When it comes to your career, where are you today? What has it taken for you to make it to this point? Where would you like to be next year? What will your dream job look like 20 years down the road?
It may seem premature to start thinking in the long-term about your career, especially if you’re just getting started on your professional path. But many leading career experts agree that the best way to ensure success in your chosen field is to sketch out a basic map of what you want to achieve throughout the entire course of your professional life -- even if you haven’t even landed your first job yet!
This process is called career planning, and it’s a simple step that many professionals seem to skip these days. In the rush from opportunity to opportunity, the big picture tends to get overlooked sometimes. But experts caution that by focusing exclusively on the here-and-now, some workers may be shortchanging themselves -- and limiting their long-term success.
Ready to plan? Roll up your sleeves, grab a pencil, and let’s get started.
If you’re still not sure about what field or specialty you’re interested in, spend some time listing your interests, hobbies, and passions. What makes you happy? Which activities can you completely lose yourself in? Keep track of your likes and dislikes and try to find a field that closely parallels your interests.
Or the local bookstore, or your favorite search engine. Once you’ve hit on a few fields, jobs, or areas of specialization that appeal to you, research, research, research. Find out what the educational requirements are, what the average pay is, and where the hot jobs in your chosen field are concentrated. The more you find out, the more accurate your career plan will be.
After you’ve done enough research to have a good basic understanding of your ideal career, try to connect with a few people who have already found success in the field. All the research in the world can’t tell you how it feels to pull a 12-hour shift in a kitchen. Ask them about the progression of their career, and the steps they took to get where they are today.
Next, it’s time to compile all of the information you’ve gathered into a personalized plan. Take into consideration both the standard requirements of the field (cooking school, apprenticeships, job experience, MBA) and the circumstances and reality of your current situation. A general pathway for advancement, development, and progression, rather than strict deadlines or timelines, tends to be the most effective motivation.
Remember, your career map isn’t set in stone -- it’s just a guide that will help you focus your efforts and balance your short-term and long-term goals. Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs in the path of the best-laid plans, so take a flexible approach to career planning. If your circumstances change or your goals and interests shift over time, feel free to revise it as necessary. In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether your career path leads you to personal fulfillment.