7 steps to a career map

 Photo  ©Applied Nomad, Flickr CC

Photo ©Applied Nomad, Flickr CC

People often give more thought to their next holiday than their career. Why? Because developing a career takes thought, self-knowledge and action. Huge levels of sustained effort are required over long periods of time. You’re in for the long haul; years of strategic toil will reap huge rewards. And isn’t planning for nerds?

Well, put aside your anorak aversion and consider carefully the implications of allowing your boss to map your career for you. You know there are no more jobs-for-life but it’s not tactically advisable to sit in a vocational cul-de-sac until noticed. For one thing, to undertake a career three-point turn is usually disastrous.

For another, choice should be valued above so many other things. It signals a sense of opportunity, freedom of selection, independent decision. This is why taking charge of our careers is important, no matter how long we’ve been working.

How can you take charge?

One solution to career boredom is to change jobs, but you can also rekindle enthusiasm by identifying personal motivation. Take a long hard look at your present employer; has your professional contribution stagnated while their needs have changed? If you were interviewed for your perfect job with the company now, what would convince them that you’re the right person?

As a coach to board-level executives, I encourage people to think creatively and work laterally. People changing direction – professionally or personally – need to think imaginatively. So here are my seven essential steps to a career map.

1. Accept responsibility for your development
Personal development can impact all areas of your life, so take control of the choices you make. Do you want to move on, up or increase satisfaction in your current job? Can’t decide? If your current role does not inspire you to achieve, your employer’s values do not match your own and there is little or no scope for change, it’s probably time to move on.

2. Skills audit

Take time to run a self-audit on your achievements and career ideals. Are your goals pipe dreams or realistic challenges? Identify what you need to do to achieve them. Identify explicit skills for a specific job and regularly top up transferable skills. Think. Do you need to develop a portfolio of broad experience rather than climb a ladder of logical job titles?

3. Work backwards

Set yourself a career goal for 12 months’ time. What is the immediate step before you reach that point? Work backwards to define the actions you need to take.

4. Action plan

Write one. Be clear about your objectives. Make them realistic and accept key changes are likely to be long-term, not instant.

5. Market yourself

You need to become a visible commodity – internally and externally. Volunteer for additional assignments or for secondment. Look at your responsibilities and those of your peers. What are the challenges facing your boss? Explore how you can help yourself by helping others achieve their objectives. Start networking; attend conferences and seminars, and make mutually beneficial contacts in other areas of your organisation. Ensure you sell yourself to prospective employers – do your homework and arm yourself with examples of how your experience
matches their specific needs.

6. Do you need help?

Decide whether you are the type of person who would benefit from an external perspective on your career plans. A professional, experienced coach will keep you focused, motivated and receptive to feedback.

7. Feedback and evaluation

Ask your boss, colleagues and family and friends for their impressions of your new approach. Be open to comment, remain objective, be flexible. Take time to regularly reflect on the success of your career plan to establish what is relevant, what has been achieved and what remains a clear goal.

Do you have a map?

Do you know exactly where you're going in your career, or is it luck and coincidence that's got you where you are today? Need a compass? We've plenty of support, tailor made for bright, ambitious managers like you. Click here to find out more. 

PS: Spread the word

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This post is part of our Vintage Lyn Bicker series - powerful strategies drawn from decades of experience that form the foundation of our business. A version of the article was originally published in Edge Magazine by the Institute of Leadership and Management.