Career development: Take control!
BY MEG WILSON
When you see the phrase "career development," what comes to mind? Does it refer to dusting off the old resume when you need a new job? Does it mean your boss should be taking care of you by planning your next promotion? Or that your worth is so obvious to others, that they will certainly provide you challenging opportunities?
Well, it just doesn't work that way. You control your career and the direction it takes. You are in the driver's seat, and it is up to you to determine the roads, detours, and stops encountered on your career employment journey. Careers have significantly changed over the last 20 years-so quickly and to such an extent that many traditional roles no longer exist.
The business environment has undergone alternate periods of downsizing and phenomenal growth, acquisitions and mergers are commonplace, and startup companies surround us. The workplace is now global. We conduct business through e-commerce, communicate via the Internet, and educate ourselves through e-learning. We've experienced industry evolution and fast-paced technological developments. In fact, the entire scope of the environment has changed and will continue to do so. The result is increased emphasis for you to manage your own career development.
Career development, rather "career management," is a deliberate, ongoing process-continually kept alive by a desire to achieve the goals you have established. It isn't easy. But if done correctly, it will be worth the investment you make. Three steps are involved in this process-assessment, planning, and action-with the phases continually in cycle. You can use this process to further development of your current career or pursue a new career.
Before embarking on your development path, conduct an assessment of your career achievements, challenges, and desires. Gain an understanding of your skills. Highlight your strengths as well as areas for improvement. Talk with those you feel comfortable with-friend, supervisor, mentor-to gain an understanding of their perceptions of your skills.
Obtain performance feedback from your manager and combine it with your skill assessment. Next, examine your current job. Are you happy within your role? Do you desire to achieve a higher level, or perhaps a different career path within your current company? Or are you dissatisfied and think you haven't yet found your niche? No matter the reason, taking time to assess your capabilities and desires will help define the next planning stage.
Planning is an exploratory phase that involves the integration of your analysis with your aspirations to form a development action plan. What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction and why? What do you like to do? What do you wish you were doing? What have you always wanted to do but never had the chance? What would be your idea of a perfect job? Who would you work with and where? How would it feel?
It may not be what you are now doing, but could be a new role in a different field. Brainstorm about your career desires, even those to which you have never given serious thought. Write your ideas down and chart them. Note whatever comes to mind and build off each notation, branching into additional sections and comments. Determine if there are any recurring themes and highlight those with the most appeal.
Research the recurring themes carefully in combination with analyzing the work environment to learn how external influences will shape potential (and current) career paths. Read voraciously, scan the news, and search the Web to observe market trends in industry and technology. How do these trends affect your career desires? Has any path stood out during this analysis process? Are there any path(s) you would like to research further? If not, brainstorm again.
If brainstorming leads you to desire advancement within your current role, plan a course of action to get there by accepting new assignments or asking for different projects to expand your skill set (even if it is in other areas of business). Seek opportunities to network and highlight your efforts. Consider making a lateral job move if it provides the requisite skill sets you seek. Take courses or, more important, take advantage of your company's current education program and online learning opportunities. Challenge yourself with different opportunities to acquire and strengthen your skills
If you decide to pursue a different career, consider internships or volunteer work to obtain new skills. Look at job advertisements to learn what companies seek in specific positions. Your challenge will be to present your transferable skills to a new employer. Definition within the assessment phase will help identify and present your skills and capabilities in a clear and concise manner.
The next step is to create your career management plan. What action is needed to achieve the desired promotion or opportunity in a new career field? What resources will you require? Set your goals-short- and long-term-and identify reasonable time frames to achieve your objectives. Be sure your goals will help you obtain your overall objectives. If you can't list any benefits to a particular goal, rethink whether it is actually worthwhile to pursue. Identify measures to indicate when a goal has been met.
This is the time to put your plan into action. Identify action steps, whereby you can measure progress on a regular basis. Stick with it-career development is a deliberate, ongoing plan. Keep it visible and revisit it often. Note progress toward each goal and don't forget to celebrate your achievements and update your plan as necessary.
It is important that you conduct a periodic review of your career management path-assess your accomplishments against identified goals, review your plan, determine if you still want to follow the same path, revise as necessary, and act. People often have several professions during their lifetimes.
Meg Wilson is a human resources manager for Tektronix Inc. (Beaverton, OR). She can be reached via the company's Website, www.tektronix.com.