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?

When creating your LinkedIn profile, bring your pineapple

If you’ve read my posts about LinkedIn in the past two weeks, the title of this post may puzzle you – so I’ll explain. In a way your LinkedIn profile is a lot like the elaborate self-portraits from centuries ago. That’s my background in art history popping up – just in case you’re wondering 🙂

Show off your expertise: this is how you do it

A portrait that showed what you were about, what you did – and what you owned – was an absolute must-have for wealthy Dutch people in the 17th century. This painting of Agnes Block and Sybrand de Flines tells us a few things about Agnes even without any previous knowledge about her story:

Portrait of Agnes Block and Family

Portrait of Agneta Block and family (1694) | Amsterdam Museum [click to view site]

This is very much a painting about Agnes (or Agneta) as everything she valued is collected around her. It shows Agnes seated at the center, with her (second) husband Sybrand (Sijbrand) de Flines at the right. In the background are details which set the scene at her country estate “Vijverhof” growing exotic plants and keeping birds. Agnes was a horticulturalist, and a good one – in the Dutch republic, she was the first who managed to grow a pineapple plant that bore fruit. We can admire the result in this painting, on the far left.

Agnes is also known to have made drawings of plants and birds. She was an artist and a patron – which explains all the arty attributes in the painting (aside from her husband’s interests). On Historici.nl this painting by Jan Weenix is dated around 1694. This would mean we see Agnes at the age of 65 (she lived from 1629-1704). I’ll bet if LinkedIn had been around she’d have put her pineapple in her summary, job experience AND in the section “Honors and awards”! As it was, it was probably a bit of a struggle to avoid over-cluttering the composition.

(In case you wondered) What about the children in the painting?

Two children accompany Agnes and Sybrand in this painting – their identity is uncertain but it’s assumed they are relations of Agnes. Agnes was married twice, but she never had children. Sybrands daughters, from his first marriage, would have been grown women by the time this painting was made. The girl by Agnes’ side is wearing a dress that looks rather more fancy than the garment worn by the other child, who may in fact be a young boy – if you’re curious about that you may like this lengthy post I found about children’s clothing in the 17th century. However the examples in this post don’t show any difference in clothing style between boys and girls, whereas there is a clear distinction between these two children.

How does Agnes’ portrait relate to your LinkedIn profile?

Nowadays few of us would consider having a painting made like Agnes did, or even having our photograph taken together with all the attributes that show off our skills and experience. At the same time we do something very similar when we present the results of our efforts on our blogs or via our presence on social media. Think WordPress, Flickr, Facebook and LinkedIn. I would say LinkedIn most resembles a painting – I’ve seen the others used as a portfolio.

How to put the pineapple into your LinkedIn profile

If you decide to get your LinkedIn profile assembled, identify your pineapple and see where it should go:

  1. Take inventory of ALL your achievements whether they are related to your professional life, volunteering, study or even your private life.
  2. Make a selection of things to include in your profile (from must-haves to nice-to-haves)
  3. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like and would like to turn one of your hobbies into a career at some point in the future, the least you can do is list it as one of your “interests” and include any skills you have related to that hobby to your “skills” section.
  4. Whatever else you do on LinkedIn, remember to find and show off your pineapple! I’m serious 😉

Creating a complete and accurate portrait of yourself as a professional means you need to include your ‘professional attributes’ – your skills, experience, strengths and personal achievements in the best possible way. Don’t hide the things you’ve worked hard to accomplish!

Note: This post was getting longer while I got the feeling Agnes, and this painting, deserved more. So I’ve decided rather than letting this post turn into a ‘miscellaneous subjects’ post I’ll let her have a separate post, if I can dig up more information about the painting.

Until then, you can read more about Agnes on:

If you enjoyed this post, please share it! Or you can share your thoughts about LinkedIn, art, and Agnes right here.

The value of your (LinkedIn) connections

If you’ve read my earlier posts about LinkedIn you’ll know I’ve been on there for some time, but others – maybe including you – are getting started right now. One question you’ll want answered is: how are you going to make LinkedIn work for you? In this post I aim to give you at least the start of an answer.

Your LinkedIn profile, which I discussed earlier, will help you to keep track of:

  • the jobs you’ve had, the tasks you’ve performed
  • the clients you’ve helped
  • all of your courses

Oh, and people can read it if they like 🙂

(LinkedIn) Connections

Your LinkedIn profile’s not really something you’d get excited about. Why not? Simple – it’s all about your past performance. None of the above gives you any reason whatsoever to connect with people. If you’re fairly secure in your present job you may not see any reason to start connecting with a lot of people. After all, you see them at lunch, you get their e-mails…

You could connect with anyone you ever worked with. That means that your presence on LinkedIn also allows you to keep track of all the co-workers you ever worked with. Yay! … Nope. I’m still bored 😉

How to make LinkedIn work for you

The only possible way to make LinkedIn work for you is if you decide to join conversations and connect with people (including colleagues) with an eye on your future. Why? Because your future is unknown territory. Unless you did something really dreadful in a previous job, it’s not coming after you to club you on the head. But the future is a different place. One you haven’t visited yet.

Start by asking yourself what you want for your career in the next, say, 5-10 years. Now you may not be at all clear about the answer to that question. Scan the scenarios in the next few paragraphs. I’ll ask you questions in each one. Some of my questions are based on my own experiences at various points in my career.

