Career development planning tips from a Robert Half expert

By Robert Half 28th January 2019

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting your career or have been working for years—career development is crucial for job satisfaction, growth and a sense of professional and personal achievement.

Despite its obvious benefits, career development is never the same for any two individuals. Goals, timelines and achievements look different for each professional, which can make it difficult to know how to start.

Robert Half’s Staff Development and Talent Director, Victoria Sprott, shares her tips on developing a personal career plan and how to make sure you stick to it.

Where is the best place to start when deciding to develop a career? Is it better to plan around salary, achievements, personal passions or roles?

At the beginning of your career, the advice I would give (and have followed myself), is that it needs to be a balance of all four. In my experience, you can’t do something that you’re totally passionate about if you don’t have a plan on how you’re getting there – the necessary experience, skills and attitude.

We all have dreams of what we want to become, but you need a plan as to how you’re going to get there. Sometimes, you may need to do something you’re not passionate about, but you’re good at, to gain the experience that will help you end up doing what you have a passion for. 

As you continue in your professional life it’s important to reassess your career and your career goals entire time. The thought of somebody doing a job that they really don’t enjoy or that they don’t get any satisfaction from is terrible…I don’t think I would ever encourage someone to stay in that headspace for long, as there is always something you can do. 

My advice would be to seek out a mentor or someone that you can seek advice from on how to improve your situation. Ask yourself:

  • Is it the company culture that’s making you unhappy? If that’s the case identify what is missing and what you want.
  • Is it the industry you’re working in, the manager you work for or the content of the job that you do? Some of those are controllable and you can adjust that by staying in the same company and the same job. Some of them are not and you may need to look at alternative companies and a different career development plan as a result. Sometimes a recruitment company might be a good go-to option to better understand what else is out there.

Is goal setting something every professional should be doing? If so, what does an ‘attainable’ goal look like?

There is a very simple acronym that many businesses use, called: ‘SMART goals’. 

Ask yourself some questions about the goals you are setting yourself. ‘S’ is the specificity of the goal you’re setting out, you then need to ask if the goal is measurable—it has to have an end result. You then need to ask the question of the ‘A’, is it attainable? The ‘R’ is ‘realistic’, so it may be attainable but is it realistic within the ‘T’, which is timeframe?

If your ultimate goal is to be an Olympic athlete, is it realistic to set the timeline for that as next year? No. Therefore you need to have smaller goals to build to the larger goal in the same way. In my own career, using those SMART objectives has been very useful.

There’s another expression people use: ‘How do you eat an elephant? Slice by slice’. You should be looking at your career and your goals in the same way. You need to break down those goals, working out a plan on each of them so you know what’s needed for the next step. 

Which timescale is best to use when making a career development plan? 

It often depends on the goal that you’re setting. I would advise that you need to have a long-term goal, which is your 3 – 5-year plan, which is: where do I want to be? What do I want to have achieved? How much money do I want to have earned? People who have a true sense of purpose will have a 3 – 5-year plan and that needs to be reviewed every year.

You’ll then have different goals which are linked to that longer-term goal, which should be set annually and reviewed regularly to keep you on track. 

Your annual appraisal or quarterly appraisal (or however your company operates) is useful in reviewing your career goals. I would advise people to take a lot of stock from that because it will give you an indication as to where your career is going within that company. 

It might be that you need to get a professional qualification to get to where you need to go. Take additional courses, sign up to online learning, take some evening classes, for example, that’s something you can proactively do something about.

How do you know which skills are best to learn in order to develop a career?

It’s about asking really good questions over a continuous period of time to a very wide demographic of people. You need to get a holistic view of that industry and that job.

I would look at lots of jobs online. Go on recruitment websites and look at all the different jobs you want to consider in your career, and the skills which most commonly recur.

You can speak to your recruitment consultant or have a one-to-one conversation with a specialist in that field. They will give you sound advice about how far your experience will take you. 

You can use a life coach—I used one personally when I was looking to consider an alternative career because I needed someone objective who didn’t have an agenda.  It’s a good opportunity to feel like you’ve explored all the options in your career, and it informs your plan of how to achieve your goals. 

Do you have any tips for motivation?

Motivation comes from within. If you have chosen a goal that is realistic and what you want to achieve, you’re halfway there with your motivation. 

Most people I encounter, internally or externally, who have lost their motivation, it’s because they’ve lost their sense of purpose which means they’ve lost their goal. 

People who don’t have realistic goals set or plans of how to get there, they feel unmotivated because it suddenly becomes a job. It’s getting up in the morning, it’s going to work, it’s coming home. There isn’t a greater sense of purpose other than collecting a pay cheque at the end of the month and most of us need more than that.

If you are lacking motivation, they need to review your goal and make sure they are SMART (see above). Probably one or two are out of date or not appropriate to where you are in your career.

Getting feedback is also good. Some organisations are good at giving feedback and if you’re in an environment where you’re not getting that regular feedback—positive and negative—I would try and create forums where you can obtain it.  Ask your customers and key stakeholders for feedback – you will be surprised how much you can gain from this exercise.

When you get feedback that’s positive, it motivates you to push forward through those difficult times to achieve that goal. When you receive constructive feedback, it helps you realign those goals. 

What is your top planning tip?

Everyone needs a plan to achieve their career goals. Ask yourself these questions: what do I want, when do I want it, how am I going to achieve it and what resources will I need?

You need to have a simple one-page document that you have visually and verbally articulated. You don’t have to share it with anybody, but you have to have that and keep referring to it. It shouldn’t be filed away, it needs to be looked at, scribbled on…you should be using it habitually and revising it regularly. 

Would you like advice on developing your career? Contact a member of the Robert Half team today and start planning your next steps.

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