Jack Ma, the founder and Chairman of Alibaba Group, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the world, is known to frequently share with the youth, especially, simple but effective career and life guidance tips. A few years back Mr. Ma appeared on a TV show in South Korea speaking to a young audience of students and professionals. He summarized his views about how one should think about planning a successful life and a career within that. Mr. Ma said, that one should focus on being a good student before 20 years of age, follow a good boss rather than a big company before 30 years of age, between 30 and 40 years old, one should think about either working for oneself or someone else, from 40 to 50 years of age, one should do things that he or she is good at and with focus, between 50 to 60 years old one should work for young people by investing in them and relying upon them, and finally after 60 years of age one should try to rest and relax.
I would classify Mr. Ma’s advice under classic wisdom. It is simple, effective and purposeful with respect to each stage of life. You may also find other successful people providing simple and powerful advice like find the one thing that lies at the intersection of interests, abilities and options and that is what you should pursue as a career. However, despite wisdom and sound advice being an accessible commodity in today’s age of hyper information, I still find that a disproportionately large number of students, especially those looking to graduate within three to six months’ time, have virtually no clue in terms of their career plans or likely journey ahead. The typical student observations related to career planning reveal a reality disconnect ranging from expected starting salary range to day-to-day workforce challenges and career progression both in terms of responsibility and related compensation.
During some of our workshop sessions, we come across a wide range of attendee profiles. In a recent workshop a 22-year old student finishing his Bachelor of Business Administration was in the same team as a 45-year old professional from the public sector. Upon soliciting a response to a basic “where do you see yourself 5 years from now” question, the response from both attendees was “hopefully have a job!” Nothing more, nothing less.
Yes, in some cases ground realities are such that just having a job at times is a big achievement in the larger scheme of things. But this level of psychological, emotional and fiscal insecurity can be mitigated, at least partially, through dedicated career planning. If done right, career planning generates both confidence and clarity of purpose, which is of tremendous value as these combined may help elevate one from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary. So what is career planning and how does one go about incorporating it in our lives and very importantly, how are personal and professional expectations set once a career is planned?
At Vector Partners, among other tools, we conduct a Six-Step exercise during our workshops to develop a basic career plan. Here are the steps:
Step #1 – Self Assessment
Before thinking about a career, think about who you are as a person, your likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and personal interests
Then list three “must-haves” your job should provide for you other than money – is there a certain cause that is near to your heart and mind, any limitations on work hours if you have family commitments, a particular culture or work environment?
Step #2 – Skills Assessment
List down your qualifications, highest education received, any certifications, awards, publications, etc.
Write out in detail your perceived areas of skills strength and weakness and is there a type of skill or subject matter you learn relatively quickly? For example, some people switch off talking about numbers and some absolutely relish the chance to dissect situations quantitatively.
What is your biggest accomplishment to-date and how did you make it happen?
Objectively, identify your three main skill gaps and the steps needed to fill them.
Step #3 – Zone In
After the first two steps involving self and skills assessment bring your focus to the industry and roles within them.
Our suggestion would be to take your time and talk to current and retired practitioners in various industries to help short-list from your macro focus.
Pick your three main industries or sectors of interest, for example, you may I say that I see myself working in the healthcare industry but not as a doctor but as an administrator in a hospital, government agency or private clinic.
Identify key skills required at entry and advanced level within your industry of interest.
Examine where you are and where you need to be in terms of skills and qualifications for stepping into the industry.
Step #4 – Put Up Deadlines
Once you have a sense for who you are, what you have in terms of skills and what you would like to pursue as a career, the next major step is disciplining yourself.
Give yourself deadlines to complete a course or acquire a skill to add to your arsenal, so-to-speak.
Deadlines should ideally be in weeks and months and not years because most people, in our experience tend to frequently diverge from the “long term.”
Step #5 – Develop Your Network
Probably one of the most important aspects of career planning is to make a concerted effort towards building a supportive network.
Attend any and all relevant seminars, social events, workshops, etc.
Seek a mentor – easier said than done, but a person on a mission at any level tends to attract genuine advisors and mentors along the way.
Step #6 – Evaluate & Adjust
Every three months take time to take stock of your career roadmap. Are you on track or slacking off? Progress always fuels motivation so try to be at least directionally correct even though you may not be satisfied with your speed.
Did you encounter new information or interests that may drive or distract you to wards other possibilities? Don’t switch to something else shiny and attractive right away. Stick to your plan but if you find even after six to twelve months, you are struggling with your career choice, take a step back and reassess everything. Multi-passionate individuals often run into this challenge not because they don’t like what they are doing but because they enjoy multiple interests with relatively similar intensity. We offer coaching for these super-charged individuals.
While we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it and that is both the maximum we can do and minimum we should do to live more fulfilling and rewarding lives. Perhaps Seneca, the famous Roman philosopher said it best “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Then let’s give ourselves the best possible shot at luck!