Career Goals to a Career Strategy
But what can you do to turn your career goals into a career strategy?
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Many people feel powerless around making their career goals happen. We see in recent research from 3Plus that (happily) an increasing number of women are setting career goals, 91% up from 15% in 2014. This is a huge improvement but still means about 50% still are not creating a strategy which is a startling disconnect. Karen Tisdell, Aussie LinkedIn Profile Writer and Designer, described this as a “Shocking gap between men and women here…”
Ladies, this is a career train wreck in the making.
Many think that it’s all about luck and serendipity and the real decisions are out of their hands. In some ways this is not totally untrue. After all, you do need another person, whether a boss or a hiring manger to confirm an opportunity. But what can you do to turn your career goals into a career strategy?
The answer is .. plenty.
If you want those goals to become anything more than a wish you have to take action. Some of that action is situational and some is ongoing. The metaphor of watering your garden is one that is successfully used to convey what happens if you don’t nurture your career. Your plants and grass wither, maybe they won’t die, but they certainly don’t flourish. You may not lose your job, but your career will stagnate and you leave your self unprepared for unforeseen crisis such as mergers, take-overs, lay-offs, a new boss – change of any description.
It also leaves you wide open for discontent. The grass can look greener on the other side of the fence. But perhaps all you need to do is turn on a metaphoric sprinkler.
As I’ve said before watering your lawn with a water pistol isn’t going to work.
I am not sure why women don’t convert goals to plans. Kevin D.Turner, Brand Strategist asked “Do you think it may be based in perceptions of your job to the value of your life? Even so, everyone should be actively creating a career strategy.” This is something that we will have to explore. Mark Dyson, Career Consultant, wondered also whether it was related to family circumstances, but our research didn’t find that to be the case. We found a range of 47%-53% covered Boomers, Gen X and Millennials who didn’t set career goals, compared to 15% of men which was also cross generational.
Basic steps to turn your career goals into a career strategy
For strategy tips as I frequently do, I also tapped into my network for their advice. There is no single way that works for everyone all the time so a range of perspectives can be helpful.
1. Anchor your long term goals and vision
“If you don’t know where your going any direction will take you there.” Mark Twain. Another helpful career transition quote.
This is very true. Consolidating your career goals into a career strategy is like building a house with no foundations. The end result is weak and potentially unstable. Anchoring your career requires some serious reflection about your ideas for your own future and identifying what is important to you. I set all my career coaching clients a guided reflection assignment and we break down a longer term vision into smaller visual steps involving time, energy and focus. You can download our Career Reflection Worksheets, a this shorter, but still helpful version here.
Donna Svei, Executive Resume Writer recommends using a vision board. “Visualisation helps” Her own vision board kept her on track for ten years. I then suggest taking a photo of your visual on their phones so they can check in from time to time to make sure your actions are aligned with your plan. If they are not, it’s a message to self. Either your plan has to change or your goals.
Kristin A Sherry, Author YouMap, says her mantra is “For me, reaching my goals has come down to five things: Belief + Desire + Persistence + Plan + Action = GOAL!”
2. Carry out a career audit
Understanding your unique career story, your highlights and achievements is important. Make sure you know your metrics. You also need to be aware of what motivates and drives you. Carry out a traffic light exercise on your career.
- RED: what is it about your current job you want to stop doing?
- YELLOW: Which responsibilities would you enjoy that you don’t already have?
- GREEN: What tasks, projects, or roles excite you? What interests you in your current position that you would like to do more of?
Ed Han, Talen Acquisition Geek, suggests asking “What education or training is necessary? Are there relationships you need to form, and if so isn’t now the time to start them?”
3. S.W.O.T analysis
Next, you need to analyse your strengths and weaknesses, your opportunities and the threats you face.
- Where have you had the greatest success?
- Which areas do you excel at?
- What feedback do you get from performance reviews?
- What do your colleagues value you for?
