Have you thoughtfully planned out your next career move? Most people have not. While they may have a vague idea of what their profession will look like in the future, they aren't sure how to position themselves for optimum growth. But because the work world is changing so rapidly, planning your path and positioning yourself for the next advance is a critical step all professionals must take.
Of course, since no can foretell the future, planning often involves ambiguity and that's where the challenge lies. Most people have a low tolerance for uncertainty, so they don't bother creating a plan. And while it's true that neither you nor anybody else, not even experts, can predict the future, you can map out possible scenarios. Doing so increases your ability to adapt to changing situations and helps you see future opportunities others may miss.
Following are some suggestions for making your plan as realistic as possible so you can properly position yourself for future success.
Conduct research on the current and future job market.
You can find many online resources to help you better understand which professions and industries are growing, which are shrinking, and which are evolving into something different. One is the Occupational Outlook created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/). The other is O*NET Online (http://www.onetonline.org/), which is a partner of the American Job Center Network. Both of these resources will give you an accurate overview of a variety of professions, including both current and future trends. Use this information as a way to gauge job growth (or possible shrinkage) in your industry.
Read magazines that focus on future trends.
There is an entire profession focused on future studies in which people called Futurists analyze trends in particular areas and make educated predictions about where we as a society are heading. Sometimes, the predictions focus on a key area or profession, such as healthcare or robotics. Other times the predictions are more general. The World Future Society (http://www.wfs.org/) is the leading futurist organization. In addition to their website and blog, they publish a magazine called The Futurist. Read some current issues or subscribe to it so you can keep up-to-date on upcoming career and industry trends.
Develop a written vision for your career spanning a short term, medium term, and long term horizon.
Using the information you gather about the probable future of your profession or industry, combined with what you know or personally see going on around you, create a vision for what your career could look like in five years, ten years, and fifteen years. Granted, as you extend the timeline, you increase the level of uncertainty, but the goal is not perfection. The goal is to give you a vision of what's possible so you can start positioning yourself for that future vision today.
Map out more than one path to get to your destination as depicted by your career vision.
With your vision of what reasonably could happen, write out what you deem the most logical path to reach that vision. Then, write out an alternate path that is just as viable, but perhaps not what you deem as ideal. For example, maybe in one path you continue working in your current organization, helping to shape the future of your position. And perhaps in an alternate path you open your own firm, go to work for a competitor, or become an outsourced employee to your firm (as a freelancer or consultant, for example). Feel free to come up with several paths to the vision. Of course, you have no idea which path will actually transpire. But when opportunities present themselves from any of the outlined paths, you'll be able to recognize them and act on them because you'll have already done some planning. As a result, you'll find yourself a step ahead of everyone else. Sometimes it's those little steps that position you the best.
Engage in scenario planning by fully detailing the various paths to your vision.
The more detail you can give the various paths you outline, the better. While there's no need to go overboard with a 50 page document, you should detail each path as much as you can, including timelines, new skills or training you'd need, resources that would help you at key junctures, etc. Some people naturally think in pictures and graphs, so they create a series of diagrams. Other people think in the narrative form. Regardless of your preferred style, you need to capture the information, record it, document it, share it, and then continuously refer to it and update it as things change.
It's Your Future – Plan It
While all this may seem like a lot of work for something that may or may not transpire exactly as you plan, it really only amounts to about three hours a week of planning time. Chances are you spend more time than that watching television or surfing the Internet for fun. What if you took a few minutes from those activities and spent it reviewing the Occupational Outlook, reading articles about what the future may hold, reviewing your scenarios, sending out emails and connecting with people who may be able to help you, going to certain social and networking events, etc.? What could that do for your professional outlook?
Remember, you are responsible for your own career and ability to earn a living, not society, not the government, not your employer, not your family, and not your friends. The safety nets of yesteryear are slowly disappearing. That means it's up to each of us to ensure our future employability. The better you position yourself for the next advance, the better your ability to respond to a changing job market and reach your career goals.
Marty Martin, Ph.D., has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His second book, "Taming Disruptive Behavior," will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. He is currently working on his third book, "Do You Have Career Insurance?" Martin is the director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit http://www.drmartymartin.com.