By Gerald Walsh ©
Your career is like a business. It has assets and liabilities. It generates revenue and requires investment. It has customers and competition. It has a life cycle and goes through phases. It requires sound planning and careful execution.
So here’s the irony.
All managers and professionals use business planning models regularly in their work. Mission statements, corporate strategies, SWOT analyses, and action plans – these are all familiar tools to business people. Why, then, are few (or none) of these well-understood practices used by individuals when planning their own careers? Why do we leave the outcome of our careers almost to destiny?
Here are six ways you can apply those same business planning practices – used daily in your work – to your own career.
1. Stay close to your customer. As an employee, your customer is your employer. What you are selling – your skills – must always be relevant and useful to your employer. Your length of employment is no longer a variable in measuring employability. Instead, your value to your employer must always exceed what you cost (your salary.) In effect, you are a profit centre and must make a positive contribution to the bottom line. Otherwise, you are of limited value to your employer.
2. Prepare a long-term plan. Change is so rampant that a long-term plan these days – for a business or an individual – is no longer than five years. In planning your career, identify what you would like to be doing (and where) in five years’ time. Is it a more senior job in your own company? Or is it with another company? Might it be in a different field altogether? Another city perhaps? Then, develop a work-back plan: a set of specific steps you must take in order to attain that long-term goal.
Dorie Clark in her article Think Strategically About Your Career Development suggests you put yourself “five years into the future and write your resume as you envision it, including your new title and exact job responsibilities.” By doing this, she says, you will be able to figure out what skills and experience you will need between now and then to reach that goal. Like a business, you can influence the outcome of your career with carefully thought-out, attainable plans that are written down and reviewed regularly.
3. Maintain a competitive advantage. Competition for jobs comes from internal sources – like co-workers – and external sources, such as outsourcing and technology. As you advance through your career, you will find that your technical skills become less important and your personal qualities, such as leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, become more relevant. The key is to ensure your entire range of skills – personal and technical – are well-developed and always important to your employer. That way, you will remain competitive in the workforce.
4. Seek advice from others. Companies use lawyers, accountants, consultants, bankers and other advisors to guide them through challenging times. You, too, should consider recruiting advisors: one or more individuals who are willing to give you honest, straightforward feedback and advice on your career. You will gain priceless perspectives on your leadership skills in addition to developing useful networking contacts should you decide to change jobs. Remember – seeking advice from others is a sign of confidence, not weakness.
5. Invest wisely. Companies have assets like machines, equipment, technology and buildings. They maintain these assets and upgrade as needed. They understand that well-managed assets are vital to their company’s productivity. I suggest you use the same investment model when thinking about your career. Investments should be made in building your skills portfolio, extending your network of contacts, contributing to the community (through volunteerism), and improving your overall health and wellness. These investments require time and money. Regardless, they will add to your overall net worth and strengthen your long-term career opportunities.
6. Be responsive to market trends. The most successful companies respond quickly to changing market conditions and reinvent themselves to match these changes. Unfortunately there are other companies who ignore market trends and allow their complacency (or arrogance) to rule their thinking. These companies often end up as market followers or, even worse, in bankruptcy. Don’t let complacency creep into your career planning. Labour market demands can and do change quickly. And you must be responsive to those shifts.
Question: Long-term career planning is important but it’s not usually urgent. Which is why most people fail to take action until it’s too late. Knowing this, what steps can you take in the next six months that strengthen your long-term career prospects?
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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.