A successful, happy individual will tell you that the importance of planning your career path is to ensure that you will always have a roadmap to follow.
Career Management versus Career Planning
Today's organizations cannot promise their employees lifetime careers. The employer is forced to focus on the best interests of the company - which may, or may not, be the same as the best interests of each employee.
Your employer can help you manage your career and grow professionally by providing training, job progression and increasing responsibility. However, it is up to you to actually plan your career by deciding on your goals and the intermediate steps and jobs that you want to take to achieve your dreams. You are the only person that can truly understand the importance of planning your career path.
Importance of Planning Your Career Path
Having a career path is like having a professional insurance policy. With a career path you will probably:
- Have a broader skill base: You will have identified and learned the skills necessary to make you more attractive to a wider range of employers.
- Make logical job transitions: You will know what skills and responsibilities to look for in the next job.
- Have increasing responsibility: You will have identified and gained the skills and training you need to take on more responsibility.
- Have a broader prospective: You will be able to understand where a specific job or responsibility fits into your overall career path plans.
- Make decisions easier: You can look at a situation within a larger context and better evaluate your options.
- Earn more: You are less likely to be underpaid since your career research will tell you what you should be earning.
- Be more satisfied: You will be moving in a career direction that is designed to meet your lifestyle, interest and financial goals.
Career Planning Stages
Your career path needs to reflect your goals and needs. As your life unfolds, you will probably find that you need to rethink your career path and make whatever changes are necessary:
- Ages 16 to 21: During this time, your career choices are usually very influenced by your parents, teachers or close friends. You may decide on a career that does not require a degree. If you seek higher education, your choices of interest areas at technical schools and colleges are also influenced by the same group of people. You usually have minimal contact with people who can give you input on the full array of career opportunities available.
- Ages 22 to 34: These are the beginning years in the career that you chose in your late teens or while you were in technical school or college. You start to get exposed to the challenges, skills and realities of the career. This is also the point that your life may intersect with a person who will become your life partner. His or her opinion of your chosen career path may come into play. If you are a woman, you may make the choice to become a stay at home mom and continue some aspect of your career from home. All of this input may be the catalyst for you to reinforce, or rethink, your chosen career path.
- Ages 35 to 50: These are the growing and prime earning years of your career. The decisions you made in earlier years, combined with the job experience and opportunities presented to you, will shape your career path. This is the point in your career when it is critical for you to make careful choices to move your career in the right direction. This is the time to make a mid-course correction if you are unhappy with your career progress or the environment of the career that you have chosen.
- Ages 51 to 65: During this time, many find the need for additional career planning to accommodate a job layoff or plans for an early retirement. The need for job flexibility or spending more time on interests often results in a career path change involving entrepreneurial or more flexible working arrangements.
- Beyond 65: This is when you decide what role you want your career to have in your lifestyle. You may decide to slow down the hours spent on your career and instead spend more time in another direction or in total retirement.
Tips on Effective Career Planning
- Build and nourish a network: Build a network of people who are employers or employees in your chosen career path. Stay in touch with them, providing and soliciting information. A network is often the best place to hear about new job or training opportunities.
- Stay informed: Know what's going on in your career. Talk to customers and suppliers. Read magazines and online articles. What are the newest skills? Who are the major competitors? What are employers looking for? What are the pay and benefits being offered? Being informed is the best way to know if your skills are up-to-date and that you are in the right job.
- Change your situation: Learn a skill if you need to grow. Change jobs if your current job is no longer fully meeting your needs. Move on to new experiences and challenges.