Career Mapping Strategies and Tips

It’s been said that people spend more time picking out a necktie for their annual holiday party than planning their career direction. While it’s not possible to fully predict and plan the future of one’s company or career it is advisable to have a good idea of which direction one would like to head. Many promising careers have been derailed by pursuing “what’s out there” or open jobs rather than logical career moves which lead to bigger opportunities. Some advance thought will help keep one’s career on track towards a rewarding path. Here are some big picture ideas to help in career mapping.

Know Thyself                                                                               

Since the times of Socrates and Plato this advice has been dispensed by philosophers and self help gurus. Now it’s our turn to use this in the context of a career. It is up to the individual to accurately know, portray and define one’s basket of skills at any point in time. Entry level, experienced, management and executive level professionals should have the ability to articulate cumulative relevant experiences and abilities.  Additionally one should also know what skills he/she is lacking in order to get to the next level.  The next move may be crucial in gathering necessary skills to get one to their ultimate career goal.

If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.

Have we ever or will we ever really arrive at a “career destination”? As with most of life’s most rewarding situations one’s career is often about the journey. Once one achieves a certain position - CEO/COO/COO/whatever - after a bit of time there can be a feeling of “What’s next”? Planning and goal setting are important every step of the way bearing in mind that as additional responsibilities and skills are attained one’s perspective can easily change. Having a plan and goals will provide the discipline to see the big picture and stick with a difficult situation for greater reward down the road or the discipline to notice that despite a comfortable situation it may be time to move on.

Have a method to the moves

Frequent job changes, steps back in title and industry changes can be difficult to explain. While there may be reasons for each move it may not be apparent from just looking at a resume.  Now is the time to reflect back, tie circumstances together, find the commonality and thereby defining what makes sense for the next move. Maybe there have been some inopportune moves and a rationale does not exist historically. This is a good time to formulate a prospective career strategy utilizing skills and experiences garnered in a diverse career background as your base.

Are you an expert?

Have you picked an industry specialty, company size or stage of development?  Some have an expert trade, skill or technical ability. Some thrive in a specific role or function at a certain size company and others prefer working in a company at a certain stage of development. Internal corporate dynamics can be very different depending upon whether a company is a startup, mature family owned business, high growth, large mature private or publicly traded company. Knowing the characteristics of where an individual thrives helps immensely in career mapping. Remember that companies are looking for and are willing to pay for expertise. As companies continue to scale business processes, tasks are defined down to the lowest common denominator. As a result the Jack of All Trades is becoming less sought after professional skill set.

Have a mentor 

This one is pretty self explanatory. A mentor is defined as an experienced and trusted adviser.  Whether in the form of a current/former boss, relative or friend it can be beneficial to identify someone willing to provide advice and input based on his/her knowledge of you as a person as well as a professional. Some choose to have an informal personal Board of Advisors, a sort of mentorship by committee. Human nature tends to seek those sources of information that reinforce our belief and the mentorship can help keep this in check and on the right track.

Forethought and career planning can help keep a career on track and moving in the right direction. While not every circumstance is controllable, introspection, having an overall plan, goals and outside trusted input can help. Many compete for job interviews simply because they are in need of work or the job is open.   Don’t be that person. Have a compelling reason for being there. Never underestimate the power of being able to say “This is the job I want and this is why”.

Tim Norstrem

Norstrem Associates