As Lent Term draws to an end and with exams, final assignments and graduation in the not-so-distant future, you may be starting to think about life after university – or even rethinking your next steps, and that’s okay!

For many, the ‘right’ advice seems obvious. Take a step back to reflect on skills, values, and expectations. Consider what you’ve learnt through past experiences. Research ideas, visit careers and prepare a logical plan of action that will lead you towards your new clearly-established or redefined goals. For some, this might be the best approach.

Some of you, however, might be interested in an alternative way of thinking which allows you to move forward flexibly and which, it can be argued, reflects rather more accurately a world where we really always guarantee that A will necessarily lead to B and then C. Indeed, the reality is that most people’s careers take unexpected twists and turns along the way. Furthermore, high achievers will often stress the importance to their career success of having a certain focus while always remaining open to the unplanned or unexpected.

A careers theory which reflects this method was put forward by Professor John Krumboltz of Stanford University which suggests that rather than developing a very rigid idea of what you want to achieve and how to get there, you can work with some vague ideas, do some generally positive things in broadly the right direction and still have confidence that in doing so, things will happen. This is known as Planned HappenstancePlanned Happenstance suggests that even if you don’t know exactly where your actions will lead, just by being active and doing the right kinds of things, great things can and will happen. This approach is probably particularly relevant to careers which traditionally rely on us to create our own opportunities – media, creative industries, charities, political organisations to name but a few – but actually, happenstance does play some role in most people’s career path.

The four core steps to this approach (developed by Mitchell, Krumboltz and Levin) are:

  • clarify ideas: follow your curiosity and identify your interests
  • remove the blocks: wonder “how can I” rather than “I can’t because…”
  • expect the unexpected: be prepared for chance opportunities, such as unexpected phone calls, chance encounters, impromptu conversations and new experiences
  • take action: learn, develop skills, remain open and follow up on chance events

The theory relies on certain characteristics: curiosity, to explore learning opportunities; persistence, to deal with obstacles; flexibility, to address a variety of circumstances and events; and optimism, to maximise benefits from unplanned events. So if you recognise yourself in any of this, and believe you can turn chance encounters and events into career opportunities, it could be time to have a go!

If you want to look into this further, you might be interested in the following:

  • The Unplanned Career: How to Turn Curiosity into opportunity – Kathleen Mitchell
  • Luck is no Accident: Making the most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career – Al Levin and John Krumboltz

No matter what stage you’re at with your career planning, LSE Careers is here to help. Find useful resources online, book an appointment with a careers consultant or get in touch with us:

This blog was first published in August 2015 and has been checked and updated for current readers.