Expert advice: how to plan your career

Every now and then, it is a good idea to take a moment to ask yourself what a good job is to you.

By Career Counsellor Morten Esmann

Do you enjoy your work? Then now is the time to think about how to move forward. Because when you are on top, you have the time to make the right choices. It's good to test your market value from time to time as you cannot plan your career to the letter. The course of your professional life is to some degree shaped by timing and coincidences.

A good way to do this is to take a moment every two years to consider your situation and look at your possibilities, so you're able to seize opportunities when they arise.

Caught in the hamster wheel

When you do that analysis, you need to find out what you're good at and what gives you energy work-wise, because those are the pointers that lead you to the good job.

It may be a good idea to make two lists of your tasks: those you are good at — and those you are less good at. Then think about whether the tasks on the two lists motivate you.

It's old-fashioned to say that what you're good at is the only direction you can go. Being typecast by both yourself and your manager can also feel like being in a hamster wheel, because you end up completing the same tasks again and again.

Next, you can sort your tasks into four categories: there are those you can't figure out or bother to solve. There are tasks you are good at, but which are boring. Then there are tasks that you are both good at and find exciting. And last but not least, there are tasks that you are currently struggling with, but that are challenging and exciting.

The list helps you identify what a good job looks like from your point of view. And then you can act on it. You can either use your performance review to get there in your current workplace — or start looking for the workplace and job that matches your aspirations.

Alice in Wonderland and the bridge in Honduras

When Alice in Wonderland asks the Chesire cat which way she should go, the answer is that it depends on where she wants to go.

"It doesn't matter to Alice, as long as she gets somewhere. You get somewhere in your career too, even if you don't consciously work on your career. Only, it will be others who will make the important decisions on your behalf."

Morten Esmann,
Career Advisor, IDA

In Honduras, there is a solidly constructed bridge that lives up to all the rules of engineering. However, during the El Nino storm, the river below the bridge moved - and now the bridge crosses a dried-out river bed. Just like the bridge, you stand a risk of no longer fulfilling your purpose if the river beneath you shifts.

You may also feel that you have your solid foundations in your competences, but you may therefore risk that your competences are not the solid foundations of tomorrow. Then you can try to move the bridge - or to move to another company where you can do your current tasks - or develop your skills for the new reality.

Move up, on, or to safety

Even if you're happy in your job, it's good to think about what the job will look like in two years' time. Many people think that a classic career is about moving up, getting more responsibility and maybe getting a management position. But it doesn't have to be that way.

You can also move horizontally and get ahead by getting professional challenges and exciting tasks. Others plan careers to get out and gain more autonomy and independence, while still others think about getting job security. Security from redundancy rounds or security in a permanent job rather than more unstable forms of employment.

Career in balance

Finally, there are those who want to develop their careers to find a balance between work, family and leisure.

It's a huge challenge that the stage in life where many people think about a career for the first time is also where they start a family and buy a house in the suburbs. Where young parents want to stay at home with their children, but also know that it is bad for their careers.

Many people experience pressure from all kinds of sources: themselves, employers, colleagues, partners, children, day-care centres and friends.

Here, you may need to find a job that can be combined with everything else you want in life. For others, balance is about the meaning and value of the job — choosing a job not because of what they are trained to do or what it pays, but because they can be proud of their workplace.

Four steps to develop your career

  1. List of tasks
    Make a list of the tasks you do and have done in your current job. Look at the list and divide it into two: The tasks you would like to have more of and the tasks you would prefer to spend less time on. The first part will typically be dominated by the tasks you are good at and that give you energy. These are the tasks that drive you and are likely to be the ones that take you further in your career.

  2. Expand the list with new competences
    Then expand the list with tasks you don't have much experience with, but which are high on your list of things you'd like to try. These are typically tasks that will give you new skills.

  3. Define a strategy
    Now you've drawn a picture of what your next job might look like. You now need to set out a strategy for how you will create the change you want: What types of positions are right for you? What concrete steps do you need to take to get more tasks that develop and energise you? How can you reduce the number of uninspiring routine tasks? Do you need to change jobs or can you get on where you are? Who can help you achieve your goals?

  4. Make a specific action plan
    Finally, make a specific action plan where you write down what you will do tomorrow, next month and next year. Make the plan detailed. It can easily be the small steps that make the biggest difference.

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