Having a career strategy is important. It can help you manage the direction you want your career to take, the job skills and knowledge you will need, and how you can get them.
Do you need help developing or reviewing your career strategy? We have developed a simple, five-step plan to help you head in the right direction.
A great career strategy relies on strong foundations
The form of your career strategy will depend on the kind of person you are. It may be very structured, or you may just need a few notes in each area - such as knowledge, skills and qualities, what you like doing and the type of jobs that interest you.
Step 1: Self-assessment helps you understand your personal and career goals, your interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses.
Step 2: Consider your career options and identify which available roles fit your interests and abilities.
Step 3: Decide on your career goals
Step 4: Develop and implement a career strategy
Step 5: Review and adjust your career strategy
Step 1 Self-assessment
Consider what is important to you. We all have different values, needs and motivations. Our work takes up a significant part of our day - usually a third or more - and has a significant impact on other aspects of our life, including our sense of self-worth and wellbeing. This is why it is very important to carefully consider your values and needs when planning your career direction and developing your career strategy.
Use these exercises to help you establish your life values:
- career planning chart
- examining life values
- career/life planning timeline.
- general requirements of a job.
These exercises will help you decide your essential and preferred job requirements:
- where am I right now?
- motivated abilities patterns
- career questions.
Skills, knowledge and personal qualities
It is important to understand your skills, knowledge and personal qualities so you can match them to jobs you would like to do. This will also help you identify the knowledge and skills you might need to acquire, or the personal qualities you might need, to achieve your career goals. An accurate and realistic assessment of these things is vital to an achievable career strategy.
This kind of understanding is a powerful aid when selling yourself for potential jobs. It will also boost your self-esteem and confidence.
Try to think of your skills in terms of those that are transferable and those that are specialised. Think about how the skills you use in one job could be used or adapted elsewhere. A smart career strategy needs to be flexible and adaptable. So describe your skills in a way that makes them applicable to the widest range of situations.
To assess your skills, knowledge and personal qualities, use these exercises:
- what are my skills?
- what are my job requirements?
- what are my short- and long-term goals?
Career planning barriers
Despite working hard on your career strategy, you might sometimes come up against obstacles or hindrances you were unaware of or had not considered. The 'Examining the barriers using force field analysis' exercise will help you to explore those obstacles.
Step 2 Consider the options
Often, the most difficult part of career strategy and planning is finding out what jobs are likely to suit you best. The good news is your choice might be wider than you had realised. It's important to consider each of the options against your values and preferences. Your options are broadly described in the table below. You can also get more information about jobs in government by browsing these links:
Step 3 Decide on your goals
Now it is time to make some decisions. Carefully consider the information you have gathered. If you have completed the 'career/life planning timeline', you might have already decided on your career goals (the cornerstone of career strategy) and be ready to enter them on your career planning chart.
If you are yet to decide on your career goals, or you want to revise them, start by considering your career goals for the next two years. What do you want to be doing in two years' time? What about five and ten years' time? This kind of thinking helps break down big picture career strategy and planning into manageable pieces.
The SMARTER system can be useful for planning your career goals:
Specific: be as clear as you can and avoid ambiguous statements.
Measurable: so you can see what you have achieved.
Achievable: provides motivation, but also keep your goals reachable.
Realistic: be reasonable and avoid the realms of fantasy.
Timely: create timeframes for completing steps, for example, doing short courses or talking with someone about the skills required for a particular job.
Empowering: make sure your goals feel right for you and help you make the changes you want.
Reviewable: do not set your goals in concrete; be flexible.
Write clearly defined, short statements you can work towards. If you are unable to identify a specific job you want, indicate your goals in more general terms. This is all part of good career strategy foundations. But remember: the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to plan. For example: I want to work in an office, in the Bendigo area, four days per week providing advice to the public.
You might have more than one idea in mind and might want to keep your options open. In this case, specify your goals, but bear in mind it is unlikely you will realise all of them, so plan accordingly. You can begin to prepare yourself for all your options, and over time you will probably find yourself gradually become clearer about what you want to do, and the goals you are capable of fulfilling.
Step 4 Develop and implement your career strategy
Now you have decided on your goals, you can develop an action plan to help you put your career strategy into action. Remember, planning will increase the likelihood of success, but it's important to remain flexible and open-minded. You might have a couple of choices that interest you so take opportunities to prepare for both.
As you progress, your ideas might become more specific. The career planning chart provides a simple way to put the information together. As a starting point, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Career planning checklist
- Do you need additional job skills, experience or information?
- What areas of yourself will you need to develop?
- Do you need to develop a wider network or links with specific people?
- Is there a course you need to do (perhaps to gain specific qualifications or skills)?
- Do you need to find ways to demonstrate your skills and knowledge so you can provide evidence of what you can do?
- What actions do you need to take to realise your career goals?
- Do you need to find out more about what would be required to achieve your career goals?
- Do you need to find out more about what is available? If so, how will you do this?
- What kind of work experience would be helpful to you?
- What new job skills or knowledge will you need?
- Do you need to demonstrate you have job skills in particular areas?
- Are there contacts you can make, or relationships you can develop, that might help you?
- Are there any changes you could make to the way you deal with people or work situations that might increase your likelihood of achieving your goals? How will you start to do this?
- Who can you discuss your goals with? When will you do this?
- Are you clear about the type of work you would like to do? How can you clarify this further?
- Do you have a supportive network? Do you believe you are recognised as able to contribute information to this network? If not, what could you do about this?
- Do you have a mentor with whom you can discuss both the technical content and the intangibles of your job? If not, have you thought about finding a mentor? Is there someone in your workplace or elsewhere you could approach?
- Do you need to make some radical changes to your present direction? What are the first steps to achieving this change in direction and how will you take these steps?
