Supercharge your career20 April 2015

Ask a successful person how they climbed the career ladder and the chances are they will tell you it was due to luck. Many pre-eminent people play down their own achievements and attribute their success to a chance meeting or a lucky break.

Of course luck can play a part in career success, however it is no substitute for strategic planning and preparation. Generally speaking, the better you prepare and the more you learn, the luckier you get!

The traditional approach to career planning has been for candidates to consider what they are good at and seek out a role to suit their abilities, without thinking strategically about how to prepare and position themselves for future roles.

Yet strategic thinking is an important part of career planning. If you know where you want to be, you will know what opportunities to look out for, and when opportunities do arise, you will know whether to accept them and will be prepared to make the most of them. In this way, strategic planning makes career progression a less risky process.

Even if you are content to stay in your current role for some time to come, if you want to make the most of your career, it’s worth taking the time to review your career goals and develop the skills you will need to achieve them.

Strategic career planning requires three key competencies – strategic planning, the ability to learn, and the ability to adapt. All three play a part in helping us to achieve our career goals.

1. Strategic planning

Start your career planning with a careful assessment of your current reality – where you are now – before considering where you want to be in the future. What’s happening in your world? What do you like and dislike about your current job? What are your strengths and aspirations?

Moreover, what is your passion? We can be good at many things without being passionate about them. You will also need to understand your values, and what success means for you. When were you happiest in your career?

Armed with this information, you can start to consider your future reality. Create a realistic vision of where you want to be, then carry out a needs assessment to identify what is required to get there – whether that is additional qualifications, building skills and experience, better industry knowledge or making new contacts through networking and industry groups.

2. Ability to adapt

As we start to move towards our future reality, and open ourselves up to new opportunities, we have to be able adapt to each new situation as it arises. In real life events don’t always happen in the way we expect and your progress may not always be in a straight line.

Even if you stay with the same company, it could be that they ask you to move to another location or another role. In any case change is constant in business so the ability to adapt is critical to career success and is also a key skill which employers look for.

You can develop your adaptability in lots of different ways. Try out different activities, vary your normal routines, drive to work a different way. Travelling is a great way to develop adaptability because it provides the opportunity to practise dealing with different environments.

At work, be willing to try out new techniques or take on new tasks, develop a ‘can do’ attitude when dealing with unfamiliar or unexpected situations. Learn to extract information from changing situations and shift priorities or improvise, and respond positively to setbacks.

3. Ability to learn

In a constantly changing business environment, knowledge often has a short life. Much of what we know today is likely to be out of date in five or ten years’ time and will need replacing by fresh and more relevant information. Therefore the ability to learn is another key skill - we need to learn how to learn.

However it’s not just a case of absorbing more professional knowledge – we also need to pay attention to learning about ourselves. Learning is an important process and often we have a very narrow view of it. We need to learn what we like, to learn about our emotions, our performance, how we relate to people and respond to different situations.

Gaining a deeper insight into ourselves, getting to know our likes and dislikes and our own unique qualities, can help us to improve our performance and understand more about where we want to be. In this way we can continue to refine our vision and shape our future reality.

Just as a strategy provides a business with an overall direction, applying the same structured process to your career will clarify your goals and allow you to pursue them more effectively. Planning, preparation and the ongoing process of adapting and learning are the key to creating a successful and truly rewarding career.

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