How to engineer your career

Before technology took over kid’s lives, many were budding engineers, building the things they wanted from scratch in their backyards. A classic example is the humble billy cart. For decades, early last century, almost every suburban street in Australia was full of them.

Billy carts were small, hand-made carts with 2 timber axle blocks connected by a longer timber plank that formed the chassis. They came in all shapes and sizes and had 4 trolley wheels, a seat above the rear axle and a steering rope connected to the left and right side of the front axle block – and that was it. They were only big enough to seat one person and had no means of acceleration other than gravity and pure willpower.

Often, there was no design manual but the young artisans could always visualise their dream cart. Some drew meticulous plans first while others just looked at other billy carts and worked it out. Sometimes they got it wrong and pieces didn’t fit or weren’t strong enough. Or, if they did work, their owners were always looking for ways to improve them. For many, this engineering process was just as rewarding as the end goal of coasting down the hills of local streets, racing their mates to the bottom.

Designing your dream career

Careers can be designed and built, just like billy carts.

Start with a vision of your end product – no matter how vague. It may not even be your vision. You can borrow someone else’s to start with. (This could be the suggestions or expectations of other people.)

Then, work out what you need to get started. These are your tools, materials and skills. For your career, you may need to do a course or training program first. You might also have to build up some pre-requisite skills or experience before you begin.

Once you have everything you need, get out there and give it a go.

Assess your design regularly

After you’ve tried out your career for a while, pause and evaluate its design. Is it working well? Was the design realistic? Are you getting the satisfaction and outcomes you expected?

If so, that’s fantastic! Your cart’s looking good and you’ve already had some wins with it. Maybe it’s even given you the bug to go further and faster. At this stage, think about how you can tweak your career design to improve its performance. This could include:

·      Listening to, and learning from other people who have found success in your areas of interest.
·      Filling any gaps in your own knowledge through formal or informal study.
·      Seeing if you can narrow down the focus of your vision and specialise in some areas.

Redesign if needed

If your original career prototype didn’t work out as you planned, you don’t have to stick with it. You can go back to the drawing board and start again. That’s what great engineers do. They learn through trial and error and often discover new things they had never dreamed of when they first started.

Maybe you thought you would love to work in biology, law or a trade only to discover a real passion for teaching others. Maybe you enjoy working in finance but not for a big corporation. There is nothing to stop you venturing out and trying out a new career design if that is what you really want to do.

New environments need new designs

Many young millennials just moving into the workforce have been pressured into choosing a lifelong career by their parents and others who grew up in an era where that was the sensible thing to do. However, that’s not the case anymore. Gone are the days where we start one job at 17 and stay in it until retirement. Most of us will now have at least 5 career changes in a lifetime – each one building on the one before.

With rapid changes in technology, innovation and business practices, new career pathways are unfolding all the time. Many of the roles we will be doing in 30 – 50-years’ time have not even been thought of yet!

With so many possibilities on the horizon, it is vital for us all to have a flexible approach to our career goals. We need to be prepared to fine-tune our plans, incorporate new ideas and go right back to the drawing board when needed.

Next time you feel your career is at a stand-still, imagine yourself as a suburban kid all those years ago, wanting to build your own billy cart. Be prepared to experiment and try out different things. When you get it right, you too can experience the adrenalin rush and sheer excitement of coasting forward on something you created all by yourself.

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Dr Sam Wylie, Principal Fellow of the Melbourne Business School and an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, built his own outstanding career through a series of tweaks, changes and complete redesigns. He is also a Director of Windlestone Education and consults major organisations in the banking, wealth management and corporate finance industries.

None of this was part of his original plan!

In his podcast interview on The Mentor List, Dr Wylie shares how he switched career direction many times and kept building his skills in order to go further and reach where he is today. He also happily shares his best tips and most productive habits so that you can learn from them, too.

Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List.

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