Map out your career path

By Donna McIntyre

Every strategic move you make should be taking you in the general direction of your occupational goal

Successful career direction needs a degree of planning - it won't happen by chance. Photo / Thinkstock
Successful career direction needs a degree of planning - it won't happen by chance. Photo / Thinkstock

Chris Johnson, author of Taking Charge, likens career planning to driving. "If you have a view when you leave Auckland, am I going to Wellington or am I going north, you have a broad direction and can figure out where you are going to stop on the way. It's a bit like that with your career. What can I do in the next 12 months that is going to move me in that direction?

"It's the broad concept. This is what I try to get across in my book, of taking charge and thinking through what am I going to try to achieve in the next year or two.

"My belief is that most people like some degree of structure or clarity around what they are going to do.

"Start with the end in mind. I have a quote that you are likely to spend more time thinking about your next car or which apartment to rent than on your career. It isn't an indication of level; it doesn't get any better as people get more senior.

Johnson, who, as partner at Kerridge leadership consultancy and adjunct professor in management at Auckland University, has spent almost three decades helping individuals plan their careers, says his principle is better to give it some thought rather than to let it default.

• Pick the job and the boss wisely. "You spend a long time at work so do something you enjoy. Pick your boss wisely. Some people are great at providing opportunities for others, or supporting them. I don't mean spending lots of money on them, I'm talking about showing an interest. The person who has the biggest impact on you in any career is certainly your immediate manager/supervisor.

• Give it a go. "Loads of academic research says structure this, do that. But also true is give things a go. You are looking to add experience to your CV."

• Put yourself in the way of opportunity. "Stick your hand up, volunteer for something ... the school committee, sports club; volunteer to go overseas if it's at work. Do something that takes you beyond the normal job. You have to go out and look for it. It's not going to come to you."

• Be honest with yourself, in capability, with other people. "Don't fool yourself you're going to be the world's best sales person or the managing director of SkyCity. Be realistic. There is a huge amount written about errors in CVs and social media and LinkedIn where people exaggerate about what they have done and it only comes round to bite you in the proverbial if you get found out."

• What did you learn in the past year? "What have you added to the CV? You might have been really busy or you might have been bored; but what have you added?"

Why don't more people plan their careers? "People say they can't even plan what they do at the weekend," Johnson says. "There is that kind of thought, let's just wait and see what happens, that is a little bit cultural, some countries are a little like that. If you go to bits of northern Europe and bits of Asia, you will talk to people who are doing this qualification and it is going to get them into this route. Some people choose very structured careers ... doctors, teachers, accountants. But the vast majority don't give careers the same amount of importance as the other things in their life. They see it as how many dollars is it going to earn, is it going to pay the rent, can I buy a new car, can I go on vacation?

"What do you like doing, what are you adding to your experiences, and what does that look like a year from now? And how does that help you do something else in the future?"

He says the fundamental proposition is about employability rather than employment. "The challenge is building capability to improve employability ... to keep up to date and learn things and be valuable so I can move between roles.

"That stays with me as an individual; I am not dependent on my employer for indefinite employment. Even when I started work in the 80s, you would have stayed in a company as long as you wanted. That has changed. And the other thing that has changed is mobility.

"There is lots of research about how many jobs people will have in their working career and it's in the order of a dozen. Job promiscuity is probably a good thing these days."

People sometimes get hung up with loyalty. "There is a balance. If you have done three years in a company, you have been there a reasonable amount of time. It depends on your age and your stage. A chief exec might stick around for five or seven years, a graduate might do two years and move."

And he says networking is the most important route to the job market. "People underestimate it. I am talking about a systematic way of keeping in touch with people. Who do you speak to on a regular basis, who do you know from college, university, past bosses? It is hard when you are in the very early stages of being a student or the first job, but once you have a job it is relatively easy.

The big trick is always remember you are a giver, not a taker from a network. That is always going to get you a positive result."

He says students and clients are always contacting him, saying, "'Chris, I didn't believe any of that when you talked to me but I have done what you said'." They have had job offers or have started businesses.

"I see these kinds of discussions as a bit of a catalyst, prompting people to get into action. When they start to do that, they look at things differently."

Taking Charge, $25, published by Kerridge & Partners.


The Herald has eight copies of Taking Charge to give away. To win one, send an email with Taking Charge in the subject line to careers@nzherald.co.nz. Remember to include your name and mailing address.

- NZ Herald

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