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Building a Career Plan for Success Today and Tomorrow

By DeVry University

July 30, 2020
10 min read

Many of us have heard about and know what it means to climb the career ladder, but have you ever heard about taking a side approach in your career planning? Should you take a lateral move to gain the skills you need to move along in your plan for success? Hear from Dave Barnett, Vice President of Human Resources and University Relations, on five steps to developing your career plan, including writing your career story both past and future.

Video Transcription

Hello and thank you for joining today's workshop on building a career plan. My name is Dave Barnett, and I lead Human Resources and University Relations for DeVry University. And this workshop is based on my own personal learnings of how I've navigated my own career and how I've helped others to do the same in theirs.

What is Career Planning?

As we start our conversation, let's start with an initial talk about what career planning is. Career planning is the act of being deliberate and planful about your ultimate career success. It's about helping you to navigate a journey of career fulfillment by being planful and working to incrementally move yourself closer to your long-term career goals. When we think about career fulfillment and career satisfaction, it's important that we align our work with our passions, our motives, and our values so that we can (1) be more fulfilled in all that we're doing but, (2) thrive and add greater value, thus creating greater success because we're aligned to those things that are most important to us.

So that's the act of career planning. And ultimately what I've said is this is a journey. It's not a destination. It isn't a static document or a plan that you'll have in place and follow perfectly, but it's instead managing a journey and correcting along the way to get you to a place that ultimately, you'd like to go and then perhaps even reaching further.

The Career Climbing Wall vs. The Career Ladder

And as we talk about a career journey, one thing has emerged very clearly in the past several years. And that's that career journeys are more like a climbing wall and less like a ladder. If you think about a climbing wall, no one takes a straight path upward. And, in fact, the wall's designed to make somebody move to the left, move to the right, go up, go down, go back, ultimately to get to the top of the wall. And that's a critical piece of what we believe at DeVry University is key to building your career, is that you must be able to take a latticed approach or to move sideways so you can ultimately go upward.

Perhaps you take a step backwards so that you can go upward. But traditional career ladders, traditional mobility where we start in a job that has a progression forward and another progression forward and so on in a straight career ladder are oftentimes not the case anymore. And so as we think about our career journey, we have to ask ourselves, "What additional experience, what additional skills do I need to round myself out? And can I get that in an advancing way, or should I instead consider a lateral move to be able to enable me to get where I'd ultimately like to go?"

So, first and foremost, I invite everyone to think about career progression and career planning from a latticed or a climbing wall type perspective. And as we do that, I think there's really five steps that I found to be critical in going through the process of career planning. I'll talk about those five steps with you now in depth as we step through the rest of this workshop.

5 Steps to Unleashing Career Potential (3:08)

1. Document Your Career Journey Line

I like to think of your career progression, your career plan, as a story. And when I interview folks for jobs, whether it be high-level roles that we're bringing into our organization or entry-level positions, what I like to ask out of the gate is, I ask folks to tell me their story. And what I'm looking for is their ability to tell me a cohesive and thought out story of how they've moved through their career. I'm not looking for the resume to show clear progression time after time, and we've talked about that. "I have to show increasing responsibility." That's great. But instead what I'm looking for is a resume and an initial take during the interview of somebody who can tell me their story and that I can say, "This makes sense. They've been purposeful and deliberate in the changes they've made."

So step one for you as you begin to be planful about your career is document your career journey line to date – from where you started work, where you started education, where you developed your roots of who you want to be professionally to today. What's happened along that journey, and how can that sound like a compelling story? What purposeful and intentional changes and moves have you made along that line? So, step one is to begin the process of up until today, what has your journey looked like? That enables us to then start to look forward. But, first and foremost, build your journey line up to present.

2. Conduct a Reverse Career Interview

Step number two, and this is something different, but conduct a reverse career interview. What in the world is a reverse career interview? Let me share a story with you. I went through a career transition several years ago and had a great friend, colleague, and coach reach out to me to help me with that transition. And he said, "Dave, I'd like to sit down with you and have a talk." And I said, "Sure."

And I prepared for that conversation by writing a series of goals and target organizations that I wanted to look at making a transition to and the types of things I wanted to do. And I walked in, and he said to me, "Stop. Instead, what I want you to do is tell me all about your career to date. And I want you to tell me about the times that you've been the most excited. I want you to tell me about what charged your batteries in each of your roles. I want you to tell me about the biggest times that you've added value."

