We are experiencing one of the most exciting times in the Indian workplace. One need not keep doing the same thing for years together. One need not only aspire to become a doctor or an engineer. If you want to change jobs there are umpteen jobs to choose from. If you want to improve yourself professionally there are lots of career development opportunities. Economy, lifestyles, work needs… everything seems to be changing rapidly. In such a scenario is there a need for career planning? Yes, and we will find out why.
Career planning involves assessing personal strengths, values, aspirations; establishing career goals; and identifying the steps needed to achieve them. During periods of rapid change and exciting possibilities, a career plan can keep you focused on the important things that matter to you. It provides you with clarity to make informed choices when good opportunities emerge and helps you monitor your career development effectively. Planning your career helps you achieve your potential and avoid the boredom, disillusionment, frustration and stress that can occur on account of failing to achieve your potential.
Where should we plan our careers?
Should the career be planned within the context of a single organization or several organizations? Whether it is in a single or several organizations, what is important is that careers should be planned for fairly long tenures rather than short ones in any organization.
Short stints with organizations neither give individuals adequate time to do meaningful career planning or adequate time to understand organization culture etc to make an impact through one’s contributions. Understandably in the initial stages of one’s career we try out a few jobs before finding what is suitable for us. But frequent shifting of jobs in later stages of one’s career can be detrimental to one’s career development and can in fact indicate a lack of effective career planning. Does this mean that we should remain in an organization even when our career is stagnating? Of course not, after a reasonable time period, one should move for the right reasons like significant increase in responsibility.
How do we plan our careers?
The following steps can help us plan our careers effectively:-
Understand yourself and your needs: The foundation of your career plan should be your understanding of who you are (your strengths/limitations, attitudes, personality), what is important to you (your values), your dreams and hopes for the future. Think about your current obligations and commitments and what they will be in future? Where do you see yourself in the short, medium and long term? Reflecting on your experiences and self-assessment tools can aid you in this stage.
Assess where you are currently: Before you undertake any planning, realistically identifying your starting point is important. A good place to begin is to make an inventory of your knowledge, skills and experience. Then take stock of whether your current career path allows you the lifestyle you seek, is the number of times you are able to engage in activities you are passionate about while you are at work adequate, does your current job have more likes or dislikes, how close is your job to your dream job etc
Get information on available opportunities and options: Now that you know what is the gap between what you want (eg., managerial responsibility) and what you have (eg., good technical skills but no managerial skills) research thoroughly on available opportunities (eg., managerial skills workshop, managerial positions within the same company, a good manager who you can learn from) that can help you bridge the gap. Remember to also explore not so obvious opportunities like coaching new juniors and part-time, job share, or flexible employment.
Set goals and prepare an action plan: This stage is where you develop a picture of yourself and your career. Goals can be knowledge based (eg., wanting to master the field of human resources in two years) skill based (eg., developing soft skills required to lead a team) or hierarchical based (eg., wanting to head an HR department in 10 years time). Based on the opportunities available to you and your current situation you can prepare an action plan to achieve those goals. Action plans could include development activities like acquiring additional qualification (eg., a post graduation in HR), relevant experience ( eg., obtaining a transfer to the HR department from administration department) etc or making a career move like changing jobs and fields.
A short-term career plan focuses on the coming year or the next few years and involves developing realistic, time bound and specific goals that you can meet in the near future. Long-term career planning usually involves a planning window of five years or more and involves a broader set of career goals. Since businesses and workplaces are changing rapidly, the skills that you have or plan for today may not be in demand years from now. So, long-term career planning should be more about identifying and developing core skills like problem solving that employers will always value.
Take action: Next step is to execute your plan. Hard work and discipline in sticking to your action plan will help you in this stage. Sharing your plan with your family and close friends can increase your commitment to it and also help you get adequate support from them. For instance studying for an additional degree may mean less of family time. To accomplish this you will need your family’s understanding and support.
Periodically review career progress: Even if you are acting as per your plans do not forget to review your goals and plans regularly. This is essential since your experiences and changing circumstances may make you realize that you have discovered talents you did not realize you had, that some skills have become redundant, that new and exciting opportunities have emerged and so on. If goals have become obsolete, do not think twice before setting new ones. Priorities also change over a period time. While learning might be the primary objective during the initial years of your career, leadership, status, power might be what you desire at later stages.
Tips for effective career planning
You can make use of the following tips that people have found useful over the years:-
Free yourself from all career barriers: These barriers could be personal barriers (such as lack of motivation, apathy or procrastination), family pressure (such as expectations to work in the family business or follow a certain career path), and peer pressure.
Be practical: It is possible that you may have unrealistic aspirations. Do a reality check with your colleagues, mentors, family and friends.
Do not take a limited view: You may view yourself as only occupying one type of job and this can narrow career ambitions dramatically. There are instances where people have had 2 career paths, both totally different from each other.
Be flexible: Nowadays rapid changes in the nature of work and organizations are common. Over-detailed planning can leave little or no scope for responding to changes in circumstances.
Do not depend on others recognizing your potential: If you think your bosses will recognize your potential, you are wrong. He/she may, but it is important you yourself recognize and nurture your potential.
Assume responsibility for your own career development: Blaming your company for not developing your career is like blaming your teacher for your failure in a subject.
Do not take unnecessary risks: Definitely experiment, but make informed choices about your career. You want to start your own venture. Go ahead! But do your homework thoroughly for the same.
Be alert: Career development is not a one-time activity. So, you need to continuously keep a track of the emerging trends in your industry, work concepts and its effect on employment.
Be an opportunist: While you are implementing your career plan, make sure that you do not ignore good career opportunities that present themselves. If an exciting career opportunity comes up in your field, make sure you are equipped to seize it.
We plan when go for a holiday and we also plan for our child’s birthday party. Should we then not plan for the important but not so urgent things in our life like our career development? I am of the opinion that we must. A career is the way in which our work life or professional achievements progress. And leaving this to chance instead of systematic planning is foolhardy.
- Oct 1, 2005, ‘Working out a career plan.(Checklist 061)’, http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-5203204/Working-out-a-career-plan.html, Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Personal Effectiveness and Development.
- ‘Career Planning - Avoiding dead end careers’, http://www.mindtools.com/stress/pj/CareerPlanning.htm.
- Suryanarayanan, M, ‘Effective Career Planning: Taking responsibility for your Career’, http://www.hinduonnet.com/jobs/0204/05030033.htm.