Looking beyond lunchtime: The art of career planning

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble with spokesman Michael Offer on November 4, 2010. Offer resigned five days later after a public dressing-down.

Story highlights

  • People tend to focus on the urgent elements of their working life, such as daily tasks and the progress of projects
  • The important -- but never urgent -- process of managing one's career gets rarely gets attention
  • By planning in advance, a realistic overview of possible career paths can be evaluated calmly and without pressure
Career self-management
In today's economic climate, people tend to focus on the urgent and important elements of their working life, such as daily tasks and the progress of projects, useful relationships, coping with office politics, and meeting deadlines and targets. The important -- but never urgent -- process of managing one's career gets rarely gets attention, until the ax falls.
Losing one's job is a threat to the bank balance and a strain for the family. The key to reducing the threat is planning, yet surprisingly few people consider doing this.
Chartered psychologist Ben Williams.
Having plans in place means you are less likely to feel threatened by a job loss. By planning in advance, a realistic overview of possible career paths can be evaluated calmly without pressure. The checklist below helps to convert potential disaster into probable success.
- Regularly review job advertisements and update your resume.
- Research likely organizations for future employment in your area.
- Research the marketplace by reviewing the recruitment pages of professional journals and the press.
- Register with recruitment consultancies with a reputation for professionalism in your industry.
- Every time you complete a successful project, add the details to your resume.
- Define what you would regard as equitable terms for your termination of employment, and be ready to negotiate effectively. Improve your negotiating skills in readiness for this.
- Examine and define your personal and career goals, ensuring that these are in line with your value system.
- Establish which career directions or changes might realistically satisfy you in terms of contentment and success.
- Make yourself aware of how your current skills, talents and ambitions are transferable and match the requirements of the employment marketplace.
If you're prepared, you will be less likely to sign redundancy agreements while in a state of shock. You should always examine such documents carefully and negotiate terms to take full advantage of financial entitlements and all possible support services your employer may offer.
This preparation time should involve doing as well as thinking. Raise your profile in at least one professional organization or association in your field of work. Begin networking with colleagues in other organizations or areas of work where you might be interested in progressing. Making contact with others enables you to update your professional skills. It is important to maintain an active routine, to keep physically fit and mentally active.
Goal setting and achievement
One question which helps to establish life and career goals is: "What would you have, or do, or be, or achieve, if you knew you could not fail?" Once an answer has been established, each of these goals should be broken down into sets of objectives which, in turn, are broken down into daily tasks. Daily tasks fall into two categories: Progress and maintenance tasks.
Progress tasks are those which initiate a new activity, make an introduction, or establish a new approach. Examples are joining a gym or enrolling for a course of study.
Maintenance tasks are the regular tasks which make things happen. Maintenance tasks are important because they are the persistent activities that drive progress in every aspect of life. Going to the gym three evenings a week, or studying each evening in readiness for seminars or exams are maintenance tasks.
Taking action
So what should the progress and maintenance tasks be? My research, during more than 25 years as an occupational psychologist, indicates the following six instructions will assist in success:
- Understand fully the value of your skills and experience and what you offer to the market.
- Prepare a statement which accurately describes your skills, competency and experience so that you can present yourself well both on paper and at interview.
- Establish what you want from your new job, or your new career, and disclose this positively to interviewers and to people you meet at your prospective new workplace. Tell them why it is exactly the role you are looking for.
- Be ready to explain that you will make a positive effort to fit into a team in your role, and take a collaborative approach with colleagues.
- Indicate that you intend to make a significant contribution to the organization, that you wish to build your career with them (and if this is not the case, consider why you are making the effort to join).
- Be ready to enhance and develop your skills and experience with training, mentoring and coaching.
Success is a transient state, rather like happiness. Philosopher Bertrand Russell said that: "Success is getting what you want and happiness is wanting what you get." It is my view that both success and happiness can be achieved, but only when you are prepared to choose very carefully and then take positive and persistent action can you meet objectives and achieve goals.