If the current economic climate has taught us anything, it has taught us the importance of anticipating transition points and preparing for unexpected events. It has reinforced the idea that by building an adjustable portfolio of skills and a strong professional reputation, you can design a focused but flexible career plan to weather any storm along the path.
Career/life planning is like solving a business problem. Every successful business venture begins with a comprehensive business plan, updated annually, outlining goals and objectives. These plans are designed to be flexible in order to accommodate unexpected market changes and opportunities. Effective career planning prepares you for the continuous process of choices and adjustments that will enable you to react to the changing circumstances that are inevitable thorough the course of your professional life.
Self-knowledge is the most reliable tool to ensure career success and satisfaction. You must be aware of your abilities, skills, strengths, passions, preferred work style, values and ideals, as well as your special knowledge and motivation, if you hope to navigate the changing landscape. There are many self-assessment tools to help you identify your innate abilities, including the comprehensive Highlands Ability Battery (www.highlandsco.com).
Once you know what your abilities are, you can answer the basic questions at the heart of every career:
• What needs to be done?
• What can you do?
• What do you want to do?
Your challenge is to showcase your abilities along with those tangible and intangible characteristics that make you unique. Your understanding of these elements of your professional self will enable you to demonstrate the added value you bring to every situation throughout your career. Always consider what you want people to think about you. That will enable you to focus on the content of what you say and how you say it, in addition to the actions you take to present a consistent, positive message showcasing your unique brand. That requires you to periodically pause and take stock.
In tough economic times, lawyers dismiss the importance of goal-setting, viewing it as a luxury that must be sacrificed. But remember, managing your career is comparable to managing a business. Without a plan, your career will suffer.
Start by listing at least twenty-five things you want to accomplish during your lifetime. Think about what you want to have; what you want to be; what you want to do and what impact you want to have. Consider all areas of your life career/financial; social/cultural; spiritual; family/home; education; health/fitness. Write down your goals. Written goals give your dreams structure. They create a long term perspective and enable you to prioritize so that you can manage conflicting goals and deal with unexpected transitions. Once you see everything on paper, you can begin to prioritize your goals in the context of current market forces.
Maintain your own personnel file. Make sure it contains information about your long-term and short-term goals, as well as: significant assignments and accomplishments, CLEs attended, professional and community activities, etc. Update this document quarterly. Use this information to prepare an “Annual Report” prior to your annual performance appraisal.
External realities play a role in shaping your life and helping you define your career objectives. Pay attention to economic forces and world events. Monitor the rumor mill but do not accept everything you hear at face value. Consult with trusted advisors to test the validity of the information you receive and to help you understand the impact it might have on your career plan. Today’s business world is changing constantly and smart attorneys are both up-to-date in their practice area and in the world around them, and they use their pre-established goals to serve as a road map to navigate market changes in order to reach their objectives.
Remember, no one cares more about your career development then you do. Take the lead and avail yourself of every resource available to you, including mentor programs, bar association committees and panels, career counselors, alumni groups, etc.
Managing your career development is an on-going process that includes planning and strategizing based on information about yourself and the world of work, the match between them and the actions you take. In good economic times and bad, you must make a lifelong commitment to actively manage your career and learn to adapt to the inevitable transitions you are destined to encounter.
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