Career Planning: A Dynamic Approach
As a twenty first century professional with most of your career ahead of you, career planning might seem like an outdated concept. What is the point of planning your career when there is so much social, political and economic change happening all around you? How can you make plans when so many factors that will influence your future career lie outside of your control?
The answers lie in thinking of career planning not as a series of predetermined steps leading to specific career goals but as a dynamic process of learning, exploring, discovering and analysing in order to make informed career-related decisions and take advantage of opportunities as they emerge.
There are three interrelated components to this dynamic approach:
- knowing your options; and
- being ready for opportunities.
‘Interrelated’ means that each component both informs and is informed by the other two components. Career planning today involves an ongoing process of working on all three areas including consideration of how changes in one area affect the others.
The components come together in your career portfolio – a personal work-in-progress – that is covered in the final section of this article.
The self-knowledge that is important for planning your career includes:
- knowing your personal values;
- being clear about what’s important to you generally in life and specifically in relation to your career; and
- articulating career aims.
Knowing your personal values helps you make career decisions that are right for you. For example, a person for whom prosperity is a core personal value might be willing to sacrifice personal time in order to succeed in a profession where long working hours are the norm. Conversely when ‘family’ is a core value, some career options might be less attractive if they call for extended periods away from home.
Being clear about what’s important to you in life generally helps develop a picture of the work you are likely to find satisfying and fulfilling. For example, drawing on this approach, a research scientist decided not to apply for a management position despite being encouraged to do so by colleagues and his manager. Whilst he recognised the financial and status rewards, he opted to pursue research interests that held the potential for great benefits to society.
Articulating career aims provides focus for your career planning efforts even when factors outside of your control cause you to rethink your next career steps. For example, a graduate engineer began his career in a large corporation knowing that his ultimate aim was to run his own business. His career plan included learning all he could about business management as well as continuing to develop as a professional. When a corporate takeover led to his position being made redundant he saw an opportunity to continue pursuit of his ultimate goal by joining a much smaller firm. There, he gained opportunities to be more actively involved in dealing with customers which proved valuable experience when he ultimately set up his own practice.
Knowing your options
The ‘knowing your options’ part of career planning is about building your awareness of the sorts of opportunities that match the criteria you have determined under the ‘know yourself’ part of this approach. So, having figured out your personal values, what’s important to you in life and career and some career aims, the following activities all help build knowledge about options that are likely to be a good fit:
- networking within your industry and profession;
- networking more broadly with a mind open to possibilities;
- developing awareness of other sectors where your skills are relevant;
- being clear about the career options within your organisation;
- reading relevant publications carrying case studies about other professionals; and
- researching the qualifications necessary if you want to follow a particular career path – for example moving into management in your industry.
Being ready for opportunities
Fast paced change often produces opportunities when you are not expecting them. Adopting a dynamic approach to career planning also means being ready for suitable opportunities that come along. The activities that help you maintain a state of readiness include:
- engaging in professional development that is aligned with your evolving career aspirations. For example, an engineer with aspirations to move into management, undertook a range of short courses to develop the soft skills necessary for managing people;
- maintaining a record of your achievements. This is not the same as a record of the positions you have held and your responsibilities. Rather it is clear statements, expressed in terms of benefits to the organisation and/or those who benefit from its products/services;
- keeping your resume up to date and embedding details of key achievement in it;
- making sure that your interview skills remain sharp remembering too that the skills which help you in formal interviews (responding succinctly, capturing ideas in a few words and so on) are also invaluable in your networking efforts;
- keeping notes about the type of opportunities that are likely to be of interest. For example you meet someone with a job that appeals to you and you make a note to learn more about their line of work; and
- Having a succinct response ready for anybody who asks what sort of opportunities would be of interest.
Your career portfolio
Your career planning efforts using this dynamic approach come together in your career portfolio, which can take a variety of forms. Some people find that hand writing their entries stimulates creative thinking. Alternatively technology provides a wide range of options for recording thoughts, ideas, draft documents and the various other components that make up your personal career portfolio. Some components to consider:
- occasional journal type notes to capture career related thoughts as they occur to you – for example, ideas stimulated by an interesting speaker;
- diary entries about memorable work experiences – such as your reactions to a particularly enjoyable project or notes about your reactions to a significant, distressing experience at work;
- doodles, drawings and any other pictorial representations of career related ideas;
- testimonials and the like – for example a note written by your manager acknowledging your efforts in a project or a note from an appreciative customer;
- details of training and professional development possibilities of interest;
- ideas that occur to you about potential career direction or possible steps toward a career goal. When captured in your portfolio they are available for working on further rather than being lost in the flow of ‘water under the bridge’;
- your latest resume as well as earlier versions. Retaining earlier versions can provide a very helpful basis for reflecting on career progress; and
- performance reviews – your assessment of your own performance and your manager’s assessment.
