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Do You Have a Career Strategy?

Still think you've got a lock on the job market? Still think that all your hard work, education, and drive will continue to pay off for you indefinitely? Excuse me for using an over-used expression, but THINK AGAIN! Things are changing in the workplace so quickly, so dramatically, that you may be in for some big surprises, and sooner rather than later. The recent wave of massive layoffs, mergers, and company closings won't end anytime soon. It will go on for years as our roller-coaster economy continues to move forward. It's Business 101.

So what can you do? Just like today's most successful organizations (there really are some) that routinely use a systematic process to plan their next moves, so can you. In essence, you can design and implement a career strategy to manage your career. A strategy that is fluid, flexible, and aware that quick changes in direction is commonplace.

In crafting your strategic career plan, I first recommend that you put it in writing. That's right, an actual on-paper or on-computer document that outlines where you are in your career, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there. The best plans I've seen are 3-5 pages in length, quite detailed, and often include time lines as a tool to measure how you are doing versus your plan.

Keep in mind that your plan is not cast in stone and is meant to be a truly dynamic piece of work. Given our change-a-minute business environment, I think it's important that you establish a time to review your plan, say at least once each month, and make any necessary up-dates and adjustments.

Here are a few recommendations of the kind of information to include in your plan:

  1. Current career assessment: start with an open and honest look at where you are currently in your career. Are you happy? Is it fulfilling? Is it value-driven? Does it provide you the kind of work life balance you desire? Are you earning the money you think you deserve? Are you having fun? Should you change positions? Change companies? Change careers?
    Note: You can take a free on-line assessment at assessment.com

  2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses: make lists of both. If you really want to get serious, pull together a group of people you trust and respect (it's usually best not to use immediate family) and ask them to give you some feedback on what they think your strengths/weaknesses are.
    Note: once you have identified the pluses and minuses, start to consider what it means in regards to what additional information or assistance you might need to get your skills in-line with the new workplace.

  3. Identify opportunities and threats: again, make lists of the specific opportunities you see on your current career path. Are they visible? If not, how can you determine what they are? Who can help you figure it out? What lies ahead for your company or your industry? Make a list of what you see to be the specific threats to your current path.
    Note: not sure how to go about this step? Here's a great place to get help from people who really are experts on the subject. Investment bankers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and others are in-tune with this subject matter.

  4. Create a career vision-statement: craft a specific statement that best describes what you would like your career to look like. Think more about what would really pump you up, not what you think you should do or have always done. Don't try and get the statement perfect. Just get some ideas done as a starting point. You can change it at anytime.
    Note: I have seen people have multiple vision statements. A 90-day, a 1-year, a 5-year

  5. Develop an action-plan: now that you have an idea as to where you want to go, how will you get there? If you have decided to change careers, what will you do? How will you make the change? What help will you need? What tools can you use to help you? What obstacles might you incur? How will you overcome those obstacles?
    Note: think tactically. Be specific on the actions you will take to move your career forward. If one doesn't work, think about new steps and try them. This step is an on-going process.

  6. Draw up an implementation-plan: this is nothing more than putting your action-plan into play. Determine a timeline of activities. The people who are most successful in taking their careers to the next levels know plans are ineffective unless associated with specific timelines…. not just to do them within a certain period of time but to also measure the results and make adjustments accordingly.
    Note: a winning career strategy often includes scheduling time each day to carry out the plans. Are you willing to do that?

  7. Think Differently: I think it was Heraclitus who said, "Everything is changing save the law of change." Think about how you will constantly re-invent yourself to adapt to what's going on in our business world and how it will impact your career. Constantly examine how you can be of more value to your organization. There are a number of great websites out there who are dedicated to reviewing companies and industries (vault.com, hoovers.com). Keep up to date!
    Note: routinely ask your boss how you can be of more value to your company.

  8. Everybody a business: Is becoming a free-agent right for you? As Corporate America continues to downsize, out-source, acquire and merge, the opportunity for people to start their own business has never been better. But is it for you? How will you know? What criteria will you use to make such a decision?
    Note: maybe the best research you can do to decide if it's right for you is to talk to people who have left Corporate America to become a small business owner or independent consultant. Ask them what they like or dislike now that they have made the leap. Ask them what surprises they experienced. Ask them what they would do differently knowing what they know now.

A final bit of thought on this idea of having a career strategy…..

It may turn out that you can have the career you have always wanted without going through the work I just outlined. I guess it's possible. I'm not sure how probable it is. What I do know is this: If you think the current job market is unpredictable, maybe even puzzling and disconcerting, fasten your seat belt. The ride may get rougher. There are some work place "experts" who say that 90% of the jobs as we know then today will be gone within five years. The work won't be gone, but the way it gets done will be. Are you ready for that? You can be, and in my opinion, a strategic career plan can give you a great chance for a much smoother and rewarding ride.

-Gordon Miller
www.group56.com