To Plan or Not to Plan? 3 Steps to More Meaningful Career Plans
When did you last find yourself resisting advice? Even good advice. Recently as I listened to a marketing expert discuss the importance of planning, I found myself thinking “that’s OK in theory.”
As a professional, you may have a similar response to the advice that it is essential to take time to plan where you want to go in your career. It sounds good, but does it really apply to you? If it does, where should you begin?
The advice that is wanted is commonly not welcome and that which is not wanted, evidently an effrontery.
~ Samuel Johnson
Read below for three ways to turn career planning into a meaningful process.
1. Let go of linear models of career planning
Planning is easy when the goal is simple. But careers are complex. If it is to be useful, your career plan must be able to accommodate several unknowns, including shifts in the market and the impact of new technologies. You may also need to accommodate unpredictable changes in your personal life.
So why plan if there is so much uncertainty?
As human beings, we have built-in biases that influence how we see ourselves and others. Having a plan makes our biases more visible. We can get feedback from others. It is also a way of increasing awareness of patterns of behavior and how they may be help or hindering your progress towards your career goals.
One of my mentors recommends approaching planning as a way to find out what you don’t know. Seeing planning from this perspective makes it more useful. Career planning can become a way of “putting everything on the table,” so that it is easier for you to see the choices you are making and what what you still need to find out more about.
2. Think of your planning as a way of bringing your vision for your career to life on a daily basis.
Your career planning should help you translate your work-life vision into “things that you do” and not just things that you think about. To be useful, a career plan is not a rigid formula to follow. Rather, it is a way to expand your view and be intentional about your choices.
If your vision includes doing work that improves people’s lives, there are many ways to do that. You many invent a new drug. You may set up a foundation to fund health education. The process of planning can help you translate the core elements of your vision into specific objectives. This is an iterative process. It is only be taking action that you can get the feedback you need to refine your goals.
3. Use your plan to monitor your direction and continually evaluate what you are doing.
Many of us think of planning as an event. We have a kick-off meeting to plan a project. For professionals, taking time to consider their careers is often triggered by an external demand. Maybe your organization is merging and you expect layoffs. Maybe new technologies are changing your work. If this happens, all the planning in the world won’t shield you from the impact of these changes. But if you have been working on your career, you are in a much better position to bounce back from such setbacks.
You may also respond to organizational demands. If you have an annual performance review, there is preparation for that meeting. There are forms to fill. In many companies performance reviews relatively provide little value for the participants. Consequently the main focus is on getting it done as quickly as possible.
If you have intentionally chosen a direction for your career as part of your plan, it will be easier to respond appropriately when new opportunities that come up. Without this you may feel obliged to say “yes” to too many projects, whether or not they are a good fit for you. Everyone wants the professionals who are most competent and easiest to work on their team. Taking charge of your career means being more strategic about how you respond. Your plan can be a guide to help you choose which invitations to accept and which to reject.
Of course you can’t ignore external events, but to be effective, career planning has to be ongoing. Meaningful career planning is a process that helps you to monitor what your doing, what the outcomes are, and when you need to adjust your course.
In essence, career planning is about you. Developing more self-awareness and learning how to manage yourself is at the heart of a successful career. Your specific focus will depend on your goals, but the more awareness you have of your strengths, weaknesses, and patterns of behavior the more effective you will be both personally and professionally.
|Jennifer Bradley helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and publishes articles on career development and career transition. If you’re new to the Career & Work Life Matters Blog, and would like to discover more about your personal career management skills, request a Free copy of the Career Scorecard.|