Why invest in career planning?

Let’s be candid. How well do you know yourself? Can you articulate your strengths and development needs confidently and objectively? Could you discuss this with your boss in a way that won’t sound overbearing, grasping or precocious and in a way that will make perfect sense to him or her in meeting or exceeding the organisation’s strategic objectives? If you believe you can then you are in the minority. Few of us spend enough time planning.

The most important thing you can do when planning your career is a little self-analysis. The best way to start is to take stock and observe what’s going on with your life and your career. Only then can you make progress in mapping out how you are going to get to where you want to be.

There is a strong correlation between what we value and enjoy doing and what we are good at – after all, successful career planning is about doing what you love. With this in mind, sit back and review the last week. What went especially well? Which aspects gave you the most satisfaction and pleasure? What about the last month? The last year? The last job? Notice any themes emerging?

On a regular basis try asking yourself some basic questions: Are you aware of how you are feeling? Are you happy? Are you satisfied with your job, your career and your place in life? Jot your thoughts down so that you can review them easily and make new connections. After all you are the only person who can decide what they want their life to look like, so start by stopping for a moment to think about these things. Do this whether you think your employer is good or bad for your career. Knowing what you don’t like is equally valuable. And whatever you do, don’t take the easy way out by concluding that your career is the responsibility of the organisation (even a good one) – the needs of each could diverge at any time.

Once you’re drawing some conclusions, you have to ask yourself how you can take control of your career, particularly in an uncertain business environment. Consider what you can and cannot control. Don’t waste energy and resources on those you can’t: focus only on those you can. And remember that uncertainty has a flip side: it gives you the chance to learn new skills. One thing you can always control is the ability to visualise yourself in the future. For successful career planning and management you need to visualise where you want to be in 3 to 5 years’ time. Who will your clients be? What are they doing? Where will they be based? What environment will you be working in?

Once you’re clear on this, you can start to define your ideal job. This is not an exercise in futility, but an exploration of possibility. Employees often leave it to managers to spot areas they need to develop. A good manager offers guidance, but will expect staff to be eager enough to develop themselves.

Self-development does not come easily to everyone, but if you want to move through the ranks, you need to be honest with yourself in assessing your strengths and weaknesses. Your job description is a good place to start. Remind yourself what the role expects from you. Then write down the skills you have and those you don’t, but need. Be particularly honest around those areas where you know you could do better but don’t underestimate your strengths.

Have a look at the internal and external training courses offered by your company. Your instinct is usually right and you will be naturally drawn to the courses you need to improve your capabilities. Look around at your peers and evaluate what they do versus what you do.

Talk candidly to people you trust and be prepared to accept constructive criticism. If you are fortunate enough to have a mentor, use him or her – take advantage of the advice on offer as much as you can.

Once this work is done, you’re in a good place. Your opportunities for promotion may be fiercely contested within your company, but you can stand out by telling your manager what you need before they tell you.
Now imagine yourself as your boss in this ideal role. Visualise swapping seats. What skills, knowledge, qualifications and expertise does your ideal candidate need? Articulate what you need to be to be the very best candidate for that role – and write it down. You need to do this to establish the gaps in your skills and experience that you need to eradicate in order to get that dream job. You may need to find a mentor who already has those competencies and ask them how they achieved their goals.

So, don’t just sit there, start planning. There is nothing more important than your career and understanding and planning it takes a lot of self- analysis, honesty and hard work. But when you consider your career options, you really should start off by daring to dream. Dreams can come true.