Efficient Career Planning: The First Step Towards the Workplace Success!
Planning and managing a career is one of the most difficult tasks today. With so many institutes, so many options and so many opportunities, it has never been so good for the students before. But there is a catch. Lots of possibilities also bring in their share of confusion in the minds of students on the career paths to be chosen.
Planning a career can be tough in today’s ever-changing job market. It’s not just the job itself that needs to be considered, but also the salary, working hours, work environment, training and further growth opportunities as well. Moreover, there has been a distinct shift in working styles and scenarios. Earlier, people looked more for job stability and were more loyal. In fact, staying in one organisation till retirement was common. But now situation has completely changed with job hopping, pink slips, lay offs becoming ever so routine. The organisations are also looking for employees who are multi-skilled and who can work on different assignments at one time. The complexity does not stop here. The information revolution has shrunk the global world and people now work for an organisation at the other end of the world sitting at their homes, through Internet. Many organisations also prefer hiring people working on short and fixed term contracts, instead of full-time, permanent ones. Still others work on a freelance basis, meaning that they work for themselves, but take on short-term contracts for companies.
The workforce is now more skilled and qualified and there is lots of specialization. Moreover, due to the current economic recession, employers have become choosy and have a larger group of candidates to choose from. Thus, getting a job can be really tough if you can’t show that you have some qualifications or skills. This is where planning for your career early in your life makes lots of sense.
In Indian context, a large majority of students still depend on their parents to make a choice for them. Right from the time they reach tenth standard, parents start coaxing and forcing their wards to training institutes for competitive examination tuitions. And most of the times, the students themselves have no choice in this regard. No wonder, students exert themselves to excel and clear these competitive exams at any cost. Some of them even drop a year or two to get into these career paths chosen by their well meaning parents.
This is not meant to say that parents are doing something wrong or it is improper for them to exert pressure on their wards to do well. However, in search of excellence, what most parents tend to forget is that their children may actually not be interested in the career paths chosen for them. Of course, situation has improved in recent times but it has sadly moved from Medical or Engineering career to MBA career.
Now-a-days, people are hankering after a MBA degree. Of course, it is a good choice provided the person has an aptitude for it. Although many people would call this trend more of an economic or better career opportunity in terms of salary and position or growth for that matter, in reality it also means that the person was not really liking what he/she was doing earlier.
It is also a fact that most of us go through our early career phase in a dazed manner, either getting into whatever we can get our hands on to or being guided by somebody else’s goals and objectives. By the time we realize, what we like best, we are already half-way through our careers and too deeply entrenched in our lives to start afresh on what we actually want to do. Moreover, there are financial and family considerations which do not allow us to make the career switch that easily.
So, what is the solution? A good and efficient career planning right from your school days is what is needed. It is very important to know what you want in life.
To think of it, career-related decisions are one of the most important decisions of our life which can shape our future—and we leave it in the hands of destiny, parents, peers and friends.
As an educator, I have met so many students pursuing a particular degree simply because their friends joined it or their parents asked them to. No wonder, they are unable to do justice to the education—end up as mediocre students and eventually lose out in the job market also—thereby defeating the very purpose for which they joined a particular course of study.
Although career planning is not a routine or logical step by step procedure, nevertheless, there are many things which should be done to get a better handle on your career. These include, but are not limited to, gathering information about our own selves—strengths and weaknesses, about various options and career paths, estimating the universities and colleges offering those courses, and finally, choosing alternatives that they find attractive and feasible. But it has been pointed out by many experts that students are not very efficient career planners. They are very easily influenced by external factors, their friends, parents etc.
Nobody can foresee what the future holds for any of us. But still, everywhere in the world, people plan for their future. Ignorance about one’s career is not bliss, it is better to have planned and then lost rather than not knowing at all and then blaming fate for it. Although there is no sure way to make career plans work out, there are things that you can do now to shape your career possibilities.
|Goal SettingMake SMART Goals
This is the most commonly used acronym used in connection with goal setting in business environments. But the fact is that it makes sense in personal sphere as well. Let us look at them one by one.
Specific: Each and every goal you set should be specific. A general statement such as “I want to be successful” is not a goal.
Measurable: Though this comes straight from business environment, it is important for any goal to be measurable; otherwise you will not be able to identify its success or failure properly.
