Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Career Development 101

Whether you have just graduated, are stuck in a dead-end job, are switching careers or just want to move up the corporate ladder a little, career development is something a lot of people struggle with.  They are either under the illusion that it is something that “just kinda happens” or they don’t think it is possible for them.  Or maybe it just isn’t possible right now but whatever their mindset, they neglect to make a plan and look for opportunities to get them the career they have always imagined. 

Career development is not a passive thing.  It is active and ongoing and something that you are going to have to invest some time and energy into.  And it can be complicated but only if you make it complicated and are unprepared to handle the process.  But it is doable; the millions of successful people in the world are a testament to that, so don’t give me any excuses.  I’ve broken it down into five easy stages and though this isn’t an exact science, it should get you off on the right foot.

Know Where You Are
I am pretty sure I have said this before but trying to get somewhere in life without knowing where you are starting from is pointless.  Even Google maps realize this and won’t give you directions unless you provide the search engine with a Point A and a Point B.  My mother doesn’t understand this concept as she constantly calls me from the road, asking for directions, but since she has no idea where she is, I can’t help which is why we got her a GPS last Christmas.

The same is true for you with respect to career development.  If you don’t know where you are or what you have to start with, getting to where you want to be is a shot in the dark.  Make an inventory of your career related skills.  Did you go to school?  What courses did you take?  Do you have any previous related career experience?  Do you have any industry contacts that could point you in the right direction?  Why do you what to go into a particular career?  What motivates you?  These are all important things to consider when plotting your career development if for no other reason that your potential employer will care and you need to have the answers.

Also, when writing down your experience, make sure it is career specific at this stage.  If you have to stretch your imagination to find a link then chances are it isn’t a strong enough asset.  Building up your “relevant work experience” may lend you confidence, but you are only fooling yourself.  For example, when I was applying for a high school summer job at a coffee shop (Tim Hortons, if you must know), I put the fact that I had my lifeguarding on my résumé.  Unless people were going to be falling in and drowning into the ice cappuccino machine, this experience was irrelevant to my ability to serve a cup of coffee in 16.2 seconds to surely morning caffeine addicts.

Know Where You Want to Be
This makes sense if you use the direction analogy again because just like I can’t give my mother directions without knowing where she is, I also can’t help her get anywhere if she doesn’t know where she wants to go and neither can her GPS.

Where do you see yourself in one year? Five years? Ten years even… If you had the time, money and connections to find your dream job, what would it be?

Feel free to dream big here, however, also remember to keep some realistic expectations in mind.  Not everyone gets to be the Queen of England, Leader of the UN or the first person to land on Pluto.  But don’t let that intimidate you. Even if your dream job is outside of your current career trajectory, there is no reason why it still cannot work out.  You have options and there are very few limits that cannot be overcome (except for my mother’s inability to read a map).

Know What You Need to Get There
Time for a reality check.  You now know where you are and can compare it to where you want to be, the gap between the two places can now be measured.  This is not the time to be underestimating the difference because you will only be short-changing yourself.

Consider a variety of different ways to get where you want to go (sleeping your way there is not an option).  Do you need to go back to school?  Do you need to get some more work experience? Would an internship be useful?  Many people use internships to get their foot in the door somewhere they really want to work.  Are you willing to take a potential pay cut?  Is it going to mean travelling more?  Do you have the right contacts and if not, who do you need to connect with to make things happen?  What time frame are you looking at?

Knowing what you will need to bridge the gap between the “here” and the “there” is a critical stage because this will become your road map or in my mother’s case, the GPS.  And as long as you avoid driving into the lake metaphorically speaking, there is no reason why you won’t be able to develop your career as you desire.

Write It Down
After you are done all this planning and strategizing, write it down.  Writing it down will make your plan concrete and give you a visual representation of the steps and milestones you need to reach in order to get your dream career. 

A useful tool would be a work-back schedule.  If you are not sure what that is, feel free to click the link and read up on it some more but basically it is a schedule that starts with what you want to accomplish at the top and works backward detailing every single step needed to get there along with specific actions, tools needed and deadlines.  If you do it right, the schedule will look quite daunting.  However, by breaking everything you need to accomplish into tiny, manageable chunks and outlining what needs to be done to accomplish that small goal, you will be surprised how quickly things get checked off the list.

Having an actual list will serve the purpose of keeping you goal-orientated and on track as you can always refer back to it if you stumble, take a detour, or just need a reminder of what you are striving for.

Do It
And last but not least, you have to do it.  Many of us spend all our time planning and not actually doing.  It is great to have goals and an action plan but if you never get around to executing it, it isn’t worth the paper or hard drive space you wrote it on.

Creating a Career Action Plan for Myself - Workopolis


  1. By committing to excellence in your chosen career, there will always be keen competition for your skills, products or services. Going far beyond the call of duty, doing more than others expect - these are what excellence is all about.

    1. That is actually a great addition to this post but also to most things in life. We should strive to achieve excellence in every day events and our career. If you aren't striving for excellence then you are going to fall into the pattern of "just getting it done". If you are truly passionate about your career, it doesn't take that much additional effort to go beyond getting it done and meet a higher standard.