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In today's highly competitive and constantly changing employment landscape, it is critical that you have an action plan to move your career forward—whether you intend to work in HR throughout your career or use your current HR role as a steppingstone to lead you into new directions, new positions, new industries and new opportunities.
You are not going to be able to control everything that happens in your career. But a strategic and tactical plan will guide you in making career decisions that fulfill your personal needs and advance your professional goals.
No matter what you hope to achieve in the working world—and, frankly, no matter the stage of life that you're at—creating and following a career plan should be high on your list of priorities.
[SHRM members-only HR Q&A:
What is a dual career ladder?]
What Is a Career Plan?
Your career plan is the strategy for how you want to move forward throughout your professional life. Maybe you aspire to reach the highest levels of HR leadership for a global consumer products company, or perhaps your plan is to segue your HR experience into operations and general management in a high-tech venture. You might even know the names of specific companies you'd like to work for or, at the very least, the industries that are of most interest to you.
Why Have a Career Plan?
A career plan gives you purpose, control and a path to follow throughout your working life. Of course things will change in your career and you will need to update your plan as you progress, but a plan gives you direction so that you're certain to make wise career decisions and accept the right opportunities. With the process outlined below, you can create your own unique career plan and adapt it as needed so that it always remains relevant.
When Should You Create a Career Plan?
When complete, your plan should reflect the step-by-step progress needed to get from where you are now to where you want to be. If you're just starting your HR career and professional working life, your path might include 7–10 next jobs. If you are already further along in your career, the number of next jobs may be fewer.
It's to be expected that you might have difficulty filling in some of the details for all of the positions you envision having. Go ahead and make the best projections that you can … and be prepared to make adjustments! Career planning is a dynamic process. You do not need to know the answers to everything now because events will happen that will change your plans. But having a defined path toward a clear objective is the first step to achieving any goal.
Reviewing and Revising Your Plan
So far, everything discussed above makes the process of career planning seem very direct. However, it's quite likely that your career journey will be filled with twists and turns and will
not follow the straightforward path you've outlined. That's only to be expected in the ever-changing world of work.
Things might happen—and probably will happen—in your career that you never expected. There may be wonderful new opportunities (e.g., a series of fast-track promotions through a number of HR management positions with increasing levels of responsibility) or not-so-wonderful obstacles to the progress of your career (e.g., being laid off as a result of an acquisition, a company downsizing or the offshoring of personnel).
It's safe to say that just about everyone will be impacted at some point in their career by an unexpected detour, shift or transition. That's part of what makes your working life interesting—the unknown and the excitement of what might be. Your challenge is to balance those twists and turns with the plan you created to bring pleasure and fulfillment into your working life.
'Career Path Interrupters'
Consider how any one of the following "career path interrupters" might affect your career plan:
When to Revisit and Revise Your Career Plan
When you are ready to move your career forward, whether you're returning from a career path interrupter or are simply taking the next step toward your pinnacle job, revisit your career plan and make any adjustments necessary.
And even if things are going just as you envisioned, it is beneficial to sit down at least once per year to review your plan and confirm that your pinnacle job and the path you defined to achieve it are still accurate and realistic.
Review what you wrote and ask yourself these questions:
Your annual (or more frequent) review might be just a quick check-in, if little has changed, or it might be a major rethinking of your career goals and path. People change, circumstances change, the work environment changes. You don't want to be blindly working toward a goal that is unrealistic or no longer meaningful for you.
Plus, keeping tabs on your progress is a great confidence-builder. When you have a plan and you know you are making progress toward a goal, it's easier to deal with the ups and downs of every job. You'll be able to make smart decisions when opportunities arise and react quickly when circumstances change.
If you devote time, effort, introspection and honesty to the task, your career plan will remain a living document compatible with your ultimate pinnacle job as well as your current career reality.
Wendy Enelow is a Master Resume Writer (MRW), Job & Career Transition Coach (JCTC), and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), working with professionals and executives worldwide for the past 30 years. She has written more than 20 books on resumes, cover letters, keywords and career management, including the recently released Modernize Your Resume: Get Noticed … Get Hired and Best Keywords for Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews (www.emeraldcareerpublishing.com).
Enelow has been interviewed/quoted by major media, including The Wall Street Journal, Time
magazine, "ABC News," Money
the Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and scores of others, and is the Job Front columnist for The American Legion
magazine. She is a skilled presenter and trainer before audiences nationwide. Reach her by e-mail at
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