Career Mapping

Career Mapping: Don't Get Lost Along the Way.

by Dr. Orlando Moreno

Just as companies who use a business plan as a "road map" find the path easier to negotiate, people who use a "career map" have a much better chance of reaching their destination.

Think about it. If you're in Winnemucca and you want to get to Wichita, a map is a handy thing to have. Without it you might eventually end up Wichita. Might. Eventually. But it could take much longer than it needs to and it most likely will be a forgettable trip. Sound familiar?

Making a career map can be beneficial at any stage of the game for many of us.

If you're just entering/re-entering the workplace, or perhaps been in the fray for decades, career mapping can prove to be an invaluable tool. Particularly if you are thinking of switching fields.

More importantly, the "C-Map" is necessary to help you better navigate the rapidly changing workplace rules. Changes like continuing record layoffs, mergers and acquisitions, the advent of technology and it's impact on many of our jobs.

When I talk about developing a career map, I'm referring to an actual document. Typically, it's a one or two page piece, a summary of your career strategy going forward. It's a road map. A guide. It doesn't mean you absolutely have to go by that route. If you get to someplace in your travels and the road's under construction, you may have to take a detour. Your company has been sold? Your department has been outsourced? Your position is being eliminated? Not to worry (too much). You have a plan. A strategy.

The career mapping plan I've developed, which has worked wonders for the many clients I have worked with, is made up of nine specific steps as follows:

An Overview: This first step consists of a ten thousand-foot view of what you want to accomplish in the future. One year, five years -- whatever makes sense for you. There are times when the map will need to be changed suddenly. Perhaps your significant other finds a great job in another city, or you realize that the new boss and you don't jive.

Identifying Your Market: The next step is to identify who your market is. It's the same step a business goes through. Decide which industries or companies are most likely to continue to grow and need you.

The Marketing Plan: If you are working long hours, not making the money you want, and are quite unhappy, it may be a matter of focus. Decide which aspect of your profession is the most appealing for you and develop a plan to market your knowledge, skills and experience to get the position you want.

Identifying Your Strengths and Weaknesses: The idea is to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. But first you have to know what they are. Ask the people in your life you most respect to help you with this one. Put them down on paper. It may give you a new understanding of you.

The Positioning Statement: In order to be good at what we do, we have to know what business we are in. The positioning statement is no more than one paragraph long. It spells out here's who I am, and here's how I'm going to position myself going forward, and here are my capabilities, and here's how I fit into my industry or company.

The Action Plan: Now that you know what you want to do for the next year or two, you need to identify the tactics you use to carry it out. You might include research, talking to experts in your industry, and mirroring people who are already successful doing what you plan to do.

The Financial Plan: The key here is to understand that a change in career direction may have an impact of your finances. I recommend you determine up-front what could happen, good or not so good, and have a plan to deal with it.

The Review: How often should you stop along your journey? Take a look at where you are on your map: check weather patterns and road conditions. If you are new to "mapping," I suggest you do it once a week. Once you are more comfortable with the process, once a month is probably often enough. The key is to set a pattern for regularly looking at your progress.

Today's job market is changing so rapidly that the people who hope to do well are those who have an idea about where they are going and how they are going to get there. I see too many of us making career decisions without a real strategy behind them. It's a little like Ready! ... Fire! ... Aim! Occasionally you'll get lucky and hit the target. Most often you won't.

Getting the Big Picture on Your Career

Mr. Ferguson, my high school driving teacher, was insistent on one point: That every time I took the driver's seat, I "get the big picture."

"Get the big picture, Orlando," he'd say, making "L" shapes with his hands like a Hollywood director. "See the road, see the cars around you, see the sidewalk ... see the red light!"

I rarely remember Mr. Ferguson's words of wisdom when I'm driving, but they did come to mind when I was writing this article.

I thought his insight was especially useful for those people (including me) who get so wrapped up in their present job that they neglect to plan for their future career.

The point is to keep your current job -- and all the day-to-day responsibilities that go along with it -- from giving you a serious case of tunnel vision.

Map Your Career

One of my most memorable attempts to map out my career was when I was a goofy kid.

The end result was far from realistic. If all had gone as planned (it didn't), just about now I would be settling into my success as a solo recording artist.

Childhood fantasies aside, career planning is a valuable exercise. A career map allows your career to influence the jobs you take rather than vice versa.

Anyone can draw up a career map, but the most successful attempts tend to follow a period of introspection and self analysis.

You don't need a box of tissue and an analyst's couch for this, but you might want to take some career assessment tests online. Use them to find out what you're good at in addition to what you enjoy. This will keep you from slipping into childhood daydreams.

Keep Your Skills Sharpened

There are few jobs that take advantage of your complete inventory of skills and interests.

If your current job does not allow you to flex all your muscles, find another outlet.

Take a class, volunteer for an organization or start a home-based business that will capitalize on strengths that are underutilized by your current employer.

(One word of caution, check your company's employee handbook to see if there is a policy relating to "outside employment" or work you undertake outside the company.)

Network Without Borders

Build your network around what you want to do, in addition to what you do.

Some people assume they won't be welcome at an industry mixer if they don't work in that industry. I've never found that to be the case, but if you can't overcome the fear of being turned away just call beforehand.

It's important, however, that you don't choose your events willy- nilly. If you attend an event hosted by an industry that you have absolutely no interest in, you may do yourself more harm than good.

Know What's Out There

Even if you are happily employed, you owe it to yourself to know what kinds of jobs are available.

It doesn't hurt to take a cautious look. By cautious, I mean that you need to use common sense. For example, looking for a new job while on the clock at your current job can be risky.

Still if you have your own computer and network connection at home, there's no reason why you can't regularly survey available opportunities.

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