Many of us do little or no career planning until we are faced with the need to look for a new job. But those folks who seem to glide through work garnering promotions and pay raises are usually those who have learned to invest time and energy in themselves. They see the value of career research and planning as a regular process and they make it a priority.

Why is career planning important?

Career planning:

  • serves as the basis of growth and professional development
  • assesses your current skills and knowledge against those needed in your current position and your desired next position
  • ensures you are aware of changing technology and trends in the work you want to do
  • defines what you need to learn or skills you need to develop
  • helps you create and maintain actions to grow your career options for future success.

Tip 1: Research and Information Tools for Career Knowledge

There are myriad easy ways to keep up with information about your chosen line of work. These include:

  • Professional or trade groups via their meetings, seminars, and publications
  • Online subscriptions to industry or profession newsletters and blogs
  • LinkedIn groups in your field
  • Social media – Twitter, blogs, Google+, and so on
  • Books and other print media

Set aside at least 30 minutes a week to find resources and research them to select those of most interest and use to you. Do this consistently for six months to survey the field and then add this research process to your calendar once a quarter or so to find new resources.  Don’t forget to weed out those you realize you do not consistently pay attention to.

Build in a regular process to keep up with your reading and events once you have selected those which are the best matches for your goals and needs. Diversify what you are paying attention to – change is a constant for most careers. Learning about ideas outside your current work is critical to learning about potential futures before you get stuck building buggy whips.

Tip 2: Human Connections for Career Growth and Personal Development

Don’t just assume all you need to achieve your goals is to read the right articles or attend a local chapter of a professional group periodically. Those are valuable activities but they need to be within the context of building your network for success.

Use and strengthen your networks to leverage and enhance your knowledge and career-building activities. Get together with your contacts and/or stay in touch electronically. Reach out to provide useful information as well as to request information and assistance back regularly.

Think of all your contacts – family, friends, co-workers, past bosses and peers, others you know from school, the military, community/volunteer activities. Connect or reconnect with them. Consider using social media as one way to manage and reinforce your relationships.

Start defining what information, ideas, contacts you can offer to others. Figure out what you need to learn or gain from each.  Some may be information providers, others natural networkers, a few might be good mentors, one might be the person who always supports your biggest ideas, another the one who sees strengths you did not recognize in yourself.

Don’t ignore your ‘weak connections’. These people may be on the outer edges of your network normally but can be especially helpful if you are considering a career change or a job search since they will have knowledge and connections which are quite different from that which your closer connections have.

Learn to build your network on an on-going basis. Follow up with people you meet at events. Keep a lookout for different groups to try and events to attend where you can meet people who may be of interest. Ask people you know for specific introductions or recommendations of organizations of interest. Send a note to that expert in your field who you see in LinkedIn groups or hear about in blogs or on Twitter. Tell them why you are interested in connecting, most will be helpful.

Last year I followed an HR expert on Twitter after having read some of his work on a blog. He contacted me directly to chat a bit, which was a nice surprise. We met later when both of us were attending the same conference. And recently I contacted him for some leads I needed for a client which he provided. None of this was hard, none of it took a lot of time for either of us. But now we have a much better connection and ideas of ways we can help each other.  I need to be better at this and I bet you do too!

Great research shows that those who build and keep their networks current and who are interested in continuous learning within their field and interests have far more success. They not only make more money but they change jobs more easily and garner promotions faster. It is your future – how you invest in yourself will make a huge difference in your career options and growth.