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In our experience there are patterns which occur in the management of any person’s career. There is also a distracting conversation that can take place around generational differences in careers. The real difference is to be found in the natural stages which all people go through when building their careers.

We have identified four such stages:

a) Getting started – when people leave school or university

b) Building – qualifying in a trade or profession, or moving into the early stages of

acquiring a skill set that will later need to be optimised

c) Optimising – reflects the realities around earnings potential as well as the tendency

of people in their early- to mid-thirties to start thinking more about families or

partners who have careers, as well as the prospect of less mobility. Optimising is

also about having a clear set of skills and experience which the individual and

his/her family will bring to the market

d) Sustaining – having as long a career as possible

We have also noticed a similarity between the “sustaining” and the “getting started”

phase; in both phases, innovation and exploration of options are necessary. These

four stages require different behaviours and patterns of activity and explain not only

the differences in behaviours found in large groups of people, but also the reasons for

such sweeping statements being made generational differences, in particular the

sense of entitlement that people at the start of their careers allegedly display.

We do not agree with these sweeping statements. Our experience of working pro

bono with people getting started with their careers is that they need the same

guidance and advice as people in the sustaining phase. The only difference is the

way in which this guidance and advice are delivered in terms of messaging and


With people in the optimising stage, there still seems to be a certain amount of

resistance to taking outside career advice. They feel that, since they are optimising,

all they need to be successful is to do more of the same. For example, a five years’

qualified lawyer might easily identify a general counsel role as an alternative to

partner within the existing firm. There is no apparent need here to take advice.

It is important for us to thoroughly examine these assumptions that we regularly hear,

establish what is relevant for specific individuals during each of these four stages and

to adapt our work accordingly.


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