If you don’t have an updated, regularly reviewed career plan in place you should consider developing one immediately otherwise the risk of inadvertently engaging in “career drift” is high.
Career planning, a how to guide
The career planning process is actually very simple but it does involve a fair amount of soul searching, research and critical analysis. It’s an enormously valuable process. The steps are as follows:
Where are you now?
Your own balance sheet analysis
- Strengths (numerate, persuasive, leadership, analytical?)
- Weaknesses (attention to detail, interpersonal, presentation?)
- Personality (introvert, extrovert, leader, follower?)
- Likes (what do you enjoy? commercial applications?)
- Dislikes (what do you hate doing?)
- Needs (everybody’s different – do what feels right)
- Education (tertiary qualification, etc)
- Experience (obviously very important)
Who are you?/Where do you want to go?
Actually, these questions are really inextricably linked. The type of person you are, your enthusiasms, your interests, your personal characteristics play a major part in whether you will either be happy or effective in a given role or organisation.
It is most unwise to decide on where you want to go (a career goal), without first of all looking realistically at yourself. People are different. A central task when career planning is to survey yourself as a human being and then attempt (often requiring a number of iterations) to fit the “Who are you?” into the “Where do you want to go?” or “What do you want to be?”
To use a sporting analogy:
- Take two gifted athletes trying decide on their optimum discipline.
- One is 1.6m tall, weighs 100kg, and is super strong. He should probably consider a career in power lifting, rather than basketball.
- The other athlete is 2.2m tall, and weighs 80kg. Basketball might be a better option for him than power lifting. Deciding on a career direction is as important as that. Find your niche and enjoy!
This is the most challenging part of career planning. Everybody from Sun Tzu to the gospel writers has preached the message of “Know thyself”… but how do you do it? Fortunately, most large bookshops have entire sections dedicated to self-help, psychological profiling and career planning. Visit these establishments, do some browsing and buy a title or two.
In addition, to reading and self-analysis, don’t forget to ask friends and relations for their candid insights, but don’t outsource the ultimate decision. Only you can make this and it may well define a great deal of your life so it’s worth getting it RIGHT!
How will you get there?
Once you have arrived at this stage of career planning, you are on relatively firm ground. Many careers have fairly well defined paths both in terms of the academic and professional qualifications required, and the experience you must accrue.
For example, you might harbour an ambition to become a Finance Director of an MNC.
To be a viable contender for such a role you may need to have accrued some or all of the following:
- Tertiary academic qualification
- Professional qualification in accounting
- Full range of functional experience:
- Management Accounting
- Statutory Reporting
- Mergers & Acquisitions
- Financial Systems
and would probably have held a range of interim roles, such as:
- Finance Manager
- Regional Financial Controller
Once the end goal has been properly defined, the route planning is relatively straight forward. Do remember though, that planning is one thing, execution quite another. To actually develop a “successful” career in virtually any field requires healthy doses of:
- Self discipline
Execution is all about the basics.
Long term career versus shorter term considerations
The career planning process centres on identifying how your work life will help to fulfill you as a human being. We are complex beings that need very different things at different stages in our careers. To execute a career plan generally requires one to subordinate purely short term considerations to the achievement of one’s long term goals.