Why you need a career plan: the future of your career depends on it

by Kris Dunn | Posted | Career Management

Why you need a career plan: the future of your career depends on it

Let's slow this train down and talk about what's really important: You.

My job as the careers blogger at Halogen is to be your agent. Your personal Jerry McGuire. Your Ari Gold.

You? You're Turtle or Rod Tidwell. I'm the guy who looks out for you.

It's my job to give you tough news. So here it is:

You're floating in your career. If you were floating any more, you'd be getting ready to be eaten by Bill Murray in Caddyshack amongst screams of horror. You look like you're mailing it in. You want to move up and make more money. You're frustrated because it's not happening quickly enough.

The reason you're floating is pretty simple. You don't have a career plan. You're showing up and doing work, but it's not directed in a way that's going to give you maximum (or possible any) career benefit.

If you want to move up in your career, you need to change your approach. Luckily for you, I've got five things you can do to make sure everyone who matters understands the impact you have on the business.

Do these five things for yourself and you'll be in a dramatically different place from a career perspective in one year:

1. Figure out what the most important things are that you deliver in your current role. I know, I know, you do a lot of stuff. You've got a lot going on. What do the people who manage you (and might be the ones to give you a promotion) really care about? If you're a HR pro, does anyone really care that you're great with the compliance stuff? As an HR Pro, I can answer that for you - they expect compliance issues to be handled and the company not to be sued. But nobody really cares that you handled that - they only care if something negative happened as a result of you not handling it. Every job has similar time sucks where you can rationalize being busy, but no one is going to say you're above average for focusing on a lame, transactional area.

2. Once you figure out what the most important things are, you need to plan to do things that no one else usually does in those areas. List out what the most important things are in your role at your company. Now list what an average, "good" performer does in each area. Got it? Great. Now move to the right of that and list some ideas of what you could do that shows you're special and are a game changer in each area. Here's a hint - to fill out the second part of that exercise, you're going to have to figure out a way to innovate and create something new in each area. Simply doing more of something isn't enough - that's a transaction. You need to do figure out new ways to approach old and new problems in the area in question. Too much for you? The world needs ditchdiggers too. Stop complaining and get ready for a career of working for the man.

3. Do the things you outlined in #2. It's not enough to list some ways that you could innovate and add real value. Now you have to execute.
The tough part. Give yourself descriptions of what success looks like in each area, some time frames for completion, then go get the necessary approvals and GET IT DONE. Focus, Turtle.

4. Did you do it? GREAT. Now capture your work in a portfolio. I'll be honest with with you, there aren't a lot of performance stars out there. So once you figure out how to innovate and add real value in your role at the company, you're going to have to capture what you did - or no one will give you credit. Presentations, spreadsheets (or any other tool you created as part of the process), process maps and measurements are all normal ways to collect evidence that you did more than average work. Great work has to be captured in some way. Take videos, interview people who were impacted by your work, whatever you need to do. You're a historian at this stage, and the items should be collected in a portfolio you can share with the world - think binder, website, LinkedIn - or all three. You're looking to tell the world what you did over a period of time. Don't be shy.

5. Share the portfolio of what you did with the world.
Times you can share the portfolio you just created include interviews, performance review cycles, formal and informal mentoring relationships, etc. Another great way to force conversation about the great work you did is to survey the people who experienced your work in a given area - and ask them to rate what they saw. It makes people realize that you're the one responsible and you took a chance by attempting to add value and not be average. Don't apologize for sharing.

Plan for how to add value and look different

Does it all sound too self serving? Like you're patting yourself on the back? Get over it, Turtle, because this is how the game is played at the highest level. You plan for how to add value and look different, you do the work, you collect the results and work product, then share it with the world. That is what having a career plan means.

Scared? Get ready to always be worried about your job. Suck it up and compete for attention by having a plan. You're good enough to care.

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