Plan Your Career, Not Just Your Next Job

Unlike our parent’s generation, it is a virtual given that most will face several career transitions in our lifetime. I entered the workforce soon after college in 1986 and have experienced four key career transitions. Knowing these transitions are the norm rather than the exception these days, there was a process I learned after my second transition that proved to be valuable in ensuring I was making good decisions for me and my family-a Council of Advisors. While well known in the business world in the form of a Board of Directors or Board of Advisors, the function is similar-where ideas, inspirations and dreams can be tested and then be held accountable for action. Too often, career decisions are made in haste or in response to short term opportunities and needs, ignoring the long term. The reality is that no matter how good the jobs and opportunities seem to be, a successful career is not built on short term success, but rather over the long haul and more so when continually held against a broader objective of where one is aiming. Whether you find yourself at a transition point in your career, or if you feel your current direction is a dead end and are uncertain which way to go, the following steps can help get the process going:

1.  Begin with Why - It is a given when people ask for my advice on career planning, that I will ask them at some point, why? Why that career? To further challenge them, I will clarify that it cannot be about the fortune or fame. If you have not defined your Why, then begin here. A well defined purpose reframes a career trajectory and brings meaningful action to your goals (check out Simon Sinek’s Tek Talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action. He also has an online course on defining your purpose

2.  Define your council - Whom you invite onto your team may be as important as what you talk about. Your circle of friends is a great place to start, but consider the following qualities when determining whom you will ask:

A.  Humility - Simply put, can they put your interests above theirs? Someone who demonstrates humility over ego will keep your interests at the forefront and not feel challenged to “compete” with your desires.

B.  Mix it up - The more diversity in perspectives you can bring together, the better. A variety of backgrounds, gender and generation will ensure you are capturing as broad a perspective as possible.

C.  Brutal honesty - You must be willing to be held to the often-harsh light of reality. While difficult enough to hear it, it is even more difficult to offer it up to others. Those that are grounded in who they are will be willing to offer the brutal truth.

3.  Get a facilitator - Even in the best of circumstances with the right people at the table and a clearly defined purpose, attempting to manage the conversations on your own will create results that are underwhelming and frustrating. A good place to start looking for a facilitator is within the council itself, especially if any of them have experience. Career coaches can also be a good source for facilitation as well. However you find it, make sure you have someone else in the process beside yourself to direct the conversations.

4.  Start meeting - Avoid the desire to get things perfect before you meet. Perfectionism is often a stalling tactic. The sooner you start the conversations, the energy around the career planning will be apparent. Frequency for the meetings is somewhat determined by your particular situation, however I would suggest as a starting point to schedule your first couple of meetings within a two months of each other to get continuity and lay the groundwork. Once you begin identifying longer-term objectives, an annual check-in is suitable. You can also call an ad-hoc meeting as situations arise in opportunities or unexpected events and need feedback in the short term.

Lastly, keep in mind that career planning is a marathon, not a sprint. Small, meaningful steps are much more valuable that energetic starts that are not sustained. But more than anything, take action and sooner or later you will learn which direction is right for you.