At a first glance, it is a lot easier to get or change a job these days than it was in the past. First of all, there are a lot more ways to find out about opportunities. Secondly, there are many methods of becoming qualified to do something, some of them being reasonably priced or even free.
The motto ‘you can be all that you want to be’ holds more truth than ever. So why is planning one’s career development path still such a challenge?
Well, too much information can be just as daunting as no information at all. All the calls, emails, advertising, expert advice can get one to a point where they feel it’s practically impossible to make a good decision. That’s how procrastination starts and some people get stuck in jobs they dislike or are obviously not suited for them.
3 Tips for strategic career planning
In order to not fall in such a rut and feel trapped there, here are some tips about how to strategically plan ahead.
Think and write about it
And I mean really think about it with a piece of paper on the table and a pen in hour hand. Or with a word sheet opened on your device of choice. The saying “if you can dream it, you can do it” is entirely true but when it comes to professional development, between the dreaming and the doing there is that very important step – acknowledging it.
Writing it down is essential because thoughts tend to be rather volatile and the human mind has the wonderful habit of wandering off. You may start thinking about a career plan, figure out you don’t like where you are now and somehow end up planning your next vacation to the Caribbean to decompress.
Even one line jotted down about the professional issue will help get you back .This process will require some time as all introspection does. It’s crucial to set time aside for this, just as you would for going for a jog or at the gym.
Once you have some idea about what you would like to do, it’s ok to find some trusted peers to discuss it with. Having several opinions can act as a good coagulant of prospects for all of you – it’s natural for people to want to be part of a group and get feedback and encouragement from its members.
Make a clear plan
Goals need to be very clear so there is no doubt about it when they are reached. It’s not enough to say you want to have more responsibility, work on more elaborate projects or make more money. You have to be specific because that is the first step in planning the road to take to that destination. It’s like planning that trip to the Caribbean – you need to figure out what island you want to go to, what the flight options are, pick lodgings, buy travel insurance and so on.
Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business proposes in her “A Campaign Strategy for Your Career,” a technique she calls ‘pre-writing your resume’.
As the author herself describes it: ”in this exercise, you put yourself five years into the future and write your resume as you envision it, including your new title and exact job responsibilities. The trick is that you also have to fill in the intervening five years, which prompts you to reflect on what specific skills you’ll need to develop in the interim, what degrees or accreditation you may need to earn, and what promotional path you’ll need to pursue in order to get there.”
Focus on external reputation
Being with an organization for a long time may have its perks such as fidelity bonuses, getting to know almost everybody and feeling very much at ease in the workplace. However, staying too long may lead to being just caught in that rut I mentioned earlier and even receiving less money than other people doing the same job you are.
A study conducted by Wharton professor Matthew Bidwell proved that external hires into a company get paid 18-20% more than internal workers who are promoted into similar jobs. As it turns out, they also perform worse for the first two years. Of course it does not seem fair but it illustrates a simple truth: professionals are often taken for granted inside their own organizations.
That’s why networking and building a professional reputation that goes beyond your organization is so important. You can guest blog for industry journals, join mentoring programs with local educational institutions or speak at conferences. The point is to be visible.
Read more: How many types of mentoring are there?
Even more: Discovering 3 new faces of mentoring
Options should always be kept open – even if you don’t necessarily want to leave the company it’s good to know that you can always do that without it being a setback. It also doesn’t hurt if your superiors know that your competencies are both appreciated and sought after.
All in all
Career development is a process that needs time and attention, it doesn’t just happen by itself. Waiting for others to see your potential and promote you accordingly is a gamble not worth taking. You need to strategically think about your professional goals and how to reach them.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.