It’s 8:15 am. You’ve been on the phone for almost an hour. You have 90 unread emails in your inbox. Instant messenger is beeping incessantly. And your boss just stopped by to ask again about the customer presentation, for the second time this morning. Sound familiar?
We’ve all been there, constantly overwhelmed by daily tasks and just trying to keep our heads above water. Amidst the chaos, the last thing on your mind is setting aside time for career planning. There’s no time! You’ll just get further behind. Besides, isn’t that your manager’s responsibility?
Although there are some good managers out there who may take a genuine interest in helping you grow and develop, the reality is, many are struggling to keep up with ever increasing workloads, just like you. If you are expecting your next career opportunity to be handed to you as a reward for hard work, you may be waiting a very long time. Not taking ownership for personal career growth is the number one mistake most employees make. It results in job dissatisfaction and resentment toward your employer and can lead to burnout. Instead, take responsibility for your career. Make a plan and dedicate time to monitor progress, the same way you would for any important project.
A career plan can be a simple list or a complex and lengthy document. The format is not important to start. What matters is to have something written down that can be measured. If you’ve never created a career plan before, start small. Don’t get bogged down creating the plan. The focus should be on career growth, not the document.
One quick method is to write down the top three growth opportunities your current role provides. These can be skills or personal traits you are working to develop such as learning a new technical skill or growing business acumen in a particular industry. Next, write down the top three growth opportunities you would like to work on in the future. These are longer-term growth opportunities, requiring significant time and investment to achieve. Both lists can later be expanded, prioritized, or even turned into a hierarchical chart with complex relationships. At a minimum, identify several short and long term goals that can be measured to get started.
A career plan is a living document. Review and revise it at least once per quarter. Book time on your calendar. Find a quiet place without interruptions. This is important and requires focused attention. Note any progress toward specific growth opportunities. If a goal is complete, cross it off and move a future goal into the current column. If the future goals are not realistic right now or aren’t available in the current role, add new short-term goals to work on.
If you find yourself constantly changing development goals or never checking them off as complete, this is a red flag. You may not be growing in your role. This could be due to your own behavior (not prioritizing personal development) or a consequence of the role (no opportunity to gain a particular skill). In either case, it’s time for reflection and a discussion with your manager, mentor, or career coach to ask for help fixing the problem. It might also be a sign that it’s time to look for a new role. If you can’t come up with any new near-term goals that are achievable, or the future goals are never moving to the current list, it’s also a sign you might need to move on.
Changing jobs is a difficult and emotional decision, even if it’s a new role within the same company. Fear of change can cause you to behave irrationally and stay in a job that’s going nowhere. A formal career plan provides an objective tool to remove the emotion from the decision making process. If you are not growing, it’s time for a move. Don’t risk getting stuck in a dead-end job, with your skills becoming obsolete. Take ownership, and start managing your career today.