While delivering the final keynote to a month of events on career management at Pfizer I discussed the notion of “climbing frames” over “ladders” in modern career management. This was a very unusual transition and cost me dearly in terms of having to restart my career at the age of 30, losing a substantial amount of money and having to step back two grades so that it “did not upset other people in the HR department”. An odd request – yet I would not have my current career without having made that bold move.

Career development is more like a climbing frame than a ladder these days

I got the job in HR, using the “Knock Three Times” approach. These methods are not mentioned in the airport books on career management 🙂 nonetheless they illustrate the principles of creativity and persistence, which are essentials to manage your own career.

Knocking on HR’s door – The First Time : I applied for a job in Learning and Development and was told that “since I was not qualified, I would not know anything about HR” and ejected. I dusted myself down, went off and bought myself a pack of self study materials, took the CIPD exams and passed. Six months later I returned, having filled the qualification deficit, when another opportunity appeared …

Knocking on HR’s door – The Second Time : I was told that “since I was a scientific leader and had not worked in HR, I would not have any experience in HR” and rejected again. Of course, this is a circular argument:

“You don’t have the experience so you can’t come in. Since you can’t get in, you can’t get the experience …”

Or can you? I dusted myself down again, a bit like Jake and Elwood after being blown up in The Blues Brothers. Shortly after, I took a part time job as a tutor for the Open University Business School, eventually teaching on their MBA programme for Strategic HR and Innovation / Creativity. Another year passed until another job arrived in HR. I applied again, armed with a little bit of relevant experience.

Knocking on HR’s door – The Third Time : I think HR had just got so bored with interviewing me that they gave me a job. I was however told that: “Since I was at a very high position in R&D, I would have to move two grades backwards and take a large pay cut, so that it would not upset the others in HR”. I subsequently wondered to myself “Why tell them?” but accepted my fate on the basis that they said I would gradually be restored to my former standing, grade and pay wise. That was a lie and I quit after gaining sufficient experience to start on the next part of the climbing frame with Human Dynamics.

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