One of the many exercises I did during my job search was to pull together a Career Action Plan. This was the projected plan of types of jobs and promotions I hoped to have in the future. Included were also the company types and the experiences I wanted to have. This was a great exercise because it helped me plan out my job search strategy.
It’s Step #1, and I’m already off plan.
As one of my new colleagues said to me, “If you stick to too much of a structured plan, you’re not opening up yourself to opportunities. You could miss something great.” His advice is perfectly illustrated in the fact that instead of going to a Fortune 500 B2C firm, I’m in a niche marketing agency. Instead of new market testing, I’m on a creative team. Instead of more structure, I am suddenly in an incredibly flexible environment. I’m off-roading from my career plan.
It’s the best thing that has ever happened.
That is not to say that the concept of a Career Action Plan gets thrown out the window. It’s the same idea of thinking outside the box…but needing a box to begin with. In order to understand what the right decision might be for you, you have to know your options. Starting with a plan begins to narrow down a large world of possibilities. From there, you would be surprised at the kinds of tangents you can take. I know now that the current plan I have is going to drastically change because of how this first step turned out. I also know that I can still accomplish many of the professional experiences that I wanted to have. Things might be in a different context, but development is development.
The other major lesson here is that even if things change, I am still taking a proactive role in my career. Even if your boss or company has every intention to help make sure you experience growth in your career, you have to know it may not happen the way you want. People get busy. Budgets get cut. Don’t make professional development a one-time conversation with your boss during performance review season. Consider it part of every day growth.
Now here’s the big catch: You still have to be great at what you do now to get support for what you want to do in the future.
If you can’t perform today, there’s no way a boss wants to groom you for a promotion. Other leaders won’t be interested in investing in your future. You’re not setting an example of what you can be if you’re lacking in what they need now.
As you consider developing a career plan, take a look at a wide range of resources. There is no one way to do it, and remember, things change. Here are some resources and sites that I use:
- My alumni networks. Everything from the websites through the university to the local alumni chapters. Everyone there has had a job of some kind. They can all offer great advice. Plus, you’ll also get the “life” advice that comes with the professional advice.
- Your company’s development program. Your boss and HR should have information about professional development in the organization. If you don’t already work on a plan, then start finding out how you can make one. Know also what is subsidized by your firm and what you may have to pay out-of-pocket.
- Salary.com. They have a Career Development section that has all kinds of self-service resources for you. These include ways to prep for performance reviews, something important if you are also hoping to negotiate a raise or bonus.
- SheNegotiates.com. I have met Victoria Pynchon, and we both agree: you have to negotiate early in your career to stay on track. That goes for anyone starting a job, not just women.
- Bucketlist.org. Your life bucket list and Career Action Plan can intersect. In fact, they should. If you want to travel the globe, think of working in the international division at your company. If you want to get better at public speaking, perhaps move into a sales or pitch role.
There are many more places for guidance, but think about variety. You’ll be happy to have options when you go about planning, but give yourself the flexibility to off-road. You’ll find out that the rewards are better than you could have expected.