Taking Charge of Your Career

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

            Over the last few newsletters, I have written about the role goals play in mentoring and given advice to mentors working with a protégé and her or his goals. However, merely having goals does not mean they are the right goals. This article reviews goal setting as a key tool to take charge of your career as a protégé.

            To help you take charge, it helps to think of yourself as a small business developing a strategy for success. The strategy starts with a vision of the future, continues with an assessment of the current state, and culminates a plan for moving forward. Your mentor should be a great resource and guide through both your strategy development process and the implementation of your plan.

  1. Vision of your future. How many of us think about where we will be in twelve months, let alone in twelve years? Every decision you make today helps create the future you haven’t discovered yet. Those decisions may not take you where you really want to end up if you don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go. To develop a vision, draw a timeline from now to ten or fifteen years from now. At different intervals, decide what is going on in your life (work, family, etc.). Work backwards to today and decide if the path you are on now will get you to where you want to be.
  1. Current state assessment. Once you have decided where you are going, you need to figure out where you are. Conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities or threats exist for you now? You can use many data-gathering tools to get a look at your current state, including personality measures, 360° feedback instruments, and personal interest instruments. Combined with performance feedback from your job, you can figure out where you are now. 
  1. Priority and goal setting. Once you know where you want to go and where you are, you can decide what you need to do to move down the path. Decide how you can leverage your strengths to get there. Identify opportunities you have that will open doors for you. Determine where you should spend your energy and what interim milestones signal progress down your path.

            A mentor can be a tremendous sounding board and source of ideas for each of these steps. Involving your mentor in this process will also help her or him understand your perspective. The more your mentor knows about you and your vision of the future, the more your mentor can help you get there.