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does a career plan matter?

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I enjoy my job, it gives me a lot of satisfaction for various reasons, and I thoroughly recommend that everyone seeks to spend most of their waking time doing something they love. But is career progression really important?

I speak as a person that doesn’t really want to scale the ranks of management. I certainly derive part of my status from my job, but its more a case of reputation in my field that I seek, rather than a better job title. I’m not really motivated by pay either. It would be nice to earn more money, but if that was a major goal of mine, I should have taken a different job. On the other hand, I’m relatively young, so I’ve got quite a lot of working life left in me, and I’m certainly unlikely to be able to retire for a lot more than twenty years. Is working without a plan for that long destined to end in, if not failure, some kind of boring misery?

To what extent is career planning useful anyway? I’ve certainly grown and improved in relation to my work since I left university but without any great plan, and its been organic and enjoyable. In fact whenever I have a performance review, I have things to improve but no sense that an end goal is conceivable let alone necessary. One of the key questions on our previous preparation for review documents was ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’. I have never, ever had any answer to this. In practice, I’m probably doing now what I hoped to be doing when asked five years ago, the same stuff but better and more of it. When I pointed this out to my line manager, he said that it doesn’t make a very professional sounding personal development plan.

Stephen Covey is very popular amongst some managers at my workplace, and one of his tenets is to ’start with the end in mind’. What do I do, when I don’t have an end goal at all?

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16 comments for “does a career plan matter?”

  1. For what it’s worth, I have never had an answer to the “5 year” question, and I know from conversations with colleagues over the years that vanishingly few of them have either. Most people take life as it comes, I think. To say that a plan isn’t “professional sounding” is silly, plenty of people fill out these reviews by filling in the answers they think their bosses want (I hope to be a better communicator, I hope to have more client contact) rather than be honest. It’s HR nonsense.

    Posted by guinness416 | September 14, 2007, 1:09 pm
  2. Growth can happen horizontally as well as vertically. You can be endlessly challenged by a good job if you stay with it and just keep trying to do it better. Finding more efficient, effective ways to accomplish your work and expanding the boundaries your job can keep you happily engaged for decades without having to move up the career ladder.

    Fortunately the firm I work for recognizes this and they have a few “non-career-path” job titles (mine is “Technical Specialist”) to accommodate people like me. I no longer have any pressure to set goals or advance to the next rung of the ladder, and I can stay in this position indefinitely as there’s no salary cap like there is in the career-path positions.

    Posted by brad | September 14, 2007, 4:15 pm
  3. For those who desire to enter high level management, or certain careers, then a career plan is a must have.

    Otherwise, I don’t think people necessarily need a career plan that is set in stone. But I do think they need to be aware of their situation, and often reevaluate their position. Even though you may not be motivated by money, you should be well aware of what you are worth to your employer, as well as to other employers. Otherwise, it is easy to be taken advantage of.

    Posted by Patrick | September 15, 2007, 1:02 am
  4. I have to agree with your boss. Even if you don’t have a career plan, telling it to your boss doesn’t sound like a good strategy.

    Besides, you do have a career plan. You said it yourself: you want to grow professionally, build a reputation in your profession and industry and develop your skills. Not all career plans involoving becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500.

    BTW, I just realized I didn’t have you in my blog-roll. Quickly corrected the problem.

    Posted by shadox | September 15, 2007, 3:50 am
  5. In context, I was actually asking my boss for help with my career plan when I said that I didn’t have one. Although its probably not the best strategy in the world, my workplace is such that I’m unlikely to have shot myself in the foot.

    Shadox, you’re right I do have a vision for my career, its just difficult to translate into a ‘SMART career plan’. I’m much more go with the flow anyway.

    Posted by plonkee | September 15, 2007, 9:32 am
  6. I can’t answer the 5 year question either. For me, I just take whatever my job is, and say I want to become senior or expert in it.

    It’s hard to say. I may switch jobs soon, or go into a different industry or area altogether. Who knows? Who can plan all that, anyway? I just take it as it comes.

    Posted by Fabulously Broke | September 15, 2007, 9:40 pm
  7. You could always say ‘Retired’ to really shock them.

    Posted by C.M. | September 16, 2007, 12:54 am
  8. Whenever I take a job, I alway think about what I want to learn from it. The financial aspects are of course a consideration, but the main thrust for me is what I will learn, and how this additional knowledge will help me get to the lifestyle I want. (which is wealthy enough to be able to indulge in my hobbies, which thankfully don’t include fast cars or expensve wines.)

    Posted by Wallet Rehab - Ways to save money | September 16, 2007, 7:44 am
  9. GOOD ONE!.. I’ll use that at my next review ;P

    Posted by Fabulously Broke | September 16, 2007, 3:55 pm
  10. I used to have a career plan - my partner and I worked in London in high powered careers.

    One day we realised that we were in a mountain of debt, living a life we didn’t like very much.

    So we traded our “careers” for “jobs” (he went from being a CEO of a national charity to being a builder and musician!) and are much happier.

    I’m a lot more comfortable with having a “life plan” and seeing how the job fits into that - in our case, in five years our life plan sees us debt-free, most of the way towards paying off the mortgage and about a year off being able to be full-time with the music.

    Working towards it!

    Posted by Annie | September 17, 2007, 7:32 am
  11. Wow Annie.. that’s the kind of story that inspires me to continue looking for something that fulfills me (what I do now, does make me happy, and it DOES fulfil me… but I feel like I need 3 part-time jobs on the side or activities, to really get the full experience out of life)…

    Congrats! :)

    Posted by Fabulously Broke | September 17, 2007, 11:25 am
  12. If you’re happy doing what you’re doing at work and your boss is happy with your work, then why fix something that isn’t broken?

    If, on the otherhand, you or your employer become dissatisfied, you may find setting some concrete future goals helpful.

    Your life happens once. Do what YOU want to do!

    Posted by Millionaire Mommy Next Door | September 25, 2007, 10:29 pm
  13. I want to be happy and to be doing something I’m good at with the possibility of growing even better. And less in debt.

    Some people have passionate career plans. Others of us want to be happy and have ideas about that. I think it’s great to be happy in a variety of contexts; and if you have the drive, then a passionate goal isn’t bad either.

    I’m working on coming up with ones for job interviews and such, things which are honest and make people happy at the same time. Very hard.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | October 1, 2007, 8:05 pm

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