The Importance of Career Planning

Gone are the days when you work at one company your entire career and depend solely on your employer for career progression. It’s now up to individual contributors in the workplace to take the reigns of where they want their career to lead. Most women in the workforce have career aspirations and have identified what their long-term goals are and what it will take to get there. In essence, that’s all career planning is a map of where you want your career to go and how you plan to get there. But the difference in knowing you want to be a university president and having a career plan that leads to that goal is all in the details. Detailing the steps you’ll take, the skills you’ll learn, and the stakeholders with whom you’ll engage are all crucial elements of a quality career plan. 

Why is Career Planning important?

You likely wouldn’t go on a trip that has no destination. Well, the same logic applies to your career. If you know where you intend to go, you’ll make better decisions along the way. No matter how detailed of a career plan you put together, there will likely be obstacles and diversions. However, with a solid plan in place, you’ll always be able to get back on track even if you face obstacles. There are many practical ways that career planning can help progress your career including helping you to reduce distractions, engage your career stakeholders, and acquire the necessary skills to accomplish your goals.

Making Strategic Decisions

One of the major benefits of career planning is the ability to make more strategic decisions. Questions such as “What projects should I take on?”, “What job offer should I accept?”, and “What courses should I take?” can all be answered with a well thought out career plan. With a career plan, you’re not just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, but aiming a dart at a bull’s eye with every career move you make. You’re not just writing down goals but you’re making them SMART and outlining the action steps needed to make them happen. 

Reducing Distractions on Your Way to Success

There seem to always be an infinite amount of projects to take on and a finite amount of time. The reality is you can’t say yes to every project, volunteer opportunity, conference, or speaking engagement that may come your way, and having a sense of what to focus on is crucial to the success of accomplishing your career goals. Knowing how to choose to most efficiently use your limited time is one of the best consequences of career planning. A career plan can also help you manage your time at work. How much time are you dedicating to projects that make you visible and are consequential to the organization? Doing the work, wherever possible, that will most elevate your career is ideal. We don’t always have a say in what kind of work we do so achieving this will likely require a discussion with your supervisors, which is part of stakeholder engagement. 

Engaging Your Stakeholders

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll acknowledge that no one gets anywhere alone, especially in their career. Your life is filled with stakeholders who are invested in your career success or can contribute to it, at the very least. That list of people may look different for everyone but it can include people like your spouse/partner, your supervisors, your mentors, and your sponsors. In order to know how these people can best support your career aspirations, you have to outline what those aspirations are at each stage. Stakeholder engagement might look like asking your supervisor how you can get that promotion that’s part of your career plan or asking a spouse if they can take on more household responsibility while you work on a consequential project that will increase your visibility at work. Speaking up and asking your stakeholders for what you need is crucial to career progression. 

Acquiring the Right Skills

Another important result of career planning is knowing where your skill gaps are. Let’s say you’re just beginning your career and your goal is to be a university president. It’s likely that you don’t have the skills today that you would need to make that happen. But part of career planning is determining the skills you need to acquire and creating an action plan for how you plan to learn them. As your career progresses, the skills you need will likely evolve just as your chosen profession will, which is why it’s important to update your career planning document regularly. If you think about your career plan in stages, it’s easier to determine exactly what skills you may need at each stage. For example, you likely wouldn’t need managerial skills and training in your first job, but those are skills that would become a necessity later on as your career progresses. 

Career planning isn’t just for early-career professionals. If your career has stalled or you’ve jumped from position to position with little direction, you’re likely a good candidate for career planning. Even as a more seasoned professional, it’s never too late to start career planning. A good starting place for writing your career plan is the IAW Career Planning template and the IAW Career Development Guide. Your career plan can act as a guiding light when making the thousands of decisions you’ll make over the course of your career. It’s important to remember that interests change, purposes change, and industries change. For these reasons, you must remain flexible to the effects of those changes in order to create a career that’s purposeful and long-lasting. 

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