Seven ways to be in control (and in work)

Philip Schofield reads a new guide to keeping yourself in the job market

'To be employed today is to be at risk; to be employable is to be secure.' Most of us have heard the message. But nobody is showing us clearly and simply how to take control of our own careers, adapt to new roles, gain new skills and master new ways to build a career. Now Liverpool University has come up with a practical and easy-to-use answer.

The need is obvious. As Dr Peter Hawkins, the co-founder and adviser of Liverpool University's Graduate into Employment Unit, observes, it is possible to spend at least 40 years of 40-week years and 40 hours a week in employment. "That's a long time to be stuck in a job or career you can't stand. Yet, incredibly, most people devote more time to planning their annual holiday than thinking about a whole lifetime of work."

His unit's graduate business programmes have helped more than 2,500 unemployed graduates into full-time employment, helped more than 1,500 small businesses to improve and develop their business practices and created more than 700 new jobs.

Drawing on this experience, he says: "We analysed the factors for success - in how people create jobs in small businesses, which are the predominant area of future work. And we found that career-management skills are absolutely crucial. They are the underpinning skills that anybody needed to stay employable in the future - whether self-employed or in work. And what was interesting was that the smaller the organisation we looked at, the more important it was to have these self-reliant career-management skills."

He also "came across Charles Handy, who is now my mentor, and he helped me to develop the tactics to lead a portfolio career". The result is a unique self-help manual, The Art of Building Windmills: career tactics for the 21st century. The idea behind the title is that the wind of change in the working world is blowing harder and changing direction more often. People who "build walls" and accept passively or resist the opportunities that come their way have problems. Those who "build windmills" can take control and turn them to their own advantage.

The book brings together seven tactics, combining Dr Hawkins's personal experiences and those of the unit. He says: "The book is really focused at people in their early career or mid-career who are stuck in a rut. A lot of people are afraid to take risks. They are in their own comfort zone and lack the confidence and focus to move forward. They don't have a structure, a blueprint or a process to actually manage their careers. They don't know where to start."

The first of his seven tactics is to identify the skills you have, making sure you don't undersell yourself. Next find out where you want to go in life, by discovering what motivates you and identifying your ideal job. Then creatively explore your options, not only looking at the visible job market but also finding hidden opportunities. His fourth tactic shows how to look at yourself through a client's eyes, the best way to sell yourself to employers and how to boost your self-esteem.

He echoes Mr Handy: "Seeing everybody as a client, not an employer, and promoting the benefits you can bring to them are probably the most important qualities in life."

Dr Hawkins begins his fifth and perhaps most important tactic, "action thinking", by pointing out that "successful people rarely get where they are by following a pre-planned career - they position themselves to seize future opportunities". "Action thinking" includes setting yourself specific and measurable short-, medium- and long-term goals; breaking down your objectives into manageable chunks; understanding the traits that hold you back and how to overcome them; and keeping a log to record the key outcomes at each stage of your learning.

The sixth tactic offers 10 ways to make your present job work for you, how to think laterally and how to improve your networking skills. And finally, you should measure your career-management performance - where am I now?; where do I want to be?; how do I get there?; am I getting there?.

Each tactic is presented mainly in the form of checklists, questionnaires and bullet points. Each is also colour-coded: blue to outline ideas, green for further research and exercises, orange showing how to put ideas into action.

Dr Hawkins was surprised by the enthusiasm that the manual attracted at its launch, at the Association of Graduate Recruiters' annual conference, and subsequently. The North-West Regional Development Agency is already sponsoring workshops in north-west England to present the book.

He says: "We are now working on a national roadshow to provide workshops on the book in every city and are looking for sponsorship from employers. The North-West Regional Development Agency is also helping us to develop a whole set of training materials to develop an all-singing, all-dancing roadshow."

"The Art of Building Windmills" is available from the Graduate into Employment Unit, University of Liverpool, 131 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5TF, at pounds 10 plus pounds 2.50 p&p. Employers interested in sponsoring a roadshow should call Dr Hawkins on 0151-709 1760.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence