Can I please get your advice on whether I need a career plan? I have been all right so far without one but people keep telling me I need one. I would love your thoughts. Thanks.
Deborah, Mid Management, Insurance
Thanks for sending this in Deborah. This is a really common question, especially amongst mid-level professionals. You have done ok up until now without a plan. Things have been going well and you have been progressing as quickly as you wanted and in the right direction. But the question usually comes up as people start telling you that to get to the next level you need a plan. Let me try and break it down and give you a few perspectives to consider.
Some people have a rigorous career plan that is very focused on the exact role they want, when they want it, and it is very linear in nature. The problem with a plan that is too stringent is that is doesn’t leave any room for what I call the magic moments. In every career, there are opportunities that come up that can literally make your career. Special projects, off shore appointments, sideways steps that may not look good on paper but are career making in reality, and development opportunities that can add an entire other layer to your skill set. When you are too focused on your plan, you can miss these opportunities, to the detriment of your career.
On the other hand, I have seen countless people who have no plan whatsoever. They literally coast through their work, take whatever role is offered with no real idea where it might be leading, and leave it to fate (or their current boss) where they end up. Now for some people, this is totally fine. They are happy to take a role based on the manager, the team or the content, and they are not concerned about the bigger picture. If this is you, then it may be all right not to have a plan.
But the bigger issue with not having a career plan, is that you are really at the whim of whomever you are working for, to do what they think is right for you. If you are good at your job, there will always be someone who wants you. That is great and a good position to be in. But unless that role is going to leverage your strengths, your passion, what makes you feel purposeful at work, and what energises you, you can quickly become one of the eight out of 10 people who don’t get to do what they do best everyday, and slide into the 70% of people who just show up for work, disengaged, waiting on the paycheck.
You don’t want to become one of these people, and it can happen all too quickly. Throughout my 20 year corporate career I didn’t have a rigid career plan but I always had a vision for where I was going. In the first half of that period, I knew that I was working to become the most senior marketer I could be in a blue chip organisation that aligned with my values, and that is where I ended up. For the later part, I wanted to build business strategies, cultures and work on gender diversity. We ended up creating the role to bring these aspects of the business together and I fulfilled my vision.
The point is, you need direction. You need to have a plan, either well laid out or at minimum a vision in your mind for where you are headed, the types of roles you are open to, the work you want to be doing, and how it all lines up against your values, strengths, passion and purpose. When you do this, you will be more inclined to secure the roles that will take you further down your path, and less likely to end up in some random role that someone else thought was a good idea for you.
I hope this helps.
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