Blazing a new trail

It's all very well carving a new career niche for yourself, but what if you don't know exactly where you're heading? Fear not! Author and DeskDemon Careers Editor Sally Longson gives you some top guidance on forging your way ahead

By Sally Longson

Taking charge of your career is vital today if you want to make the most of the opportunities on offer. The days are gone when you can expect anyone else to take your career decisions for you; they are all too busy looking after theirs, your boss included. But where do you start?

Step 1: Know what you want in your career

The prospect of career planning can be very disheartening if you haven't a clue what you want to do next. Here are some ways to take a fresh look at your future career:

Enjoy it!
Enjoy the fact that we have the choice and the ability to decide what we want. Would you have wanted to stay in exactly the same job as many of our predecessors did for all their working lives?

Go some place new to do it
Thinking about your future is often best done while you're away from familiar places. Do it at home after work, and you're probably too tired to think straight or still thinking about the day. Go somewhere new to you where you can be at peace to think.

Think long term and look back
One of the meanings of the word "career" is "a path or progress through life or history", so take a long term view.

  • Consider "this is where I'd like to be in five years' time," or

  • Imagine you're writing your own epitaph. What would you particularly want to talk about, as being proudest of, and having achieved at work and in life? How can you incorporate these ideas into your working life and career?

Think short term and look forward
"I want to get into..." Perhaps you've got good idea of what your next move should be, such as:

  • developing a particular part of your current role and become the company expert in it; or

  • moving up the career ladder to work for more senior people; or

  • moving into management, looking after people, finances, IT, facilities.

Ask yourself what's important to you.
Either way, ask yourself questions about your future such as:

  • What does career progression mean to you?

  • Where do you see yourself performing at your best?

  • How important is it for you to have a sensible work-life balance?

  • What is most important to you in any boss and in any employer you work for?

  • What particular skills would you like to use, e.g. supervising, creating, presenting, recruiting, administering, finance?

  • What would your perfect day at work look like?

  • What particular qualities have you got that you want to use at work?

  • What does success mean to you in the broadest sense of the word?

  • What are you passionate about in work? What do you want to achieve?

  • Do you want to be in a support role, or a managing/supervisory one?

  • How much does your career matter to you? Are you ready to put in the effort required to get the role you want?

Some of these questions will be more important to you than others. Take note of those and look for roles which favour them. Your answers will help you to draw up a picture of your next ideal role or future career. You can then work out how to make it happen!

Step 2: Decide what to do next!

What do you need to do to make the next move happen? You've got several choices:

Firstly, you could do nothing. This is the right move if you believe that things will get better on their own, or that the right opportunity will land in your lap without any effort from you.

Secondly, you could do whatever it takes to get to where you want to be, whether it's moving to another company which can meet your career aspirations, or taking the plunge and studying full or part-time, or setting up your own business. A great way to network and show how effective you are is to get involved in voluntary organisations.

Thirdly, you could explore further career possibilities with your current employer. Be creative and be prepared to negotiate to get what you want. Energy and commitment will be key to success. You could consider:

  • Taking on new responsibilities or projects

  • Sitting on organisational committees to boost your profile and name in your own right, as opposed to being "assistant to Mrs Green"

  • Negotiating a move to another section - study your organisation to see where other career opportunities may lie

  • Delegating some of your duties to give yourself time to develop your current role.

  • Making a sideways move or even one which appears backwards but puts you in the place you want to be. There's nothing like being in the right place at the right time!

Remember that much depends on your motivation to succeed and your persistence.

"Those who fail, give up early on.
That leaves more room for those who persist
even when they don't seem to be making any headway to succeed"

Sally Longson is author of several career books, including the excellent 'Getting a top job as a PA'. In between publishing books, writing articles, and working as a career coach, Sally is also editor of DeskDemon's Careers strand.

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