Article: Career Planning - A Guide to Getting Started
A bit of structure and a few questions & topics to jump-start your career planning discussions
Bill Hoberecht -
I’ve found having a career plan to be helpful as I approach decision points in my job, consulting engagements, and my career. This article presents a framework for initiating career planning within the environment of your current job and career, giving suggestions on topics to discuss, a few resources to read, and a template for your very own career plan.
Career Planning . . . is it Worthwhile?
When first starting my professional career, I was occasionally invited to participate in discussions with my manager about my career. As I remember, these ‘career planning’ discussions were rather superficial – 15 minutes of chat, usually in January. This brief exercise was basically a discussion of my job and my hopes for the upcoming one, three and five years; it seems the pervasive answer (among me and my colleagues) always involved becoming technically proficient, stepping into leadership roles, and becoming promoted into successively more responsible management positions.
Now, a few decades later, I recognize that this type of ‘career planning’ probably was somewhat useful, but an opportunity was missed to have a genuine dialog on this important topic.
Genuine career planning can:
- Open your eyes to the many options your have in charting your career and making career choices.
- Help you become cognizant of your ‘areas for improvement’ (e.g., weaknesses) relative to the types of responsibilities, roles, and positions you would like to have. With this awareness, you can take proper developmental action.
- Identify your strengths, building self-confidence in your ability to achieve with high standards of performance.
After joining the ranks of management, I was afforded the opportunity to participate in many excellent performance management and career planning seminars and workshops. Perhaps the most significant outcome of these was the development of my perspective that
- Career Planning is equal parts introspection and active, honest communication
- A professional relationship with a true Mentor is invaluable in living a managed career (and life)
- While thorough career planning itself will not guarantee having the ideal career, the absence of career planning will probably result in a suboptimal career experience.
My conclusion: Career Planning is indeed valuable when it includes self-examination, an appreciation for the work environment, and strong connections with career confidants and advisors.
Obstacles to Career Planning
Career Planning is far more than producing a training plan or looking through job listings for that next assignment – it can involve a fair amount of thinking, discussion, and, ultimately, some action.
There are plenty of reasons for avoiding Career Planning (and these can be valid for an entire career!):
- It is not urgent. The ‘Tyranny of the Urgent’ (look for more on the Internet on this topic) prevents any meaningful consideration of important items (e.g., your career).
- It can be fruitless. “Career Planning is a Waste of Time” is an entirely accurate view of most of the ‘Career Planning’ that takes place in corporate environments. There’s little motivation to allocate time to such superficial and ineffective activities.
- There are no helpful models. Look around . . . is anyone you know actively engaged in a Career Planning activity that appeals to you because it appears to be beneficial? (It is difficult to get excited about a process that involves 15 minutes of cursory yakking once a year.)
Unfortunately, most of us have only been exposed to superficial career management discussions and fail to reap the benefits of effective career planning.
The ‘Hoberecht Method’ of Initiating Career Planning
This article describes the method I use to initiate Career Planning discussions – these materials are an excellent starting point for career planning that is far more insightful than a cursory discussion on your aspirations in the next 1, 3 and 5 years.
I use these notes to guide my discussions with employees who directly report to me, and suggest that these employees use the accompanying Career Plan template. These notes are based upon the foundation that the best career plan for you will be based upon:
- Your skills and interests.
- Your strengths, as recognized by you or by others.
- Your areas for professional development, if they are related in some way to your aspirations.
- Training and development opportunities that are available to you.
- Reality, not an overly hopeful outlook.
Initially, there are two primary participants in getting this Career Planning underway:
- Manager: Responsible for initiating the Career Planning discussion, structuring the continuing discussions and establishing an overall time frame for career planning activities.
