Developing Your Career Strategy

A few years ago my boss messaged me and said in our next touch point I want to spend the bulk of the time discussing your development plan. If you’ve been with me for any amount of time you can imagine my excitement. Talking about development, mine or anyone else’s for that matter, is my favorite. Taking a full hour to devote to the topic, sign me up! (Here is where I qualify it to say that a few years ago I was excited about it but not prepared in the least bit.) So, I marched my excited self to her office and waited for her to tell me what I should develop into and how, give me the career progression road map please and thank you (and here is where I simultaneously shake my head and do a bit of a facepalm). When we started to get into the topic, she asked the most obvious question there is, what do you want to do…. crickets. I think I responded with some sort of I don’t really know what’s out there type of thing, still expecting her to hand over that road map any minute. She tried to pull somethings out of me and suggested Human Resources which sounded ridiculous to me at the time. Then she said something that sounded even more crazy. She told me to figure out what I wanted to do and come next time with my plan on how to get there. She wanted my plan?

As it turns out, you are in charge of your own career progression and development planning. This might sound a little obvious to some, but I was truly surprised by it that first time I realized that. Up until then someone had always been telling me what the next right step was and where I should end up. While I don’t believe in shoulding on people it never occurred to me to question where I wanted to be or how I could get there. It was a shock to realize that my career didn’t have to be a ladder climb. Once I put it together and realized I needed to be in the driver seat of my career I was a little scared but mostly stoked. I got to decide the strategy of my career. I got to say where I wanted to be and then set up my own mile markers on how to get there. The strategy was entirely up to me, and the players could be added or deleted as needed. The game itself could be altered as needed even, to some extent at least, and I was all about it.

This is where I got really excited…

Do you get jazzed about strategy? Could that possibly the nerdiest sentence ever written? Maybe but, do you? I totally do. I love it in most contexts but now, I particularly love it in my career and how that intertwines with my life. I see ideas in a whole web of what else they could benefit and be a detriment to. What do I want my career to look like down the road? What do I want to be working on and who do I want to be working with? Am I knocking out solo projects? Am I pitching ideas and implementing through others? Am I leading newbys and seeing the lightbulbs come on in their eyes every time a new assignment makes complete sense? How do I make this plan a reality and what do I need to have done along the way to be content when I get to the destination? These sorts of questions energize me and make me want to play out every option to find what feels best and then implement the plan like my life depended on it. That might not be everyone though. (I’m guessing I’m in a bit of the minority actually) So if you just raised an eyebrow at my initial question and then made crazy eyes as I got further into the description, don’t worry this next part really is for you.

You don’t have to take your career strategy to the outer limits like I do. You can just look at it one or two steps at a time and that is totally ok if that is the right way for you. Sometimes just knowing where you want to be in 2-3 years, or maybe just next year is exactly what you need. Whatever version speaks to you, mapping your career as a whole or mapping out the next 6 months. the following points are the highlights you want to walk away with.

You’ll want to take some notes for this next part.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Honestly ask yourself, what do you want out of your job/career? Be as specific as possible here. Thinking, I just want to be happy, is not how we’re going to start if we’re going to get anywhere. You might want to, solve problems that save companies money, work directly with the customer, be part of the decision-making group, etc. It could also be things that further impact your life as a whole. This could include working a specific number of hours per week, making x salary or wage, having a specific title or status. The important thing is that you come up with the list that you want.

Next determine where are you now and what kind of gap do you have? Consider your current state on all of the areas you came up with for where you want to be. Maybe on some you’re already at a 9-10 and on others you’re way off base. Understanding it is the first step in making progress in it so own that. If you want to solve big company problems and you’re currently processing and not encouraged to think outside the box, you need to know that before you can do anything about it. If you want to step into management but have never formally led people, you have to be able to recognize it. A word of caution though, don’t let the recognition of a gap in your current skills deter you from running toward your goal.

The final step then is, how can you fill that gap in a meaningful way? Notice I didn’t say as fast as possible, make a solid decision here and accept that it might take time. Notice I didn’t say anything specific about training, or networking, or projects. You’re filling the gap, and that is wholistic, it won’t be accomplished with any one of those things, you’ll need them all. I would highly recommend that you come up with some ideas, but this is the perfect step to bring that manager or mentor in at. Allowing someone who is either in or has perspective to a role you want, or is just outside of the situation, can really open you to new ideas and creative ways to fill each gap and build on the skills you already have.

Having even a couple bullet points in each category can go far in determining what development you need on your own or answering the questions I got years ago. Building it out, big or small, will get you to the point that you’re ready to consider that next step in your career. If you’re looking for a way to walk yourself through preparing for the next step, get prepared by working through my free guide on Taking the Next Step that will help you align the skills you have now with where you want to go. Get the message from your boss to talk development and walk in with this much homework done, and you’re bound to impress and get yourself that much closer to where you want to be.

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