Imagine you are about to set off on a long car journey.
For your trip to run smoothly, you’ll need to fill the fuel tank, ensure your vehicle is well-maintained, know your direction of travel and be suitably equipped in case of unexpected glitches. Often it is a good idea to speak to others who’ve been to your destination before, to help you plan your route and make you aware of any short-cuts.
Similarly, careful planning will help you greatly when it comes to your career journey.
Some people merely move to a new role which sounds interesting whenever they feel they need a fresh challenge. That is not a career plan, it’s simply switching between a random set of appealing jobs. Such a route will usually see your career move upwards for a while then level out, because you will lack the suitable experience for more senior roles later on.
Far better is to work out in advance what specific areas of experience you need to get to where you would like to be in, say, five years’ time. Then, only move jobs when you see that your current role is holding you back.
This approach will help you build a very structured career path and will equip you for more senior positions you’ll be seeking in the future. The right tools, skills and experience are the fuel in your tank. Without them, it is unlikely you will reach your destination.
Review your progress
The key is to understand the career planning process and review your progress against your strategy every 18 months or so, rolling forward your goals so you are always looking a few years ahead. In this way, you will know how your career journey is going and the turns you need to make along your route. It will also help you identify whether you are drifting off course at any stage and to better evaluate new opportunities which arise along the way.
Once you know which type of roles fit into your plan, it’s easy to brief recruitment consultants and head-hunters on the opportunities they should bring to your attention. If you build relationships with a small number of good recruiters who understand your aspirations, they can alert you to the jobs you want before taking them to anyone else. Effectively, you are briefing them rather than them selling the job to you. It makes for a healthier and more productive relationship.
It’s also a good idea to speak to people who’ve held roles you aspire to working in, to get their perspective on the best way forward.
I once met a lady who had wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 11. She studied law, went to law school and landed a trainee’s role with a top firm. Just 18 months after she qualified, she gave up her job. She hated it. It was nothing like she thought it would be. It turned out that her perception of being a lawyer was based on a TV drama she had watched as a youngster. She had never spoken to anyone who was actually a lawyer to see what it was really like.
Like the driver who takes a wrong turn, it set her way back on her career journey.