” when it comes to career options.

Making it happen

So once you know yourself and you know what’s out there; you have to make it happen. That includes everything from having a great CV to knowing how to do a presentation at interview as well as basics such as knowing where jobs in your field are advertised.

As careers consultants/advisers it’s really interesting that many clients do things upside down and try to make things happen before they actually have done any of the work about knowing them self and knowing the job market.

To give you a bit more information about what we covered in our session, here are our slides.

If you are a Salford postgraduate or member of early career research staff, please get in touch with me on if you would be interested in doing this career development programme.

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