Plan your career but don’t have a career plan








I’m a big fan of planning processes. As a professional development and success coach, I firmly believe developing a strategy for managing your career is an important step toward achieving your goals. However, at the risk of seeming to contradict myself, I believe career plans are relatively useless.

President Dwight Eisenhower once said: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” I agree.

The problem with plans is they’re almost immediately outdated once the planning process is done. Effective career planning is an organic, infinite process that never results in a final design Career Graphic 2for how you manage your path to success. Career plans − much like corporate strategic plans − have many shortcomings, not the least of them being the false sense of security they can create about your future. If you’re convinced you have a solid outline for your next and future career steps, you’re more likely to be inflexible in considering alternate paths and less likely to take on challenges and opportunities you had not considered.

A finalized career plan suggests that you alone are in control of your professional future. That has never been completely true, but it made more sense when most people spent their careers working for one or two employers. It makes no sense in an era when even small companies are greatly influenced by rapid changes in global economics, politics, and technology and where employees at every level are sometimes treated as parts of a machine to be swapped out as needed when a newer, more efficient model comes on the market.

It is those same forces – and the uncertainty of the job market – that make actively planning and managing your career and continuously rethinking and refining your career goals more important than ever. Reaching a new professional milestone − or realizing that your upward trajectory is stalled − is a good reason to refresh your planning process with an eye toward maximizing future opportunities.

Effective career planning involves regular reevaluation of your goals, continuous learning and application of the new knowledge you’ve acquired. It also requires you to actively assess and reassess your skills and the value your organization places on them.

Here are some other suggestions for successful career planning and management:

  1. Assess. Be aware of your skills and talents and be realistic about your level of proficiency. It doesn’t help you if you think you’re better than you are, but it can be just as bad if you don’t know how good you are.
  2. Learn. Ongoing career planning requires continual learning and acquiring new skills that are not only valuable in your current role but beneficial at higher levels and sought after by other organizations. You’re worth more to your current employer if you have unique skills they value, but another company might value even more.
  3. Network. Few skills are more important in today’s competitive environment than building relationships with people who can boost your career. Volunteering to participate in a cross-functional team designated to solve some operational problem can help you gain notice within your own organization. Getting actively involved in professional associations and attending industry conferences creates opportunities for you to build your network of contacts outside your organization.
  4. Focus. Rather than setting your sights on a particular job, choose a direction in which you want your career to go. This allows you to be more flexible when an opportunity arises that doesn’t seem to fit with your original goals.
  5. Prepare. If you were approached by someone who could boost your career, could you explain in a few words what you have to offer? If they expressed an interest in knowing more about you, would you have an updated resume to send? Could you send it right then from your smart phone? You need to be able to do all of these things.


©2014 Robert Naylor Coaching and Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved.

Robert Naylor is a journalist, consultant, coach, facilitator, and speaker who helps people become better leaders, improve workplace performance, and find focus in their careers and life. He is available for on-site training, private coaching, keynote presentations, and commentary. For more information visit naylorcoaching online or contact

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