And he had me walk through job by job, role by role, each of those things. Not the things that show up on a resume, but what filled my tank. What were the big wins I had in terms of where I created value? And then he asked me the opposite. "Tell me about those times that your batteries were drained and that you were frustrated because you felt like you weren't adding value?" And he captured all of that as I was just talking. It felt like catharsis. But he was capturing for me a clear picture of my career story.

What he was doing in that interview was capturing those things that aligned with my values, those things that misaligned with my values, when I was adding the most value to an organization and times when I was finding it hard to do so. He was capturing for me the intangibles of what was so important to me to align my career with my passions. And as soon as we finished that, he read all that information back to me. He then gave me a really tall order in terms of what I needed to do.

3. Capture Your Career Story

He sent me on my way to write my career story. He sent me on my way to tell the tale of everything that had happened to date – and integrate both the tangible things on my resume but also the intangible things about what was the most important to me. And then, and only then, did he ask me to write the forward-looking story. Where would I go next? What would the next steps be? Where would I go so that I could get to ultimate fulfillment for me?

I will say that journey led me to where I am now. At a great organization that I feel is mission focused, where I'm leading the people function and our university relations function. But it was that critical work of understanding what mattered most to me. For me, knowing that I needed to be in a mission-driven organization, knowing that I had to be in work that impacted the lives of others. That those things really mattered to me. That I loved the ability to achieve results through others by inspiring them. I learned those things, and I built out the rest of my tale.

So you need to capture your career story, both the tangible achievements and the intangible places of how you align your work to your values.

4. Evaluate Where You Are in Your Story

And once you've built that story, it's critical then to say, "So where am I in this story? Where do I stand? How do I stack up against the things that are most important to me? If I have a value for mission-driven work, as I look at my career journey, how well have I done at aligning myself to organizations that are mission driven? If I have a value around inspiring others, how have I done in terms of stacking up in that way? Where do I stand in this tale between the beginning of my career and where I will now see myself fulfilled?"

I think of the shopping mall map, right? And dropping the arrow right there. It's the, "You are here." Now we talked about career climbing walls and that it's not a linear journey. And because of the fact that we're talking about climbing walls, it's difficult to have perfect foresight into the future story of your career. Sometimes the craziest turns can be the most meaningful and impactful things to your growth, but we have to be ready to take that on. And so, while we have a story, we have to be able to change it, but we also have to commit to action. We can't claim that that story is yet to be written. And so, while we have the full story, we recognize it can shift.

5. Plan One to Two Deliberate Next Steps

The next step, step five in my career planning process, is then to commit – overtly commit – to one to two deliberate next steps. From where I stand today, what are one to two things I will do to move me closer to that goal? How will I move myself along the journey incrementally? I will choose deliberate action one and deliberate action two. I will choose a mentor who I find to be highly inspirational and learn from them as to how they have done those things as an example of an action but choosing a purposeful and deliberate step or two so that you can keep moving things forward. And we should always, always have those one to two steps clearly defined out ahead of us. I don't know that we'll all always get there, but I do know if we're each putting one foot in front of the other, we have a better chance of eventually making it and feeling a sense of movement and inertia.

So those are the five steps. I know very simple but five steps that I believe can have a tremendous impact on unleashing career potential.

  1. Document your career journey line

    Where have you been to date? What are the tangibles and intangibles?

  2. [Conduct a Reverse Career Interview]

     Find a trusted colleague or friend to conduct a reverse career interview, to ask you the questions about how you've aligned to your values, how you filled your batteries, and how you've added value for organizations. In turn, have them ask the opposite question. Where have your batteries been drained? Where have you felt misalignment, and where have you struggled to add value? So that you can understand the full picture of your career to date and use that to build your story.

  3. [Capture Your Career Story]

    Build your story out for where you've been and where you're going.

  4. [Evaluate Where You are in Your Story]

     And then evaluate where you stand in that journey. Drop the pin on the map of, "You are here."

  5. [Plan One to Two Deliberate Next Steps]

    And then choose one to two deliberate next steps so that you're always moving yourself forward.

Trust that you can get there, strive to do things to improve your career situation, and know that ultimately you own the success of your career.
Thank you so much for listening today. It was a pleasure sharing my point of view with you on all of this, and I hope that you have a fantastic day. Take care.

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