- Employee: The owner of their career plan. Responsible for participating in the initial career planning discussions initiated by the Manager then taking ownership for driving all subsequent career planning discussions and activities. Responsible for identifying and engaging with others who will participate in career planning activities
Creating a career plan starts with a discussion between the Manager and Employee - more details on this are in the next section of this article. The subsequent steps of Career Planning, not detailed here, probably include these actions by the Employee:
- Discussions with trusted advisors,
- Authoring of a Career Plan document,
- Executing a small number of action steps, documented in the employees private career plan, over the next six to twelve months that will advance the employee’s career, and
- Follow-up meetings, scheduled by the Employee, to continue discussions on the Career Plan document. These discussions serve to keep the Manager informed of Career Plans and ways in which the Manager could be of assistance; as well, this is an opportunity for the Manager to provide a ‘reality check’ on the viability of elements of the employee’s Career Plan.
I recommend these two books as excellent guides on career planning. Although they might appear to be targeted to job seekers, these are also excellent in helping stimulate thinking about your current career.
- What Color is Your Parachute? This excellent book (first published in 1971) is updated and reissued every year or two. The book includes a thorough approach to understanding your values, skills & drivers and then applying this information to your job search and career advancement. The author's companion web site provides even more information.
- What Color Is Your Parachute Workbook: How to Create a Picture of Your Ideal Job or Next Career, by Richard Nelson Bolles.
Your Initial Career Planning Discussion
It is time to begin your Career Planning discovery. This will kick-off with a discussion between a Manager, who schedules this discussion time, and an Employee who reports directly to that Manager.
During this discussion you will step back from the immediate pressures of the daily job and focus on the employee’s career. This is a directed discussion that is not rushed, but allows for the exchange, discussion and thought on several important topics.
This first discussion between a manager and employee is intended to:
- Open a channel for ongoing discussion about the employee’s career.
- Establish a shared interest in advancing the employee’s career.
- Touch on a wide range of topics that are germane to career planning, perhaps stirring some new thoughts on the topic. The manager’s role in this first meeting is to create the forum for discussion, not to critique the employee’s thoughts or views.
- Determine if there is sufficient interest by the employee to have subsequent discussions between the manager and employee.
Here are some questions that can help guide the discussion – these questions should take about two hours to discuss. If you complete this in less than one hour, then the discussion is not sufficiently deep. The manager should prepare by being familiar with these questions, no preparation is required by the employee for this discussion.
Outline – Discussion Questions for the first Career Planning Discussion
- Recent Career Planning discussions
- What career planning have you gone through in the past two years?
- What career planning discussions have you had in the past one year?
- What is your current career plan (if you do have one)?
- The Employee
- What is important to you? (could be many items)
- What are some of your mostly deeply held values?
- What achievements/accomplishes have given you the most satisfaction? (What about these were most satisfying?)
- Mentor and Advisor
- Who can you call (at a higher level of management, but not necessarily within your same company) that could advise and help you in a problem situation?
- Who (at a higher level of management) can you call for advice on your career?
- Who has called you, seeking your advice relating to their career, over the past year?
- Professional Development
- What is your chosen profession?
- What makes it a profession?
- Where are you in your overall development as an expert in your profession?
- How do you increase your abilities in this profession?
- Career Planning
- What does career planning mean to you?
- What is your level of interest in being responsible for your career (and career plan)?
- Who is involved in your career planning? (What are the roles of other people?)
- What would you say are the contents of a 'career plan?'
- Career Planning – Next Steps
- How valuable (or essential) is it to continue with this career planning discussion with a follow-up meeting? (If either party believes that this activity is not valuable, then it probably will not yield useful results; in this situation, Career Planning activities should probably not proceed).
- How would you like to proceed with your career planning?
- Some possible next steps to consider, modify as needed, and agree upon:
- Agreeing that completion of Career Planning activities and deliverables will be included within the employee’s documented performance goals.
- Agreeing that the employee will complete the first three sections of the Career Plan document (you may want to start by using this Career Plan template).
- Agreeing that the next Manager/Employee discussion will be scheduled by the employee, and will be contacted within 3 months from the date of the first meeting.
If you manage others, consider the value of initiating a career planning discussion with each of your employees that report to you. The cost to you is negligible, yet the benefits to the employee, to you and to your organization can be significant.