Unless you are able to see the future, there is no way you can fully control the path of your career. There are way too many factors that you simply can’t control. Things like economic trends, the political environment, advances in technology – not to mention personal life events, like getting married, divorced, or having children – all have the potential to influence choices that you make about your career. There are, however, a few things you can do that will put you in a good position for success, regardless of what life throws at you.
One of the most important things you can do as part of mapping a career is to really understand yourself. Learn to recognise your strengths and weaknesses. What do you like doing? What are you passionate about? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning? What are your values and beliefs – the things that you will never compromise, no matter what? Think about your skills, knowledge and experience. What skills do you have that are transferrable between different jobs? What specialised skills have you gained? What are your dreams and aspirations?
Consider how you can capitalise on your strengths and overcome any weaknesses you might have identified. It’s important to understand what it is you want out of a career too. Not everybody has aspirations to be a high powered executive. Think about what is important for you to be happy in your work. Maybe you want flexibility so that you balance family obligations. Perhaps it’s important to you to be doing a job that helps people or that somehow gives back to the community. Remember – we spend almost one third of our lives working, so it’s important that we do work that is fulfilling and makes us happy.
Your self-reflection might take a bit of time – it’s a lot to think about! It’s helpful to spend time considering these elements and writing them down. Make lists of the things you discover about yourself and the sorts of things you’d like to do. Writing things down is very beneficial to clarifying the direction in which you’d like take your career.
Once you have a better understanding of your strengths, values and aspirations, it’s time to start thinking about the types of jobs that will suit you. This can be quite tricky, as the jobs we may have thought we’d like don’t always match with our strengths, skills, and preferences. It’s hugely important to consider any potential career in the context of your values, beliefs and personality.
Check out various employment websites and job advertisements online to get an understanding of the types of jobs available. If there are particular types of organisations that you think you’d like to work for as a result of your personal reflection, check if they advertise their job vacancies on their company website. You might even consider reaching out to an organisation to ask them the sorts of things they look for in their employees. Or even offer to volunteer to get a feel for what it would be like to work there.
It can also be helpful to talk to a careers counsellor or coach when considering your options. They won’t find you a job or tell you exactly what career path you should follow. But, they will work with you to help you identify what sort of roles fit with the skills, values and beliefs you have identified in your self-reflection exercise.
Add your list of potential jobs or careers to you lists from your self-reflection exercise, and review all the information regularly – at least once or twice a year – to see what has changed and check your progression.
Once you have considered the career options available to you and identified what direction you want to take, it’s time to start setting some goals. Set ‘SMART’ objectives to accomplish your short and long term goals. There are a few variations of what SMART objectives should address, but the important thing is to set them so that you can measure your progress - measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.
S – Identify your goal clearly and specifically. Make them significant, and stretching
M – Make your goals meaningful, motivational and measurable. Make sure they include clear criteria to determine progress and accomplishment.
A – Your goals should be action-orientated and attainable. There should be a 50 percent or greater chance of success.
R – Ensure goals are realistic, rewarding, result-orientated and relevant to you personally.
T –Set specific timeframes for your goals and ensure they are tangible and trackable.
Developing your career really is a journey. Map your pathway just like you would any other adventure. Identify your starting point and your preferred ‘destination’, (i.e. what you want to achieve with your career), and figure out what you need to do to get there. What are the milestones you need to arrive at along the way, and how will you make progress towards each?
A careers counsellor coach can be really helpful for mapping your path. They are terrific for helping you build a career roadmap, supporting you to create long term goals and the milestones you need to achieve in order to accomplish your them. They will also help keep you accountable to the goals you have set.
One of the few things in life that is certain is change. When thinking about your career, be open to change and diverting your path to accommodate opportunities and challenges that pop up. The world in which we live is changing constantly, and as you continue to learn and grow and gain more experience, your preferences and the options available to you will shift accordingly. Part of being a successful professional is the ability to remain nimble, flexible, and responsive to your surrounding environment. Be open to new experiences and opportunities as they arise. You never know where something unexpected might lead.