Your threats are usually related to a skill set deficit rather than anything physical. They might include shifts in the market, business closure, a merger or even a global pandemic. Who saw that one coming?
3. Identify your UVP
You are now in a position to create your Unique Value Proposition, your key differentiator. It’s important to understand your comparative advantage and what gives you competitive edge. It may be a specific set of hard skills, or your soft skills that allow you to excel in your chosen field. Sometimes it’s not easy to identify those unique skills, but it is always possible. Reflect on your career achievements and drill down to pull out the skills you used to be successful.
For most people there is generally a pattern, especially around soft skills. I call this your career pearls that thread through your career history. Look at your performance reviews or ask colleagues for feedback if you are stuck. Better still work with a coach.
4. Research and assess your options
Many people feel overwhelmed by potential career options. Generally research and linking that to your previous ground work reduces the number of possibilities to a handful. You have two possibilities:
- Within your own organisation: Look for a mentor or a sponsor to get the best in-house advice. This is a course of action recommended by a number of career experts. Shelley Piedmont “I think finding mentors early in one’s career would be a big help. I did not, and I muddled around until I found one that helped me see the right path for me.
- External: women tend not to stay in touch with the market in the same way their male colleagues do. This puts them at a disadvantage. Even in times of confinement stay up-to-date with career and industry events which have shifted online. Network online and engage with industry specialists on platforms such as LinkedIn (see below).
5. Create a short-term plan
Devise a short term plan to boost your visibility. Come up with a way that you can get the experience and skills you need. Joan Runnheim Olson, Career Coach suggests “to help with motivation, set micro-goals to work toward your big goal. Every time you achieve a micro-goal you get a release of dopamine, the reward chemical. This will help you to keep working toward your bigger goal.”
- Volunteer for a stretch assignment
- Request sponsorship for skill or leadership development. 3Plus research shows that 20% of women are not getting any training at all to prepare them for promotion.
- If corporate sponsorship is not available be willing to invest in yourself. During the pandemic many organisations are offering training at low cost or even free.
Sonal Bahl, Career Coach, suggests setting “30,60 and 90 day milestones.” In times of crisis and lockdown you might even have to drill down to shorter timeframes.
Networking is vital to a successful career strategy and today on line has taken on a new significance. Up the tempo on your external networking even if you aren’t looking for a job. Keep your eye on the job market. Be active on LinkedIn and engage. Reach out to colleagues old and current and check in on them. I recommend connecting with three new people a week.
If you attend an online event connect with fellow participants. Invite colleagues for an online coffee!
Or my new favourite is “net-walking.” For local contacts meet in person following social distancing rules, even if it does play havoc with the hair. My regular “net-walking” buddy is Claudia de Castro Caldeirinha.
7. Build a couple strategy
For those in a relationship it’s also important to make sure your goals are in sync with your partner’s. This can mean different things to different couples. Some women say – “what if we split up?” You might indeed, and in that case you will need different goals and a new strategy.
Donna Schilder, Career Coach says “My husband and I have set goals every year for 34 years. We go away for a weekend and set 1 year, 5 year, 10 year and 20 year goals. We make plans for 1 and 5 years. We also readjust every year. “
The plan is not the goal
Pull together these 7 key elements and you are ready to take action to turn your goals into a career strategy. Remember it’s not static. I’ve always been a Plan B,C and D type of person. Sweta Regmi, Career Consultant says “Having a goal and plan helps but life happens and everything goes down the drain. What matters is how you go and rework the goals.”
C2YOU Lausanne based Careers Service recommends “Understand and learn about focus, failure and perseverance.” This is great advice. Picking yourself up from set backs is sometimes challenging. Don’t get caught up in thinking your strategy is the goal and become a slave to your plan regardless of what is going on around you. Circumstances and opportunities change. You might change, so remember to update it regularly! Flexibility and agility also plays a part to turn your career goals into a career strategy.