Achievable: Do not set a goal which is impossible to attain. You will never even try to achieve it because you know you cannot do it.
Relevant: This is important because goals which are against your core values or wishes are irrelevant. This attribute also makes sense when we talk about having smaller goals which take us to the ultimate goal.
Time-based: The goals should be time bound. You cannot set a goal and hope you will achieve it one day. There has to be a specific time period in which you must attain it otherwise it may lose its significance.
Make them prominent
Display these goals at all possible places within your home so that you can see them easily. They should serve you as constant reminders of what you are supposed to do in your life.
Last, review your goals very often. Check out the progress you are making. Set smaller sub-goals to reach your final goal. Not only these sub-goals motivate you further on achievement, they also let you monitor the progress you have made till that point.
Sometimes we seem to hit a rock barrier and it seems like we cannot go any further. In such cases, be open to modify your goals to suit the current scenario. Or it may also happen that the situation changes dramatically and the goals you set are no longer as relevant as they were then. Again, be flexible enough to revise them rather than leave them altogether. But this flexibility should not be used to cover up the deficiency or under-achievement of goals.
The First Step
The first step to decide on what career you would like to pursue is to find out about your own self. Of course, this is not easy. But it is really important to know about your likes, dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses. This is the key to career planning. Understanding what you are like, what you value, and what you want to become is the foundation for all career planning. This will enable you to match yourself with different career paths and see what may best fit your personality, interests, abilities, and goals. It is important to integrate your information regarding self and occupations.
Your values, interests and skills, when combined with certain personality traits, will enable you to be successful in certain types of vocations and careers and maybe not so successful in certain other types. Thus, it is quite useful to undergo some personality tests or self-assessment tests to fully analyze and know your own abilities and inherent talents. Of course, no such tests can guarantee 100% accuracy but some tests if done properly give a fairly good idea about your personal preferences. There are many such tests available freely on internet. You can also opt for career counsellors who are ready to admi-nister these tests for a small fee.
Some of these tests check your value system i.e. the values that you give preference to, such as security, high salary, prestige, position, flexi–timings, autonomy etc. Then there are some tests which analyze your tastes and interests. This is based on the theory that people who share similar interests will also enjoy same type of work.
The most common tests are the personality tests that look and tend to analyze the test giver’s individual traits and attitudes. A common example which is also used by some organisations to test the personality of new joinees is MBTI or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Similarly, the skills assessment test helps to figure out the various skills you have and how proficient you are in them. These results can be used to know and then plan for acquiring the skills you need for a particular career.
Another way of doing this self-analysis is through very famous management technique of SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
Generally in management jargon, this technique is used to analyze an organisation’s or product’s position vis-à-vis another organisation or product. But it can also be applied equally well on ourselves to check our own strengths and weaknesses. The opportunities are the possible areas of growth for us or the possible avenues we can explore in our career plan; threats can be visualized as competition in terms of vacancies in a college, job market etc and also related to our weak areas which can lead us towards rejection. SWOT is basically the technique used to understand the efficiency of a strategy. One of its important characteristics is that it shows our position compared to the possibility of success or defeat. In this method, we are able to identify the elements that are necessary to gain a competitive advantage. But again, it is important to remember that we should do this analysis with absolute honesty. Otherwise, if you do not identify your strengths and weaknesses properly, you will not be able to utilize them for your further growth. If you are unsure of any of these, you can always take the help of your friends and
parents. Now let us look at them in some more detail.
The strengths are the areas where you excel, they are the positive or plus points of your personality which can give the possible competitive advantage for a particular career. They could be your work experience, degrees and diplomas, soft skills such as communication, interpersonal relations etc. or a degree from reputed college or an institute. For example, someone trying to have a career in academics should have strong fundamentals as well as good communication and delivery. So, if you have good communication skills and a flair for research, you can choose it as a career avenue.
The weaknesses are the areas where you lag or are not quite adept. These could be lack of a good academic record, no previous work experience, average soft skills or lack of computer skills. The idea is to identify such areas where you are not good at and improve upon them. Of course, not all of your skills need to be at expert level, but in today’s working scenarios some things are very basic, such as basic use of computers, basic English speaking and writing skills etc. Again, you should be as impersonal and objective as you can be to acknowledge your deficiencies. Unless you are able to identify such areas of improvement you will not be able to make progress.