This method works best when you regard the portfolio as a ‘work-in-progress’. Keep adding to it. And go back to it and re-read entries from time to time. They stimulate new ideas and maintain your career planning as a dynamic process of learning, exploring, discovering and analysing. The potential reward is a satisfying and fulfilling career for the long term.
The following activities will help you make a good start to planning your career using the method described in this article.
It’s important to remember that there are no right answers; the aim is to build knowledge about yourself and career options that make sense for you. Also be aware that some of the activities can be challenging for people who are engaging in them for the first time. It helps to have a go at each of the tasks and then come back to them, read what you have written, reflect and revise or add more.
As well, people’s outlook on the topics covered in career planning change as they go through different life stages. That’s why it’s important to keep revisiting the activities and reviewing your earlier responses.
- Write down three to five separate words that describe how you see yourself as a professional. For example; ‘curious’, ‘hard-working’, ‘cautious’, ‘inventive’ and ‘deep-thinking’ might each describe different facets of one individual.
- Describe in one to three short statements (up to 10 words each) the sort of life you aim to live. For example ‘happy and family oriented’, ‘adventurous, risk taking’ or ‘known as a pillar of my community’. What are your personal statements?
- Now imagine that the date is 10 years from today. Write down one to three short statements that define how you imagine your career to date. For example, “I gained experience in a range of business sectors. Now I’m well placed to progress to senior management in the next five to ten years”.
- In a series of short sentences (maximum 15 words each) describe what you want to achieve in your career a) in the short term – say a year; b) in the next couple of years and c) over the longer term – five to ten years. Achievements can be external to you such as ‘a cure for the common cold’ or personal such as ‘financial independence’.
- Write down three to five personal core values. This can be one of the most challenging activities. It can be useful to go online and access sample lists of personal values to give you some thought starters. Examples of values are: competence, justice, optimism, fairness and professionalism.
- Make a list of the skills you currently have. The SFIA framework provides some very useful checklists.
- And as you go, also list skills you feel you would like to develop.
Knowing your options
To make a start on populating this component of your career planning portfolio, ask yourself the following questions and make notes on your responses:
- What networking activities are you currently involved in?
- What other networking activities are colleagues involved in?
- What career development benefits do you aim to achieve from networking?
- Using the checklist of skills you developed under ‘self knowledge’ which are you currently using in practice?
- And which skills are you currently not using or under-using and would like to use more?
- Given the skills you listed as ‘like to have’ what sort of training and professional development would help you develop them? (You might need to call on help from your manager or a more experience colleague to deal with this one.)
- What professional publications do you currently read? And what value do they have in terms of helping you develop your career?
Being ready for opportunities
The following activities help you make a start on this component of your career planning portfolio:
- Bring your resume up to date as if you are about to submit a job application. Even when you have no immediate need to do this, the effort of bringing it up-to-date stimulates thinking about career moves.
- Check that your resume records what you have achieved in each role you have held – as well as summarising your responsibilities.
- Develop a record of all the training and professional development activity you have undertaken – and keep it up to date. Be sure that your record includes work-based activities as well as formal courses you have attended.
- Assemble whatever records you have of people’s acknowledgement of your work and its value. Knowing what others have valued can be a valuable source of inspiration about your career direction.
- Write a short statement defining the job you would like to have after your present one.
- Write down interview questions you have found challenging and formulate an ideal response.
Engaging in some or all of these activities helps you consolidate progress and think creatively about your career direction. Though we live in turbulent times and change is constant in most professional settings, a dynamic approach to career planning helps you stay in the driving seat as far as your own career journey is concerned.
Looking for more ideas?
For members with an interest in extending their reading about the topics covered in this article the following articles are available on the Professionals Australia website:
About the Author
Dr Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator, specialising in organisational, leadership and management development through her company FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd (www.fourleaf.com.au).