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May 9, 2012
Never Travel Without a (Career) Map
The world of work has changed forever. There are fewer traditional jobs, though work opportunities exist; you just have to be qualified and resourceful enough to find them. Whether just starting out on your job search, in career transition, or contemplating early retirement, you need directions before you can embark upon your career journey.
You wouldn’t dream of driving to an unfamiliar destination without a map. The same holds true for your career journey. Yet, a surprising number of workers move from one job or career to another opportunistically, hopeful the interview or next promotion will magically appear. Not surprisingly, they often fail to reach their destination — often unsure of what it really is.
The Career Map is a lifelong process that puts you in the driver’s seat. There can be no shortcuts. It requires that you look within and make some decisions. So buckle up, and consider these tips to create your unique Career Map using my Career Mapping template:
  • Plot your career so far. Most people jump right in without an appreciation of where they have been. Start the plotting phase by writing down the functions, former roles, and competencies within each industry segment. Substitute academic or vocational studies and extracurricular activities for actual jobs if you are just coming out of school. 
  • Competencies are critical — they explain not just what, but how you perform your duties and accomplish your goals. They are portable and cumulative, and you can use them to bridge experience gaps (see below).
  • Determine the new roles you will consider. Select a few different roles based on not only on what you’ve done, but what your passions are. Use online job descriptions to know what is required. As you identify these new roles and the competencies they require, critically assess education and experience gaps and consider what steps are needed to fill them. Have some fun; ask yourself “what if?” 
  • Target companies you would consider working for. Even if you want to stay where you are currently working, get smart about competitors, vendors, and other relevant companies to expand your knowledge. Determine the most attractive companies based on reputation, geography, and other factors — things that matter to you. If actively job hunting, prepare to approach these companies whether or not they have posted openings.
  • Assemble and freshen up your tools. Before you apply for that new role or ask for a promotion, have your tools ready:
  • Elevator Pitch — What do you say to at a job fair, reception or during a phone screen?
  • Résumé — Distill all the relevant mapping elements (competencies, etc.) into a clear, concise document. Have more than one and customize each résumé for the position you are seeking.
  • Your Network — Define your network according to the eight categories of people who should be in it (see my book Career Mapping). Learn to network, strategically leveraging people who can give you access to your target companies.
  • Interviewing Skills – Armed with deep knowledge of yourself, your preferences, your and capabilities, perfect the art of interviewing. Practice makes perfect.
Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Give yourself the direction you need using your custom-built Career Map; use it over and over again. Your career journey can be precarious or it can be a delight depending on the preparation you are willing to make. It’s your choice. Be fearless and enjoy the journey!

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Ginny Clarke is the founder, president, and CEO of Talent Optimization Partners, LLC, a talent and career management firm offering live and web-enabled career management programs and services for individuals and Fortune 1000 companies and other organizations. She is a nationally recognized expert in talent and career management, diversity recruiting, and executive coaching and the author of Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work.
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