All posts by Hamish Petrie

The secret to long-term career planning

In this second part of a two-part article, Hamish Petrie – former VP of People and Communications for resources giant Alcoa – reveals the secrets behind nurturing a long-term career.

Hamish currently writes for the Business Times in Melbourne. Read more about his story here.

Planning your career path

Time is a critical factor in any career planning process. Most futurists agree that a large proportion of jobs even ten years out have not been invented yet.

To try to conceive the sort of job that you might have in the latter half of a 30+ year career is impossible. Your personal situation and your career anchor will usually change often through your career. For example, major life changes can greatly alter your priorities. Some consultants recommend breaking your career into five year terms, however, my experience would suggest that this is too long.  Too many things can change your situation in even two years, so a three-year plan seems more appropriate in our rapidly changing world.

In making this sort of plan, most people identify that they want to do their boss’s job, as they know that they can do it better than the current boss. Whilst this may be true, it can be restrictive as people can lock onto this and lock off on other possibilities. This “lock on: lock off” thinking can prevent a person from thinking about lateral jobs that may ultimately prepare them for bigger future roles.

I always suggest that a medium term career plan should exclude their immediate boss’s role, as this stimulates broader thinking. Getting some breath of experience during the first half of your career is always wise and it doesn’t matter in the long term if a particular job is not your ideal one at the time, as long as you keep learning about yourself.

Companies and jobs are always evolving and changing so it is important to learn how to adapt to change and to help drive change in a positive direction for you and your company. There is an old adage that “ tomorrow’s power comes to those that solve today’s problems”. Demonstrating that you can creatively solve problems and stimulate others to help can be a great adjunct to your career.

The bottom line is that it is impossible to develop a realistic long-term career plan, but you can prepare yourself for possible future jobs. You can develop a short to medium plan and this can be very helpful as long as your include all of the opportunities for broadening your experience. When considering how to develop your career, it is much more important to focus on the company rather than the job. If you can join a company that is right for you, then they will help you grow, become active in a dialogue about your future and help you be happy, and rewarded in whatever job comes along.

Action Planning Questions: 

  1. Have you investigated your own career anchor or taken one of the self-assessment tests available on the Internet?
  2. Have you developed a three-year plan, excluding your current boss’s job?
  3. When considering candidates for a job, do you give try to identify their career anchors to determine the best long-term fit for your needs?
  4. When considering a job, do you focus much more on the company rather than the specific job?

Read part one: Hamish Petrie asks: ‘Can you plan your career?’

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Hamish Petrie asks ‘can you plan your career?’

In this first part of a two-part article, Hamish Petrie – former VP of People and Communications for resources giant Alcoa – offers advice to professionals at all stages of their career by encouraging the use of ‘career anchors’.

Hamish currently writes for the Business Times in Melbourne. Read more about his story here.

Career planning discussions start at an early age now during high school years as young people struggle with the question about what they want to do with their lives. This is an impossible struggle as no one can conceive how seemingly minor events will change their lives.

When I first started working as a shift metallurgist in a small tin mine on the west coast of Tasmania, I could never have conceived that 32 years and 20 jobs later, I would be sitting in a corner office on Park Avenue in Manhattan as Vice President of the world’s largest metals company. Life is full of twists and turns and chaos, so how can you prepare yourself to manage your career?

Planning your career by Hamish Petrie

Today, there are some generally accepted models for career planning that can be very helpful in starting the thinking process about your career. Generally, these models have four steps that include knowing yourself and your life priorities, exploring alternatives, deciding on a direction and then acting to implement this plan. The very first step in determining your life priorities is the most important, and it can be the most difficult. Aside from thinking about your personal values and strengths, it really forces you to think about what sort of job design and people interactions suit you the most.

While working at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in the 1970’s, Professor Edgar Schein developed the concept of career anchors, where the anchors represented an amalgam of personal values, talents, and preferences. These anchors shape the decisions that you will make about what is most important to you, in both your career and life.

This model has evolved now to define nine career anchor themes including technical or general management competence, autonomy, security, creativity and lifestyle. When I reflect on my career, I lacked the specific technical competence for any of my last fourteen jobs so it is very obvious that my career anchors were creativity and general management competence. Luckily, my family supported me with the frequent relocations necessary to take on each new career opportunity. The key outcomes of analysing your own career anchor is that you are most likely to be happy and satisfied when you can work in a job which is aligned with your personal anchor.

If you are on the flip side of this process, where you are making decisions about candidates for a job, then it is well worth exploring each candidate’s career anchors. Technical competence is very important in some jobs, like brain surgery, but for many jobs, it is not the most important factor, so taking a risk with a candidate can be very rewarding. Luckily, I had many bosses who were prepared to take a risk with me although I lacked specific knowledge about their job.