Job and financial security are perhaps the most important objectives we all strive to meet. Whether in school, university or in your (first) job, we all want to have a job that fits our interests, aspiration or indeed, meets seemingly high expectations.
Despite our wants and desires, a clear strategy is often lacking. This is particularly true in careers. Most people dream of a glittering career, making (and possibly spending) copious amounts of money they made with glittering jobs. Others want to make a particular contribution in their lifetime. Whether it is reducing world hunger, finding a cure for cancer or rescuing dogs. Whatever your goal might be, unless you rely on luck to get you there (and it very well may!), you will have to work towards your goal(s). In other words, you have to define what you want to achieve, what skills set or experience you will require along with the necessary actions or steps that will address those needs. A career plan.
Interestingly, while most people I encounter or work with have well-defined career goals, surprisingly few have a career plan. In this article, I will convince you that by having a career plan, you will boost your career prospects. I will argue that when you understand your needs, you can act to address them. This realisation, in turn, will help you spot relevant opportunities. Awareness also will help you define critical factors that can help you make those strategic decisions. By doing so, you will not only prepare yourself for the job but also set yourself apart from your competition. In my bid to get you on my side of the argument, I will list three reasons why devising your career plan is an excellent idea. But before I start, what do I mean with a career plan?
A career plan is a timeline, taking you from the start (I'd recommend high school) to your career goal. The timeline connects milestones you have reached in the past to those you wish to attain in the future. It sets out the career steps you have taken along with those you could take to achieve the goal. For example, if you wanted to become an accountant, would it make sense to study Biology at University? Or Physics? The answer to that is "probably not". The reason is that you probably will not gain the skills and knowledge you require to have a successful career in accounting.
Getting your qualifications would be a good start (a degree in most cases), along with some work (intern/summer job) experience. Indeed, a career plan allows you to map out how to acquire the knowledge or skills that you need (which are your specific goals). In this strategy, your needs are addressed with the practical steps that you define (internships, jobs, courses, etc.). This is how you reach each milestone and ultimately, power your journey to success.
- It does not hurt to have a plan. Unless you wish to laser focus on your goal and plan and become unwilling to compromise, the benefits will far outweigh the negatives. Building your career strategy can seem daunting and even be confrontational or disheartening. It will also take some time to get right. But, having an anchor upon which you can fall back and seeing the progress you are making is motivating. To realise that the strategy pays off is utterly exhilarating.
- A career plan forces you to think about your future. Knowing your future is powerful stuff. Well, knowing what you want to be doing is your future is. Imagine knowing what you want to do with your life five or ten years from now. Consider what you want to achieve in your lifetime. Cure cancer? Eliminate poverty? Get filthy rich? (Some do). If you dream big, think big and have both the ambition and determination to reach that elusive goal, a path to success becomes much clearer. All it needs for you then is to think about the useful steps you could take to prepare you for that dream job or end goal. Your future plan will not only prepare you for that dream job, but it also enables you to seize opportunities that come your way. By doing so, you set yourself miles apart from your peers (your future competitors for the job or prize) that come drifting by.
- A career plan is a narrative. Remember that a career plan is a timeline that connects your intermediate objectives and lead to your overarching goal. By joining the dots, you build a narrative. A red thread that runs through your career and life experience. IMPORTANTLY, this narrative (described in your future cover letter) communicates your interests and motivations that drove your decision making (CV). Your narrative motivates for your decisions, it also stimulates your employer to consider you for the job. Indeed, your personal story is one of the critical factors that future employers take into consideration when they make their recruitment decisions.
I hope these three reasons will have convinced you to act and take control of your destiny. If it has, follow me and watch this space for future articles, outlining a simple and easy strategy to plan your career.