Career Planning: The Complete Guide
Do you have a career plan?
I’m sorry, that was a loaded question. Most people think they have a career plan, and according to everything they’ve been told their entire life, they do.
The problem is we’ve been lied to. As a child, you were taught two things:
- How to set a big goal for your life. You wanted to be POTUS, CEO, a star, or a fireman (obviously, the coolest choice.)
- How to do the work you’re assigned. In school, you learned how to be on time. How to complete assignments. How to follow instructions. You learned that the path forward in life is to do the work you are given until the person in charge says, “Okay, you can move forward now.”
As a result, most of us plan our careers the entirely wrong way. We set a big goal for our life, and then show up to work every day and grind. The path forward to us is, “Work harder and I’ll get there.”
That’s not a plan. That’s a dream.
Dreams are great. You need something to aim for, and you should never sell yourself short by aiming small. But when you wake up from dreaming big, you need a plan to get there.
Over more than a decade of research I created a five-step system that is designed to get you from where you are in your career and life today, to wherever you want to be.
Step 1: Define What You Want
When you get in your car, you know exactly where you want to go today. You’re not thinking about where you want to drive tomorrow or 10 years from now. You know the exact location you’re headed to, and you know how you’re going to get there. Even if you don’t know the route, your GPS only works if you give it a specific destination.
Without a plan, you’d just be driving aimlessly — burning through gas, wasting your day — using a bunch of energy for no reason whatsoever.
As obvious as this seems, most people approach their workday the same. They know where they want to be ten years from now, but they have no idea where they want to be tonight.
Most people are aimless because their goals are outcome-oriented.
In my article on how top CEOs set goals, I explained the approach that separates real winners from the rest of the world. Top performers set goals that are process-oriented.
For example, let’s say you’re just starting your career in sales. You’re working in an entry level position, doing a lot of cold-calling. You probably have a monthly goal you’re trying to hit, a sales quota, or dollar revenue number.
If you just decide to show up every day and work hard hoping that you hit your number, you might, but it’s more likely you’ll fail. You can’t drive today if you’re thinking about where you’re driving every day for the next month, and you must drive your success in the present.
Instead of focusing on the big number at the end of the month, change your goal from an outcome to a process.
Don’t think, “I’m going to make this many sales this month.” Instead, commit to a goal like: “I’m going to call at least 20 leads today, with the goal to ask at least 5 questions, keep each of them on the phone for the duration of my script, and close more than I did yesterday. At the end of the day, I’m going to reflect on my process and look for improvements.”
Do you see the difference? You’ve set up a repeatable process for yourself that you can execute on every day, and you’ve also baked in a way for you to continuously improve. Define what you want by the process that will get you there, not just the ultimate outcome.
Step 2: Know How You Win
Look, in the end, success is easy: Are you better than your competitors? In a foot race it’s simple, and in every facet of life it’s the same. Winners get clear on what it takes to win, and they build themselves into the person who can do it.
This requires getting very skilled at building and putting to work your winning strategy, which demands that you collect a lot of information about the world around you, and more importantly, about yourself.
Studying how other people win is very useful, but at the end of the day, you aren’t other people. Sure, Arnold Schwartzenegger’s strategy led him to Mr. Universe, but you aren’t Arnie. You have your own unique goals and makeup, that requires you to build your own unique strategy for success.
This might seem complicated, but I’ve broken it down into three key steps that make building your own system incredibly simple.
1. Find Your Role Models
Success leaves a trail. Follow it.
In every pursuit in life, someone else has figured out how to win. Ask yourself what they did, and do some of that too. Now, we’re not just talking about what makes other people successful, you also want to know what leads others to lose.
You want to go as deep as you can on this, collecting as much intel on winners and losers, but you also want to recognize this isn’t just a cut and paste job.
As I wrote about in my article on effectively using role models, the key here is to have multiple role models who each individually exhibit the winning qualities you like, which you then combine into your “Composite Role Model,” or “Character.”
Doing this you might find that you can grab the charisma of one person, the self-control of another, the work ethic and fight of a third, and the wit of a fourth, which you then use to practice these “Character Traits.”
2. Know Your Guiding Principles
In his memo Principles, revolutionary thinker and leading hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio defines principles as “…concepts that can be applied over and over again in similar circumstances as distinct from narrow answers to specific questions.”
You may have a million different methods and strategies to get what you want, but if you’re doing it right, you will only need a handful of principles to guide those choices. In my work on Wall Street and with my clients across industries, I’ve come to see these five principles as the most crucial to professional success:
1. Performance. Nothing else matters if you can’t deliver. This doesn’t mean you need “30 Productivity Hacks!” It means you need to figure out how you win and show up and crush it every day. For example, if your performance is nearly entirely driven by calling more sales leads, clear your desk and start dialing for dollars.
2. People. Every professional business is a people business. Literally, nearly every aspect of business involves people so if you want to get good at business, well, get better than good at working with people. I’m not just talking about mastering the basics — How To Win Friends and Influence People, Influence — systematically become excellent at the skills you need to create success with other people.
3. Process. Every thing in your life happens through process, an example of which are habits. You don’t need to think about how you get ready in the morning. You don’t need to think about how you get from the start of a project to the end, when you are a master of process. Every day, look at your winning process the same way a mechanical engineer looks at a manufacturing process — focus on sequence, steps, and workflow while continuously enhancing efficiency, effectiveness, and quality.
4. Destiny Control. Jack Welch said it best, “Control your destiny or someone else will.” If you’re not taking control of your career, then nobody is, and your career is out of control. Not only is this...