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Career Planning 101: Get Your Professional Life on the Right Track

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Often we have a plan for ourselves, but end up falling asleep at the wheel. You get comfortable, your job becomes easy, and then all of a sudden time has passed and you wonder just what exactly happened to your career.

Most of us end up in that type of rut at some point. The danger is that once you are in, it can be really hard to get out.

Here are two important things to think about next time you need to jumpstart your career planning:

1. The small picture is just as important as the big picture

For those who have very clear career paths (doctor, lawyer), the big picture has already been mapped out for you, framed, and laminated. For the rest of us, the long-term big picture is nice, but it can seem hazy, mystifying, or just incredibly out of reach. We operate on the back-of-the-napkin career map. That is ok, because spending some time thinking about the short-term can reap huge rewards. For example, when was the last time you thought about the three things that you want to do, teach, or learn over the next six months? What is exciting you or making you curious that is worth pursuing? Spend some time over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and think about things that interest you personally and professionally, and then commit to exploring a few of them.

Maybe it’s time to finally start blogging, spend some time with the social media team at your company, or maybe you want to position yourself for that great management training your firm offers to top performers. Think about it, set it out, and commit to spending some time actually doing it.

You don’t have to have big answers for your career right now, but you do want to feel like you are learning skills that will serve you in your current job, and far beyond.

2. Build your network

We often network organically, with little purpose. We meet someone at an event, run into people at happy hour, or just hang out with our co-workers or friends. That is great, but that you may or may not have the support you need as you grow in your career, which can hold you back. Adding a little planning to your networking can make a huge difference to where you end up in six months, and in five years.

Two things to think about:

  1. Who would you love to meet and have a coffee with in your life or in your fantasy world? Make a list of a few career heroes you have in mind and think about how to go after them. You can buy their book, read their blog, or attend a conference or an event. You can also simply send an email or pick up the phone and invite them out.
  2. Who haven’t you had lunch with recently? Taking one day a week or month to have lunch with someone from your existing network can be both inspirational and motivational. We tend to want to help people with whom we have connected with personally on some level. You never know who might want to make a few calls on your behalf after a great conversation over coffee. Spending time talking to someone about work outside of your company can be inspiring, exciting, problem-solving, or just a great venting session.

Not have a plan is a career planning. However, it’s unlikely to lead you anywhere. Having small plans, a few more people in your network, and a couple of things to focus on that interest you can make a huge difference to where you end up next.

You can follow Christie Mims on Twitter here.

Make sure to connect with one of our Levo Mentors and ask them your professional development questions! Have a tip you would like to add? Share with us in the comments.


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This is eerily well-timed for me. I was just thinking yesterday about sitting down and making some lists of things I wanted out of a career, because lately I've been seeing a really hazy road ahead. This is definitely going to help me jump-start the process!

Same for me! Thanks so much for this article. Definitely planning a date for myself in a coffee shop and reviewing my ideas for the future and actually writing them down.

This was such a well written, thought out article! I never thought too much about career planning and mapping it all out. The idea of sitting down and actually taking the time out to think about things I want to learn or do is so simple and easy and it makes me wonder why I haven't done it already. This is an article I'll be bookmarking to make sure I plan my career out effectively.

3 months ago I decided I wanted to move to Austin from San Francisco because, well, there was no reason to not. After two trips packed with interviews and house hunting, I've officially accepted a job offer in Austin in a dreamy creative position. Point being, I created my path and actively sought out steps to reach my goal. Tips I learned along the way? Start every new meeting, informational interview, or even email with a non-work related compliment. It brings everyone down to earth. At the end of the day, even your heroes, are human. Stay persistent. If you had a great interview and they said they'd be in contact with you, wait three days, then follow up with an email with something of value to them. Either a marketing idea you drafted up after discussing current challenges the company faces, a sample press release for an event you know if happening soon, or even a social media schedule for the month. The extra effort will make you stand out and everyone warmly receives a favor.

Perfect timing! These are great things to think about right now, as I'm in the process of interviewing. Thank you for your thoughts!

Love this idea. Similarly, I've found it useful to see it as a film/play playing out: Start with Act 3 "the happy ever after" and work it backwards. What happens to get you to Sct 3? And before that? And before that? before you know it you have a (rough) roadmap!

Meghan Maloney
Meghan Maloney

I really enjoyed reading this article, especially as a new college graduate. This was a great reminder to not only network with my peers over lunch, but to also have short-term goals in place in order to make the most of my new role post-graduation.

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