What is planned happenstance, and how can it inform your career?

Posted in: Advice, Finding a Job

Having career goals is great – but if you’re limiting yourself to a very specific plan, you may be missing out. While it’s good to be realistic about what you can do with your degree, don’t be afraid to branch out. There may be more options open to you than you realise.

Career theorist John Krumboltz believes chance plays a significant role in our career paths, just as much as planning. He came up with the theory of ‘planned happenstance’ and believes indecision isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re looking for work – in fact, it can open up a world of opportunities. In essence, it’s making a plan with an open mind, you can have a focus but also be open to the unexpected or unplanned. It might mean approaching an employer you’re not too familiar with, or exploring less obvious career paths. It means having a positive mindset that your diverse and curious actions will lead to great opportunities.

We know things haven’t quite gone to plan over the last year or so. The pandemic has left many of us feeling uncertain about which industries are hiring, what opportunities are available, and whether we should retrain. But happenstance isn’t about retraining necessarily – it’s about staying open to the opportunities you’re already qualified for.

The world is changing

Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, founders of Amazing If, put forward the idea that career ladders are less relevant these days. Working one job for life is almost unheard of – the world just doesn’t work that way anymore. Instead, younger generations are more likely to gain their skills and experience through a variety of different jobs. The first few years in your career can be about experimentation and developing awareness of interests and skills. Transferable skills are opening doors that didn’t exist thirty years ago, and career paths aren’t as linear as they once were. The skills we gain at university, on placements, or in part-time work can take us all manner of places.

If we’re no longer climbing the career ladder, and instead pivoting towards new opportunities, it makes sense to be aware of what those opportunities are, and where we might happen upon them.

What do we mean by ‘happenstance’?

Happenstance doesn’t mean your dream job will come knocking on your front door. We still have to take the initiative and go after these opportunities – they may just arise from unforeseen circumstances. For example, you might be recommended a job by a friend, or speak to an employer you’ve not heard of at a careers fair. You might find something through networking. You can’t control every little outcome in your job search, but that’s okay. It is important to be open, reflective and brave, and see where the world takes you.

Tricia says: “To me, happenstance means thinking about the wider context of job satisfaction. I once had to choose between two job offers and I surprised myself with the one I took! There were lots of things to consider – the salary, the commute, the company values and how they aligned with my own. It wasn’t a career I had ‘planned’ as such, and I was surprised to have been offered the position – but it goes to show there are fulfilling careers out there, and they’re not always the ones you expect.”

Aste says: “It may also mean trying out organisations that you may not be 100% sure about. I went to an interview even though I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to work for the organisation and the location, although the job itself was interesting. However, meeting my potential line manager, hearing their passion for the organisation and the extra step they went through so I could have an informal social chat and coffee with my potentially future colleagues, really won me over. It made me realise how important a positive and passionate environment is for my job satisfaction and that could be found in different types of organisations.”

In a recent blog one of our graduates talked about moving to Germany to a job he really wasn’t that interested in; however, the skills and experiences he got in that role ensured he ended up where he is today. We will leave you with his and his fellow alumni final careers tip:

“Opportunities appear at any time, your career isn’t structured, it is an open book, try different things and think about what you enjoy doing. There isn’t just one way of doing things and change always happens. Don’t worry, things will sort themselves out. Be proactive and keep learning!”

This blog was written collaboratively by Tricia Onions and Aste Dahl

Posted in: Advice, Finding a Job


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  • Whilst understanding the scope of Happenstance theories, I equally believe it gives prospect to exploration and proactiveness, it opens peoples eyes , therefore avoiding setting boundaries for yourself even after you have completed your specific degrees!

    Happenstance is a go getter theorist in my own opinion and I strongly agree with the theories.