Checkmate: how to strategically plan your career

Sep 02, 2019
During your training contract, you should think about what moves you should make and how to leverage what you have now into the career you want in the future.

Words by Lisa Hughes

Your professional future is a long-term strategy – a little like playing chess. In chess, you don’t win in your first or second move; it’s the future options that these moves create that are key. As you train over the coming years, you should always have one eye on what you want to be doing post-contract, and how the experience you are getting now (particularly the client exposure and nature of work) might affect your options.

Let’s look at a classic example:

Mary trained in a Top 20 firm. Most of her clients were either smaller SMEs or sole traders. Mary wants to work for Google. The problem is that Google won’t hire Mary as there are a lot of other people out there coming from the Big 4 (and otherwise) with big tech company experience. So, how does Mary go about getting into Google?  She has three options:

  • Mary can keep sending her CV in for jobs in Google, hoping that something sticks. It might, but that’s not likely. Miracles do happen, but I would not advise betting your entire future on one.
  • Mary can make a move that she’s not interested in, but that will help open up more options for her in the future. Mary can make a move to a Big 4 or similar firm where she can get audit exposure to big software companies and then be in a better position to get into Google in around 18 months.
  • Mary can make a move for a contract role in a big tech company – taking on the risk of a contract to gain the experience that Google requires. Google might even have some contract roles open, getting her foot in the door.
If Mary could do it again, she might have pushed to get on the medium-sized software company audit during her training contract. It would have made the path to Google more straight forward.

What do you want in your future?  How will your time during your training contract affect your options? These are the questions you should ask yourself before you qualify.

There are other times when some forward-thinking and manoeuvring will come into play while training that will help you down the line. You might want to use internal audit or stat reporting as a sideways move post-contract to get into organisations where you have no previous exposure, or move into financial accounting now as a stepping stone into business partnering/financial analysis in the future.

Play your future like chess – creating options over the coming years is what it’s all about. The exposure you get during your training contract is as important as what you learn in the classroom. Your career is only just getting started – the best next step is to align your client exposure with your ambitions post-contract.

Or you could just hope for a miracle. That could work too.