Why Don’t You Have A Career Strategy?

This contact, lets call him Sven (not his real name) had applied to a Chief Executive role I was recruiting to and produced a strong CV.  He has had a very strong career progression, predominantly in the Marketing & Communications field rising up to Director level within a sizeable Housing Group.  The exposure across the whole business had given him a great understanding of most aspects of the business, but unfortunately he had scratched the surface on many of them, but didn’t have the same depth of understanding in many of the key areas as many other applicants.

Another applicant for the same role, lets call this candidate Englebert (I’m not great at choosing common names, am I?), demonstrated what Sven perhaps should have done with hindsight.

Englebert is an intelligent and highly ambitious guy and has always known he wanted to become a Chief Executive of a Housing Association, and so every move he has made has been with that in mind.  He made a pretty rapid rise to Head of Housing level.  Once had had achieved what he wanted to in that role, he realised he needed to manage a larger staff team, so took what could have looked like a sideways step to another Head of Service role.  The difference was that he was managing over a hundred staff rather than 20 odd.  Once he had improved services there and addressed all the issues, he looked for a role which would give him some responsibility for Repairs and Asset Management (and even a bit of regen to boot).  Throughout this time, he has also sat on 3 Boards, giving him vital exposure to governance and risk issues.  The final piece of the jigsaw was moving into the Housing Association sector and he secured a role with a small HA in a larger group (double whammy!) where he then made a name for himself.  The next move could very really be a Chief Executive or MD role and very deservedly so.

So my question is- why aren’t most people more strategic in their career paths?

Now before you start, I know many of you have Personal Development Plans at work, but I bet that they are just focussed on you moving up to the next role in your department!  And that’s the problem!

What about the skills and knowledge you will need in 5-10 years time- will the move up on the next rung in your current department help you get there or are you heading down another cul de sac?

If you want to climb the greasy pole within the Housing industry, consider these following points:

  1. Develop a career STRATEGY– and ideally do it as soon as possible. Firstly, think about where you want to be and think about what knowledge and abilities you would need to have in that role and track that back to where you are today.  I bet you have a business plan with some milestones along the way- why don’t you do it for yourself?  Mentors and career coaches are useful to help you with this and there are plenty of videos on youtube which can get your juices flowing.
  2. Consider the direction of the industry– Housing is re-inventing itself and adapting to new conditions on a regular basis, so what is a sensible career option today, may not be in 2 years time (think of the collapse of the building trade a good few years back or the reduction of specialist teams like employability or Tenant Participation more recently). Look at what is happening now and what the potential repurcussions may be in the future.  For example- the fall of outsourced contractors like Carillion and Connaughts hints at a sizeable shift in direction for that part of the industry- what will it look like in 5 years time and what skills will be required?
  3. Be open to opportunities– remember that a career strategy, in the same way that a business plan does, can and should flex. You never know where something may lead and getting a wider portfolio of skills and knowledge can only be useful the further you go.  For many years now SMTs have been shrinking, which means Directors are now responsible for more than one discipline, so you should be considering that whilst you progress from manager through to head of Service Level.
  4. Be visible– Develop a reputation in the market for being someone who is committed to what they do- engage in or start topics that are important to you on social media channels, attend the many Housing events and participate, and develop your networks outside of your organisation. We work in a world where you are never really away from work completely and so someone who’s “personal brand” shows skills and knowledge in a particular area, twinned with a commitment and belief in the virtues of Social Housing will resonate way beyond your own network and may open doors who never knew were there.
  5. Commit to the above– we all get busy with the day to day and plans fall by the wayside. We can often set a plan and then when we next review it we realise 5 years has gone by and nothing has changed.  Make time to review and adapt your plan at least every 6 months to make sure you are always moving forward and reacting to the external environment along the way.


Now don’t worry.  If you don’t have a plan, it isn’t too late!  If you have read this far, your homework is to have a look at where you are at in your career, have a think about if you want to go further, and if you do, how many stages do you think are between you now and then and start to consider how you COULD get there.

Do you need to look outside of your current organisation or can you start to look at secondment opportunities in your current organisation?

I personally think that Housing organisations should develop a Talent Pool where secondments in other organisations could be brokered and then PDPs could actually be just that- Personal Development Plans, not just Staff Promotion Criteria!

The industry is connected enough and competition between organisations is low enough that it could just work- but that is for another blog!

Barry Forsythe is Manager of Greenacre Midlands Division,  overseeing the Executive/Senior Level candidacy and vacancies across the East & West Midlands region. Barry has worked in recruitment for over 16 years and works alongside organisations to deliver advice, insights and experience to housing and associated industry professionals throughout the UK.

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