Don’t Box Me In! My Squiggly Career by Kathy Greethurst

One of our Let’s Talk Talent family who recently attended our recent Book Club on the Squiggly Career, and after our career planning webinar Kathy offered to write us a blog post about her Squiggly Career. Find out more about Kathy’s Career journey and connect on LinkedIn.

If you want to find out more about how to map your career, you can download our Career Planning Whitepaper which has lots of practical tools you can take back to your business.

So, over to Kathy.

My Squiggly Career by Kathy Greethurst

A couple of years ago, a recruitment consultant contacted me about a fabulous new HR vacancy. During our brief conversation, she quickly decided that I was not suitable because I did not have the necessary experience. Puzzled, I pointed out that I did have the right experience – from earlier in my career. She replied, ‘that’s no good, it’s too old. My client is only interested in what candidates have been doing in the last five years.’

Similarly, during my recent upgrade assessment to Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, the focus was on my last five years of experience. At the end of my assessment, when asked if I had anything else to add, I requested that my career was considered in its entirety because, in my early adult years, I had held more senior HR positions. Again, I was informed that only the last five years would be taken into account.

So why do I find this limited view of my career frustrating and baffling? Simply, because my early senior career experiences, along with the totality of my life and work experiences, have shaped who I am today and they gave me much of the wisdom and insight that I have brought to my recent HR jobs.

The first time that I realised that my rather unusual non-linear upwards career progression might present a problem was about seven years ago when I was applying to work for my last employer, Oxford Brookes University. When completing my application, I struggled to explain what I had been doing and why I had not followed a traditional and conventional upwards trajectory. I knew that if I could not come up with a clear and compelling narrative, I could not expect anyone else to understand me. Thankfully, my creative writing training came to the rescue and inspired me to divide my career into book chapters.

My first chapter was a serious HR career which began with my post-graduate Diploma in Personnel Management and involved me working my way up to being a very successful senior HR manager at BT. But nothing lasts forever and by the end of this chapter, I had hit a career brick wall and so, for the first time in my life, I threw all the balls up in the air and applied for voluntary redundancy. I did not know what I was going to do next – just a vague notion to set up my own HR consultancy business.

The second chapter began with a few lean months – before I secured my first HR consultancy assignment, quickly followed by the offer of an Interim HR post to work on the merger between Cap Gemini and Ernst & Young Management Consultancy. After this short-term contract ended, I focused on building my consultancy business and, entirely through networking and recommendations, took it to a more financially lucrative, purposeful and satisfying place than in chapter one.

Chapter three began after a serious life review (my mid-life crisis?!) when, for the second time in my life, I threw all the balls up in the air. I left my husband, my business and my life in London and took our two sons to South Oxfordshire for a better life. For the first four months, I was lost. But once I recovered my equilibrium, I took the first and very scary next step on my journey – which was to fulfill a long-time secret ambition to write. This took me from nothing to a Masters degree in Creative Writing specialising in poetry and TV screenwriting in five years. During the latter part of this chapter, I worked in a part-time training job at Sainsbury’s to help pay my bills. There, I was totally underutilised but I worked with amazing colleagues who truly and deeply cared about their customers. I stayed with Sainsbury’s longer than anticipated after becoming ill with gallstone problems.

My fourth chapter began immediately after my gallbladder operation when the advert for my first job at Oxford Brookes University arrived in my inbox on my birthday. I knew that the job had my name on it. I successfully applied and re-entered the world of corporate HR. I am very proud of my achievements in both jobs there but after hitting another career brick wall, I decided, as we went into Lockdown, to throw all the balls up in the air for the third time.

So I left my last job at the end of July 2020. This time it is easier, because having just turned 60, I have received a lovely pension gift from BT. Now I am trying to work out again what I am meant to be doing next and how best I can serve the world.

As I reflect on my past, I know that my early senior career experiences helped to develop my natural strategic and leadership abilities, to understand the business world from a senior position, to be a self-starter, self-motivated and self-sufficient, and to work collaboratively with others to achieve big and valuable results. I am keen to break down career barriers, encourage people to see themselves and others for who they are and who they might be as whole people, to care about each other and to help each other to grow and fulfil our potential. So please, don’t box me in. I am not just the last five years of my experience!

P.S In case you are wondering, I am happy to announce that I successfully passed my upgrade to Chartered Fellow of the CIPD- which I see as great recognition for my hard work and contribution to creating better places to work over 30+ years, albeit following a squiggly career path.

For help to understand and develop your squiggly career, you can grab a copy of the book that inspired it all. The Squiggly Career: Ditch the Ladder.

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