Building Career Resilience

Career paths are no longer linear, and most everyone can expect their careers to be impacted by the constant changes in the modern workplace due to technology, innovation, globalization, and shifts in policy.  While it's possible to predict some of those changes, more often than not difficult times can come when we least expect them. Take a look at what some Washington, DC-area alumni learned about proactive career management and career resilience from some of their peers, and how you can successfully manage your career and the unexpected.

At a recent DukeDC alumni session entitled "Proactive Career Management in a Disruptive Work World," 40+ Fuqua and Duke alumni gathered to connect and learn more about career resilience from a panel of their peers facilitated by Lisa Schwartz, Program Director for Fuqua Alumni Career Services.  As the panelists shared their stories, a number of consistent themes emerged that illustrated how important being pro-active and resilient were to achieving career success and satisfaction. 

  • Everyone approached his or her career as if it were a business - they made plans, but they knew when their plans needed to be tossed or re-worked, and they shifted in another direction.
  • Most spent a good deal of time in a period of self-reflection and exploration that required reaching out to others. 
  • They took a risk (calculated) at some point.
  • They trusted the process and engaged in the journey without over-focusing on a specific destination.
  • Most had a sense of purpose and knew what they wanted to do or what they wanted to learn. 
  • Each understood what their strengths and value proposition were.
  • They were strategic about balancing the need for income and the need to pursue what was worth doing. They figured out a way to generate income, what assets they had that allowed for a drop in income, and what had to change if needed.

The stories of these alumni provided a reality check on the fact that steady career growth and stability are far more elusive than ever, and that managing your career requires new approaches, perspectives and skills. The prevailing message was that you can't always plan for or predict the future, but there are certain things you can do to survive and thrive in a disruptive work world. One is taking ownership and proactively managing your career over time; another is to develop what has been aptly called career resilience.

Proactive Career Management

Being proactive and resilient go hand-in-hand, so employing specific strategies and tactics on a regular basis will make it easier to develop the resilience needed for you to achieve the type of career you want and handle inevitable setbacks.  

  • Pause periodically to do a self-assessment - Being aware of and leveraging your top strengths, skills, values and interests, plus knowing how to communicate your value in the marketplace, will help you set direction and sell yourself when you need to.
  • Develop and be invested in relationships inside and outside your organization, field and industry. Nothing is more powerful for helping you weather any career crossroads or grow your career than the people you are connected to and have regular conversations with.
  • Keep your head up - It's never been enough to just put your head down and work hard. You need to keep on top of current and potential shifts and changes in your company/industry/function, and the world at large and then evaluate how they impact your work. Ask yourself if you are still providing needed and relevant value. It may be time to re-tool or apply your skills differently. 
  • Adopt a learning mindset. Make a commitment to continual learning and development, stay curious and get comfortable not having all the answers or always being the expert.

Career Resilience 

The ability to anticipate, take risks, and remain adaptive when under stress and then re-orient to a new situation is essential to managing the ups, downs and curves of life.  When you are resilient, you can get to the other side of a challenge in better shape than from where you started. While it may be easier for some to develop what it takes to be resilient, there are ways anyone can build resilience and gain the ability to tackle all the stuff life throws our way. 

  • First, recognize your own history and ability to manage the unexpected. Everyone's life is a mix of thoughtful planning and unplanned opportunities and circumstances. Chances are, many of the good outcomes in your life have come from what was unplanned, while some of the things you planned for didn't go the way you intended and vice versa.  How did you react? What did you think, feel and do? 
  • Identify a sense of purpose. When you have a sense of purpose and meaning you can persist when things are difficult and make choices more easily. 
  • Be willing to go beyond your comfort zone and challenge yourself. When having to reach beyond what is comfortable, you will bring into play the qualities required to build resilience which are optimism, courage, creativity, determination and collaborating with others.
  • Think about your thinking. We all feel and behave certain ways based on what we think.  If you think you must, should, can't, etc., about certain things, it is likely you are relying on faulty assumptions and negative thoughts to determine how you approach difficult times. Another way to build resilience is to challenge those thoughts and replace with more positive ones.

We have merely scratched the surface of what it takes to build and maintain career resilience.  If you want to learn more, please join us for this month's upcoming alumni webinar, "Maintaining Career Resilience," on May 26 from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm ET.  We'll discuss in more depth how to take charge of your career by learning what it takes to adapt and become more resilient in the face of constant change and the unexpected. You can register on Fuqua's alumni website.

If you would like to work with a coach to develop career resilience or manage a specific situation impacting your career please email us at