Career Advancement

Creating a Career Plan

What do you want to be when you grow up? From an early age we are asked to reflect on our desired career path. As we make our way through high school and college, our ideas for a career start to formalize through the selection of a major, internships and job experience. So how do you go from having a job to mapping out a career?

In today’s ever changing world, is career planning a dinosaur? Some argue that the effort is not worth it, that to succeed in today’s world it’s more a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Maybe. If you’re lucky.

I believe that having goals, writing them down and reflecting on them often does matter. In this first of a three part series of articles, I will share my view on the importance of building a career plan and some information to consider when building your plan. The next article will evaluate career ladders and career lattices. The third and final article in the series will focus on achieving your plan.

Building a career plan may sound like a complicated endeavor but it’s actually fairly straightforward. If you like tools and templates, there are many in the ether that suit a variety of appetites. If you are currently employed, there is a high likelihood that your company has some sort of standard. Talk to your manager or reach out to someone in your Human Resources department.

The key to building a plan is to tailor it to your needs, your circumstances and your timelines. Following are some recommended steps to take to build your plan.

Reflect on Your Current State

Most approaches will have you start with where you want to be in five or ten years. While it’s important to have a vision for your future, it needs to be anchored in reality. For example, it would be pretty unrealistic for me to say that in five years I want to be an astronaut if I know that I am unlikely to close the experience, exposure and education gap required to get there.

So, start with the present. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What am I really good at?
  2. What do I struggle with?
  3. What do I really enjoy doing at my current job? Why?
  4. What do I dislike doing? Why?
  5. What attributes of my current job are most important to me? (E.g. culture, benefits, pay, geographic location, specific responsibilities of my job, etc.)

Outline Your Future State

Depending on the job that you do, as well as the extent to which you need to develop certain capabilities to achieve your desired job, your “future” time horizon will vary. For some, planning one to two years out will work, while others may prefer to set longer-range goals of five to ten years. The important thing here is to pick what works for you. Following are a few questions to get you started.

  1. What job do I want to have in 1, 2, 5 years? Try not to focus on the title, but rather on the responsibilities of the job.
  2. Is this job in the same or different industry?
  3. What attributes of a company are important to me? (E.g. culture, size, location, benefits, etc.)
  4. If my personal situation were to change (e.g. get married, have children, go back to school, etc.) how might my priorities change?

Conduct a Gap Analysis

Given where you are today and where you’d like to be, list out all of the gaps. For example, if you are currently in the healthcare industry and you are interested in moving into the consumer goods sector, a gap might be consumer goods industry knowledge. If you aren’t sure what your gaps might be, try a few of these techniques to obtain more information which you can compare against your current state:

  • Look at job descriptions on job boards for your target job(s). What knowledge, skills and abilities are listed? What level of experience and education is required?
  • Read the profiles of people on LinkedIn who hold your dream job. Where have they worked? What organizations are they a member of?
  • Talk to people within your organization and your network to understand what path they have taken.

You Are Ready to Build Your Plan

Use your gap analysis to build a plan containing the following information and try to fit it onto one sheet of paper. Anything longer that one page will feel unrealistic and difficult to achieve.

  • Your current job
  • Your desired job and associated timeframe (e.g. I want to be a VP by 2016)
  • Key goals, with deadlines that you need to accomplish to be in contention for your desired job, organized into three categories:
  • Education – What do I need to learn?
    • Courses offered by my company
    • External courses
    • On the job training
  • Exposure – What do I need to observe?
    • Role models
    • Focused time with manager, mentors, peers, etc.
  • Experience – What do I need to do?
    • Special projects that will help build capability
    • Lateral roles and/or promotions that will connect me to my desired role

Once you have built a draft of your plan, share it with anyone and everyone who can help you make it a reality – mentors, managers, peers, your partner. You’ll be amazed at the input and support that you will receive. With a confident plan in hand, you are now ready to build the bridge that will take you from the job you have today to the job you desire in the future.

Precillia Redmond is the senior director of corporate human resources and administration at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Precillia earned her MBA from the Olin School of Business at Babson College and specializes in human resources strategy. She already has her dream job and enjoys Forté events.

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