I met loads of people over the Christmas period. Inevitably when they found out I was a career coach many said that one of their New Year resolutions was to move their career forward in some way. I actually like New Year resolutions (the concept of out with the old and in with the new is refreshing) but when it comes to careers I have a firm belief that one has to maintain an on-going momentum to reach the pinnacle of your career. Once the momentum is lost, meaning a resolution is necessary, you have already potentially missed some opportunities.

Sure, career development is not a ‘straight line’ activity; many external factors can knock you off your chosen path, but keeping sight of your goals, by means of working to a career strategy, can mean that your ambitions are always in focus.

How many people can honestly say that they have a career strategy? Just like any other business venture, a career path needs thought and planning and by setting a strategic journey you are far more likely to keep on track.

So what does it take to put a career strategy together? We have identified 6 stages that will allow you to gain clarity and direction:

Stage 1 – STOP!
Take a step back – a rare luxury these days I know, but you must find some breathing space to take stock and take off the blinkers of everyday routine. Allow yourself some dreaming time- what is the dream? What could your life look like if you were brave enough to pursue that dream? How much of that dream could fit into reality? This is your personal time, so take these thoughts as far as you wish; whether sitting at home, on a walk, travelling or lazing on a beach.

Stage 2 – Discover
Self awareness is the key to so many facets of success. This is the time to reflect on who you are, what you stand for and know what you have achieved. Work with a friend, colleague or career coach who can help you uncover the reasons for your success and develop your clear personal brand.  Look at your achievements, re-affirm your values, understand your competencies and strengths. It will be these things that will enable you to move forward.

Stage 3 – Research
There are no short cuts here. This essential phase will tell you what is possible and what is less realistic. Look at different roles within your function, or a completely different career and apply your strengths and values to these scenarios. How well do they fit? Research, network and consult to find out more about careers in your chosen field – what are the geographical, salary and skill implications? If you like that career path, where can you take it? What would denote success?

Stage 4 – Set objective
Be bold and courageous; set your clearly defined career objective.  Consider your ambition and remember that ambition is not just about hierarchy, it can also be about breadth of career and level of expertise. Consider your objective – is it too short term? If so, what is the longer term goal? Make it SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound). Write it down and declare it to those around you. That way you will take some real accountability for committing to it.

Stage 5 – Plan of Action
With the objective in place it is essential to establish your plan of action. What are the milestones? What are the actions you have to undertake to reach the milestones? Do write it as you would a corporate strategy and work with others to ensure the milestones are achieved. This does not have to be, or more accurately should not be, a private plan. Use others and share your vision. Plan what support you might need and what development you may benefit from along the way. Document it.

Stage 6 – Achieve and Review
Obviously a strategy is no good without implementation! In your busy life I would suggest that you work with your career strategy clearly in your consciousness. Regularly ask yourself if the actions you are undertaking contribute to the strategy. If not, how can you re-calibrate those actions to be useful? Take the strategy seriously and you will see the achievements mount up. If you are knocked from the path revisit Stage 4 and work forward from there. The plan may remain the same, or you may decide to alter it. Either is fine as long as the goal is defined.

…Stop for a second….and think whether you have a career strategy that has continuous momentum or will you be making the same old resolution again for 2012?

At The Career Gym we are experts in helping individuals through the detail of this process. Get your career back in shape; talk to us at The Career Gym.