Counseling Today, Your Counseling Career

Career planning helps you reach your goals

Amy Reece Connelly August 1, 2008

Q: I’m trying to develop a 10-year plan for my career. How do you suggest I approach this?

A: Stephen Covey devotees will recognize the following piece of advice: “Begin with the end in mind.” Covey holds that all things are created twice: first in the imagination and then later in reality. If you first identify your goals, it will be easier to make decisions related to the outcomes you seek.

Start with the goal. Let’s say your long-term goal is to be the director of an organization that provides counseling services. That’s a good start, but it’s pretty broad. When you add more detail to your goal, you can clarify your career path.

Define, define, define. Do you prefer nonprofits that specialize in counseling or those that provide a variety of services? Do you want to work in a publicly or privately funded agency? Do you like large organizations or smaller ones? Should this agency have national, regional or local center of control? Are you targeting a particular population? Where do you want to live? Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? Do you want to work with many other professionals or only a few?

Peruse the classifieds. Most people look at advertisements as they’re embarking on a job search, but few recognize job advertisements as a career planning tool. Find ads for the positions you aspire to five or 10 years down the road. What qualifications define the “perfect candidate” at the organizations that match your personal goals? Use these as a template to define your career development plan.

Talk to people who have the job you’re striving to attain. What skills do professionals in your target job use every day? What new skills have they developed to become more effective in their roles? What were some of the good (and bad) decisions they made in their careers? What have they learned from those decisions? What advice do they have as you prepare for a similar position?

Consider your life roles. Your “worker” role does not exist in a vacuum. Other roles (child, student, leisurite, citizen, life partner, homemaker, parent, pensioner), as defined by Donald Super, will certainly influence — and be influenced — by your identification as a worker. To achieve work/life balance, you need to account for these additional roles in your career plan.

Develop your action plan. Identify your strengths as well as areas for continued development. What experiences will position you as a strong candidate for the role you’re seeking? How will you fit these developmental steps into your work and life over the time you have defined to achieve your goal? Is it possible to accomplish these objectives in the time allotted, or do you need to revise your thinking?

Differentiate. What will set you apart from other candidates whose academic credentials are similar to your own? What special skills or attributes do you possess that others lack? Is it technological expertise, fluency in a foreign language, an M.B.A. or the skills necessary to head a department? Have you been involved in fund-raising activities? Have you successfully written grant proposals? Do you have specialist knowledge in an area on which a new program could be developed? 

Review your plan regularly. Surprises come along from time to time that may alter your carefully crafted plans. Pay attention to emerging trends that could change your career path. Keep looking at those advertisements to make certain the path hasn’t moved.

Be ready to move to Plan B. Once in awhile, those inevitable surprises can provide a great opportunity that you never considered. While not every “great opportunity” is appropriate for your goals, sometimes a change in plans is warranted to pursue an unexpected chance of a lifetime. If you are cognizant of your work/life balance, you’ll be better able to identify when an opportunity merits alteration to your Master Plan.

Keep your résumé up to date. You may reach your goals ahead of schedule, or it may take you a little longer than anticipated. Your résumé is a concrete instrument that can help track your progress. Revisit it every six months or so (once a year at minimum).

Bear in mind, many people have enjoyed very interesting careers without creating a long-term plan. But if you appreciate (or crave) order, a career plan can help you manage both your short- and long-term prospects.

Amy Reece Connelly is the manager of ACA Career Services. E-mail questions to her at acacareers@counseling.org. Telephone consultation is available to ACA members by appointment.

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