Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Is Your Career Development Plan?

To succeed in your career you need to take an active role in your learning and professional development. No one else will do it for you. This post is more instructional than most, but it is a topic I feel strongly about and one that is close to my heart. Planning and mapping is something my peers under utilize that can really help pave the way for self growth, achievement and happiness

The information I am relaying to you I learned from a book that changed the direction of my college career for the better, and I am confident when applied to my life as a young professional, will bring equal amounts of greatness. The book is titled "Never Eat Alone: And
 Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time"  By Keith Ferrazzi (it sounds like a desperate dating book, but I assure you it's not. I just advise taking the book sleeve off when reading it in public to avoid weird looks.) The book provided me valuable networking insight, and career development strategies, one of which I am sharing with you in this post.

So how do you set a professional development strategy? Just like companies and teams set quarterly growth targets and business development goals, set aside some time to take a holistic look at where you are now versus where you want to be 6 months to 1 year from now. Working through the areas below will give you focus, help you be more proactive about setting your own direction and will make you an incredible asset to any team.

The first step or "The Vision" is to help articulate the big picture for where you want to be one year from now. Step two serves to further narrow your focus in terms of knowledge, skills, talents and experience.

Step One: The Vision

Before getting into specific tactics and details, spend time with the big picture. Whether you are an entrepreneurial spirit working on a start up, or if you work for someone else, think about what really excites you. What 2 or 3 key improvements would truly put you ahead of the pack? What key development areas, if you were to make significant progress in, would make you most excited and engaged with your work and add value to your team or company?

Step Two: The “What”
There are four key categories that your professional development strategy should focus on: knowledge, skills, talent and experience. Only the first two are within your direct control, but all four are worth exploration.

Knowledge – Knowledge is directly within your control. Learning more about a subject takes time, but it is generally a very straightforward process. Blogs, books, podcasts, videos, interviews, classes–the resources available to you are endless. Commit to learning and being a sponge for knowledge; it will set you apart and make you an invaluable resource to any team.

  • Key Questions to ask yourself: What will it take to become an expert in your field, or in one specific area of your field? What topics of focus would be most beneficial to you? What knowledge or expertise do you want to have one year from now? 
Skills – Skills are things that you are good at; things you have picked up over time that transfer to job related success. Some examples of general skills include time management, project management, and prioritization. You may also have specific skills related to your job or industry, such as marketing, sales or web development. While some skills may come more naturally to you than others (see talents), you can generally improve your skills through repetition, attention, self awareness and feedback.
  • Key Questions to ask yourself: What skills do you already have? Make a list of ten. What new skills would take you from average to an absolute rock-star? 
Talents – Talents, or gifts, are skills that come naturally to you. Talents light you up, give you energy, make you feel like you are “in the zone” when you are fully utilizing them. You may be talented at organizing information. Someone else might be talented at singing. Personally, I am talented at organizing, motivating people and simplifying complex problems. Tapping into your talents and your natural strengths will make you infinitely more successful in your role, happier and more engaged. There are several online assessments that will help you uncover your natural strengths; one I have tried in a few of my classes is the Myers Briggs Personality type test.
  • Key Questions to ask yourself: What skills or tasks come naturally to you? When do you feel most “in the zone”? What talents are you under utilizing? How can you better use your talents in the job you have now? 
Experience – Experience comes with on-the-job learning, and unfortunately we can’t manufacture it. Particularly for us post graduates “lack of experience” can be an exasperating reason for not landing a job or position you want. Even without years of experience under your belt, you can work to understand what types of experiences you will need to be successful later on in the future. Schedule lunches, or meet for coffee with people who have the experience you need or want. Ask what they have learned in their role, what surprised them, and what you can do to get to where they are in the future.
  • Key Questions to ask yourself: What job related experience are you lacking and how can you develop those skills another way? What aspects of that experience can you learn from others?

Step 3. The “How”
If you haven’t yet written down your answers to the questions in Part One, I emphasize grabbing a pen and paper! It is very important to write these type of things down. This strategy is nothing if you can’t refer back to it frequently.

Now we get to the how–time to write some measurable goals and come up with a plan for how you’ll research and achieve those goals. I relay the following five steps:

  • Choose three key areas of development. Make sure they are broad and aggressive; don’t sell yourself short or let yourself off easy! Think big. 
  • Write a mini one year vision statement for each area. Write as if you have already achieved success or made significant progress; for example, “Time Management: I am extremely efficient. Each morning I focus on completing my biggest task before answering emails. I prioritize my work on a daily and weekly basis..." you see what I'm getting at. 
  • Set benchmarks for yourself. If the development areas stretch over one year, what do you hope to achieve six months from now? Brainstorm a list of resources or an action plan to reach your benchmarks. This may include any of the following: 
            -   Resources (blogs, books, videos, podcasts)
            -   Training/Education (classes–online or in person, formal education)
            -   People to Talk to (mentors, Professionals you know)
            -   Other (journaling, scheduling weekly time for reflection, etc.)

  • Develop a system to track your progress, personally I use a template I made on excel and write in my  progress 
  • Engage others. Ask for feedback regularly, partner with someone who also wants to develop in one of the areas you have chosen. 

I cannot recommend the book enough, I make all my friends read it, and they all give it a strong "buy" recommendation as well. You can find the book especially cheap here at I can almost guarantee you won't regret it!


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