In today's world everything happens instantly. Our
fastest computers are operating at 1.6 gigahertz. We eat food that is
cooked in seconds. And we expect our careers to move just as fast. Yet new
opportunities can still take weeks or months. If you're not very
established or changing careers, the move will probably take twice as long
as you predict.
So how do you go about planning and strategizing for your career? Start with this bit of advice.
Separate forging a career from earning money.
There are times when you need to take the better paying job or you have to take the first job you are offered so you can pay the bills. But taking a job for the money when you really wanted to build a career move could leave you frustrated.
With planning, you can spot jobs that will get you where you want to go. In the long run, you want to be making good money in your preferred field. That might take months or even years. Don't get discouraged even if you have to fine-tune goals as you learn more as the job market changes.
No matter how easy it seems, most successful people have worked long and hard.
Sometimes you see someone at the top and chalk it up to luck. It is true that part of success is being in the right place at the right time. But planning and being savvy about the opportunities that come your way are what most great careers are built on.
For example, I know a guy who is a high-tech stock-option millionaire. To his new co-workers, his wealth comes from his being at the company at the right time. The company's decision to give stock option bonuses was lucky for him. What they don't consider, though, is that his options were awarded because he spent 7 years working 10 or more hours a day. He recognized a good opportunity to join the company and further his career. That was planning.
So how do you put this to work for your own career?
Spend time planning your career but don't plan so rigidly that you aren't open to interesting options you hadn't considered.
Career planning is not like party planning. It doesn't just happen and then it's over. You have to keep doing it.
You should aim to do one career-building task every week. A career-builder can be furthering your skills, increasing your professional network, learning more about your industry, or talking to someone else about your future possibilities. Sometimes your weekly career-builder is also something you need to do for your job. For example, suppose your manager asks you to give a presentation to another department describing how your department trained staff members to work in teams. You can use this opportunity to learn how to use a presentation software (like Power Point) to enhance your presentation skills. Not only will your presentation be professional and polished, you will also know a new program that you can add to your resume under software skills.
Ask people in your preferred career about how they got where they are. If
you hear enough of these stories, you'll discover what you need to do and
how to position yourself.
For example, when I was a graduate student hoping for an academic career, I talked to a lot of professors about how they finished graduate school and became university faculty members. From their stories, I learned many steps I could take as well as what kinds of pitfalls to avoid. I learned how to finish my dissertation in a reasonable amount of time, how to interview for jobs, how to avoid political problems as a new assistant professor, and how to prioritize the many different tasks my new career would require of me.
Aim to make money at your career but take time planning your moves. If you can afford it, taking a position that will help you develop a skill for your career is better than an unrelated job that pays well. But you can translate skills in a lot of ways.
Spend time looking for paid opportunities to learn transferable skills. For example, I never intended to turn teaching aerobics into a career. But it gave me great leadership and teaching skills. That experience was a big help when I started my college teaching career.
Shape your career, don't let it shape you. Decide what you want your career to be and make your opportunities match that. Sometimes, you have to take the role employers give you. But you can also make roles for yourself by acquiring projects, and those help you further your career. If you want to be a writer but are working as a bookkeeper, you could become department newsletter editor. Even if the job takes a few more hours a week, creating, editing, and writing a department newsletter puts you closer to your long-term career goal.
What does all of this mean? Positioning yourself in your career will happen a step at a time with planning. The keys are time and planning.