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The What, Why and How of Your Career Plan

The What, Why and How of Your Career Plan

A good career plan is what makes your work matter.

So, when did you last have a chat about your career?

Perhaps you had a check in with a friend over coffee about how the new role’s progressing, or a more formal review with your manager? I am willing to bet that over drinks or dinner in the last week, you’ve spent some time on the subject of ‘Work: The story so far’.

We spend a lot of time at work. In fact, if you take the average working life, with a month of holiday and full-time hours; then we can expect to spend over 80,000 hours of our lives on the job.

Put frankly, work matters. It takes up a lot of our time. It helps us define ourselves. Fulfilling work can give us direction, purpose and esteem. The wrong environment or role can crush our confidence, limit our options or burn us out.

Yet despite the likelihood that we will spend more time at work than we will with our partners, best mates or children, most of us do not have a career plan.

At a recent workshop, I asked 150 people who had a career development plan. Just one lonely hand was raised.

Why is career planning important?

Your Career Plan - Woman thinking

In terms of career planning, where you look is where you go.

The things we focus on are the things we invest in. If you want your career to go somewhere, you need to know your destination ahead of time and make a decent career plan to get there.

Goal setting and career planning helps us to focus in on what matters the most to us and ensures we make progress. This is true in any area of your life, from dating to fitness and from sports to learning a new language.

In the world of work, without a career plan, we are unable to reach our full potential and track our progress to getting there. The only metric we can measure against is how much we complain about our work and how much money we earn.

Plus, without career planning that gives you a defined destination and direction, we are constantly second guessing whether we are in the right role and making the right kind of progress.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” – Yogi Berra

Here’s where a career plan comes in!

Your Career Plan - Purple Tie

A good career plan is a high-level document that takes your personal aspirations and career goals and turns them into a set of simple, manageable and practical steps.

This is important so you can:

1. Set a clear direction

The world of work is changing fast. It is harder to navigate, more complex and speedy than ever before in human history. New roles are being created all the time and keeping up to speed with the range of opportunities is almost impossible. A career development plan sets out what you are looking for in your next move and thus acts as your navigation tool through the bewildering range of new options available to you.

2. Create with clarity

When you have a career development plan you have more headspace. This improves your momentum and helps you focus on getting the results that matter to you. A career plan sets out the very next step you need to take and makes it easier to take it.

3. Set Your Direction

When you know where you are headed and what success looks like, you can confidently say ‘no’ to options that don’t meet your objectives. Your clarity and direction mean you can be sure that you are making good decisions about your next steps.

How to develop your personal career plan

Your Career Plan - Nap

Ok, so you’re on board with what is career planning and how it can help. So how do you begin to map one out? Let’s deep dive into the career planning process…

First things first. Take a moment and a breath and ask yourself this.

Long-Term Vision: “What is the purpose of my career?”

Your Career Plan - London Underground

We all have a different motive for going to work – apart from the obvious. Yes, work is a financial exchange, but it is much more than that. Is it to…

• Develop and refine a quality process or outcome and be seen as an expert?

• Deliver results and take some kind of impactful action?

• Innovate, create and explore?

• Help, uplift or entertain other people?

• Create financial stability so you can focus on other areas of your life?

Take time to consider the main motive that gets you out of bed. This is what you value. When you know the purpose of your work, you are ready to explore the next question.

Defining what matters right now: “How do I define success in my career?”

Your Career Plan - London People

When you think about what makes you feel happy and successful, what comes to mind?

Do you like to solve problems? To travel? To spend time with the smartest folk in your field? Each of us has our own personal definition of success.

We are constantly bombarded by the media, online and by well-meaning career advice that gives us other people’s perspective on what success is.

Our definition of success also changes as we change. You may find that you have outgrown something that felt exciting and rewarding a few years back. This is why it is important to keep checking in and refreshing your career plan.

One of my recent clients had her dream job in marketing. For years she travelled the world, attending beauty shows and working for the most prestigious international brand. Then she had a child. Suddenly the working culture and the travel become a pressure rather than a pleasure. Her definition of success had changed because her life had changed.

See if you can draw up a list of words that frame your current definition of success.

Mine might include: “Learning new things, meeting interesting people, being recognised as a career consultant expert…” Yours will be unique to you.

Measure what matters: “How do I keep my career goals on track?”

Your Career Plan - Family Values

Lastly, consider what kinds of targets or measures would help you to keep track of this success.

Would you measure it in income? Or days off? Or perhaps by the kind of job title you have, or the amount of international trips you get to take. Find a simple metric that allows you to track getting closer to having more and more of your defined success. Measures work best when they are something you can touch or see or count. So I might say:

“I want to get to spend at least two weeks of the year on learning programmes where I get new knowledge, an accreditation and meet interesting people. I would like at least one week to be overseas.”

Bring It All Together

Your Career Plan - All Stars

So now you have a long-term view of what your work is for – this is your overall direction.

You have a definition of success – a perspective on what creates the most fulfilment and happiness for you at the current time.

And lastly, you have a way to measure your progress.

Now take these three key insights and turn them into a career goal or two. These work best with a horizon of 6-18 months. These career goals should have a completion date and a measurement that relates to your definition of success.

“By 2020, I want to have published 3 books with reputable publishers on the subject of career matters and be a regular contributor to radio and magazines.”

Turn It Inside Out

Your Career Plan - Upside down

Big 5 year career plans can scare us.

They seem so far from where we are now that we don’t start. To make these manageable and tangible, I recommend that you break your career planning process down into smaller pieces and create a path of action toward the larger career goals.

Here is one simple career planning tool that you can use to define and break down your career plan.

Imagine that your career goals are already achieved. You are telling a friend how you got there and how you made it happen. What do you say about the key steps you took? Who might you have asked for help? What kinds of activities did you engage in and in what order?

As you imagine the steps you take, capture these on post-it notes. Once you have told the whole story, spend some time working out the order of the tasks in hand. Keep refining this until you have identified the very first steps you need to take. And then begin.

Need some help with developing the right career plan? Contact us today!

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