What’s your ultimate career goal? Where are you along the intermediary steps? What’s your time frame for each step?
If you don’t have preliminary answers to these questions, you don’t have a career plan. All you have is a career fantasy! No career plan is cast in concrete, but it is subject to modifications as your experiences and environment change. Once you are moving in a career direction from your first job on, the trajectory has begun. There is an old adage, “As the twig is bent, so the tree’s inclined.” Spending too much time in a job or career direction that you can’t sustain makes the effort to change directions so much harder. Spending years as an accountant when you really want to be a brand manager makes it near impossible to make the jump.
Setting your career goals is a very introspective effort. You need to know yourself pretty well. Identify what you’ve achieved in the past and what you’re capable of doing in the future. One doesn’t change their fundamental characteristics suddenly when they reach age 35 or so.
Here are some guidelines that may be helpful:
- Be realistic. Have you created new ventures; taken over a unit and significantly improved it; or moved a business incrementally forward? All are positive events, but each one requires different skills. Why would your future ventures be any different? Plan your career direction based on your experiences and strengths, not your hopes.
- Find a model. Is there someone you know or read about who has achieved a similar career goal as you would like to pursue? Find out the skill sets, educational level, achievement points, experiences or events that catapulted them to the top of their career. Meet with them if you can. You may be surprised at the results. If you don’t have a model, then create one. Design your own future.
- Put it in writing. Define your long-term goal on paper, then the numerous short-term steps to get there. Compare this list with your model in #2. Does your model have an advanced degree or professional certification? How about associations that can help, or training that you’ll need? Once you see the comparative list you may have to adjust your plan or maybe you’ll need to adjust your goal because it’s out of reach.
Shooting a bit too high is better than shooting too low or not shooting at all. Take control of your future or someone else will!
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