There are two ways of looking at your career. One way is to treat it as something which just happens to you, in which you apply for jobs that come your way, get promoted or fired at someone else’s discretion, and in which luck plays as great a part as ambition. The other way is to take control of your career by introducing strategies that allow you to shape it, to the best of your ability. We call this approach Career Management.
The practical difference between these two approaches is that people who manage their careers tend to be far more successful and fulfilled in their working lives. Those who pay little attention to career management are more likely to just drift along- sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.
So how do you manage your career?
The first step is to sit down and think about where you want to get to within a defined time span. Depending on your age, and where you are in your career, this might be ten years, twenty five or even until retirement. What sort of work do you want to be doing when you reach this point, what level of seniority, salary, or environment? Of course you can’t predict or control the future, but you can envisage the sort of future at which you would like to aim.
Once you have defined your long term vision, the next stage is to set yourself some achievable short term goals. These might include the time and nature of your next job move, a promotion you are aiming at, or attaining particular qualifications or training. Your goals are steps along a path towards your long term vision, you need to set them in such a way that they will lead you where you want to go.
With your goals in place, you can create your action plan. How are you going to achieve the targets you have set yourself? Write down the steps you need to take, and mark off each step on a timeline. Think about what you will do if you fail to accomplish a particular goal; how will you revise your strategy? The more that you can think these things through in advance, the easier it will be for you to keep on top of your career and manage it successfully. Career management may sound onerous, but it needn’t be, if you make it part of your outlook on life.
It should go without saying that career management is a lifelong process. Ideally you should revisit your goals and action plan at least once a year. In this way, should your job become at risk due to the economy, or other factors beyond your control, you will at least know what your next steps are.
People who manage their careers well know what jobs they want to be doing, and in which organisations. Good career management can even help you to deal with impending redundancy; being threatened with job loss can provide the catalyst for you to implement the next stage in your career plan.
Of course no career management strategy is foolproof. There will always be factors outside your control, not the least of which is the wider economy. But even so being aware of the importance of managing your career, and having a strategy for doing so, puts you in control of your working life. It prevents your working life from controlling you.