In the last few years, you were likely more focused on keeping your job than planning your next career move. However, with the economy on the mend and hiring picking up, it’s a good time to think about your goals and how to reach them — whether it’s a new job or a promotion.
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Much like those who refuse to ask for directions even when they’re lost, many people embark on professional journeys without any clear sense of their final destination. That’s why you need a career map. It’s a detailed plan that includes your long-term professional goals and action steps for achieving them.
Your first step is to develop a chart that has two columns. In the first column, jot down the following four categories: your hobbies and interests, your values, your work style, and your strengths and weaknesses. In the second column, list your responses within each category and then rate each item on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most important.
Here’s more detail about what each category should encompass:
- Hobbies and interests. List anything from golfing and reading to sculpting and playing guitar. Even though they’re hobbies and not work responsibilities, you may get insight into what you enjoy most on the job.
- Values. Which factors in your job are most important to you? Is it salary, the amount of training you receive, autonomy, or how much time you have outside of work for community and family activities? If autonomy is important to you and you’re working for someone who likes to be involved in every last detail, you’re not going to be happy.
- Work style. Consider what type of work you most like, the amount of diversity you need, how much challenge you want on the job, as well as your need for creativity and stability.
- Strengths and weaknesses. You want to identify what you’re good at based on past on-the-job performance, as well as areas you need to improve upon.
As you’re completing this exercise, consider whether you’d like to work for the same company in five years, what kind of salary you want and how much decision-making authority you’d prefer to have. Evaluate how much family time you need and what kind of schedule works best for you. Finally, consider the type of environment you prefer —structured or less organized — as well as the skills you would like to use.
The results should point you toward a career goal. Maybe you’ll decide to leave your job and give freelancing a try, or choose an entirely new direction. Or perhaps you’ll come to the realization that you already have your dream job. Whatever your choice, your next step is to break down your goals into specific action items and develop a timetable for each one. You need to be realistic in your expectations — you’re not going to go from junior graphic designer to lead art director in two weeks. Also, bear in mind the need for flexibility in your plan to accommodate unexpected events. Here’s an example of a typical career path:
Career Goal: To transition from a senior graphic designer at a corporation to a similar position at an agency. Action steps:
- June: Join a networking organization for agency professionals and start reading trade publications.
- July: Through contacts you meet via networking, find out what skills you’ll need to work in an agency.
- August to October: Take any classes you’ll need to make the transition to an agency.
- November: Put together a portfolio of your relevant work.
- December: Start applying for agency positions.
Creating a career map is motivating and can keep you on track; after all, goals that aren’t written down may get pushed to the back burner. But a clear plan with attainable objectives and a realistic timeline for achieving them will serve as a constant reminder of the direction you need to travel.
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