Design Your Own Patchwork Career

Have you ever felt that describing your career or work history feels like talking about a series of different events with nothing in common – jobs taken for a variety of reasons which have led you in a particular direction? Does this make you feel insecure about how a potential employer may view your choices? Well don’t worry you’ve probably just been creating a beautiful patchwork quilt career.


Quilts, which are making a comeback in our ‘make do and mend’ culture offer a creative metaphor for our careers. Think about it – they are constructed using pieces of much loved fabric or snippets of old clothes which are sewn together in a structured and planned yet simple fashion using continuous threads. Our career patchwork quilt may be constructed of jobs undertaken for different reasons, ones in our twenties when we are exploring who we are and what we enjoy and later in life, particularly after having children maybe pragmatic choices but all linked with continuous threads of skills, interests and values.

Take for example, Sam who had a successful career in events following stints as a ski rep, high end fashion retailer and a nursery teacher. Her love of learning and trying new things combined with her ability to relate easily to others and forge strong relationships were the threads which linked this apparently disparate group of jobs, and helped her understand and communicate her choices.

So what goes into your patchwork quilt?

• Notice your threads – there may be one or two that link from patch to patch or job to job. They could be a skill common to all the roles, or they could be a passion or interest, or something that motivates you. If you’re struggling to find the threads, tell your career story to a friend and ask them to notice what links there are.

• Notice the patches – what are the things you loved about what you have done in the past. Just like a familiar worn piece of fabric, the good things from each role can provide comfort, stimulation, aesthetic pleasure or a sense of meaning. Knowing what you enjoyed about previous roles will help you in future choices. Also remember and value the smaller pieces – they have all played a role and contributed to your skills and experiences.

And finally …

• Notice the whole – a patchwork quilt is a beautiful piece of art especially to its owner – useful and practical too – it should be displayed and not hidden away. Your career is part of who you are and whatever choices you made, whatever direction you may have followed you should be proud of it and what it is has given you. Being able to talk with pride and sell the benefits of the different experiences you have had and link them to the job you are applying for will be attractive and positive to potential new employers.

If you are at a cross roads now – thinking of changing careers or returning to work after a break be mindful that you are adding to your patchwork so don’t forget to think carefully about the material you choose to use and which threads will bind them together. Enjoy the planning, and the attention and care you will apply to your next patchwork, and above all be proud of the patterns and richness you have created. Happy quilting…


Sarah Archer and Lila Veltze are co founders and Career Coaches at CareerTree, an organisation that helps people make positive changes to their working lives. They are both mums and between them have over 15 years experience of helping other mums back to work. To book a free 15 minute telephone consultation to discuss how they can help you design your career visit:

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