- Do you think you will need to undertake further study? What steps could you take to do this?
- Do you feel in charge of your own career direction? If not, how can you gain more confidence and take charge?
When preparing your career strategy action plan, include WHAT you will do and HOW you will do it. Make a list of people whose help you will seek and draw up a time plan of WHEN you will do each action. The timeframe should be at least 12 months, however, a longer period may be appropriate.
Step 5 Review and adjust your plan
Career planning is a way of making the best use of your current situation and foreseeable opportunities. Given that unpredictable events and changes can occur over time, view your plan as a guide and allow space for adjustments and changes to your approach.
Draw on your experiences at work to help you achieve your goals. You will generally find it helpful to revisit your plan each year. Remember, the career strategy you put in place at one stage of your life may not be relevant once you have achieved certain goals and experienced other job and life events.
Revisiting your strategy will help to reinforce and clarify your thinking, and can help you decide if you need to change your career strategy, seek help or advice or put more effort into achieving your goals.
Personal career planning journals
Keep an ongoing journal or record of your achievements and the training and development activities you have done. Include any work experience you gain and outline what you learned from the experience. Retain any letters or other communications that provide feedback about your work or other matters, and refer to them when you apply for new positions. Reflection and documentation provide assistance with ongoing career strategy planning.
Many people find a loose-leaf ring-binder is ideal as a career planning journal, but choose a system that works for you. The journal will help you understand your career development and will be a useful resource when you apply for new positions.
Upon graduation I wish to lead the fiber-optics product management team in one of the world’s largest optical communication companies (such as Alcatel-Lucent and AT&T), supervising a group of 5-10. Striving to promote myself within the organization, I wish to become the Vice President of Marketing in the fiber optics segment, supervising several dozens of employees.
My mid-term goal is to become the founder and CEO of an innovative fiber optics firm. I desire to position the company as a profitable, international and leading company in its industry, and aspire to establish a sustainable organization, creating workplaces for thousands of employees and turning an underdeveloped area into a flourishing industrial zone. Passave, an optical communication company, which was lately acquired for $300M, is a model for such a successful company.
After fulfilling this goal, I intend to follow the growing trend of successful executives who moved to the public service sector. My plan is to become a senior manager in the Prime Minister’s Office.
I chose my first full time position in the Optronics Division at the military because I knew it will introduce me to the diverse optical communication community in my country, equipping me with basic hands-on experience in the field. The first two years I worked as a Physicist and a System Engineer and then I was promoted to the position of Electro-Optical Projects Manager in the division’s headquarters. There I set the goals, supervised and directed 9 Project Mangers in optical projects performed by 7 different companies in the defense industry.
At that point I realized that for developing the managing tools required for a senior manager I’ll need to gain more experience in bigger organizations. Therefore, I persuaded the head of the R&D directorate to be reassigned to a classified Intelligence unit. My first mission as an Optical Engineer was to lead a group of 4 in building a module which was the heart of a $100M system. One year later I was appointed to a Team Leader where I commanded a team of 8. Two years later I was promoted to Project Leader.
I understood I lacked the financial and international experience of technological project management to lead a global optical communication company. I therefore became a Project Leader in a classified unit of the PMO. I supervised a team of 20, and managed all financial aspects of a $2M project (presented to the Minister of Defense), where I also had the marvelous opportunity to negotiate with highly ranked officials of three foreign governments.
While considering studying for a PhD, I worked as a part time an Internal Consultant of 5 Project Leaders. I then became an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) in Precede, an entrepreneurship and investment firm, in hope to learn more about becoming an entrepreneur. Working in Precede, I matured in my understanding. I realized I still lack some Finance, Marketing and General Management foundations, which an MBA will enable me to develop.
In light of my long term goal to become a founder and CEO of a technologically oriented company, I’ll need to gain the strongest possible general management skills. The finance and marketing foundations will compensate for my inexperience in these fields. The structured formal general management education I’ll acquire in Wharton will broaden my view and give me the tools to leverage my experience and create a successful company. I believe an MBA is the most structural way to learn how to build organizational values, culture and design organizational structure and hierarchy.
Moreover, most of my leadership experience was developed in governmental organizations, where a leader is defined in terms of his values, inter-personal skills and professionalism. However, looking into the future, I will need to lead in the private sector where leadership is also characterized by the talent to lead corporate players in global, competitive markets and an understanding of the cultural, economical and financial forces that drive the marketplace. Hence, I believe studying by the researchers of the Center of Leadership and Change Development like Prof. S. Kaplan who composed Framing the Future will help me build and lead a high performance optical communication firm.
My experience is mainly based on large and established organizations. Hence, learning from Prof. Dushnitsky on the various dimensions of new venture creation and growth in Entrepreneurship, will show me his perspective on the trail I wish to follow as a founder. Desiring to build a sustainable company, I am looking forward to taking Strategy and Competitive Advantage, where I hope to learn how to create and maintain such an advantage. Learning how to identify entrepreneurial opportunities and how to exploit them where “Creating Values” was contemplated, will lay a solid basis for achieving these goals by myself.
In a world which is growing ever flatter, I find international exposure and experience important for the global company I wish to found. The Multinational Management major courses, such as Global Strategic Management, and participation in the Global Immersion Program will prove valuable in helping me understand other cultures which will be important when penetrating new markets. This international exposure will improve my ability to establish contacts with other nations, hence supporting my longer term career goal of rejoining the PMO.
Wharton’s mindset and student body imply numerous benefits. The exciting opportunity to participate in school’s management would contribute to the fruitful interaction between students and faculty. I plan to take part in the leadership development activities and the various student clubs to create strong friendships. These connections, combined with the great global alumni community, can be especially relevant as an eco system for the company I plan to start and for recruiting its management backbone.