Think not of yourself as the architect of your career, but as the sculptor. – B.C. Forbes
The Managing Your Career series of mind maps and articles are designed to help you manage your career path far more effectively by providing specific guidelines to assist you along your journey towards climbing the career ladder. This series includes the following mind map topics:
- Part 1: Exploring Your Career Path
- Part 2: Mapping Your Career Path
- Part 3: Achieving Career Success
Each article in this series has been adapted from the Successful Managers Handbook (DK Essential Managers) and related sources.
How to Map Your Career Path
Have you ever taken time to consciously manage your career? If your answer is “no,” then don’t you think you might be leaving things a little to chance? After all, everyone wants to win the lottery. However, your actual chances of winning the lottery are very slim — heavily reliant on what most people would call luck. You either get lucky, or you don’t. If you agree with this statement, then I have a very serious question for you:
Is your progress up the career ladder defined by chance or by conscious choice?
This IQ Matrix and accompanying article delve into the process of consciously mapping out your career path to pave the way for your ascension up the career ladder.
We will delve into the following areas:
- The actions you should be taking on a daily basis that will keep you primed and ready for potential career opportunities that could arise in the future.
- Clarification about your current reality and how you can use this information to help you reach your career goals and objectives sooner.
- Identification of personal assets, targets and the boundaries you will need to set to lay down a solid career path.
- A break down of your portfolio to help enhance your career prospects and opportunities.
- An exploration of further possibilities for growth and development.
Each of these areas will be explored within this article and are also visualized within the IQ Matrix for easy reference.
Where to Begin?
How you manage your career path is defined by the decisions you make and the actions you take on a daily basis. Each decision and every action must be focused on the primary areas that will help you gain access to opportunities to advance your career prospects.
Before we begin delving into this area, it’s important that you first take the time to ask yourself the following set of questions:
What does managing my career really mean to me?
How have I managed my career to date?
Which aspects of my career need most attention?
How would I describe my career outlook?
Have I laid out clear goals and objectives?
How do I see my career unfolding over the next 5 to 10 years?
Do I like what I see?
How does this make me feel?
Does this inspire confidence or awaken concern?
Unless you have a clear sense of direction for your career path, you will fail to take advantage of opportunities that may come your way as you work towards your goals and objectives.
Career Management Guidelines
As you’re working your way up the career ladder is paramount that you stay focused and on track — taking advantage of any opportunities that may come your way.
Here are some guidelines that will help you along this journey:
Learn from Mistakes
Always be learning from your mistakes to make the most of second chance opportunities.
Manage Difficulties and “Change”
Keep focused on managing difficulties and change. The better you are at doing this, the quicker you will be able to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances when they arise. Also, keep in mind that difficulties and change bring with them opportunities for growth and progress. Keep an eye out for these, because one man’s difficulty is another man’s greatest opportunity.
Set Clear Targets and Objectives
Managing difficulties and change stem from your ability to set clear yet flexible targets and objectives. The more clarity you have about what you want, the greater your capacity to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances that may arise as you make progress along your journey.
Keep Long-term Career Goals Private
Informing everyone in your office about what you want to achieve could very easily lead to resentment and gossip, which may distract you from your primary objectives. Therefore keep your long-term career goals private to help you to stay focused and on track.
Self-Analysis is the Key
When it comes to managing your career effectively, your primary job is to constantly learn about yourself and evaluate your experiences on a consistent basis. You must, therefore, take the time to evaluate the progress you are making on your journey on both an external and internal level. Internally, this means that you must take the time to evaluate your emotional tendencies, abilities, skills, habits, decisions, and behaviors on a regular basis. Are you growing or are you stagnating?
Keep in mind that unless you’re growing internally, then you will always tend to struggle externally to achieve anything of significance.
Here are some other suggestions that will help you begin managing your career more effectively:
- Keep looking ahead rather than dwelling on past mistakes or disappointments.
- Be clear about personal priorities.
- Always be alert to career opportunities that you could take advantage of.
- Be quick to make decisions in order to capitalize on potential opportunities.
- Be prepared to work with a structured plan of action.
- Always be flexible and adaptable to changing conditions and circumstances.
Assessing Your Current Reality
To pave the way for the future, your first and primary objective is to clearly understand where you are today and what you currently have at your disposal to help you make a push up the career ladder.
To begin with, you must meticulously assess the progress you have made over the years. Ask yourself:
How did I get to this point in my career?
Are there things I would like to change?
Just maybe, you made decisions in the past that might not have turned out as you had expected. Learn from these decisions and take time to assess how you would have done things differently if given another chance. The answers to these questions will help you to gain clarity about your past and likewise will help you to make better decisions in the future.
Illuminate Your Future
Analyzing your past will help you to illuminate your future. You can do this in the following ways:
- Create a log file of the main career events and changes.
- Thoroughly study your experiences and the lessons you have learned.
- Analyse the cause and effect relationship between your behavior, decisions, and results.
The more you learn about your past, the more you will uncover about your present, and the better prepared you will be to take advantage of opportunities that will arise in the future.
Your List of Resources
Over the years you have learned new things, acquired skills, gained knowledge, attended specialized training sessions and courses, etc. All these experiences make up your list of resources and provide you with a solid foundation for your future career prospects. However, given your career plans, you may need to add additional resources to this list that will help you to take advantage of opportunities to climb the career ladder.
What additional resources might I need that will help me achieve my career objectives?
What knowledge or technical skills might I need to gain?
What skills might I be required to master?
Could having a mentor or personal career coach help me accelerate my progress up the career ladder?
Finally, keep in mind that your resources are only valuable if used effectively.
