It’s Time to Trash the Long-term Career Plan

Trash the Long-term Career Plan

In a world filled with constant chatter about the speed of change, the ongoing disruption of industries, and the need to be nimble: does building a traditional career plan still make sense?

Said another way: Should we always know the perfect answer to the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question?

Alec Ross recently published his new book, Industries of the Future, where he advises parents and young people on entire industries and job titles that don’t even exist yet. The premise is simple:

How can we make long-term career plans when our dream career may disappear in the next decade? How do we find our way… when it seems we’re too often lost?

There are, however, basic steps you can take to ensure your career is headed in the right direction – even if you, like the rest of us, are unable predict the future. Here’s how:

Know Thyself

First, make sure you really understand who you really are:

  • What skills have you mastered so far?
  • Which skills will you develop over the short-term?
  • What are your personality strengths and weaknesses?
  • What difference will you make, and to whom?
  • To the point it doesn’t feel like work when you do it, what interests you most?
  • What are you really, really good at? And who will pay you to do that?

This is where having a mentor, an in-tune colleague or past manager who knows you well can really help. Ask them these questions about you – and be ready to actively listen to the answers.

If you need even more help, Richard N. Bolles’ gives extensive advice on how to find fulfilling work in his classic book, What Color is Your Parachute? So does Carol Christen in What Color is Your Parachute? for Teens.

Planning for and Embracing Change

Change happens. And that has never been more true than today. In fact, 12 of the top 20 career fields for 2016 weren’t even heard of in 2006.

The best plan? Embrace change – and incorporate it into your evolving career strategy.

Of course, that requires a flexible mindset. It means you might be constantly revisiting your goals and objectives. Your professional development will require continuous nurturing. And you must be willing to stay up-to-date on new technologies your career field requires.

Build and Maintain a Strong Network

The last decade has taught many of us an important lesson: we can remain prepared by deliberately building a strong personal network – and keeping that network strong, healthy and evolving.

In A World Gone Social, my co-author and I talk about “OPEN,” an acronym for “Ordinary Person | Extraordinary Network.” Simply put, OPEN means that any one of us – through social media, collaboration, conferences, meet-ups and random acts of leadership – can surround ourselves with genius. In an OPEN circle of like-minded professionals, we no longer have to be the expert of every niche and nuance… we simply have to know the experts.

And by staying in close contact with those experts, and by building mutually-beneficial relationships, you’ll find it much easier to remain aware of changing trends in the marketplace; almost nothing will take you by total surprise.

Create a Realistic but Challenging Timeframe

A goal without milestones to measure progress and a timeframe for achieving the overall objective isn’t really a goal at all – it is an idea; maybe even wishful thinking.

Short-term, where do you want your career to head… and how much time you will you need to get there? What can you do within your current situation (a job or internship; perhaps your education) that will help you reach an important milestone? What does success for this stage of your career look like? Once again, ask yourself the hard questions… and the answers will become increasingly clear.

Prepare for the Tsunami of Change Coming at You

Despite all your hard work so far, change is coming. You can stand on the beach with your camera and be a witness (and eventually overtaken)… or you can head for high ground and get a much better view of everything happening around you.

Coach yourself to handle the strange and unexpected. Anticipate the wave being bigger than you might have predicted; a layoff, promotion or unexpected job opportunity perhaps. Maybe an opportunity to freelance or a short-term contract will come your way. Or maybe you’ll decide you want to go it alone – and launch your own start-up.

What is your plan for facing these challenges? How will you ensure you don’t react emotionally? How will your support team – those within your carefully crafted OPEN circles– help you assess what is best for your career plan now? Finally, how will you learn from your experiences so far… so you can start building the next nimble version of your career plan?

You can prepare for the unexpected. In fact, in the Social Age, you must.

Embrace change. Stay nimble. Prepare a path with the best information you have available to you now. And invite people along for the right; those who may feel just as lost as you once did.

Who knows? You just may find yourself looking back at your colleagues and saying, “I know the way… follow me.”


Mark Babbitt AuthorAbout the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Harvard Business Review, Inc., Huffington Post, Bloomberg News and Switch and Shift. 

AWorldGoneSocial 3D ThumbnailMark’s book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM), with Ted Coine is now available.

Questions? Contact Mark on Twitter.



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