by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Your career. … the work that you devote many of your waking hours to. Few things in life are as important as being satisfied and fulfilled in this activity to which you devote so much time. That’s why it’s worthwhile to periodically set aside as much as a three-day weekend to plan your career or fine-tune your existing career plan.
This article suggests several variations on a career-planning weekend retreat and tells what such a weekend should include.
How Often and How Much Time?
How often should you hold a career-planning weekend retreat? Conducting one every year is a good idea, but circumstances may dictate greater frequency. Sensing an impending layoff from your job (perhaps others have started to be laid off) warrants a career-planning retreat. Or perhaps your job seems secure, but so many others have been downsized that you’re overwhelmed with work; you may want to revisit your career plan. Receiving a promotion might also be a reason to re-assess your career plans. The bottom line is that any change in your career or job situation may call for a career-planning weekend retreat.
Do you really need to spend a whole three-day weekend planning or fine-tuning your career? Not necessarily. Depending on how much planning you need, you could get away with two days or just one. Or, instead of consuming an entire, precious three-day weekend, you could conduct career-planning activities during half of each of the three days, and enjoy your usual weekend activities during the other halves.
What About the “Retreat” Part?
Why am I calling this planning session a retreat? You’ll find it extremely helpful to “retreat” to a quiet place away from the normal hubbub of your existence to work on planning your career — though getting away is not mandatory. The point is to minimize distractions and put yourself into an environment where you can do your best thinking and ruminating. If that’s on the beach or in a cabin in the woods, that’s wonderful — but you could also simply retreat to a quiet room in your home.
Should you conduct the retreat alone? You may find it works best to go through your career-planning activities solo. On the other hand, you could buddy up with one or two others to give each other moral support as you work through your planning and to bounce ideas off each other. If you feel that your career plan will involve a major change — such as relocation — affecting the people you love, you may want to bring them in on your planning.
Structuring the Career-Planning Weekend Retreat
Since the career-planning weekend retreat I’m suggesting has three parts, it works well over a three-day weekend, such as one in which you have a Monday federal holiday off from work. The three phases are:
- Day 1: Where you are in your career
- Day 2: Where you want to go next
- Day 3: How to get there
Let’s look at the activities you might conduct for each day:
Day 1 of Career Planning Weekend: Where You are in Your Career
This is the day for intense analysis and reflection on your current situation. Take a good, hard look at the elements of the list that follows. Take notes. Have fun getting to know yourself, but take the analysis seriously, too. To assist you in scrutinizing yourself and your situation, you may want to use some of the no-cost and low-cost assessments featured in our Online Career Assessment Tools Review for Job-Seekers, Career-Seekers.
- Current lifestyle and situation. Does your current career path facilitate the lifestyle you seek? As you consider where you are, don’t focus solely on aspects such as salary and benefits; think about satisfaction and fulfillment.
- Likes and dislikes. Does your current career path give you enough to like and little to dislike?
- Passions. Are you able to truly pursue your passions with your current path?
- Strengths and weaknesses. Are you using enough of your strengths on your current career path, or does this path exploit your weak areas? A good tool for assessing strengths and weaknesses, especially as related to career planning, is a SWOT Analysis.
- Definition of success. How will you know when you’ve succeeded in your career?
- Personality. Make sure your personality really fits your career path. Here’s where our Online Career Assessment Tools Review can be especially helpful.
- Values. What do you really value in your work, and do your values coincide with your current path? Check out our Workplace Values Assessment.
Day 2 of Career Planning Weekend: Where You Want to go Next
You may have concluded from your first-day’s analysis that you are content with your situation. If that’s the case, you may need to devote minimal time to the final two steps. But do think about how you might enhance your situation and tweak your career. Maybe you love your job but would like a promotion. Perhaps you’d like to step up your professional development efforts. Maybe you’d like to find better balance between work and your personal life. This is the day to determine what needs to change and what the desired change looks like. If you’re not content with your situation, of course, this day will require some intense thinking and research.
Today’s the day to look at:
- Your dream job/career: What would you want to do if no obstacles stood in your way? Some tools to help: Career Exploration Resources, Career Research Checklist.
- What’s missing: What qualifications do you lack for getting to where you want to go?
- Your interim move: If your dream job or career is not readily in your grasp, what could you do to get you one step closer?
- What are the trends: What employment trends affect your desired career path?
Day 3 of Career Planning Weekend: How to Get There
Here’s the day to get down to brass tacks. What will you need to do to get where you want to be in your career? If you’ve never created a five-year plan for your career, today is the day to do so. If you do have a five-year plan, refine it today. In both cases, also develop a more detail one-year plan (and plan to assess your progress at your next annual career-planning retreat weekend).
So, the overriding question for today is:
What will it take to get me to where I want to be in my career?
Breaking that question down, ask yourself:
- Do I need to learn even more about the career path that interests me? If so, plan to conduct informational interviews.
- Do I need more training to get where I want to be? If so, consult our College Planning Resources and Graduate School Resources
- Do I want to completely change my career? If so, review our Career Change Resources.
- Do I need to relocate? If so, check out our Relocation Resources.
- Do I need to make a case with my employer for promotion? If so, see our article Tracking and Leveraging Accomplishments.
- Do I need to brush up on my job-search skills? If so, see our Career Resources Toolkit for Job-Seekers.
- Do I need better balance between my work life and professional life? If so, check out the Empowering Work-Life Balance Resources at our sister site, EmpoweringRetreat.com.
Final Thoughts on a Career Planning Weekend
By the end of your three-day career-planning retreat weekend, you should have a refined five-year plan, along with a one-year plan that provides a detailed roadmap for exactly what you need to do between now and next year’s retreat weekend. By putting in intensive time and work over three days, you’ll arm yourself with an insurance policy for career satisfaction and fulfillment.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.