Following are four strategies for career planning.
1. Write a Life Plan
Dan Miller, a life coach who wrote 48 Days to the Work You Love says you should first plan what kind of life you want then plan your career. We plan for weddings, vacations, and our course schedules. How many of us make a life plan?
Michael Hyatt shares a free e-book Creating your Personal Life Plan on this topic if you'd like to see an example (he will ask you to subscribe to his email list). But you don't have to use his or anyone else's outline. Make it what works best for you. But I do suggest three sections:
Vision | Goals | Action Steps
Legacy | Outcomes | Personal Disciplines
Work your way in. Start with the aerial view, the wide lens, and move toward the specific. Vision/Legacy should inform your Goals/Outcomes, which should drive your Action Steps/Personal Disciplines.
In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, he says successful people begin with the end in mind. So start by considering the overall vision. What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? Hyatt suggests you break this down into constituent categories. What kind of legacy do I want to leave with my spouse? My children? My co-workers?
Revisit your life plan annually. New Year’s Day, your birthday, a work anniversary. You can also read it for affirmation or to stay on point each Sunday or first day of every month – however often it helps you personally.
If you've never written a life plan, it's a great place to start as you begin planning your career.
2. Write a Purpose Statement
It's also good to write a purpose statement. A purpose statement might be included in your life plan, but it's different. It's about your "why." It influences your vision/legacy. A purpose statement is especially powerful when packaged in story.
Listen to this TED Talk, "A life of purpose" by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life. He asks a great question in reference to a question God asked Moses: What's in your hand?
Purpose is the why. A purpose statement incorporates calling and the gifts God placed within you. It is the fundamental reason a person or organization exists. Mission, by contrast, is about what and for whom.
The Well Coffeehouse serves great coffee and offers a place to build community. (What it does.)
It uses profits to build clean water wells in disadvantaged areas, and opens its doors for worship services to those who might not feel welcome at traditional houses of worship (for whom it does it).
But The Well's why is rooted in the founder's personal belief that there was a better way to live out his calling by doing business as a mission. As a former youth minister, he felt that short-term mission trips lacked the kind of sustainable impact a reimagined way of doing business could provide.
A purpose statement gives you the language to effectively tell your story. Networking, a LinkedIn Bio, an Elevator Pitch, your Resume and Cover Letter, the Interview process all require you to tell your story. A purpose statement, even if it's only for you, gives you the terms and phrases from which to draw.
You could be asked to provide a written purpose statement during the job search process or when you apply to graduate school. Vince Gotera at the University of Northern Iowa, in his article How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose, has some good advice on these kinds of essays. He says:
“Tell stories (briefly). Use vivid language. Be specific. Be dynamic. Liven up a moment in the lives of those five professors trapped with those 500 applications...
At the same time, be careful not to be glib. Don't be slick.”
“A former student applying to enter a master's program in library science had a great hook. The opening paragraph of her statement of purpose went something like this:
When I was eleven, my great-aunt Gretchen passed away and left me something that changed my life: a library of about five thousand books. Some of my best days were spent arranging and reading her books. Since then, I have wanted to be a librarian.
It's clear, it's direct, it's 45 words, and, most important, it tells the admissions committee about Susan's almost life-long passion not just for books but for taking care of books.
Suppose Susan had written this opening paragraph:
I am honored to apply for the Master of Library Science program at the University of Okoboji because as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven I have known I wanted to be a librarian.
That's 45 words too. Do you think the admissions committee would remember this one?”
3. Hone your Soft Skills
In articles like the three listed here you'll see that today's employers want employees with strong soft skills:
What skills do employers want most? (Margaret Andrews)
Soft skills are interpersonal skills, people skills. They include written and oral communication, the ability to work collaboratively, and leadership.
How do you hone soft skills? The same way you improve all skills - by doing. By being intentional. Practicing. Seeking critique. Taking personal assessments for greater self and social awareness. By continuing to grow and learn. If you want to be a better writer read more. If you want to be a better presenter, watch great TED Talks. Pay attention. Analyze. Imitate.
Ecclesiastes 5:19 says when men can be happy in their work, it’s a gift from God. The more you understand yourself and how to build strong interpersonal relationships, the more happy you’re likely to be in your work, and the more likely you are to view it as a gift.
4. Familiarize yourself with Job Search Strategies
There is both an art and a science to navigating the job search process. The more you respect about the art and science of it, the most successful you will be.
The job search has three facets:
Market | Process | Self
Knowing self. Before you begin the job search process in earnest, you'll get a great ROI by writing your Life Plan and a Purpose Statement, by taking personal assessments, working on your resume, and refining your elevator pitch.
Knowing market. Scan job postings. Look for the next job you want, and the ones you want into the future. Knowing the skills/certifications required for future jobs gives you time to acquire these qualifications. Employers outline their needs in job postings. You must speak the language of that need.
Conduct informational interviews. This is where you ask to buy someone coffee so that you can learn more about his or her company or industry. Ask things like, "What did you do to become successful? What lessons have you learned? What do you wish you had known at my stage? What books are you reading? What professional organizations have you joined?
Knowing process. Once your job search documents are in order, go to career fairs. Build your brand. Network. Fine-tune your LinkedIn. Start building your professional wardrobe.
Writing a life plan and purpose statement, honing your soft skills, and familiarizing yourself with the job search process are four smart steps in career planning.
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