Categorized | Advice

How to Design a Winning Career Plan

Posted on 21 March 2010

Having a career plan in place can make the difference between wanting the career of your dreams and actually getting it. “If you don’t design a plan, you are very likely to end up in a job you don’t like,” says Louise Garver, founder of Career Direction, a Connecticut-based career planning service.

“To get where you want to be,” adds Nicholas Lore, “you have to start from the very beginning.” Lore is founder of the Rockport Institute, a Maryland career counseling and research organization, and author of The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success (Simon & Schuster).

“Think of yourself as a painter with a blank canvas and go from there,” Lore says. There are several design stages that serve as a practical guide to getting the career you want.

You don’t want to wake up ten years down the road, stuck in a job that was only meant to be a stepping-stone.

1. Know Thyself

Examine who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, your talents and abilities, and your values. This will be the foundation of your plan. “As much as I want to be a basketball star, if I’m four feet tall, that isn’t going to happen,” says Lore. “Make realistic goals based on who you are.” Self-examination can be hard to do on your own. Family and friends may not be the best sources of help. However, there are books (remember What Color is Your Parachute?), Web sites, and counselors that offer personality tests and provide objective assessments.

2. Know the Job

“This doesn’t mean that you must have a firm job title in mind,” notes Garver. “It’s an idea of the work you’d like to be doing.” What do you envision when you close your eyes? Are you barefoot and outdoors? Are you in mellow environment with a great view? Do people surround you in a fast-paced, high-energy office? To get a better idea of what’s required in a particular career, check out the Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook, which gives summary information and earnings potential.

3. Know the Industry

“Get to know everything about the industry you’ve chosen,” Garver suggests. “You may even want to have a few specific companies in mind.” Read news articles, trade association publications, and industry journals to get a good picture of the industry as whole.

4. Put It in Ink

“Commit your goals to paper,” recommends Garver. Write down your big goal and then break it down into bite-size pieces. Where do you want to be in ten years? Five? Two? What are the specific steps you need to take to get there? Do you need more schooling? More experience? Better connections? Write down what you need to do to fill those gaps.

5. Find the Right Fit

It can be tempting to abandon your plan and jump at the first job you’re offered. That can be a mistake, especially if the job doesn’t further your career objectives. If you’re under pressure to pay your bills, take a stopgap job. ” Prospective employers will understand why you had to work for a time at McDonald’s,” Garver says. “What they won’t look kindly on is you taking a professional job in another field and then leaving a month later.”

6. Get Into It

Start wherever you can in your field. Working from the bottom up isn’t a bad way to go. “You should always be looking a few steps ahead,” Garver says, “so that you can better position yourself.” Take advantage of training opportunities that will add to your resume and volunteer to lead committees to gain experience.

7. Stay Motivated

“It’s human nature to seek the status quo. People talk themselves into killing off their dreams,” Lore says. If you find yourself in a job and it’s not going forward, step back and find out why your career is stagnating. “Ask yourself what you need to do in order to get momentum back, and then do it,” says Garver. If not, you’ll wake up ten years down the road, stuck in a job that was only meant to be a stepping-stone.

8. Review and Revise

A career plan is a living document. “It should evolve as you do,” says Garver. Review your plan annually on some important date, like New Year’s or your birthday. Update it so it reflects where you are on your career path.

The baseline logic is simple, Lore says: “Take practical steps to go after what you want. If you do that, your life can get pretty close to perfect.”

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2 Comments For This Post

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  2. Shey says:

    Now I know how to design a winning career plan. Thanks for posting this blog.

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