Are you a bull or a butterfly?

Do you have a career plan or are you just floating along?

As an executive search consultant, some of the biggest regrets people tell me about are:

1. I have stayed too long with the same company (because it was comfortable and although they offered me new challenges every few years, it did not actually enhance my experience or career)

2. I wish I had cultivated a relevant network, now that I am looking for a new job

If your ultimate goal is to have fun and see where it takes you and to have only worked for businesses that are interesting and where you have a pleasant time, then perhaps drifting along and being opportunistic concerning job opportunities could be the strategy for you. Rather like a fun road trip to southern Italy, without a set destination, just following the sun.

However, if you know where you want to be by the time your career peaks in terms of position, size of company, size of team, location (international?), remuneration, etc. then you need to plan your career journey, and you need to start with the end goal in mind. Are you the person who wouldn’t drive to southern Italy without looking at a map or at least taking a SatNav, making sure you have enough money for petrol, European breakdown service, an idea of hotel cost and location?

When it comes to planning your career, it’s much the same philosophy: Define your current role, autonomy, budget controls, kpi’s and take an estimated guess at what parameters your final destination job will have. Now that you know the gap between the two, you can start to make a plan for building experience in the relevant areas.

Questions to ask yourself will be:
• What do I need to do to move from an area manager to a regional manager position? (e.g. can I deputise for the regional manager when she is on holiday and what do I need to do to make sure that I succeed in this temporary role and get noticed?)
• How do I gain experience of managing a bigger team?
• What project work can I do to gain the experience to move from management accountant to financial controller or from digital marketer to head of ecommerce?
• Will my current employer offer me the opportunity to gain the additional knowledge and experience required to take the next step up?

Invariably you will run out of runway in your current business and that’s the time to find a new company with a longer runway – not necessarily one who pays more money (although that would be nice).

For the new employer it should be a huge benefit to hear that their new recruit did not just join for the money or the bigger car or the shorter commute. They need to understand that if they help you manage your career and help you develop, you will add value to the business over many years to come and ideally in a number of different roles. (If they think that this is an issue and really just want someone to do the job that they are recruiting for then this is probably not the business for you.)

Remember, to succeed in a role, you need clear (and measurable) objectives, if you cannot keep score than it is difficult to measure whether you are keeping on track with your career goals (it would be like driving to southern Italy without a fuel gauge or speedometer – how do you know when you need to fill up?).

Find yourself a senior mentor, who will challenge and direct, who will praise, listen and give advice. This will be an invaluable sounding board and sense check, however make sure that this person has all the knowledge, experience or contacts that you feel you need! If someone asks you where you want to be in 5 years’ time, don’t be ashamed to say that you have not given it much thought yet because you need to master your current role first.

It is much worse to answer: ‘Managing Director’, but on further questioning having to admit that you have taken no steps in order to get there and really it is a pipe dream rather than a well thought out plan.

Finally, when you use a recruiter/executive search consultant/head hunter for your next role and they omit to ask you about your career goals, your ‘runway’ and what additional experience you would gain if you stayed in your current role, then the chances are that they are trying to sell you a job.

Any self-respecting professional in the recruiting industry plays the long game, they should be there to help you and advise you on the best career options, so that they can place you (again and again..!).