The Best Tool to Plan and Manage Your Career –  A Career GPS!

When we plan our career we must get better at stretching ourselves, get a bit uncomfortable and take our minds to times and places not yet considered. No career mentoring or coaching is worthy unless the Client learns to visualise the long-term, not just the short-term.

So often when we think about where we’re headed in our career, we think about the possible next step or next role (at most). Seldom do we really extend our thoughts and vision out into the long-term future and see where we’d like to be.

A great tool that can give clarity and focus to your career direction is the Career Landscape (our terminology) exercise-a kind of GPS for your career. It uses a reverse engineering approach – if you have a vision or feel for your long term future, your short and mid-term future/choices become easier, maybe even obvious. Think of it like driving in the country at night. Most of us may see a hundred or so meters ahead with standard headlights. Looking into the longer term is like putting the high beam on. Extending our career vision and planning into the long term provides an overarching, anchoring effect. The short-term fits in with the bigger picture instead of us zigzagging from role to role focusing on the next role only. Put another way, plan your career (borrowing from Steven Covey) by beginning with the (Career) End in mind.

The Tool

The Career Landscape exercise is best done on a spreadsheet in landscape setting. Failing that, an A4 paper turned sideways will suffice. Allocate an hour or so of uninterrupted time.

  1. Create a column on the far left side of the sheet. Populate this column with several rows each, with bold headings titled job title, no. of staff in your department team (if any), size of the organisation in which you work (turnover or number of employees), maximum education level successfully achieved, current salary including super and non-incentivised benefits, professional associations/level of membership
  2. Create another column next to the first column, titled ‘Today’s Date’
  3. Enter as at today on the different rows what your current job title is, no. of staff in your department team (if any), maximum education level successfully achieved, current salary including super and non-incentivised benefits, professional associations and level of membership.
  4. Now create a new column on the far right hand side of the spreadsheet or sheet of paper. Head this column with the date that you want to retire. Don’t know yet? Have a stab – dig deep. No-one’s going to hold you to it but just take your best stab. Really get in the zone of picturing your last day of full-time work, maybe they’re taking you to lunch and giving your speech. Write down in the same rows as before what as at that last day of work what you want your job title to be, no. of staff in your department/ team (if any), maximum education level achieved, current salary including super and non-incentivised benefits, professional associations and level of membership.
  5. Now you have a snapshot of where you are today and where you want to be at the end of your career.
  6. Now, create another column on the right hand side, to the immediate left of the far right column. This time period may be 10 or 20 years hence, depending on your age and/or ambition. Write the date at the column heading (e.g. 20 years from today), then again populate the same info (job title etc.) that you want at that particular stage.
  7. Then, do a column just to the left again– it might be 10 or 5 years from now, then another column headed say 2-5 years’ time and finally a column in one year’s time that should be next to the initial column you did for yourself for today. Remember the timeframes and number of columns are up to you.

There should hopefully be a seamless growth and progression from the start (Today) column through to the end column (the day you retire) for job title, number of staff, salary etc.

What previously seemed vague, woolly and at best ‘pie in the’ suddenly becomes conceivable, now chunked down into potentially bite-sized pieces. As mentioned, by getting to know where you want to be in the long-term, the short-term and medium-term steps becomes clearer if not even obvious.

It’s a great exercise to do annually, at the start of a new role or even a major life event. It’s also a great exercise to do when your just feeling a bit lost, aimless or lethargic in your career. It can really invigorate you.

It may change as time goes on but that’s perfectly OK. Its always fun to hold on to your original one though and see how it looks many years from now.

Give it a try and see if it brings more clarity to your career direction and ultimate destination!

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