You wouldn’t go on a long road trip without planning your route first. So why not apply this same thoughtful approach to charting your career path? Whether you’re just starting out, feel like your career is starting to slow down, or you’re clearly stuck in a rut, creating a career map can be very beneficial.
What is a career card? It is a written plan outlining where you are in your career, where you ultimately want to go, and the specific steps you could take to achieve that goal.
Here are five navigational tips to put you on the path to meaningful career progression:
1. Identify a destination
Many people make the mistake of engaging in career hope rather than career mapping. But as Lewis Carroll once wrote, « If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. »
Identify your main professional goal and put it on paper. Be introspective and detailed when defining your ambitions. Sure, “I want to advance my career in the accounting industry and make more money” is technically a goal, but it’s way too vague.
Is your goal to move into a management position with your current employer? Do you want to transition into a more specialized field such as forensic accounting? Maybe you want to put yourself in a position to take the leap into a Big Four business. Whatever your goal, make it specific and measurable.
2. Know your starting point
You need to understand exactly where you are before you can decide how you are going to get where you want to go. Make a candid assessment of your technical and non-technical skills. In what areas do you excel? What aspects of your job excite you the most?
And while it’s certainly a less enjoyable exercise, examine your weaknesses under the microscope. Are skill gaps or bad habits hindering your effectiveness? Could the lack of in-demand industry certifications be holding you back?
Be honest about your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. This self-examination can help you crystallize your long-term goal and give you insight into the specific steps you will need to take to achieve it.
3. Ask for directions
Make your interests known to your manager and ask for your advice and help. Does your career plan match what your boss sees you going for? Can they direct you to training opportunities or assign high profile projects that will land you the job you are looking for? Are there ways to get there that you hadn’t considered?
It’s obviously beneficial to work for an employer who communicates potential career paths and helps you reach that next level, but you’re the one who has to take control of the wheel. That’s why you might consider trying to find a mentor. Mentors can provide ongoing support, objective feedback, real-world insights, and advice on who to network with. If your company doesn’t have a formal mentorship program or you’re looking for a job outside of the company, ask someone in your professional network that you trust if they would be willing to work with you.
4. Pay attention to the career map mile markers
For some people, a big goal can seem overwhelming and unattainable, so break it down into a series of smaller ones. Set clear goals and action steps, and set deadlines for achieving those milestones.
For example, if you want to become a department supervisor, milestones might include completing a leadership training program or returning to school for an MBA. You can also take a leadership role with the local chapter of a professional association.
Each time you reach a milestone, take time to reflect and savor the achievement. Recognizing your successes along the way helps you maintain momentum as you get closer to your ultimate goal.
5. Stay motivated
Any worthwhile trip probably includes bumps and bad turns along the way. Don’t let these inevitable disappointments dampen your resolve. When you encounter a roadblock, regroup and move on. Career progression requires not only planning, but also motivation and discipline. Focus on the lessons