"How do I create unplanned opportunities?"


Author: Larry Medina (Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations) at ESSEC Asia-Pacific

This week, I will look at how to approach unplanned opportunities. Career coaches often work with students and clients on constructing a specific plan. 

While I still recommend planning, it is also important to understand the power of unplanned opportunities and how unexpected moments can play a role in your overall career. 

A planned trajectory combined with a willingness to be selectively opportunistic can be an effective approach to career management.

Planned Happenstance 

At the risk of oversimplifying, I will briefly delve into the “Theory of Planned Happenstance” by John Krumboltz. 

The research paper says that you can do things in the general direction that you want to go. By being active and curious, you will create unplanned opportunities. 

To rephrase, planning to be active, curious, and optimistic will create unplanned opportunities.

Play in Traffic

From a New York Times article, “How to be a CEO, From a Decade’s Worth of Them”, Joseph Plumeri, Vice Chairman of First Data, recommends to “play in traffic”.

“It means that if you go push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens,” he said. “Both of my great occasions in life happened by accident simply because I showed up.”

Here are a few ideas of how to “play in traffic”. 

The first is to meet people in your target industry and related industries without any agenda. Quite simply, go out there and talk to people without expecting anything specific. 

If you are curious and optimistic, the worst-case scenario is that you will meet many interesting people and learn along the way. There is a chance that it will lead to a career opportunity as well.

Position from a stepping stone

Another idea is to accept a stepping-stone position that is not quite what you wanted. By doing this, you may not be playing at your desired traffic intersection, but you are at least out in the traffic — meeting people, learning, and demonstrating the value that you can bring. 

Careers are a long journey, and there is time for stepping-stones and maybe even a detour or two along the way.

Push in your comfort zone

My final idea is to have a healthy social life outside of work or school. By volunteering, playing sports, or being active in a hobby, you create opportunities to accidentally bump into people doing interesting things. 

Throughout a career, several interesting conversations and opportunities can come from unexpected places.


To recap, the Theory of Planned Happenstance means that you do an activity in a general area of interest with an open and optimistic mind, and unplanned opportunities will present themselves. 

It is OK to be opportunistic if it points you in the general direction you want to go. This weekend, go “play in traffic: and you might be surprised what opportunities present themselves.

 Larry Medina is the Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations at ESSEC Asia-Pacific Business School. For more career tips, follow #careertipswithlarry.  Read previous tips from this series.

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