“Career Plan” – An Oxymoron?

ox – y – mo – ron (ak-sE-‘mor-“on) n. a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness); something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements….

Are you someone who has carefully planned most steps in your career? If so, you’re one of the few. Most people would admit that they don’t have-and have never had-a career plan. In fact, most careers are products of “happenstance”, not planning. Thus, we find that a “career plan” is actually an oxymoron. Sad, really, but true.

A specific course of study (resulting in an undergraduate degree or technical qualification) is often chosen because of various outside factors: parents, counselors, cost, logistics, and more. Most, however, are unrelated to our true passion. We often end up spending 20 years or more in unsatisfying jobs, just to discover at mid-career that a major change is necessary.

Most executives admit that their careers have evolved based on opportunism, hard work, and sometimes luck. The truth is that many savvy executives manage their business goals far better than they manage their careers, leaving them sometimes displaced or dissatisfied with their ultimate achievements. Of course, at this stage, a dramatic career shift can be difficult, not to mention expensive, and…scary. What can be done about it? Two things: 1) start very early in your career with a career plan, or 2) if it’s too late for that, create a career plan right now, and get on with it.

There are five (5) basic steps to creating a useful career plan:

1) START with a broad long-term vision–something that you can be passionate about. Avoid thinking too short-term at the beginning otherwise you may not create a plan that is motivating and compelling. Depending on where you are in your career, “long-term” might be 5 years or 20 years out.

2) Refine your “dream job” by clarifying specific requirements and critical success factors. In doing this, make sure you clearly identify any assumptions involved. Do whatever research is needed to confirm your ideas. Talk to people who are doing what you’d like to be doing.

3) Inventory your current capabilities and credentials and analyze the gap (a typical “gap analysis”). Often this part of the process will help you focus your efforts on what is practical but still inspiring. This is the perfect time to perform a reality check.

4) Create a broad-based phased plan for closing the career development gap. Getting from point A to point B will usually occur in major phases. Frequently, these phases may even be interchangeable. For example, if you determine that you need to move to a different city and also pursue a new industry, you might do either one first. It might be too risky to do both simultaneously.

5) Finally, write down a detailed action plan and immediate next steps. Specifically, this is where you want to define the “perfect” NEXT job that will align with your career intentions. Even a lateral move or some other job re-direction can be highly productive once you are clear about the long-term benefits to your career.

Successful businesses always have plans – strategic and tactical. Effective, productive action is often generated by the creation of a meaningful plan. In fact, significant insight and discovery about the business is derived from the planning process itself. A career planning process can also deliver the same kind of insight and discovery. Because there are so many options and avenues to consider, having a plan will allow you to focus time and energy productively on achieving maximum career satisfaction. Life is just too short not to be having fun every day and feeling a sense of accomplishment, pride, and fulfilment in what you achieve.