As I finished my internship this summer, I made sure that I was able to get feedback from my bosses to take with me for the future. Essentially, I wanted as close to a performance review as I could get. Not just the, “You did a good job this summer, keep it up!” message I think many interns receive, but I wanted an in-depth review so I knew my specific strengths and needs in the context of my internship.
My bosses agreed, but they asked if I could do something for them: bring my career action plan to the meeting.
You may not believe this, but my idea of the future had always been large and vague. I was growing skeptical of employers and the reliability of commitments (because job commitments don’t seem to be that anymore, do they?). While I know I wanted to DO great things, exactly WHAT those things were, I wasn’t sure. Perhaps I was protecting myself from frustration and heartache down the line when things didn’t work out.
Before I could actually start writing my career action plan, I needed to figure out what a career action plan was. My boss said that the same way you build strategic plans for marketing and company growth, you should do the same for your career. Identify what you want and the steps you need to follow to get there. She said take that description, then mold it to fit what it means to you.
I realized: A career action plan is putting me in the driver’s seat of my career.
On a tactical level, you realize you are the driver of your career. You do the job search, you do the interview, you get the experience/education, and you are the one who performs. Then there’s a part of you that says: Well, I can only get promoted in my company promotes me; if the market tanks, my company is the one that determines whether I have a job or not; and so on. We suddenly put all this perceived power in the company’s hands.
Yet, it’s not the company with the power, but you.
You get that promotion if you perform well and make a name for yourself; you get that raise if you ask for it and have the record to back it up; if you were a rock star, you’ll survive downsizing or have the means to hop companies…Career development may be available to you from your company, but it’s up to you to utilize it, to take advantage of the resource.
So I sat down and took my large and vague 3-year, 5-year, and lifetime plans and began to break them apart so I could start to uncover the steps it would take for me to accomplish all of those goals. I thought of the types of teams I would like to work with and the kinds of projects I wanted to run. I thought of the size of companies, and even specific brands that I loved. I considered locations because I know I’ll be moving, and thinking about what it was about an area of the country I loved, and were there companies that fit me there?
I also plotted out my age. Suddenly when you start adding up five years in this role and eight years in that one, you match it to your age and realize you have a lot to do! But in a good way. You know there’s room to accomplish everything, even if you aren’t able to stick to exactly each step of your plan.
Then I plugged in the experiences I wanted to have, like serving on the Board of a non-profit or doing a temporary assignment abroad. I asked myself, how much climbing do I want to do before I break out on my own? I also listed companies…lots of companies. You have to know what you want, but you also can’t get too narrow too soon. You never know which brand will offer you your dream marketing job unless you go after it.
I began mapping this out, and it still has a ways to go. But I am the driver. Are you?