cartoon characters climbing career ladders

Do I need a career plan?

A career plan has its place in developing a career … but to provide a sense of direction rather than a fixed route

Today’s marketplace presents myriad roles and opportunities that didn’t even exist 10 or even 5 years ago. This will excite many with the prospects for a varied and fulfilled career. Others may fear that carving out a career path is now more complicated than ever, while organisations are challenged to identify, recruit and develop the skills that they need.

So is the career plan a thing of the past? Are we able to plot a route for our career through the next 10, 20 or even 30 years or should we cast our futures into the lap of the gods?

Job vs Career

The answer is probably a bit of both. We have to take responsibility for our own careers. A career plan certainly has its place – but it should be there to provide a sense of direction rather than a fixed route. You need to be aware of developments and able to respond to opportunities as they arise. The quest for the one right job as a key to success is not realistic and may actually end up hampering career progression.

It’s important to remember that a career and a job are two different things. A career is built on a series of jobs and experiences over the years where skill, knowledge and qualifications come together with drive and experience. A career is a journey towards a goal rather than a destination.

Career Ladders

It is helpful to view your career as a series of ladders you must climb – first your qualifications, second the knowledge and experience you gather as you progress through life and third the sector and industry knowledge you gain. You can use this perspective to think about your progress and understand what you need to do at each stage to get to where you want to be.

Every job will equip you with new skills and experience and, whether that job is your dream role or not, you will most likely use those skills again. (My first temp job in the complaints department of a well-known dry-cleaners gave me a crash course in customer relations that I still draw on today!)

The Right Balance

At whatever point you are in your career you should keep a weather eye on each of those ladders to ensure that your progress is balanced, identifying gaps where you may need further qualifications, knowledge or experience. In organisations that encourage and support development, discussing those needs will often lead to opportunities for interesting projects and secondments.

With greater experience comes greater clarity about what makes you tick and what you want to aim for. Ultimately, it is those values that will give shape and direction to your career.

Regardless of background or generation, there is no one correct career pathway. If we have a career dream or ambition we need to pursue it and not worry too much about the exact route up the ladders to get there.

Jo Ouston