Article by top UK career sector writer, Paul Hichens
Before you even get to the stage of planning your career strategy, you firstly need to determine just what your career goals are.
Some people have very clear, fixed visions of exactly where they ultimately want to go career-wise, whereas on the other hand, some people just have a rough idea (and some don’t even have that).
If you don’t really know where you want to go career-wise, then the first step is not to plan any strategy, but simply to get a better understanding of your own potential, needs, desires and ambitions. You should also be honest with yourself and consider your own motivations. If you don’t do this then you risk erring into the ‘haphazard/fatalistic ’ territory, that I mentioned earlier. If you want to find the best place for you in the world of work, you firstly need to find yourself – at least in terms of what drives you, and what you are capable of.
Understanding your own motivations won’t necessarily identify your own particular ideal job. However, what it can do is help you narrow down the choices. For example, if one of your main motivations is money, and your current job will never let you achieve the monetary levels you have identified as being satisfactory, then you can do some research and concentrate your job search on other positions that not only tick the other boxes relating to your own motivations, but which are also better paid and more in tune with your salary expectations.
Moreover, the more you narrow down your choice the better. Yes, you can keep your search wide – and many people do just that. However, many such people usually end up in jobs that they don’t like, or are not really suited to. On the other hand, if you examine yourself and your motivations, and you drill down to the point that you have a very clear idea of just what job you would like then (A) you have a better chance of planning for, and subsequently landing that particular job, rather than just falling into it haphazardly, and (B) if you do succeed in landing that job then because it matches up with your own personal goals and motivations it is more likely that you will be happy in that job, and will stick with it.
Once you have identified a job that you consider suitable, and you feel the time is right to make a move then the next step isn’t necessarily to quit your current job, burn your bridges and concentrate your efforts fully on landing your new target job (as some people actually do). People who do this frequently find that their cost that this is not only premature and foolhardy, but often very costly to boot. Even the halfway house alternative of sticking with your current job but applying for as many openings as possible for your chosen job type frequently isn’t ideal. Significantly, the reason it isn’t ideal is because the quickest way from A to B isn’t always the shortest line – in career progression terms at least.
For example, if you are a senior IT manager in a SME firm and you decide that ultimately you would like to become a CTO (chief technology officer) of a blue-chip company then yes, there is nothing to stop you from applying for the job of CTO at IBM – it’s just that prospects of you actually landing the post are slim.
What many people tend to forget about when they apply for senior level jobs is the competition, the level of the competition and the strength of the competition. And the higher you go up the career ladder, the stronger this gets. Sure, you may be just as ambitious as the next man or woman, but ambition alone isn’t going to do you much good if most of your competitors have more experience, better qualifications and more impressive achievements.
Rather than hastily just sent out your CV for every job going, frequently a better initial strategy is to just look through some job specifications, examine the criteria that employers are asking for pertaining to particular jobs, and ask yourself (A) do you meet all the criteria? (B) If not, do you think you have the potential to meet it? And (C) if so, what do you have to do?
This third point in particular is where the need for planning comes in. If you identify that you have skills gaps then you need to explore the options for plugging the holes. If you need specific professional certification or higher academic qualifications then you need to examine course options (and ultimately enrol on a course). Sometimes a potential stumbling block is primarily down to a lack of experience. For example, some job specifications ask for a minimum of ten years’ experience in a particular field. Of course, if you only have five years’ experience there is still nothing to stop you from applying – as long as you are aware that you will probably be competing against high-calibre candidates who do meet the stated prerequisites.
As you can see, planning isn’t always a quick fix when it comes to landing your ideal executive job. It is a work in progress which can take years. However, if you don’t assess your goals and the requirements, and plan accordingly, then this can reduce the prospects of you ever achieving your targets. Sure, thinking three, five or ten years ahead isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – and especially in this day and age when everyone seems to want everything yesterday – but think beyond the short-term, and be patient if need be, and this can reap rewards in the long-run.