The perils of short-term career planning and how to avoid them

If your answer to this question is ‘not sure’ or ‘I don’t know’, rest assured you’re not alone!  Many of us are flat out getting through the next week and can hardly see 12 months ahead, let alone 5 years from now.

Although most of us will work for 40+ years, very few people know where their career is heading and why.

We take jobs opportunistically, as they come up and it’s more a case of being in the right place at the right time. Some roles work out really well and advance our careers.

Others... not so much.

Opportunistic, leave-it-to-chance job hopping is like a game of roulette. On a professional career path to nowhere, frustration, confusion and self-doubt soon settle in.  It becomes increasingly hard to stay motivated as work becomes a daily grind and necessary chore

We’re on the move, more often than ever, without a clear Career Path or Career Plan

With job satisfaction levels continuing to drop, it’s small wonder we’re increasingly on the search for something better.

Research by Job Search Expert, Alison Doyle tells us that “Today, the average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times (with an average of 12 job changes) during his or her career.  Many workers spend five years or less in every job, so they devote more time and energy transitioning from one job to another.”

While there are benefits to frequently changing jobs, doing so with a short-term focus is both career and self limiting.

7 Short-term Career Planning Perils:

 #1 Most Performance Review Processes and Professional Development Plans (PDPs)  are too narrow

While your manager may ask about your longer-term career plans, your development goals are more likely to be about addressing an immediate, obvious skill gap or gaining the next promotion with your current employer.

PDP based career development tends to be incremental and tactical, based more on your organisation’s needs. This is understandable given they’re likely paying for your professional development and time out to pursue it.  Your organisation wants an immediate 'return on investment' and improved performance in the job you're doing now.

#2  Changing careers or jobs without a vision or career planning is pointless and time-consuming

Fabricating appointments, you find yourself ducking out of the office to take calls from recruiters and attend interviews.  If you’re lucky to receive a job offer, you’ll need to decide quickly.

Without a long-term vision, it’s hard to see the bigger picture merits of a potential new job and make a fully informed decision.  You’re more likely to decide based on whether it’s better than your current role. And if you're particularly unhappy at work now, anything's got to be better than this, right?

#3  Career planning and development are the first things to go when you’re under the pump

Endless meetings, project deadlines, dealing with ‘people issues’ at work and home, family commitments, health/fitness and a thousand other things compete for your time, week in and week out.

With your performance review coming up, you hastily sign up for a conference or short training course to tick the  ‘development complete’ box.

But is that short course or industry junket really going to get you where you want to go?

#4  The risk of making a wrong career move is much higher and more complicated

When the ‘new job glow’ wears off (usually between 3 – 6 months), you start the next job search all over again.

If you’ve ever been head-hunted (and flattered) into a role where they didn’t give you the full, warts–and-all picture before signing your contract, you’ll know what I mean! It's what they didn't tell you at the interview that invariably catches you out. With a sinking heart you soon realise this isn't what you signed up for.

But while you're stuck and desperate to get out, you're going to need an acceptable reason as to why you're changing jobs again so soon.

#5  You're pulled into roles that are ‘more of the same’

Although comfortable, taking similar roles won't expand your skills, challenge or fulfill you.  ‘More of the same’ keeps you safely within your comfort zone.

Nothing changes...

Comfort zone jobs don't teach you much or help you discover what you’re truly capable of.

Meanwhile unused skills become rusty, achievements become irrelevant and ageing experience becomes obsolete.

#6  Doing a similar role keeps you in a defined box

When someone asks what you do, you’re more likely to say, “I’m a… [General Manager/Sales Executive/Accountant/Business Analyst].”

While admirable, this fails to describe the real value you bring or the unique difference only you can make.  People associate you with your current job, not what you’re capable of, increasing the risk of being stereotyped. On paper, you don't look or sound any different to anyone else in the same profession and your job application is more likely to go into the shredder pile.

Once confined to a 'stereotyped box', you're more likely to be overlooked for exciting, new opportunities.  As you watch your colleagues moving on to shinier jobs, you become increasingly invisible, frustrated and devalued.

#7  You’re unwittingly on a ‘please others first’ road to regret for the path not taken

During her time working in palliative care, Bronnie Ware learnt that the #2 regret of those reaching the end of their life was not ‘having the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me.’ (Top 5 Regrets of the Dying).

Your manager, colleagues, family and friends may have your best interests at heart. Although well-intentioned, their motivation is more likely to be about keeping you 'safe'.

Declining that job your colleague provided the introduction for or agreeing to stay where you are for a small pay rise (that would make life easier for your family), would be akin to letting them down.

Without long term clarity about what you want from your career, it’s simply easier to do what’s expected.

If you’ve fallen into the short-term career focus trap, it’s not your fault!

Thankfully the solution is simple.

How to Define Your Career Path Without Locking Yourself In

The goal is to create and sustain a truly rewarding and fulfilling career, regardless of which path you take.  My simple, Career Clarity Formula, fills in the missing pieces:

  • Vision – start with the end in mind.  Your career is ultimately the sum of your all your different jobs, employers, achievements and experiences.

 - How could your career and work be more meaningful, rewarding and complete?

 - What's the real difference you want to make and at the end of your career,  what would you love to be remembered for?

A strong vision is compelling (you can’t not move towards it), aspirational (slightly beyond what you think you can do) and realistic (achievable).

  • Personal and Professional Stocktake - take an inventory of skills, experience, values, priorities, passions, interests and strengths, to see what you already have and what’s missing. Taking stock identifies the starting point for a fulfilling career and highlights your real professional development needs.
  • Purpose – your compelling reason for doing what you do, in your own unique way. You’re actually already fulfilling your purpose! You just may not be aware of what it is or could be. When you're consciously aware of your purpose, making great career decisions becomes much easier. A highly effective early warning system for job satisfaction, your purpose and values tell you when it’s time to change course.
  • Direction – once you’ve established your Purpose and Vision, you know where you’re heading and it just feels 'right'. Clear direction shows you where to focus and what to pursue.  If an opportunity doesn't fit, you simply let it pass by.

From here it's easy to map out a simple, effective Career Roadmap - a flexible career plan that travels with you and guides the way. 

A perpetual Career Roadmap shows when, where and how to change course without angst-ridden sleepless nights, frustration and a sense that your career and life is simply passing by...

Picture your last ever day at work...

Imagine how it would be to look back on your career with great memories, a deep sense of satisfaction and no regrets.

And, if you need help to figure out where you'll be 5 years from now, let's book a call to explore your options.

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron
About Caroline

Caroline Cameron is an award winning, master certified executive, career and business team coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. Caroline is on a mission to help mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

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