Similarly, opportunities are the external factors which though are not in your control, but can be used advantageously by you. These could be some new courses, new organisations coming in your chosen area of work, offering better growth possibilities. Or, may be, a sudden change in markets and way of doing things which put your particular skill sets in demand. The idea is to keep your eyes and ears open for such opportunities so as to not miss them when they arise.
And finally, threats are the opposite of opportunities—that is the external factors which are not in your control and could affect your job market adversely. These could be in form of your competitors, adverse market conditions, pull out of or closure of certain big organisations from your chosen field etc.
Thus, by doing this kind of self-analysis, you will know exactly where you stand. And then is the time to clearly establish where you want to be after five or ten years.
The Second Step
To travel, you must know your destination—otherwise you will end up losing yourself amidst the rubble. So, the next important step is to set a goal which is really important to you and not which others tell you are good for you.
A specific goal is an important way to keep you on the right path. Writing down your goals is also important. The advantage is that you are able to clearly define what you want. You will not write anything unless you are absolutely clear about it. So, it basically helps to clear those cobwebs and allow you to see exactly what is wanted. And it will help you in not getting sidetracked by other mundane issues. Writing them down forces you to crystallize your thinking and to recognize unclear and half-formed ideas. It may lead to new insights into your possibilities and may help you to see new relationships, patterns, and trends, or to identify gaps in your thinking about your career development.
The Third Step
Once you have done this, you are ready for your next move. And this is where the hard work begins. Gather all the information regarding your career choice. Find out all what you can about your career choice, from the qualifications needed, the institutes offering those courses and degrees, the placement opportunities, the career growth after five years, ten years, twenty years. Plan for the long time horizon. Also research on the organisations where you would find your job, what extra do they need besides the usual degree qualifications. This is important.
There are number of ways that can be used to gather information about different careers. You should try any one of these or a combination of these methods. These are:
Internet Research: Internet has emerged as one of the primary sources of information about career paths. There are so many job and career-related sites that give information regarding the different fields, the requirements, the vacancies, the salary structure etc.
Employment Exchanges and Offices: These offices not only register candidates seeking jobs but also provide information regarding various possible career avenues. In India, all States have opened up their own employment exchanges. These have information regarding government jobs. Rojgar Sahay Kendras give employment market information as well as vocational guidance to the jobseekers.
Friends and Acquaintances: Many a times, initial information can be gathered through informal discussions with friends and relatives in those professions. Students also discuss amongst themselves and update their knowledge regarding various options.
Job and Career Fairs: Now-a- days, many job consultants hold job fairs regularly at different places. In such fairs, people can find out about different careers by talking to those who do that type of work. Events such as career fairs give people a chance to gather information about a large number of occupations in the same place.
Summer trainings/summer jobs: During summer breaks, it is important to utilize your time pro-perly. Try doing a summer job at places where you would like to work. Even if you are not able to get a summer job in those organisations, at least working in a similar organisation in the same industry will give you a real feel of work that is done. A first hand experience can go a long way in helping you to make a decision about your long- term goals in career path.
It has been seen that most of the students only plan till admission in an institute and do not go beyond it. With the changing economic conditions, the job market has become volatile. So study the market conditions before jumping into the bandwagon. What may be hot today may not remain so by the time you finish your college degree.
Another thing to remember is to review your plans and progress periodically with another person. Make sure to periodically see where you are going, how much progress has been made, whether the steps you have taken have gotten you the information you needed or you need to do something different. This can help you cope with the changes that you undergo and the changes that take place in the labour market.
The Final Step
The next step after the research is to actually plan and undertake all these activities. There is a very useful PDCA cycle in Quality management techniques.
It basically stands for PLAN— DO—CHECK—ACT. Meaning for every initiative to be successful the plan has to be followed by doing it, checking on its progress and then acting on any problems encountered so as to bring the job back on track.
Although most of us know the importance of planning our career paths, it is also a fact that most of us do not do it. We spend our entire careers trying to earn an ever bigger salary cheques rather than working to build up our sense of satisfaction and fulfilment at work. To avoid regretting later, it is important to start your preparation early.
Analyze your self, set your goals, gather information and then actually act on your plans to fructify them. Follow your plan and help yourself to a good rewarding and enjoyable work life.