Education Career Services

June 16, 2009

The Power of a Career Plan

Filed under: Uncategorized — EducationCS @ 7:01 pm
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Discussing my navigationally-challenged mind with my daughter the other day, I explained that I can always visualize where I am and where I want to be, but often the path between the two points elludes me.  As a result, I am quite fond of maps and, if I could justify the expense, GPS units.chp_16thc_map_1

Careers can be like that.  We know who we want to be and we know who we are, it’s the transitional “us” that can escape us.  If I want to someday be a CEO, I’m going to need a career plan to get there, otherwise every ill wind will blow me off course eventually forcing me to wonder “how did I get here when that’s where I wanted to be?”

A good career plan looks at the goal position and determines what skills, knowledge, and abilities (KSAs) are necessary to acquire and then charts a course for gaining those KSAs.   If the goal is to be a CEO in the green (environmentally friendly) industry, you’ll need to gather industry knowledge and business acumen.  

Ideally you will gain KSAs through a combination of research and education and hands-on, in-the-field experience.  For example, college can teach you to read a balance sheet and how to manage P&L (with all the attendant financial paperwork), but until you’re actually handling profit and loss accountability as a divisional manager, you won’t be ready to enter a CEO slot.  You’ll need to learn leadership, marketing, infrastructure, and a combination of other soft and hard skills.  With a career plan, you’ll be able to track and check off KSAs as you acquire them.  It serves as a map and a self-assessment.

At the same time, you’ll need to gather industry knowledge–again through research and experience, documenting as you go.

Right now, in the current economic storm , those with solid career plans have a leg up on those who don’t.  There have been a lot of layoffs and job closures.  Professionals who wing their careers can be at a loss; when the bills begin to mount, they might accept any position which may be hard to explain later in their career.  “McDonald’s was hiring” isn’t a great answer.  Our career planner, however, is prepared for such unforeseen setbacks.  Checking the plan, our planner determines which KSAs can best be acquired in the current conditions.  An entry- or mid-level position with, say, a solar farm for someone planning to be a green CEO someday will be perceived as a tactical move.  “It seemed like a great time to gain knowledge of the green industry from the inside.”  (That is not to say tactical gains won’t come from working at McDonald’s.  A plan gives you purpose no matter where you work because it focuses you on what needs to be developed.  Leadership, management, and even P&L can be learned at fast-food restaurants.  Without a plan, such a job can become a drudge.)

A plan can also be of tremendous help to the undecided.  My daughter, for example, vasilates between wanting to a lawyer, politician, veterinarian, or fashion designer (she’s 11, so give her a break).  When she’s a bit older and narrows it down to (know her) several things, her career plan will list all of them as her goal and will drive out all the KSAs for each potential position.  Then she would determine what the common KSAs are and focus on those first.  As she acquires those through jobs and volunteerism, she will be able to narrow her choices without losing any time in her career plan.

The plan always gives you something to work on.  Do you have a plan?

Rob Swanson

Managing Writer

Career Services International (

Education Career Services (


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