by Teena Rose
One of the biggest mistakes that individuals make in their careers is to go aimlessly through school or work in an entry-level position with no clear direction or goals. They wait until the homestretch -- graduation, layoff, or departure -- before taking a stab at other opportunities. Finding a well-paying job or locating opportunities for advancement shouldn't be treated as an afterthought, rather one that has been planned and prepared for months or years.
Preparation, preparation, and more preparation! Imagine signing up for a marathon and waiting until the day before to begin preparing for the race. Obviously, you're not ready because of lack of training. You didn't seek the assistance of a coach or mentor, and you didn't assess the resources you would need on the day of the race. Without proper preparation, what are your chances of completing the race?
Like any serious step you'll take in life, you must first determine the number of baby steps needed to get from one spot to the next. In other words, where are you headed and how will you get there? Outline every obstacle or challenge that will hinder your progress of taking these steps. Each small step (short-term goal) will take you closer to satisfying the big steps, known as long-term career goals.
First, take a good look at the types of positions you've held to date along with your college major. Ask yourself, do I like where I am, and where do I see myself in five years? Don't be ashamed if you're not sure. Visit your favorite online job site, type in keywords for your intended career field, and examine those positions to determine if any meet your satisfaction.
Second, write down job and career goals (preferably six months before graduating or the start of your intended job search). Job goals pertain to the position you currently hold now, whereas, career goals are the "big picture" (e.g., career change in less than two years or targeting a six-figure salary). Research two or three positions that you would love to obtain today along with those you're striving for in a couple of years.
Third, prepare yourself, your credentials, and your resume based on your predetermined career opportunities and goals. Prepare to go back to college, join business groups, serve on committees, or alter your resume to encompass all (or any) of these.
In a career journal, note the positions that interest you along with the skills required for each. Add other entries pertaining to outstanding credentials, and miscellaneous obstacles in the order that'll need to be completed, with resolutions and proposed dates of completion.
The object is to not stand still. Navigate your future by performing a self-assessment that will get you from A to Z in your career. Jay Block says it best in his book, The End of the Job Search, Mastering the Art of Career Design: "Defining your career aspirations is an essential step in the process of transforming abstract thoughts into tangible realities. Everything ever accomplished by man or woman first started as a thought." I challenge you to assess yourself and create a master plan.
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.