Effective Leadership Article

How to Build Your Career Vision

Diversity in the workplace article on building a career vision

What’s your career vision? Perhaps it’s something like “I’m going to be a Vice-President of sales,” or “I’m going to be an operations director.” Although simplicity is often an important quality to many things, it isn’t for vision statements. In my extensive work helping both companies and individuals define their vision statements I can tell you that simplicity and clarity are not the same.

Why have a vision statement? It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – high achievers set goals. But a career vision is more than a goal. It’s a holistic statement of the future you choose to design for yourself. That vision can be clear, and even simple, but it will be more than a single statement. Just like a firm, a good vision statement includes a balance of attributes. The father of modern management, Peter Drucker, understood this back in the early 1950’s when he laid out the key areas of a business in his monumental work, The Practice of Management. Drucker recognized that a business could be described completely in eight key areas; things like market standing, productivity, profitability, and so forth. I use a similar list when I advise firms on how to develop their vision statements. The same idea applies to career visions.

The first principle to remember when designing your career vision is to state it in the present tense. Don’t write “I’m going to . . .” Instead, write “I am . . .” Then write down a date when you plan to realize that vision. You should set this date three to five years into the future.

The vision itself should be seven separate statements that, when combined, create a complete and balanced vision of your professional future. You can always add other statements reflecting your personal vision outside your professional success, but this article focuses upon just those areas you need to consider for a complete career vision. I like to use an acronym to remember what those seven areas are: IAMSPCL. Yep, “I Am SPeCiaL.” It’s a little silly, but it’s easy to remember and it reflects how everyone’s career vision is unique.

What follows is a short description of how to frame each individual statement.

I – Interests and Industry. What are you interested in doing? This is what most people consider to be the entirety of a professional goal, but it’s really only a small part. If you are successful in just achieving a title, position, or role that aligns with your interests, you won’t necessarily be happy.

A – Advancement. Once you achieve your career vision, how will that set you up for further advancement or development? Have you reached the end of your career aspirations? Probably not. Write a statement describing your options at the date of the achievement of your vision.

M – Money. This one is really about more than your paycheck. Know what your financial needs are and express them in terms of a total compensation package. In my experience, people consider this to be one of their most important areas at first. However, after drafting a career vision, they realize that financial goals are a result of success in the other areas rather than as an objective in itself. If you are doing what you love to do, you’ll work hard, become successful, and the money will follow. Of course, you have to pay the bills in the meantime.

S – Security. Ignore this category at your peril! Want to work in a Silicon Valley start-up? Great, but you should recognize that job security isn’t going to be high. How secure and stable is the career you want? Some careers and businesses have been around a long time and will probably be around much longer. But, technology and other disruptive forces are changing the landscape quickly. Making a clear statement here will help you manage risk.

P – People and Philosophy. What kind of people do you want to work with? What are the cultures and values of the organization you choose to join? We have entered the age of enlightened capitalism where a firm’s purpose and reason for being is as important to employees as their compensation package. Be clear about the kind of firm you want to be part of or, for entrepreneurs, to build.

C – Challenge. How much do you like to be challenged in your work? A lot or none at all? Are you leaning forward or on cruise control? Do you live to work or work to live?

L – Location. It seems mundane, but location drives opportunities. How much do you value place and physical geography? Are you willing to relocate? Want to work from home? How much travel are you prepared to enjoy or endure?

Before you dive into describing your vision in each of these key areas, stop for a moment and rank them from most important to least important. You should put the most effort and detail into those areas at the top of your list and the least into those at the bottom.

Keep your career vision in front of you. I mean that both literally and metaphorically. Use it to guide your decisions and drive the right actions so that you achieve it. Don’t be distracted by opportunities that come along that don’t align with your vision. You’ll regret taking a big title and paycheck if the whole package doesn’t match all seven key areas in the right proportions.

About the author

WILLIAM M. DUKE

WILLIAM M. DUKE

William M. Duke is a retired Naval Officer and Master Practitioner of the Flawless Execution methodology. He is the co-author of The Debrief Imperative (Premiere, 2011) and Down Range: A Transitioning Veteran’s Career Guide to Life’s Next Phase (Wiley, 2013).

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