Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career changes, career transitions 15: career milestones and benchmarking, and planning longer term

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 27, 2013

This is my fifteenth posting to a series on careers, career development and career transitions, and on looking at work and the work experience from a wider perspective than that of the here and now job or job search (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 285-298 for Parts 1-14.)

I have at least touched upon a fairly wide range of issues related to careers and career planning in this series, and looking back at that note that most of what I have written so far in it has shared a common point of focus. I have been discussing careers and their development as a bigger-picture perspective of our work lives than that of the immediate here and now job or job search. But I have been writing this largely from the perspective of our immediate present situation, where ever that happens to be. My goal in this is to step back from that to strategically consider the career path as a whole. And in doing so I return to the fundamentals and to a basic question that I first posed in this series in Part 1: thinking through and planning for a career path and work life:

• Think of where you would like to be and what you would like to be doing in five years. Now what could you do today, that in however small a way might help you reach that?

There is an old adage that states that if we do not know where we are going as a destination, any path will do. If we only look at our immediate here and now, and think and plan in terms of our next moves we are caught in that “any path” predicament. We might very well take interesting and even rewarding pathways and we might end up pursuing a rewarding career path as a whole but it is unlikely that we will find and pursue our best career path where we would accomplish to our true abilities and reach the levels of fulfillment that this would enable. So this posting is about thinking through our work life and our overall career path, and in terms of goals and milestones, and benchmarks for assessing career path progress. This is about knowing where we seek to go, and thinking and planning out at least some of the steps that we would have to pass through and complete if we are go get there.

And I begin this discussion by adding in a really significant complication that most of us who pursue long-term career planning will encounter. Our long-term career goals will change, and if not always in destination, then certainly in how we consider and think of that destination.

• Ask someone early in their career what their longer term career goals are and they are likely to talk in terms of some specific position or title, or level on a table of organization.
• This may mean “be a Certified Public Accountant” or “become a Webmaster for a large corporation”, or some other functionally precise position.
• This might mean “be the Chief Information Officer” or the “Chief Financial Officer” or some other level-specifying position within a table of organization.
• This might mean “become the Chief Executive Officer for – fill in the blank”: some type of business or organization,
• Or it might mean pursuing an entrepreneurial route and founding a business, or working as a consultant as a career path or perhaps even mean becoming a successful serial entrepreneur.

These can be long-term goals, but when we think long-term in terms of specific titles and positions and reaching them, we often find that what we have in fact done is to reach a milestone and not a destination point when we do reach them. I know this from direct and personal experience; I have pursued becoming the Webmaster for a large organization as a career goal, and I have pursued becoming a Chief Information Officer and a CEO. And when I have reached them I have found myself looking at these accomplishments as reaching milestones and not destinations. That, I add is probably true for most people who set goals that are functionally constrained and I certainly expect that to be true when the goal is simply a title or a position on some table of organization. So when we reach these goals we find ourselves confronted by a simple seeming question:

• What is it that gives this career goal its meaning to us?
• Or rephrasing that, what is there about this goal, this milestone that gives it value?

And this is where we begin to really consider what it means to be our own boss and a business owner or third party contract worker or consultant. This is where we begin to really think through, how being a Webmaster or a functional area executive officer of some type would fulfill our needs while enabling us to particularly create value beyond simply meeting our own needs.

Ultimately, our true career goals are more in what those titles and positions mean and in what we can accomplish of value through them, than they are in the titles or positions themselves. If we only think in terms of titles and positions – in the mechanisms for finding and creating value and meaning, we are going to reach them with a “what’s next?” as our internal response, and if not immediately then fairly soon.

• And this is where goals, or at least our understanding of them change and evolve – as we go through the process of learning and perhaps even coming to terms with what is truly important to us, and at a deeper and more meaningful level than what is printed on our business cards.

We pick our goals, and think through the career steps and milestones we have to reach in achieving them. We may very well set timelines, with a goal of reaching this or that Point A or B within some benchmarked number of years or before we reach some specific age. And we work towards our goals and track our progress, and we adjust our path expectations as necessary. And hopefully, we keep examining our long-term goals to make sure they actually hold the meaning for us that we seek to realize.

• I want to be a startup founder and my own boss. OK, but why? What would I accomplish and be enabled to accomplish as a positive, and not just as a matter of what I would not have to do or deal with if I were to successfully transition out of working for others and under someone else’s guidance and overarching goals, processes, systems and strategies?

If your goal is to be that senior level CPA or the CEO of a company, that might in fact be the right long-term goal and career path objective for you, where you can realize your true potential and find the happiness of creating real value and both for yourself and your family, and for others. But do not just stop with a title and position, or at some functional area, and certainly where the types of jobs that that makes possible might go away as industries and businesses and marketplaces change. Begin with that and then peel back the onion layers of thinking through why and how this would give you career satisfaction. And adjust the long term goals and those milestones along the way as needed to focus in on achieving those hows and whys.

Look to your own developing experience as one source of insight for this, but remember that mentors can be invaluable in helping you find your best true career path and pursuing it. And being a mentor can be just as helpful to you as finding a mentor in someone else. I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider mentors and mentoring, and from both the mentor and mentee perspectives. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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