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30th Jun 2012

Where to Next? Career Planning, Recession Style

During the boom, career progession was a relatively smooth road but with the clouds of economic turmoil refusing to budge  what are the working women of Ireland going to do next, asks Fiona McGarry.


Where do you see yourself in five year’s time? Scary question isn’t it?

Circa 2007, any self-respecting career girl would have been able to answer with steely conviction, and without a second’s hesitation. In 2012, things aren’t quite so clear cut.

At a recent job interview, that seemingly harmless query reduced a friend of mine to a fit of almost hysterical giggles.

To save her blushes, I’ll call her Sarah. It was her first big interview in a couple of years. A self-confessed ‘recovering journalist’, Sarah has hopes of becoming a primary school teacher. Right now, however, opportunities are about as frequent as smiles from Victoria Beckham.

Like thousands of us, Sarah has had to review her career prospects over the last five years. Recession, Redundancy and Retraining. She refers to them as her ‘personal three Rs’. And she’s been on quite a steep learning curve.

When we chat over coffee, Sarah obsesses over that one interview question. It was a sitter and she missed it in spectacular fashion.

As she sat in front of the panel, grappling for an answer, selected highlights from the previous five years flashed through Sarah’s head. In that time, she’d been a part-time dog groomer, a bookkeeper, a mystery shopper and substitute English teacher. All of those jobs were necessary. Some of them were pleasant. But none of them were ever part of her life plan. With a track record like that, she was looking at the next five years with her fingers over her eyes. When she tried to put this into words, the faces of the interview panel suggested they were looking for someone a little more coherent.

If she had a mean streak, Sarah could console herself with the fact that not everyone’s career is rosy roundabout now. In our circle of friends, there’s the eternal intern (not funny over the age of 30), the magic marketing executive (she can cram five days worth of work into her three-day-week), the freelancer-for-free (lots of work, not so much pay) and the ‘vanishing career’ girl (she worked in PR, now she makes cappuccinos four-hours-per-day). You could ask any of them where they see their career in five year’s time, but you’d be advised to stand at arm’s length.

Not so long ago, we all believed we were mistresses of our own destiny. Now, we’re uneasy riders on the Euro-zone roundabout, where jobs come and jobs go, and nobody really knows what the next five years will bring.

As we get up to pay for the coffee, Sarah is philosophical. Maybe there’s a balance to be struck between living day-to-day and trying to set career plans in stone.  While we’ve been talking, Sarah’s had a voice mail. It seems the interview panel weren’t put off by the giggling fit and the job is hers. It’s the start of a new career. Who knows if it’ll last for five years, ten years or more? In the current climate, those are still scary questions, and Sarah has learned enough not to worry about the answers just yet.