Planning your career is challenging because there are so many factors – some of them are professional in nature, and others are personal in nature; in fact, some counselors downplay the whole idea of career planning for this reason. In this blog, I would like to address three issues with career planning: ever-changing career responsibilities due to rapid changes in technology and demographics; need to have a holistic plan that addresses your personal life and integrity; and the hidden value in being spontaneous. I will also discuss how using a skills based approach and planning the development of a skill set mitigates the effect of some of these issues.
Some counselors argue it is too difficult to predict the demand for careers and their responsibilities too far in the future. Part of this is because how quickly technologies are being adopted. For example, in the next 3 years almost 92% of mid-sized companies plan to invest in cloud computing (according to an IBM ad in Wired issue 21.01) – a technology that was first introduced only a couple of years ago. Any careers related to hosting websites on servers will experience a very different landscape in providing their service and professionals will have to train to use the new technology. Part of the difficulty is planning for changes in demographics: our population is getting older; people are moving to cities; and areas are becoming hubs for particular services or industries. The younger generation will have to support the older generation and the older generation will have an increasing retirement age. Where you want to live and work will play a role in your career plans; perhaps you want to live where you grew up or went to college. And for many careers location is key, such as application development in Silicon Valley or financial analysis in New York. In a Harvard Business Review article “Career Plans Are Dangerous”, a team of writers summarizes what I am trying to say:
If you don’t know what the world is going to look like five years from now, there is not a lot of sense in trying to predict potential external factors planning your career based on that dubious prediction.
With a skill based approach, your career planning involves deriving a skill set – a list of skills you will need to achieve career goals. These skills can be what I call traditional or emerging soft skills, which are transferable across disciplines, technologies, and applications. So as you learn soft skills, you invest in a basic foundation that you can build upon as you respond to changes in career requirements; you are equipped to learn the intricacies of a new technology.
Much of the career planning I have been discussing does not necessarily take into account the importance of being happy outside of work, having strong family and community ties. In his article “How Will You Measure Your Life” (Harvard Business Review), Clayton M. Christensen talks about the importance of three themes in your career: having fulfilling work, maintaining a strong family, and keeping your integrity. I did not cover the latter two themes in discussing the career planning approaches, though they should have an impact in your planning. You should consider how your family will be affected by your career. If you are raising children, then you probably do not consider being an entry –level investment banker (analysts can routinely expect to work 90 – 100 hours per week or even more). For Mr. Christensen, much of his integrity is rooted in his strong religious faith, and he argues that you should not be forced to do something against your beliefs (and he uses not playing in a championship basketball game on Sunday as an example). Your principles should not be compromised in any way as you plan your career. Mr. Christensen says about principles:
It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold on to them 98% of the time.
When you make career transitions, you should consider how it will affect all aspects of your life. A skills based approach is based on your skill set, not actual occupations or careers, so you have flexibility. As you narrow down opportunities, you should “set the stage” with a potential employer by telling them your expectations and asking them about your commitment. Let them know if you cannot stay after 5pm because you need to be with your family. Learn about their culture and make sure it is synch with your principles.
Being spontaneous can make your career an adventure, and can lead to success. The best example of acting on spontaneity is an e-entrepreneur (e-entrepreneur simply refers to entrepreneurs in internet related services). To be successful, an e-entrepreneur has to accurately assess an opportunity and pounce on it; there is no time to mull over an opportunity with the pace of the internet. There can be some planning, but much of the initial momentum will be based on instinct. Most people do not plan to be e-entrepreneurs because you must have an innovative idea to become one.
A skills based approach suggests developing a skill set, so as you build your skill set, you can always reassess and change your plan mid-flight. It is meant to be flexible to respond to external factors. I thought about this whole idea of a professional website a couple of years ago. I could rely on the skills I had been developing for the past 10 years, but I had no plan going forward. Basing your career plan on the development of a skill set still leaves you the opportunity to be spontaneous.