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Whether it’s a promotion, or moving to a different workplace, or even a different field, planning your next career move will always give you butterflies in the stomach.
Mainly for two reasons; excited, yet anxious. You’re excited as you believe that will bring you that sense of fulfilment and enjoyment in life. But you’re anxious because you’re aware of how big of a risk it is for you to take, to carve a new path with no guarantee that it will work.
Thus, coming up with a well-thought action plan is important for you to advance your career. Not only it will help reduce your anxiety, you’ll also be able to leap towards the excitement that you very much long for!
Here are the four steps on how to come up with a solid action plan to guide your next career move.
Pinpoint your big ‘Why’.
Cliché, I know. But it’s cliché because it’s true.
How far we’ll follow through our plan, is largely determined on why the plan is important to us. In terms of levelling up in your career, figure our how much do your personal values and purpose align (or not) with your current role. You can do this by listing down your personal values (e.g. justice, autonomy, adventure, recognition, etc.), and rate them from 1 to 10, how they match with your job.
Take note that our underlying values usually rarely changes, but the relative prominence of these values and how we express them often evolves. For example, Rebecca Zucker shared about her co-worker who was fine with having a flexible income, until she had children. As this life event happens, she put more focus on adding financial security.
The same goes to us; we will prioritize different things at different point in life, so it’s important to weigh in this factor in constructing our action plan.
Apart from that, there is one important question in asking yourself ‘why’; do you want to achieve something, or run away from something?
It’s totally normal to want to avoid the bad external elements of a job, such as working too many hours, being underpaid, and a bad boss. But there will never be a workplace that is perfect for you. Get that fact straight first, because with unrealistic expectations, no matter where you go, you will feel like you’re never getting what you want. Because you’re focusing on escaping something instead of actually getting something.
So consider trying to solve the problem internally first, such as improving your coping skills, or talking to your boss about your work hours or compensation. Of course, there are cases where you’re driven with no other option than leaving. But always strive to resolve what’s bothering you within your role first before considering the option to leave.
Analyze yourself; your experiences, your skills, your likes, your needs, what kind of work environment works for you, how you prefer to learn in your job, etc. Write them on paper so it would be clearer for you to see your tendencies in terms of career growth.
An entrepreneurial environment may not be for folks who enjoy formal processes and structure. Working for a company recognized for its collaborative culture, may not be a good fit for you if you prefer to work independently. These are just a few examples, to emphasis on the importance of self-analysis before anything else.
Additionally, in doing so, you might find a few gaps, on where you are now versus where you want to go. So you can already plan ahead to bridge the gap, such as taking different tasks at work, or taking external courses.
I know, ‘analyze’ sounds like a big word with heavy tasks within, but you can start small. Figure out your day-to-day basis first, i.e. what would a perfect day in your job be like? Ask questions such as:
- How would you plan your days?
- What would be the course of your day?
- What would you do for a living?
- What would you be doing and where would you be doing it?
- With what types of persons would you be collaborating?
Consider the hobbies that bring you the most pleasure and the kind of employment you enjoy doing. You’ll notice trends emerge, and you’ll be able to use that information to make an action plan that meets your requirements.
Think like a detective on how to connect the dots.
Now that you have identified aspects in the workplace that is important to you, it’s easy to just open a job portal and find a vacancy that matches the aspects the most. But ‘finding a suitable job’ is more than that.
It’s not about merely ticking checkboxes & matching them. It’s about creatively figuring out how to connect the dots in the best possible way.
That’s the keyword; best. You won’t get everything that you want, make peace with the reality. Nevertheless, no one’s stopping you from crafting out the best possible action plans.
So consider yourself a detective. You want to look at your natural skills, your personality qualities, the kinds of functions that you won’t get weary of doing all day, or a group of functions that you could do all day. Then there’s a link between one’s values and the rewards one receives at work. Thus, gather the information and begin piecing together the picture that emerges from it.
For example, one creative way to do this is to not rule out lateral moves, instead of thinking only about vertical move.
Vertical moves, in which you ascend the career ladder in search of greater titles, higher status, and a higher salary, are the polar opposite of lateral moves. Because of the widespread belief that lateral moves do not assist you improve your career, they are frequently viewed unfavourably. But don’t let this blind you to the numerous advantages of lateral moves; broadening skillset and experience, understanding the big-picture of your field better, widening professional network, and being more marketable in general. Done right, you can utilize lateral moves optimally just like you would in vertical moves.
Again, if playing detective does not sound fun to you, and now you’re overwhelmed with too much thinking instead, it’d be helpful to think in terms of short-term goals. Consider where you want to be in around 3 to 5 more years, and what specific goals within each year you can fulfil to move you towards that future. Having a smaller window allows you to create specific, attainable goals that will help you move forward more efficiently.
Survey and try small things first.
After pinpointing your big ‘why’, analyzing yourself, and finally brainstorming on how to connect the dots, you’d probably have the eureka moment on what exactly you will go after. From there, it’s extremely tempting to go all in.
I beg you; please do not rush. Such big decisions cannot be taken lightly. Your excitement might just be the thing that cloud your judgement that leads you to a more disorganized rather than a purposeful career path. It never hurt to take a step back and give yourself time to be calm, before executing your action plan. In fact, it will help you to be more rational in your moves.
You can ‘window shop’ first, i.e., looking for jobs without feeling obligated to apply right away. It forces you to take a closer look at what’s out there in a pleasant way, increasing your awareness of your alternatives while also focusing in on the roles and companies that excite you. Taking a step back to become aware of what’s available allows you to make an informed decision about the next role that’s perfect for you, allowing you to be proactive, strategic, and intentional about your next career move.
Additionally, you can ask for extra tasks outside of your department while you’re still in your role. For example, if you’re in admin but you want to venture into marketing, talk to your supervisor about taking on some tasks of the marketing department.
These options are much favourable than going all-in. Only after surveying and trying small first steps, then you’ll know better if you actually want what you want. Maybe you’ll end up not liking it, so you’ll be glad that you did not dive in completely, which may be costing your current role. And if you do like it, you’ll gain valuable insights on how your desired role is actually is, which will provide you a very good head start.
So there you have it; four steps on how to come up with a solid action plan to guide your next career move.
I know it’s not easy, but careers don’t just appear out of nowhere. Even if it doesn’t appear so, the majority of successful people you’ve ever met have already planned out their future actions. What you might think as luck, is actually months and years of fruitful efforts to develop. You can’t expect that to happen; you have to plan for it.
It’s not easy, but it’s never impossible. And hopefully, those four steps will greatly alleviate your struggles.
All the best!