5 steps to a Career Plan (Step 1: write your eulogy)

Last month we talked about why you shouldn’t have a career plan (you should have two).

This month I’ll cover my 5-step actions to developing a career plan, and why it needs to be a ‘life’ plan.

Step 1: Clarify your core values and personal vision (write your eulogy!)

Yep that sounds woo-woo but stick with me.

This step is often missing from career development resources, but it’s critical. To get the most out of your career both professionally and personally, start by thinking very big picture about not just your career but your life, and your vision for your life. What is your ‘why’, your legacy – what do you feel you are here to do? To help you answer this, you might consider the following:

  • What are the things that are most important to you in life? What are your core values? (Try this exercise, or this one, to help)
  • Consider the eulogy exercise (This can be confronting! But it’s a great way to help identify what really matters to you). Basically, it involves writing your own eulogy. Try to do this in just 3 or 4 sentences. How would you like to be remembered at the end of your life? Who or what did you impact or change? What character traits did you demonstrate? What contributions did you make in your professional life? (for example: contributed new knowledge; improved people’s health or happiness; addressed social injustice; written a lot of emails…?)
  • Now consider whether your current professional role reflects these values and eulogy statements. If not, what steps can you take today to start building towards that vision?

This step is important, since careers that are misaligned with your values can lead to stress, disengagement and unhappiness. Gandhi the future quote

Step 2: Consider your ideal career

With your values firmly in mind, consider what you want out of your next role, and your career in general. If, for example, your core values relate to helping others, consider how your current role and chosen career path align with this (e.g., you may be conducting research that informs efforts to improve health and wellbeing and prevent disease).  When considering this question, think also about your interests, skills and strengths.

This step also involves considering your life outside of work and the kind of career that will fit with this (the ‘life plan’ bit). What sorts of work hours are you willing to put in? Do you have or want children/a family? How important is workplace flexibility to you? How much do you value security and stability of work and income? Where do you want to live, and how much travel do you want to do? Is it important that you live near family? Career planning needs to take these broader considerations into account. This book includes an exercise in which you describe all aspects of your dream job, including hours, conditions, location and so on, to help you identify the kind of career you really want.

Step 3: Find the role

Based on step 2, investigate what suitable jobs or roles are available in the short and longer term.

Identify a few roles (at least two: Remember you need Plan A and B) which you might like to target in future. If you’re seeking a new job, use Indeed, SEEK or other job search sites to find advertised vacancies for similar roles. Review the position descriptions and selection criteria. What competences and skills are required? What personal characteristics? How do the advertised positions fit with your life values? If you have a job but are considering your role and future path, do you see others within (or outside of) your organisation working in roles that appeal? Can your networks help (e.g. LinkedIn is a great resource for finding people working in roles you like)?

Also important at this step is to consider how to ‘future proof’ your career. What are the trends in your field? Are research-only posts becoming scarcer (hint – YES) – if so how have you future-proofed against the declining odds of remaining in such a position? What other areas of expertise are emerging or growing? (Hints: digital/technology; globalisation; change management; environmental sustainability; aged care).

Step 4: Audit your skills

Rate your existing skills and competencies against those identified in the roles you identified in step 3. Consider your qualifications, experience, performance appraisals, and feedback from your supervisor or colleagues. You might consider asking your mentor or a colleague to review or add to this list. After completing the skills audit, note those skills that require development and plan how to address this.

Think laterally about skills. Some skills (e.g. writing, analytical thinking) are obvious, but others may not be immediately apparent. In this talk Susan Colantuono discusses the career advice you probably didn’t get: the importance (particularly for women) in many careers of financial and business acumen – critical skills when it comes, for instance, to making a strong economic argument for funding for a research project, or for managing a research grant budget.

Step 5: Skill up

Finally, start building your skills and experience to be best placed for these future opportunities.

Remember many competencies require long lead times to achieve or develop. Consider how you might acquire these. Can you grow your current role to tailor towards future opportunities? For example, can you take on a new work project; collaboration; volunteer for a committee/task; attend training/professional development; or look into a ‘job swap’/short term ‘internment’? Network for success – are there key individuals or groups of people whom you would like to meet for your career development? Can your mentor or anyone within your existing network could introduce you?

As well as building the skills, you also need to keep a record of them. Don’t wait until the job comes up – start tracking evidence of your skills and achievements today, and keep your CV up to date.

Finally: review and repeat this process regularly.

For easy reference here’s a visual of the 5-step plan:5-step career plan visual

Act now:

  1. Block out two x 30 minute blocks in your calendar in the next month to start working through steps 1-5. Grab your Happy Academic notebook or e-file (see last month’s action), paste in the 5-step pic above, and jot down some responses to each step. If you already have a career plan, you might revisit it in light of these suggestions. I’d love to hear how you go! Please let me know by commenting below or on Twitter
  2. Jobs.ac.uk have developed an interactive career development toolkit with lots of practical tips to help you take control of your own career. REVIEW these to see what skills will be in demand in Higher Education in the future, and how others have developed their careers
  3. Read about other Australian EMCR career paths and choices at the EMCR forum here

Next month: the number ONE thing EMCRs should do for career success and happiness.



6 thoughts on “5 steps to a Career Plan (Step 1: write your eulogy)

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