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BW Businessworld

Creating Your Career Roadmap

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, young men and women from the Indian middle class had clear ideas about what they were going to do when they grew up. Career paths were guided and linear; they were a step-by-step sequence of good marks in school, a first job in a good company, several promotions, followed by public recognition for goodperformance.
 
This path guaranteed financial security and the good life that would give one'sparents and family pride and joy.  Boys grew up to be engineers, doctors, and lawyers; girls became teachers or housewives or both.

Career scenarios have changed. Career paths are becoming more like a hike in the woods. There are bifurcating trails, sign posts that point you in different directions, choices to be made, rest stops along the way, and the promise of exhilarating experiences. Decisions about the distance you want to travel in your work life and how hard you want to push yourself are becoming more personal.
 
This brave new world, with its opportunities and uncertainties, demands boldness from people who are in the early stages of their career. Those who wish to create a career roadmap, must follow their heart, apply their minds, and engage their hands and feet (metaphorically speaking) in order to translate their imagined life into reality.
 
Following your heart means trusting your instincts about yourself. People with similar talents and interests are often attracted to each other and to the same or similar professions. To whom and what are you attracted? What are you most inclined to be: a doer, thinker, creator, helper, persuader or organiser? For most people, two or three orientations predominate.

Using these six orientations, the social scientist John Holland matched dozens of career choices to different types of personalities. Assessments (based on his research) can confirm what you know about yourself. This self-knowledge can multiply your ideas about careers to pursue. After all, the most satisfying careerfor anybody is one that fits his or her personality.

Applying your mind means realistically assessing work opportunities in your environment, required qualifications, and then creating a match between the two: environmental opportunities and your qualifications. Is there a shortage of quality hospital administrators? You must be interested and willing to do the work to become one. New areas of work are opening up, such as in applying green technologies, digital media labs, travel and hospitality services, and the NGO sector. New jobs profiles are emerging continually, and it is up to you to determine how these profiles suit your temperament and talents.

Engaging your hands and feet means committing yourself to doing a good job, once you latch on to an opportunity. Those who put their best foot forward when handling any assignment are bound to learn new skills, and to learn about themselves. In this process, some doors close and other doors open to even more gratifying career opportunities. 

There are many ways to demonstrate full engagement-some may be more appropriate than others-depending on how long you have been on the job, and on the culture of your workplace. Here are actions you can take to show commitment.

Observe people and situations. How do co-workers act toward each other and how is work getting done? Go ahead, imitate and learn from behaviors and practices you like, such as courtesy toward subordinates, attention to details, or proper use of accounting systems.



  • Solve a problem. If there is something that is not working, what can you do to fix the situation? The problem could be a vendor who does not make timely deliveries, a whiny co-worker, or a leaky faucet. If you involve others and deal with something in your work setting that is frustrating for almost everyone, when the issue is resolved, everybody experiences a feeling of success. This creates an invigorating work environment.

  • Take the initiative to start something new. Introduce a new product, follow-up on a novel idea, raise your hand to pursue a new client, create a process, or adopt a new technology for getting work done efficiently. First, make sure your company is one in which innovative attitudes are recognised and rewarded and not squelched.

  • Help another person get their work done, and learn about their job at the same time. Meeting one's own responsibilities comes first. But lending a hand to someone else from time to time signals that you are a team player and increases team spirit and your organisation's productivity.

  • Work with people who are different from you. Learn about their customs and language; for example, by asking about their special celebrations and picking up basic phrases such as "hello", "goodbye", "thank you" and "please". This will make it easier for you to be on their wavelength.  And consequently, your co-workers and you are more likely to approach situations creatively, incorporating several points of view.

  • Mistakes happen. Setbacks are normal. Financial, ethical and human crises occur. But it is always possible to persevere through mishaps and learn from them. What was supposed to happen? What actually happened? What can you do differently under similar circumstances in the future?


Acting in these ways highlights that you are a responsible person. You make yourself a valued employee and more career options are created for you. You also learn about yourself-your true talents and limitations.  As you become clearer about the path you want to follow, your career roadmap become clear too. This sets in motion a cycle of career progress-choices open up and at the same time, you are able to choose a direction that appeals to your heartfelt sense of what you want to do with your life.

Meena Wilson is Senior Faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and author of Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Today: Insights from Corporate India (Wiley, 2010)