Three simple questions that will help you achieve your career goal


One of the most frequent questions I am asked by candidates is whether a new role will advance their career. What an important question! Perhaps a tad annoyingly, I usually answer with a question in return – Where do you want your career to go? My reasoning is thus – how can I (or you, or anyone else for that matter) advise you on whether a new job role will get you to where you want to be if you don’t know where you want to be.

Before you even start thinking about the pros and cons of a new role you need a career plan. Now, this isn’t necessarily an easy thing to put together but a good place to start would be to ask yourself the following three questions…

1. What is my destination?

If you don’t know where you want to be you will never get there.

I know what you’re thinking – this sounds suspiciously like one of those “motivation” (and vaguely work related) poster images that seem to dominate LinkedIn on a Friday afternoon. Bear with me.

If you think about the career advice you have been given; I bet that 99% of it is dedicated to finding your next role. What is the next move you should make? Who should your next employer be? Don’t get me wrong, of course you should think about where your next move should be. Goodness, if we didn’t think about our next move no one would move jobs at all (and just imagine what that would do to my little career plan!).

But if you really want to understand what you career goal is, try spending a little less time thinking about your next role and a little more time thinking about your ultimate role. What will your role be when you retire to a villa on the Mediterranean? Who will your employer be when you pull your vintage Jag into your private car parking space? Where will be the absolute pinnacle of your career?

Take five minutes now and imagine you in your “absolute, best role ever, happy with everything, achieved all I set out to” job. It isn’t all about the salary; think about everything that is important to you – maybe you want to be able to work part time and volunteer for a charity or you want to have enough industry expertise to start your own business?

It might feel like a million miles away but that is your ultimate role. If you have a final destination before you start your journey you will find it easier to identify how to get there. Of course, where you are heading isn’t set in stone; that little thing we call life might get in the way or your priorities may change but it is always to easier to adjust your course then to be cast adrift.

2. Do I know the way?

Whilst there are hundreds of ways to reach a goal and everyone loves a maverick, the vast majority of senior roles have a more or less established career path so you will need to do your homework.

Your first job should be to start looking though the webpages of the company/type of companies you want to join, most will have a “Meet the Board” page so take a close look at the profile of their Finance Director, CFO and MD. They will also have a “Careers” page which, despite not having an appropriate opportunity for you right now will probably have information about the kind of candidate they look for and their recruitment process. It’s a sensible idea to keep your eye on the career pages regularly – chances are they will be recruiting for your dream job at some point so take a look and see what they will want from you in the future. LinkedIn was invented for just this kind of research, so spend a few hours looking through the profiles of the professionals you admire. You should also use the hundreds of industry and career specific sites, forums and blogs on the world wide web to your advantage; they will often include interviews, case studies and senior people profiles as well general career advice and tips.

If you are already in a role within the sector or company you want to be in, you are ideally placed to ask the high flyers how they reached where they are today. Your next move should be to ask the people you admire for a coffee and the chance pick their brains about their career path or explore whether there are any opportunities to spend an afternoon shadowing them. Unsurprisingly, most people love being a mentor and will be happy to hand down their wisdom.

Finally; you’ll never guess who knows absolute loads about this? Your friendly neighbourhood recruitment consultant. We look after the whole range of executive positions and speak to senior finance professionals every day so we know exactly what skills and experience you will need to emulate people at the top of their game.

3. Where am I now?

Now you can see the road ahead, it is time to take a look at the scenery around you to assess where you are. Your first task is to evaluate your own skills and experience against those you have identified as being important in your ultimate role. Only by identifying the potential gaps can you start to put together a plan to fill them. For example; if you are currently a stand alone technical Financial Accountant whose dream role is a Finance Director who may need to have more experience leading a team. If you are desperate to work in a US company and travel to the States every month you might need more exposure to SOX.

To decide what your next steps ought to be, put your thinking cap on and start looking at the roles, skills or experiences you have yet to attain but are closest to where you are now. These nearby skills will be the next small step of your journey. Have a chat with your manager to see if they could offer some help with this; could you lead the upcoming systems project or take on the management responsibility for the assistant accountants in the team? Once you let it be known that you are committed to progression and want to expand on your knowledge most companies will do what they can – after all they want to keep you in the business.

By taking the time to consider what your next steps are (and putting together a plan on how to achieve them), you should also have a greater understanding of what steps you need to take after this. These are the skills and experience which, although they are not attainable right now, could be attainable in the next 3-5 years. So, for the Financial accountant who needs more management experience, this step would be to manage a whole team of qualified accountants. Now you can do the same for the skills and experience which will be realistic to attain in the next 10 years, and so on and so forth…

Voila! Welcome to your new career map! Whatever you do, as you look through your list of things that have yet to achieve, don’t let yourself be daunted by what more you have to do. Your journey will probably be one of years or even decades.

But as they say, every journey starts with a single step…

If you have more than one option and can’t decide the right path for you, please call myself or one of our expert team for a career consultation – this is what we do!

Next week – How having a Career Plan will guarantee that you LOVE your next job…

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