Career planning is an important investment of time and energy, whether you are in the early stages of your career, returning from a career break or a seasoned professional.
Don’t let your career progression be a spontaneous activity that may or may not happen. Successful organisational leaders have got to where they are with well thought through, strategic career moves.
Even though most organisations are still dominated by men, especially in senior leadership positions, recent research shows that women are as ambitious as their male counterparts. However, when women enter motherhood, it is likely that career progression slows down, or even stops, with little hope or help to get it back on track again.
At Career-Mums Partnership, we are passionate about supporting women to develop in their careers. Sometimes career progression slows down to fit around caring responsibilities; often career development may halt due to the traditional unconscious bias against women; occasionally we may feel unsupported in our career due to the lack of appropriate female role models in more senior positions. Maybe you feel encouraged, supported and motivated in your career and are confident and comfortable with the progress that you are making.
Whatever your situation, we’d like to offer you these straightforward tips for successful career planning
1. Make career planning an annual event
Schedule time each year to review your career. Dedicate some time and resources to make sure you review your progress over the previous year and plan for the year ahead. I like to spend an afternoon on this activity at the beginning of each year.
By regularly reviewing your career you can make decisions as to whether you are happy to stay doing what you are doing for the year ahead, or are you ready for a move to another organisation or looking for a different challenge. What is your longer term career vision? Do you want to progress to a senior leadership position? Do you want to ensure you work in a way that enables you to maximise your time with your family for the next decade? Do you want to set up and expand your own business.
2. Reflect on your likes, dislikes, needs, wants and values
It’s helpful to review what you like and dislike about the work that you are currently doing and to also understand why you do it. We tend to work for reasons other than the content of the work that we are doing. It may be that our work gives us financial security, professional status, personal satisfaction, a sense of belonging to a team … whatever it is, it’s useful to know your own values and motivations attached to the work that you do.
Leading on from this reflection, it’s useful to know what you currently want and need from your role and potential future roles. What salary level do you need? What training opportunities do you want? What level of flexibility over where and when you work do you need? I find it helpful to take a large piece of paper and put the headings ‘likes’, ‘dislikes’, ‘needs’, ‘wants’ and jot a list under each heading.
3. Examine your hobbies and leisure interests
Your hobbies and leisure interests may feature heavily in the work that you do or be complementary to your work. Usually we do activities out of work that we most enjoy. By reflecting on the things that you enjoy doing out of work, it may give you a sense of your future work direction or a feeling of whether you have appropriate balance in your life.
Many people have taken a much-loved hobby and turned it into a successful business. Other people prefer to focus on their professional career and have separate leisure interests that give them the relaxation, fitness, creativity or social contact that they otherwise wouldn’t get from their career alone.
4. Record your past achievements
Taking stock of the last year, it is useful to record your specific achievements. What have you accomplished during the past 12 months? Have you completed a project? Have you completed some development activities or gained a new qualification? Have you mentored a junior team member? Whatever you have achieved and feel proud of during the last year, make sure this is listed down. Key achievements should be included within your Linked-In profile, updated on your c.v. and celebrated.
Typically, women are reluctant to talk publicly about their accomplishments, but this is not going to get you very far along the competitive career ladder.
5. Identify your transferable skills
Make a list of your transferable skills. If you had to move from your current role today, what skills can you take with you into a new role? Include any leadership, communication, social media, computing, organisation skills. Making this list helps you to think about how transferable your skills are to a new role and/or new employer.
6. Explore career and job trends
Take some time to review trends in the employment market. If you are in a particular specialised field, what changes are taking place? What types of jobs are being advertised at the moment? What level of experience is being requested? What are the advertised salary levels? What are the general industry trends? A couple of on-line searches can give you a reasonable feel for which way the market is going at the moment.
Check-in with yourself as to whether you are excited, apprehensive or ambiguous about these trends.
7. Set career and job goals
Taking all the information that you have gathered so far, create a vision for your future and then turn this into specific goals for you to achieve during the year ahead. What do you want to achieve? How is this going to contribute to your overall career vision? Make sure you write out SMART (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals. You may want to set a goal around moving roles, changing departments, gaining a new transferable skill – whatever is going to help you on your way to achieving your longer term vision.
8. Explore learning opportunities
From your career vision, it is worthwhile identifying any specific learning opportunities that would be useful to you. Learning opportunities can vary from a simple conversation to a commitment to enrol on a professional qualifications programme.
As the world of work changes at unprecedented speed, developing and updating your transferable skills will enable you to progress is your chosen field. What do you need to learn and what do you want to learn in the year ahead? How does this fit with your longer term career vision?
How can you add to your current skills set to beat the competition when it comes to your next job move?
9. Create positive affirmations
Each person’s career choices are unique. You may feel that you are following a well-trodden path or creating new unchartered routes – either way your experience is uniquely yours. It is easy to get side-tracked, disheartened or demotivated, particularly if obstacles appear in your way. Having positive affirmations about your ability to reach your career vision, can help when the going gets tough.
Creating positive statements about your abilities, values and desires can help you keep on track. I like to create a vision board with images and positive statements that I can easily look at to keep me motivated.
10. Engage the skills of a coach or mentor
A coach or mentor can be internal or external to your organisation. A coach is someone who can support you in your career development activities, by helping you create your vision, whilst handling any barriers to success and expanding your frame of reference and resources to successfully achieve your goals. Alternatively, a mentor is usually someone who is more senior or experienced who can offer advice and wisdom, provide useful contacts and generally open doors for you to progress in your career.
Sharing your career vision with another person, whether they are a colleague, coach or mentor, can provide additional impetus and motivation to achieve your career dreams.
Career paths that follow a straight-line trajectory based on age and experience are outdated in a work environment that expects fast-pace and disruption. Taking time to plan your career can enable you to have a competitive advantage over your peers, put you in control and allow you to craft a satisfying career that works for you and your unique needs, wants and values.
Career-Mums Partnership provides career coaching for women via our Spotlight on your Career sessions. We also create career development initiatives for employers to improve their gender diversity. Written by Sally Dhillon, Partner, Career-Mums Partnership.