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The ABZ Career Plan

In LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman’s, book, The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, written alongside Ben Casnocha, he advocates why you need to think of your career as a startup. Startup founders have a broad vision for their company, but whilst developing and building it they face lots of obstacles and uncertainties. To overcome this, they test lots of approaches, and gradually zone in on an approach that best suits their vision and their ability to monetise.

The book then describes how these principles can be applied to people in their career, regardless of whether or not they found a company. They call it ‘ABZ planning’, and the idea is that you plan for different scenarios in your career so that if one doesn’t work out, or technology changes the career you originally wanted to enter, you can mitigate your circumstances as effectively as possible. Here’s a brief description of how it works:

Plan A - your Ideal Scenario

What are your long-term options (next 5-20 years) for the career you are currently in? Roughly rank these options in order of preference, and  then choose one of the following three types of Plan A depending on where you are.

Option 1. If you’re reasonably confident about your best long-term option, you should then work out how to get there. You can do this through informational interviews and look at what successful people in that field have done in the past. You can also work out the steps needed to get to that goal, alongside transferable skills so that if your Plan A doesn’t work out, you’ll still have options.

Option 2. If you are still uncertain about your best long-term option, your next move should be to try out your top 2-4 options over the next couple of years. This could involve doing a number of internships in different industries, doing part-time projects within your current company, volunteering, learning a new skill or working in a different career for one or two years each.

Option 3. If you are very uncertain about your best long-term option, then you need to do more research while building a number of different hard and soft skills (depending on the careers you are interested in). You may want to use methods from both Option 1 and 2, however in less depth so you can narrow them down before you do even more research to zone in on one. 

Plan B – Nearby Alternatives

Nearby alternatives refers to options that might easily turn out to be better than your Plan A.

To sort out your Plan B, ask yourself:

  1. What other good options could I pursue?
  2. What’s obstacles am I likely to run into with Plan A? 

Once you’ve a list of a few alternatives and obstacles ahead you could then figure out what you could do if this happens. For example, your Plan A may be to become a barrister, however obtaining a pupillage is very competitive, and an alternative would give you a well-thought-out career option that you would also really enjoy and have the skills for.

Plan Z – Your Temporary Fallback

You may have taken a number of risks in working towards your Plan A or Plan B especially if you decide to set up a company or go freelance. Therefore you need a Plan Z to mitigate the worst of those risks. Ask yourself:

  1. What is the worst case scenario and what are the worst risks?
  2. How can you make sure that these risks don’t happen?
  3. What will you do if the worst case scenario does happen? This could involve moving in with a friend or working at the local coffee shop until you get back on your feet, or even taking time out to volunteering in Africa and regrouping your thoughts. 
  4. If the risks are still unacceptable, then you may need to change your Plan A. For example, you might need to spend more time building a pot of money so that you can survive longer without the assistance of other people or a part time job.

Reviewing Your Plan

Your plan will constantly be moving as you develop your career, your industry evolves and your life circumstances changes. To make sure that you are always on track make sure that you schedule a time to review your career. This could be every six months or a year - are you still on your Plan A? Is Plan A still your best option?