A rewarding career doesn’t just happen. You need to be committed to it and manage it carefully. Whether you have just started working or you have reached managerial level, keeping your career on track is crucial. Career management demands careful attention and constant evaluation. It is an ongoing process that will keep you in charge of your growth and direction.
Employment is no longer a given; instead you need to monitor your career to be certain you are offering the employer the best candidate available – yourself. This means staying in touch with changes in the workplace and knowing what is necessary to keep your skills in demand. This will enable you to achieve the right balance between work and learning throughout your working life.
Firstly, evaluate your long-term career goal. This goal is the ultimate destination you hold for your career. To define this goal, ask yourself a few questions such as, “What would I like to be doing?” “How would I like my list of accomplishments and achievements to read?” or “To what end do I continue developing my professional skills?”
Conduct a self-assessment of your knowledge, skills, abilities, accomplishments and experiences to understand where you currently are in your career. Identifying both your strengths and your weaknesses will provide assurance that you are pursuing the right career path and by defining your main skill set you can begin the evaluation process.
It is worth considering your skills in terms of specific categories. These could be: technical knowledge; industry knowledge; regional awareness – geographical locations previously worked in; commercial skills – transferable skills, financial, accounting, budgeting and languages; and managerial skills such as business development, project and manpower management. This type of assessment should result in a clear profile of what you have to offer.
Establishing goals on your career path will provide you with direction and a way to measure your success, guiding your progress. Benchmarks in your plan are short term, achievable sub-goals: plan these with a realistic timescale in mind. It is important to be realistic when you set goals, taking into account the things that are most important to you and that may factor into decisions you may be faced with during your career. Your goals should also address subjects like professional achievement, earning potential, lifestyle desires and personal issues involving family, education and leisure time.
Once you have defined your first benchmark, start planning the steps you need to take to get to it and at each benchmark, conduct another personal audit. You might also find it helpful to create an annual plan each year between now and your long-term goal, which will assist you in understanding how far you have come and what more you need to accomplish. Update your CV at every benchmark, as it is the document that best represents you as a professional and should be your personal marketing tool.
Understand which actions have the most importance to your long-term career goal and start executing these first. The more important the action to your long-term career goal the more importance you should attach to it. Assess your progress and refine your career plan at each stage. Be flexible – if you need to make adjustments to your sub-goals based upon new information then re-evaluate your plan.
In order to successfully maintain lifelong learning you must address areas such as: self-awareness – knowledge of your strengths, skills, values and interests; self-promotion – identifying needs in the workplace and matching your own knowledge, strengths and skills to them; networking – being able to develop and effectively make use of a network of contacts; negotiation – the ability to discuss, compromise and form an agreement to make decisions and solve problems; political awareness – understanding the way organisations function and how people’s power structures within organisations operate.
Keep on top of what’s happening in the industry you are interested in, anticipate the trends and factor them into your career planning. For example, you might want to start cultivating expertise in technical fields that you think will become crucial in the next few years.
Remember that any meteoric changes take preparation and hard work. It is not enough to be ambitious. You must be committed to lifelong learning and focused on your own personal and professional development. The lessons and skills you learn on the path to accomplishing your goal can be as rewarding as finally reaching it.