Feeling underwhelmed about your career? If this is how you feel then it’s time to reassess and learn how to make a career action plan.

As a career coach, I have noticed there are three key times in the year when professionals feel fed up with their careers:

  1. The return to work after the Christmas break causes many professionals to reflect and wonder if they can endure another year in the same job.
  2. The middle of the year is another time for reflection, often sparked by a disappointing performance review that didn’t present a promotion, pay rise or opportunities to grow.
  3. The end of the year, when people are exhausted.

We all experience frustration with our careers. Some lacklustre moments are inevitable and unavoidable. What’s unacceptable is a working life that makes you unhappy, overly stressed and that impacts negatively on your personal life.   I remember a client once asking me, “I cry at work every day, but I suppose everyone does. It is normal, right?”

The answer was an emphatic “NO!”

The good news is, you can do something about it. Here are some hacks on how to create a career plan for a more fulfilling working life.

Where are you now?

Before you can move forward, I recommend you take stock of where you are now by performing a career-audit.

How to audit your career

A career audit is a self-assessment where you thoroughly investigate your strengths, limitations, skills, values, circumstances, personality, interests, education, personal brand and career achievements to date. At this stage, it’s also important to identify any personal blocks or life constraints that may impact on any decision you make.  For example, don’t decide to quit if you have a mortgage to pay.

You can conduct your own career audit using my career plan worksheet but a word of caution – we all have blind spots so I recommend asking family, friends, mentors or trusted colleagues for their feedback. If you don’t have someone in your network who will give you an honest appraisal, then talk to a career coach who will give you professional, considered and constructive feedback.

Another way to gain perspective is to use assessment tools. I use Harrison Assessments, which has a range of personality and career assessment devices. Profiling tools help clarify your thinking by removing subjectivity and adding objectivity. This can be particularly helpful if you’re unclear about your next step or if you want to know your best career options.

I have also written a very detailed article on how to do a career stocktake. The article includes some helpful templates to assess your career assets, liabilities and your current job. I recommend you read the article and do your stocktake.

Where do you want to go in your career?

The best way to get yourself out of the rut is to take a step forward. The longer you “sit in a rut”, the harder it becomes to get out of it. Many of my clients know they’re unhappy in their career but they don’t know what to do about it. They feel a bit like a rat running on a wheel. When you stay in a job for years that doesn’t spark your creativity and interest, you become desensitised to your own feelings. In fact, like that rat, you get so used to running on the same track, you forget there are other places to go in life.

Now is the time to stop being the rat on the wheel! Once you’ve completed your career audit, you’ll have a really good awareness of your potential. Your next step is to match your potential to opportunities.

Identify your career options

It’s a big world that is full of opportunities. Look at your career audit and ask – how can I harness my strengths and use my skills to advance my career? Don’t limit yourself to what you know. Try to remove your blinkers and see the possibilities.

I recommend you look at careers that offer growth potential. This is important for two reasons:

  1. Growing sectors need to employ more people, which creates openings for you.
  2. Once you’re in a growth sector, there are more opportunities for advancement.

One way to open your mind to new opportunities is to do research. Look at online job boards. Which employers are hiring? What skills and attributes are employers looking for? Can you apply your strengths and skills to a new industry or role? Speak with recruiters about your background and ask what opportunities are available for you.

For example, I have a friend who was a finance journalist for many years. She was excellent at her job and had won many awards. But despite her expertise, she couldn’t find reliable work and career advancement in the media, which has been significantly disrupted by the digital revolution.

So, she did her research and found solid employers in other industries looking for experienced content writers. She is now forging career in an investment advisory service.  She’s using her career strengths to progress her career in a new industry, and, she’s doing very well.

It’s also important to see if there are changes in the business environment that will limit your career possibilities. Using the example above, my friend was an excellent journalist but through no fault of her own, she couldn’t find career opportunities in the media.

Do a career SWOT analysis

Once you have completed your self-assessment and identified the opportunities (and careers with limited potential), I recommend you summarise this information into a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats model).

How will you get there?

To formulate your potential career pathways, match your strengths to the opportunities.

I also suggest you address the gaps in your skills, networks, knowledge and brand and think about how you can plug the holes. This might be through education, raising your profile or building your network.

1.       Choose your path

Once you have matched your strengths to the career opportunities, write a list of your potential career paths. Give each opportunity a score out of 10 by using your key criteria for your next job, for example, flexible working hours, short commute, more money, a promotion – whatever is important to you.

When you’ve completed this task, list your potential career pathways in order from highest score to lowest score. Then, create a short-list of your top three.

I recommend you move forward with three potential career pathways because if you hit a roadblock with one, you’ve got two other avenues to pursue.

2.       Set SMARTA goals

SMARTA goals help you write a career action plan you can implement successfully. SMARTA is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific – say exactly what job you want – name the role, employer, industry
  • Measurable – set KPIs to measure progress and success.
  • Achievable – make sure you have the capacity to achieve your goals
  • Realistic – choose jobs that are within your reach. You can’t expect to go from an entry level role to senior management in a single career leap
  • Time-bound – set a deadline to achieve your career goals
  • Aligned – make sure your goals align to your SWOT analysis, circumstances and career ambitions

3.       Write your action plan

Now that you’ve set your career path and goals, what next? You need a plan. But more than a plan on a page, you need to put it into action. Failure to implement your plan will be failure to achieve your career goals.

The format for your plan can be very simple. For each goal, write down what you are going to do and by when. The timeframe will give each action priority. Revisit your career plan regularly, perhaps daily and weekly at a minimum.

Remember, you are responsible for implementing your career plan, even if you are engaging others to help you.

Example:

4.       Engage a career coach

If you’re not making progress, a career coach can give you as much (or as little) help as you need. For example, some people just need help updating their resume and brushing up their interview skills. Others feel stuck with no idea how to get out of the rut. If you’ve been able to successfully write your career plan you might just want someone to hold you accountable. It’s easy for one week, one month or a whole year to pass by without taking action. A regular catch up with a career coach will keep you on track and help you navigate the inevitable challenges along the way.

5.       Reward yourself for successes

Implementing your career plan can feel like hard work. To stay motivated, it’s important to reflect on your successes, big or small. Take time out to celebrate the small steps as well as the big strides in your career.

6.       Be flexible

Having a career plan is great but it can’t be set in stone. You have to be willing to adapt and change based on your circumstances and the feedback you receive. For example, if you become fixated on one particular job and you don’t get it, you can’t just give up hoping for a better working life. Be prepared to adapt your plan to your circumstances and you’ll be happier with your progress.

It’s also inevitable that you’ll make mistakes along the way. Rather than mistakes, I prefer to call them learning opportunities. The trick is not to anchor yourself to your mistakes but rather reflect on how they happened, learn and move on.

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