3 Types of Career Plans to Try

I do a lot of career planning with my clients, and these are the top 3 options that I return to over and over again. I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each, and how to put each one into practice.

Traditional Career Plan

Traditional career planning is where you map out your vertical progression up a career ladder. This is a linear, logical upwards progression within your current job family. You should try this plan if you ❤️ your current line of work and want to progress.

You start by looking up the next level up (or next grade)’s position description. List the minimum and desired qualifications, and cross off any that you already meet. The most common requirement that people do not meet is number of years of experience. If it says a minimum of 3 years of experience, and you don’t have 3 years full-time experience, then time on the job is all that can get you past that hurdle. Note that while a graduate degree does count towards experience, most of my clients overestimate its value. A Master’s degree may take you 2 years to complete as a full-time student, but it counts as only 1 year of full-time experience.

Any remaining knowledge, skills, and abilities on your list? Those are what you need to seek out and acquire before you can realistically compete for that next level of position. Remember that you have options. You may have professional development support at work or even tuition covered for a degree or certificate, but if not, there’s asking for greater responsibilities at work, joining and contributing to a professional association, volunteering, and self-study, all of which are largely free.

A Backwards Design Career Plan

If you know where you want to end up, but aren’t sure how to get there, a backwards design career plan might work best for you. This allows you to map out a path from here to there, when you have a clear end goal in mind. This is especially helpful if your end goal is in a different type of work or job family or isn’t a vertical move.

You start with writing down what you do now, and then the job that you want. Look up the position description for what it is that you want to do. Let’s say, for instance, that you want to be a textbook author. You would need: deep expertise in your disciplinary area, a proven writing habit and portfolio, a record of publications, and a knowledge of the textbook industry. Working backwards from there, how do you get there? Maybe you need to start publishing at least one article per month. Or taking online courses and reading trade blogs in publishing. And doing informational interviews with those who work in publishing to learn more about…what you need to learn.

This type of career plan works best for those who have a clear end goal in mind, and allows you to plan your professional development strategically. However, it requires more patience; it takes a lot of time and effort because you have to convince others of your ability to do a different kind of work.

A Flexible Career Plan

Finally, I’ll go over the basics of a Flexible Career Plan. This is a purposefully high-level and iterative career plan that is designed to allow you to keep your options open. This is best for those who have multiple career interests, or who need to remain open to possibilities because they are geographically bound, for instance, or for whom upward mobility in their current job family is impossible, and will need to consider other lines of work.

For this, you identify what you ❤️ about your current work. Is it the outreach & promotion you do? Are you passionate about public health and that’s what you want to focus on? There could be any number of things – the subject matter, the writing and editing, the location, etc. From that list, you brainstorm other lines of work that touch upon those interests and skills. Let’s say you work in project coordination for a public health department. What you love about your work is promoting good health, staying abreast of public health best practices, and communications – sharing that enthusiasm with others. Maybe you want to look into communications, marketing, and event planning jobs in other health-related departments and organizations (nursing, nutrition, the county or state health department, the hospital, etc.)

From there, you build a job search query focused on finding jobs in those areas, and begin to build a job “bank” of job descriptions. Comb through them – what looks interesting? Reach out and do informational interviews with those who work in those areas. Based on what you learn, adjust your job search query, and then start applying! It will take awhile to land a job in a different line of work, so there’s no point in delaying your applying.

Let me know of other career plans that work for you on Twitter.

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