Great careers don’t happen by accident. Truly satisfying careers are the reward of talent, hard work, a bit of luck, and a strategy carefully managed and put to work.

Do you have a career development plan?

Do you have a written career plan? Have you taken the time to document your long and short-term goals, new areas of interest, and areas for further development or study? For your own benefit, have you written down your strengths and weaknesses?

I am not talking about the bottom section of your last performance review. HR asked you to write something, so you’ve scribbled a few lines, vaguely outlining what you would like to achieve over the next year.

We both know that those objectives hardly get remembered until it’s review time once again. Your company won’t be as invested in your career development as if you take an active interest in driving the process yourself.

Regardless of what industry you work in, whether you’re self-employed or unemployed, and whether you’re close to retirement or just starting out, here are five reasons why you need to craft a plan for your career path now and stick with it:

  1. A career development plan will keep you from getting stuck in a rut

The days of being promoted at work solely based on tenure are long gone. If you allow yourself to grow comfortable performing only the tasks you were trained to do when you were hired, then you might as well make up your mind to be overworked and underpaid for the rest of your working life.

What’s worse is that the system is rigged so that, despite your loyalty, you might eventually be made redundant, and someone with higher entry-level skills paid less to do your job even faster. Without a clear career plan, you may be putting yourself at risk of taking the slow and painful route to an unfulfilling career.

Don’t believe me? Look around you. Try to find one or two people in your organization who have done the same thing for years and are generally accepted as being on the “going nowhere” track. You may find it difficult to immediately identify someone, but look closely.

He might be the ever-faithful driver/building superintendent/superman who has never quite learned how to curb his temper. You feel bad for him, because it seems unfair that he has been overlooked by management, and never given the opportunity to develop. He is loyal, but grows more bitter and morose each year.

You may also recognize your candidate in the perky but unproductive administrative assistant. She smiles as she buffs her nails and cheerily chats to her friends on the phone for half the day. She may not seem worried about not adding to her skills now, but will her two boyfriends take care of her bills forever?

There are all types of people who get stuck in a rut at work. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve taken their professional development for granted. Don’t be one of those people.

  1. A career development plan will help you take responsibility for your weaknesses

Whether or not we’d like to admit it, everyone around us knows exactly how well or how poorly we’re doing at work. All the little foibles we’ve quietly and conveniently minimized in our own minds are well-known by our colleagues.

Maybe you’re slightly late for work, two or more times per week. You’ve gotten into the habit of abusing your lunch hour, asking a friend to cover for you. Maybe you occasionally nod off at your desk or in meetings. Perhaps you’re a manager who knows less about your work than your staff. Thankfully, your subordinate buddies help you compile month-end reports because you actually don’t have a clue.

Sure, you get away with it now, but you’re not fooling anyone. No matter how sweet and well-liked you are, not addressing those little quirks now may mean career suicide later on. You could cross the wrong person, and they might throw you under the bus in retaliation. The management might change. The company could start cracking down on inefficiency. Without notice, your minor shortcomings could suddenly be looked as major areas of under performance.

You’re probably getting defensive, and thinking: there are things I can improve on, but I’m a not a slacker. Why play this hazardous cat and mouse game with yourself? If you are not consistently identifying areas for improvement, and working on getting better and better at what you do, sooner or later, you may lose.

  1. A career development plan will help define your future career path

Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. I say that the unplanned career is not worth having.

In the little book “The Go-Giver”, Bob Burg presents three universal reasons why we work: survive, save, serve. Survival and saving have to do with meeting our basic needs and having some time and money left over to enjoy life. Service has to do with making a meaningful contribution to the world around us. Most people get stuck on the first two stages, but never figure out a way to reach a place of purpose in their work.

When we don’t develop the habit of establishing and achieving clear goals, we miss out on the opportunity to steer our careers along a path of significance. Would you like to wake up one day and realize that you plodded through your days in a job you hated, instead of making a difference? Of course, you don’t.

Crafting a career development plan will give you the opportunity to gradually assess not only the tasks you do well, but also identify the things that bring joy and meaning to your work.

  1. A career development plan will help you to take charge of your own advancement

Carving out the time, and drumming up the discipline it takes to craft a career development plan for yourself will forces us to be accountable. Instead of blaming external forces for every negative turn that occurs at work, we begin to take responsibility for our own actions and reactions.

Creating a career development plan will put the power back into your own hands. Instead of excusing yourself for being late because of traffic, you will be able to recognize that you have stayed up too late flipping through channels on TV, and neglected to pick out your clothes or organize your kids for the day ahead. Instead of being passed over for a promotion because you didn’t have the requisite skills, you get the computer training you need by taking afternoon classes, to position yourself for the promotion you want.

  1. A career development plan will give you the confidence you need to succeed.

A career development plan will give you ownership over all aspects of your career.

You will begin to know your strengths and weaknesses inside out. You will decide on meaningful targets and set a realistic plan to meet them. You will know what you want to accomplish, and how far you’ve already come. You will find yourself going to work each day with a sense of purpose. New motivation for your work will seem to grow out of nowhere.

When performance review time rolls around, you will no longer have to struggle to list your strengths or outline your achievements. You will be able to confidently prepare for assessment and promotion meetings. You will be able to update your résumé with ease, and not choke up at the thought of going on a job interview.

Creating and maintaining a career development plan will place you firmly on your path to success.

Author: Joya Cousin

This article was first published on LinkedIn in February 2015


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