Remember when you were a child and you dreamed about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Have you followed that dream or have you just let your career happen? We generally start off with good intentions, then life intervenes and your career plan (if you even had one) gets lost along the way.
Whether you’re just starting your career or you’re a seasoned veteran whose career detoured years ago, there are steps you can take now to get back on track and map out the career path you’ve always wanted.
Envision Your Future Career
The first step to a great career is to rekindle the dream and envision the career you want. Randall S. Hansen of Quintessential Careers suggests contemplating and answering authentically a series of questions to help clarify your vision for your career.
- How do you define career success? Are you achieving some level of success in your current job? What job will help you achieve complete success?
- What would you want to do today if all your bills were paid and you had relatively unlimited cash reserves?
- What would your career be like if you had the power to make it any way you wanted?
- What you would like your obituary to say about your career accomplishments and the types of impacts you left with the people you worked with?
- If absolutely no obstacles stood in the way of your achieving it, what would you most like to attain in your career?
- Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or their careers that attract you to them? Is there something about what they have or do that you want for your career vision?
- Imagine yourself in the future at a point in which you have achieved great career success. What is it that you have accomplished? What does your life look like?
- Do you feel as though you have a gift or calling? How can you share this gift or best answer the call in a way that will fulfill you?
- What’s the one activity you most love? Is it part of your career? If not, how can you make it part of your career — part of your career passion?
- Where would you like to be in your career in 5 years? In 10 years? In 15 years?
After answering these questions, Hansen recommends writing a short vision statement. The statement should be written in the present tense, as if you’ve already attained your dream career. It helps give you confidence about your future and makes it more tangible and real, rather than something in the distance which may feel less attainable.
Get Specific About What You Really Want
The visioning exercise will help you to identify generally where you want to take your career and what you want to do, but you then have to narrow your vision down. It’s great to envision yourself as a vice president, but that’s not going to get you very far. There are lots of vice presidents out there and they’re all very different. Some vice president roles are just empty titles with little pay and others are huge roles with significant pay, long hours and enormous responsibility. When it comes to developing a plan for your career, you have to get specific. The “W” questions are always good – who, what where, when; but here are some additional questions you should ask yourself.
· In which field do I want to specialize?
Having a broad skillset is good, but in the workplace it’s best to also have an area of expertise. A study conducted by American Express in partnership with Dan Shawbell reports “that being a subject matter expert is extremely important to career advancement. 65% of managers and 66% of employees say it’s either important or very important.”
For many of us, it’s the field we studied in college, but not always. I started out as a marketing major in undergraduate school and had several jobs outside of marketing before I found my niche in human resources. So, the field you’re in now may not be the field you want to stay in, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you develop expertise and experience in a specific area, preferably one you love and are passionate about.
· In what industry and type of company do I want to work?
You may be thinking what difference does industry make, I just want a great job. Depending on your career goals, it could make a big difference. Every company and industry is different with varying levels of management, pay structures, advancement opportunities, fields of expertise, growth potential, culture and more. Traditional companies generally have more structure, are policy-driven, have many levels of management and are more bureaucratic usually in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and oil and gas. Non-traditional companies, especially in industries such as technology, are more entrepreneurial, offer more flexibility, fewer layers of management, generally higher pay scales and more opportunity, but these companies can also be very demanding of their employees in terms of work hours and stress.
It’s important to know the environment in which you’re most comfortable. For example, you may be a tech geek, but you work best when there’s defined structure, set work hours and not a lot of stress. Being in the IT department of a more traditional company would be a better fit for you than a job in a high tech company.
Work environment and culture have a tremendous impact on overall job satisfaction. Identify what kind of environment is best for you then research companies within different industries to see which fit you best.
· Do I want to lead people or just do my thing?
We’ve all experienced bad managers. These poor managers are often people who are good in their functional specialty and are promoted as a way to advance their careers. Unfortunately, just because someone is a good financial analyst doesn’t mean they have the skills to be a good financial manager. In fact, not everyone who gets promoted into management really wants to be a manager and lead people. Some would rather stay in what’s considered an individual contributor role, where you contribute to the organization through your individual expertise and work product rather than leading a group of people.
Many companies recognize that not everyone should or wants to climb the management ladder and now offer a dual career path – upward mobility for management of people, as well as upward mobility for higher level individual contributors. Most companies in telecommunications and other high tech industries give their employees advancement opportunities as individual contributors, some even have pay and benefits equal to vice president level roles.
If you want to build your career as an individual contributor and you can’t find an industry or company that offers advancement without management responsibility, you might want to consider consulting in your area of expertise, either on your own or with a consulting firm.
Map Out Your Career Plan
Your chances of actually succeeding increase significantly if you have a career roadmap. To map out your career plan, determine what steps you need to take to realize the career you envision and establish incremental goals for measuring achievement along the way.
- Express your goals positively, rather than framing them in terms of what you don’t want.
- Be precise in setting dates, times, and amounts so that you know when you have achieved your goals.
- Set priorities so that you know which of your goals to focus your attention toward and helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals.
- Write your goals down so that you can visually be reminded of them and so that you can craft them to be precise and clear.
- Break down your goals into small, achievable tasks so that you get frequent opportunities to accomplish them and feel motivated to take on other goals.
- Set realistic goals that you can achieve and that are in your own control.
As you map out your career plan, you should also consider the following:
- Additional education or training you might need
- Current career and job trends – it’s important to know the areas which expect future job growth. Being able to capitalize on a trend can help fast-track your career.
- What are your transferrable skills – if you’re taking your career in a different direction, you need to know which of your skills can easily be applied to your new career. This is very helpful when applying for a job in a different field.
- Be willing and ready to take a lateral move rather than an upward move – accepting a lateral move can be beneficial if you’re changing careers or there are no current upward opportunities. It also helps broaden your scope of experience and gives you the opportunity to gain new skills.
- Career planning isn’t a one-time thing, it should be ongoing. Track your progress, adjust your goals as needed along the way. Keeping up with your plan increases the chances that you’ll actually achieve it.
Network and Find A Sponsor
Once you’ve figured out what you want and have a plan to get there, start working your network of peers and others who can help you achieve your career goals. According to a recent post on salary.com by Jim Hopkinson, “the vast majority of jobs are found through networking, not through randomly sending out resumes shotgun-style.”
Talk to the influential people in your network about your career plans and ask them to sponsor you. The right sponsor may be able to open a critical door for you. Mentors can also be helpful as you start down your new career path, but when it comes to getting that next great job, you need a sponsor. Mentors are people you talk to, sponsors are people who talk about you. Having someone advocating and talking about you will be invaluable to achieving your career goals.
Go For It
Having a roadmap is great, but just having a career plan is not going to help you achieve your dream. You have to take action. One of the biggest mistakes people often make, especially women, is thinking that if you work hard someone will notice and reward you for it. Unfortunately, it seldom works that way.
It’s your career and your dream, don’t sit around and wait for someone else to do something for you, put yourself out there and take control of your own career. You’ll feel so much better about yourself if you just take that first step.
Starting Ask Ajna was my career dream. There have been challenges along the way, but it’s been one of the best career experiences I’ve ever had and I’m so glad my roadmap led me here.
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