You’re still studying (part time)

Will you be able to do parts of your study within this organization? Like getting an internship, or even working there as an employee while adding it as the job experience you would otherwise gain from an internship? Will you be able to write your thesis here? Is the company you work for part time likely to offer you a job after you graduate?

You’re looking for a career change

Does your current employer offer possibilities for your newly chosen career? If not, what organizations look better equipped to house the likes of you in the (near) future? What can you do by way of a hobby or as a volunteer that would qualify you (even at a basic level) within 4-10 months?

All you want is… job security

If you want, first and foremost, to keep your job because you’re happy where you are and you have a family and you don’t need the hassle right now: what do you know about the organization you’re in that might impact your chances of keeping your job? Are there other positions within your organization that you could move to if necessary? What skills can you learn that would make it easier to shift direction within your organization? Who else works in a team where you might end up if you had those skills? In other words, how can you make it more probable that a change will involve a new job in the same organization rather than having to look elsewhere?

Start by deciding where your priorities lie in real life

Suppose your organization is big enough to hold several positions you could fill if you wanted (or had to find another job) – it would make sense to get to know a few colleagues from different parts of your organization.

What if it’s not big enough? What if you’re in a tiny team that is more likely to shrink even further rather than grow in the future? What if there aren’t going to be any jobs after you graduate? In that case getting to know people in other organisations is important. But don’t forget the ‘network-happy’ people in your own organization who know absolutely everyone in your field of expertise!

What value can LinkedIn add to the connections you have in real life?

LinkedIn is a handy extension for real-life relationships. Connect preferably first in real life, then follow up by connecting on LinkedIn. Once you connect with anyone on LinkedIn, you can view their ‘updates’ which contain their every activity.

  • Some activities are alterations to their job title – you’ll know it if an ex-colleague starts in a new job, so you can send her a message about it.
  • If a connection who may or may not be in the category “companies/departments I wouldn’t mind working for” shares a great article about a subject you’re interested in you can comment on the article while also letting ’em know you’re still around.

All in all, the information you receive in the shape of LinkedIn updates gives you (extra) starting points for interacting with colleagues and other professionals – which is great if you’re NOT running into them twice a day. Your contacts on LinkedIn are not about instant results. They’re about staying in touch – and in the picture even though you, and they, are busy.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. Or you may leave your thoughts about your (LinkedIn) connections in a comment below for me to read and reply to!

5 key questions to help you write your LinkedIn summary

After my rather long 16-LinkedIn-tips post of last Friday I’d like to stick to just one detail of your LinkedIn profile in this post: your summary. If you’ve left it for later like I suggested, great. Today you can fill the gap.

Why do you need a summary on your LinkedIn profile?

Writing Your LinkedIn Summary

In real life (IRL) you may meet someone, chat a bit, find you have common (business) interests and decide to exchange either business cards or anything ranging from email to phone number or Twitter handle. Just so you can follow up a pleasant and potentially beneficial contact.

On LinkedIn, your summary should give a first impression of you as a professional as you’re not present to introduce yourself.

Who are you as a professional?

If you’re having trouble deciding what to tell the world about what matters to you most, ask yourself what tasks or situations bring out the best in you. A few examples:

  • Suppose you’re completely result-driven. There’s no better moment than when you get to present your solution to a nagging issue your colleagues or clients have been working around for ages.
  • You’re a people person. Helping people out is what you get up for in the morning (or would, if you didn’t have a job that doesn’t suit your personal strengths). Or, nothing can beat having meaningful conversations that allow you to really connect with people – some call this ‘networking’ and treat it like a chore but for you, it’s the air you breathe.
  • Or say you’re both. There’s no buzz like the one you get after you’ve helped resolve a really sticky problem that was ruining someone’s life. You can do this kind of thing in absolutely no time at all – you power up, get things done, and make your co-worker, client, or a complete stranger for that matter, immensely happy.

Describe who you are in a business setting. That’s you as a professional.

What do you put in your LinkedIn summary if you’re a student?

Exactly the same kind of information. Except your ‘business setting’ is the projects you’ve done, an internship, a part time job, tasks you performed as a volunteer. Anything anyone ever asked or required you to do for them. What activities or situations are the spice in your food?

How should I use key words in my LinkedIn summary?

You can add key words to appear in search results but they should look natural in the context of your summary. Do NOT just open a text book and select anything you think would attract potential employers or clients. Your summary is not about what you studied, but what you (intend to) do with the knowledge and skills you’ve gained as a result.

How long should my LinkedIn summary be?

Think of your LinkedIn summary as an “About the author” bit above or below a blog post, or a Twitter bio. It can be anything from 30 to about 100 words. If you go well beyond 100 you’re probably adding too much detail to your ‘first impression’ and chances are you’re repeating yourself. See what details you should rather use to describe individual projects, jobs or other activities. Or add a link to your “About” page if you have a blog, or to a short video.

In short, use your summary to introduce yourself as a professional. Stick to what you know to be true about yourself. This way it’s clear to everyone that “what they see is what they’ll get”. Wouldn’t it be great to get an interview based on who you are?

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. If you did, please share it – I would really appreciate it! You may also leave your thoughts and questions about your LinkedIn summary in a comment – I promise I’ll reply to anything non-spammy 😉