Your DIY career plan: a beginners’ guide

Why would anyone who isn’t hugely ambitious be tempted to make a plan for their own career? Though it may sound odd, I think everyone should have a ‘business plan’ for their career. By that I mean a rough idea of where you want to go and why. I’m not talking 30-page plans here. Okay, you can if you want to.

Why make a career plan?

Career Plan adds Direction to your job seeking efforts

Add more talents and interests to your career [star and fish from OCAL]

This is the ‘open doors’ paragraph I expect:

  1. If you have a job today, that’s no guarantee you will have one in the future.
  2. Even if you expect to hang onto the ‘same’ job, it will change over time.
  3. Another question entirely is whether you like your job,
  4. – and whether you will continue to like it.

I’ll start from scratch in case you haven’t looked in your professional mirror for a while.

What aspects of your current activities do you enjoy the most?

List talents and interests you can’t use in your current activities, or in the last job you had, and which you would love to find a use for. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • When are you at your best: alert but not stressed out, ready to help, showing others the way to go?
  • When do people seem to listen intently to what you have to say?
  • When do you get enthousiastic – talking about what topic(s), in what kind of situation?
  • When do you feel in control of a situation?

(Jot your answers down somewhere.)

How can you use your talents and interests?

Look for options that are (next to) free to start. Just a few examples to start you off:

  1. If you enjoy reading and used to love writing letters or if you kept a diary, blogging could be a first step to giving this side of your personality some room in your life. What do you want to learn from the experience?
  2. If you love talking about, advising on, or even teaching specific topics, consider where to find people who can benefit from your expertise. Look inside your company, outside, in your neighborhood, and of course online. LinkedIn groups are an excellent place to do a bit of low-threshold advising.
  3. If you’re a people person who loves to listen: find people who appreciate what you have to offer. Anything in a business context is fine for a bit of experimenting. Don’t use your skill in a private setting to give people psychological advice – do nothing beyond listening for clues that tell you whether someone needs professional help rather than a neighbor with good intentions.

Small first steps will let you discover if a specific role suits you, and if it does you’ll find that you feel more confident and energized. Even starting with just one talent will tease out other dormant interests. So there’s no need to tackle every option at the same time. Give every interest about a month’s worth of your attention.

You will undoubtedly discover that some interests will remain hobbies because once you explore them, they turn out to involve tasks that you don’t want to do on a daily basis. And that’s okay.

Start looking around for opportunities to use your talents

Once you give your talents room to grow and bloom you’ll want to build on those humble beginnings. Your budding plan may involve a company of your own – or it may mean you look for new challenges in your current job. Some talents will ease their way into your day job almost imperceptibly, because you view things differently. People are more likely to give you a task that involves using your specific talents if you prove you have those talents, are willing to invest (time, energy) in them, and if you feel confident enough to take on something new as a result.

A ‘business plan’ for your career helps you set priorities

A business plan allows you to determine what you will do and what you won’t. What you’ll invest a lot of time and energy in and what you need to delegate or minimize in some other way so it won’t harm the important things in your working life. In short, it helps you to prioritize your everyday tasks into the good, the bad, and the ugly ones. Delegate non-priority tasks whenever possible – some tasks are a welcome challenge when you’re in your 20s, just another chore at 30, and a right pain in the backside well before you reach 40.

How does a business plan help you if you’re between jobs?

It’s vital to have a sense of purpose beyond what you do here, now, every day.

  • New options appear along the way as your life and your career shape you as an individual and as a professional. Having a plan, taking the first step (at no or low cost), will help you find the direction for your next step.
  • Knowing where you want to go, and why, helps you talk about your motivation for a specific job. Employers like to know how your new job will help you: if you expect a job to benefit you in some way, you’re more likely to be truly motivated.

If all options seem closed to you it’s time to find a new window to let the fresh air in. What would a ‘business plan’ for your career look like?

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