Planning For a Turbulent Market And Change


By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

It seems like a day does not pass now without changes announced about public gatherings, public health recommendations, swings in the economy, and a chaotic labor market.   But career development experts say that in order to navigate times like these and successfully enter the workforce, students need to be ready to respond to the complexities and the uncertainty.  “Planned happenstance skills are a set of competencies to deal effectively with unplanned events generated by chaotic environment (Mitchel, Levin & Krumboltz, 1999).”  And the director of the UofL University Career Center says this set of skills is particularly important for students during the Covid-19 pandemic as they prepare for the job market.  

Bill Fletcher said students need to focus on the things they can control “We cannot control happenstance and chaos, but these career theories encourage students to plan for, and take advantage of, things that come about naturally. Students can control how they take advantage of these unplanned events.”

Happenstance theory dictates that students prepare for the unexpected, like a world-wide pandemic that creates upheaval in the global economy.  In response, career development experts suggest students proactively work on things like building their network, enhancing their interview skills, revising their resume, and devising a multi-faceted internship or job search strategy.  

Fletcher said in a chaotic environment, students should also be open to new possibilities. “Being able to pivot and adjust are not just career skills, but work and life skills.  It is great to have a plan, but most plans need adjusting along the way.” 

In their research on happenstance, Mitchel and colleagues recommend that students work on a set of five more generalized characteristics that will help them to seize the opportunities that become available.   These include:

Curiosity - exploring new learning opportunities

Persistence - exerting effort despite setbacks

Flexibility - changing attitudes and circumstances

Optimism - viewing new opportunities as possible and attainable

Risk taking - taking action in the face of uncertain outcomes

Working to enhance these characteristics can create “a good basement for starting off students’ careers with strong human and psychological capital. The planned happenstance skills help survival and ensure success in the contemporary world of work”(Valickas, Raišienė, & Rapuano, 2019).  

Fletcher says students ultimately should realize that most career paths do not take a simple, linear route. “When networking with others, ask them about their career path.  Look for examples of ‘happenstance’ and how they leveraged situations to move forward in their careers.  Most people take a career path with many twists and turns because of how they react to what is going on in the current environment.” 


Mitchel, K.E., Levin, S.A., and Krumboltz, J.D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counseling and Development, 77, 115–124.

Agota, A.V., Raišienė, G., and Rapuano, V. (2019). Planned Happenstance Skills as Personal Resources for Students’ 

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