Planning Your Career Path
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Most members of the young, job-seeking set do not aspire
to job titles containing the words "assistant," "junior,"
"associate," or "aide." However, few people - if any - immediately
exchange their college graduation gowns for a seat at the
head of the boardroom table, a window office, and the accompanying
Instead, most recent graduates - especially those entering
hierarchical fields such as investment banking or corporate
law - will have to climb, crawl, clamor, and claw their
way to leadership positions. For those with lofty ambitions,
the challenge lies in plotting a viable pathway to the summit
and then setting realistic short-term and long-term goals.
After you have clearly identified your long-term career
goal, the next step is to study how the people currently
in that position got there. Of course, many paths lead to
the same position, and your personal and professional circumstances
will ultimately push you to carve out a unique route to
success. However, cultivating a sense for how others have
accomplished what you aim to do will help you focus and
For example, if you want to be a CEO in the large-scale
telecom industry, figure out the names of the executives
at Verizon, MCI, AT&T, and Sprint who currently have the
kinds of jobs you want. Conduct informational interviews
and read biographies, newspaper articles, and magazine profiles
about those individuals, paying close attention to how they
arrived at their current posts.
- How did they gain entry into the
industry? What were their first jobs in the field?
- What was the timeframe of their
advancement through the ranks?
- Did they get MBAs or another advanced
- What skills did they pick up through
either school or work on their way up?
- Do they attribute their success to
mentorship programs, networking, or something else?
- What patterns and similarities do
you notice in all the backgrounds of the executives?
After you have gained a sense for how
people generally arrive in the boardroom, start translating
that information into goals you have for yourself. Break
your prospective career path down into a series or stack
of building blocks, and think about what short-term goals
you associate with each block. Dissecting the process of
career ascension will force you to create smaller, less
overwhelming goals, while keeping your vision in mind.
This way, you will always be able to measure your progress.
As you define your building blocks, you may want to ask
- Where do I want to be in three years?
In six years? In ten years?
- What skills will I eventually need
to gain? How can I gain those skills? Through an advanced
degree? Through a specific job I'll have in the future?
- What experiences do I want to have
on my way up?
Phyllis R. Stein, a Boston-area career
coach, says that many of her clients find it helpful to
keep journals as they figure out and achieve their short-term
and long-term goals. A journal also provides a constant
forum and record for revising goals, creating lists of objectives,
and reasoning through surprise dilemmas or boons. Stein
warns that while a larger vision and small goals are vital,
it is important that you never feel confined by your pre-made
aspirations. Your goals, your time frame, and your path
to success might change. You might run into unexpected fortune
or unforeseen roadblocks. You should never feel like you're
in a box, inextricably tied to the goals you created 10
years ago. The process of progress is a fluid one, a duality
of ambition and flexibility.
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