What’s My Next Step?
Your next step towards managing your career more effectively is to identify your assets, to set career goals and targets, to lay down boundaries and make a commitment to yourself and your progress up the career ladder.
Identify Your Assets
Your assets are the strengths you have at your disposal that you can use now and in the future to help you reach your career targets. Your objective here is to take time to list down all of your valuable strengths, qualities, and characteristics that you feel could help you make progress up the career ladder. If you find this exercise difficult to do, then ask for help from your partner or a friend who can provide you with some honest feedback.
For self-assessment purposes, ask yourself the following questions:
What qualities do I consider to be my strengths?
How could these qualities help me make progress up the career ladder?
Given my strengths, what work environment would be most suitable?
Given my strengths, what job would suit me best?
What other strengths would I like to develop to enhance my career prospects?
How must I go about developing these strengths?
Is there someone who could assist me?
Finally, list down all your strengths and identify how each of them can help you make progress up the career ladder.
Lay Down Clear Boundaries
Achieving work-life balance is absolutely critical for long-term success and sanity. 😉 It’s therefore paramount that before you set career targets and objectives, that you first take time to lay down clear boundaries.
Would I be willing to change work locations if a career opportunity presents itself?
Would I be willing to go back and study to upgrade my skills and knowledge if a career opportunity pops up?
Would I be willing to sacrifice time with my family if a career opportunity arises?
Keep in mind that career opportunities often come at a price. Therefore if you’re not willing or able to make the necessary sacrifices to sustain or make progress up the career ladder, then you might need to go back to the drawing board and reassess your career goals and objectives.
Set Clear Career Targets
Having clarified your boundaries and identified your strengths and resources, you’re now ready to set clear career targets.
I won’t go into any detail here, as this topic has already been discussed in other blog posts. What I will point out though, is that motivation is the key to your progress up the career ladder. In fact, you will struggle to achieve any goal you set yourself if you lack motivation. Hence it’s absolutely critical that the goals you set are ambitious yet achievable.
Are my targets ambitious yet achievable?
Do I have enough motivation to obtain them?
Without motivation, your life will be dictated by procrastination and stagnation. Therefore your number one objective here is to always find it within yourself to unlock the motivation you need to keep moving forward towards your career targets and goals.
Make a Commitment
Having set clear boundaries and career targets, your next step is to make a commitment to your future. To do this, you must first consciously and openly acknowledge the changes and sacrifices that you are willing to make and the potential impact that your progress up the career ladder will have on your family and life.
In what direction would I like to take my career?
Am I willing to take the time to manage my career path?
Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices?
Am I willing to shift my priorities and standards?
Am I willing to transform my habits and behaviors?
What resources may be required along the way? Can I gain access to them?
Am I really committed to take this step?
If you’re not willing and able to commit to this journey wholeheartedly, then you might as well go back to the drawing board and lay down a different set of goals that are more realistic and achievable.
Breaking Down Your Portfolio
Your portfolio is your calling card. It’s, in essence, a marketing campaign that is designed to sell you to prospective buyers (employers). As such you must take the time to create a portfolio that will get people’s attention and help you stand-out from the crowd.
What to Include
There are many things that we could include within a portfolio. However, what I want to do here is list down a few things that you might not have considered. For instance, take time to list down:
- Specific projects you worked on.
- Specific skills you acquired.
- Knowledge gained via workshops, and courses.
- Significant career achievements.
- How you dealt with difficult situations.
- How you overcame complex problems.
- How you displayed leadership qualities.
All of these elements are critical to an employer looking for someone to fill a particular position within their company. Wouldn’t you want to know these things if you were hiring someone?
Analyzing Your Portfolio
While writing up your portfolio, take the opportunity to analyze how your career has evolved over the years.
To begin with, assess your levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction at different stages of your career and analyze how these stages have impacted your process of thinking.
How do my career peaks and valleys help me to plan ahead?
What specific circumstances have helped me to get ahead?
What specific circumstances have held me back?
How does all of this help me clarify my career direction?
In addition to these questions, it’s important to also pinpoint how these peaks and valleys originated in the first place.
How did I experience these low points in my career? What was the specific cause?
What weaknesses was I exhibiting at the time?
What does this say about me?
How is this of significance for my future career path?
How did I experience these high points in my career? What was the specific cause?
What strengths was I exhibiting at the time?
What does this say about me?
How is this of significance for my future career path?
Finally, as you’re working on your portfolio be sure to consider the following areas:
- Recognize career shifting choices.
- Become aware of mistakes that were made.
- Identify the lessons you learned.
- Pinpoint areas for further development.
- Identify trends and patterns.
Working through your portfolio in such a way will help you gain ever deeper insights and understandings into your behavior and motivations — subsequently unlocking keys that will help you to better recognize what it takes to climb the career ladder.
When it comes to your future career prospects, it’s absolutely critical that you become a “possibility thinker” who is committed to lifelong learning and development. You must therefore always look at life and ask:
What is possible here?
While other people are focusing on problems, you are instead focusing on possibilities that will help you move your career forward. In fact, this question alone could help you transform your career in ways you might not have believed was possible.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
Did you gain value from this article? Is it important that you know and understand this topic? Would you like to optimize how you think about this topic? Would you like a method for applying these ideas to your life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m confident you will gain tremendous value from using the accompanying IQ Matrix for coaching or self-coaching purposes. This mind map provides you with a quick visual overview of the article you just read. The branches, interlinking ideas, and images model how the brain thinks and processes information. It’s kind of like implanting a thought into your brain – an upgrade of sorts that optimizes how you think about these concepts and ideas. 🙂
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