If you had to guess, how many women out of a thousand would you think have a robust career plan that is working for them? What percentage feels right to you? 60 percent? 80 percent? Surprisingly, it's much, much lower. For the U.S. release of my book, Getting Real About Having it All, I researched 1,000 professional women, looking at everything from work life balance, to career ambition, wellbeing, and yes, career planning. I was a little staggered at the results.
More than 70 percent of women said that they didn't have a career plan that was working for them and 48 percent of women said that they were just winging it when it came to their career. Winging it, meaning that they had absolutely no plan, no vision, and no foresight into what they were actually doing. They were just making it up as they went along.
When I was growing up through my management career, I never had a plan. I would constantly get into heated discussions with women who were older and further through their career than I was who would argue intensely that you absolutely needed a plan. You needed a five-year plan. You needed to know every single step of what that plan looked like. I never agreed with that, but whilst I didn't have a formal plan, what I did have was a vision for what I wanted my career to look like.
Over my 20-year corporate career working for some of the worlds largest companies like GE, PwC and IBM, and more than a decade of coaching women on their careers and leadership development, I have developed six key steps to building a career plan that works, and that will set you up for success, no matter what level or type of position you are currently in.
1. Where are you on the scale right now? If you looked at a career planning scale, with 0 meaning no plan, and 10 is a rigid five-year plan, where are you sitting? Perhaps you are somewhere in the middle with a vision, but not much else? Understanding this and being really honest about it is the first step.
2. Get the balance right. The days of having a career plan set in stone, that you follow down to the letter are long gone. The world is too fluid and changeable, and you need to stay open to opportunities and indeed create them. You want to be in the middle of the scale, directional vision and goals, but open to the magic moments that can be career defining.
3. Understand yourself. Before you can build a career plan that works, you have to understand yourself. What are your strengths, what's your life vision, what work is purposeful for you, and how do you move through the world with confidence. Knowing these things will guide you with clarity on who you really are, what you want most, and how you show up as your most authentic self. Building a plan on this foundation is your ticket to success.
4. Build your personal brand. Speaking of authenticity, your brand needs to be based on it. Don't even think about trying to build your brand on anything other than who you truly are, what your strengths are and how you really show up in the world. One of the most critical questions here is, what do you want to be known for? This can short circuit your planning process by getting to the core of the work you really want to do.
5. Get the right support. Everyone needs support to create a career they love, even if we think we can do it all on our own. Two of the most important relationships in a professional career are mentors and sponsors. Let's be clear on the difference. Mentors give you advice, sponsors advocate on your behalf. Work out who your mentors and sponsors are, or who you need to cultivate, to help you achieve your career goals.
6. Build an action plan. Once you have gained some clarity on where you currently are, you need to take action. Out of the areas covered here, what needs work? Do you need to go and take a strengths survey to get clarity around what you like doing and are good at? Do you need to find a mentor? Does your brand need some work? Get clear on the actions you need to take over the next 30, 60 and 90 days, as well any longer terms ones, and you will be set to create a career that really lights you up.