Friday, 25 April 2014

How to plan your career - the next five years

Whether you’re working your dream job or considering a career change, one thing is certain: you must plan ahead, if you want to be successful in the long-run.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” – is this a familiar question? Of course it is, because everyone has been asked this question at least once in their lives. Although it may seem daunting at first, planning five years ahead can make a huge (and positive) difference.

If you’re an IT professional, certifications are very likely to be essential components of your career progress. Therefore you should put great emphasis on planning your future training. Consider the following points when thinking about new qualifications:
What do you have to learn in the coming years?
  • Do you need multiple certifications?
  • Do you have expiring certifications?
  • Polish your non-technical skills
  • How can you build your network of professionals?
Set SMART goals, but first…

Climbing the career ladder will involve a significant investment of your time, effort and money. Therefore, it’s advised to treat it as a business investment and set your expectations, goals and most importantly milestones with deadlines. To ensure success, your goals have to be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely.

However, it can be hard to set SMART goals without having considered the points listed above, so let’s see what you should keep in mind to come up with a great career plan.

Answer these questions to help yourself

1) What do you have to learn in the coming years?

Have you recently come across something particular that is likely to be a requirement in your field? This can be something related to new technology, an update to in-demand certifications or a completely new qualification. 

But don’t think about your current job only. Is there something you find interesting and can benefit you in the future? Think of a certification, that is not related to your current position or industry, but could kick-start your career in a new field.

You should definitely keep your eye on emerging technologies like big data or cloud computing and new certifications in these technologies. 

2) Do you need multiple certifications?

Sometimes one certification is all you need, but there can be situations when you need more to achieve your goals. Think of the ways how you could benefit from getting more certifications:
  • Get them done in one go and save time
  • Negotiate a deal/discount when you register for more than one course
  • Spend a few extra days to get a higher level cert or a combination

3) Do you have expiring certifications?

Some qualifications expire sooner than others and recertification ways differ as well. Microsoft's MCSE and MCSD certifications for example need upgrading every three years, while recertification timeframe for Cisco certs ranges from two to five years.

Not all certs require you to retrain or pass an exam in order to keep your credentials valid. Still, it's important to keep an eye on the certifications you already have, because it may be a long process to revive them. You should also look out for any retiring examinations, in case you’d need them before they stop running.

Plan ahead and you can avoid stressing out about deadlines and workload.

4) Polish your non-technical skills

When planning your career, it is important that you focus on skills that are not technically related to your job, but help you do it. Are you confident your messages are always clear and comprehensible? You would never imagine how improving your written or verbal communication could help you do your job. This is especially true if you’re a manager and you need to be certain that your employees understand what’s required of them.

Once you have identified the fields in which you need to improve, you can start thinking about the ways to do it. Do you need to attend a training course? Can you learn relevant skills on the job? But perhaps you've already got the skills you just need to perfect them.

You can develop your soft skills and get better at your job by using the resources of the National Careers Service or Mind Tools

5) How can you build your network of professionals?

Get your calendar out and circle some events where you could make new connections and exchange ideas with fellow professionals. If you’re not able to attend conferences, expos or exhibitions you should still try to network with people in your industry. The internet is full of great forums, such as Stack Exchange, Spiceworks, Microsoft TechNet or CertForums. You can also find social media groups, like CISCO CERTIFIED, or IT SECURITY EXPERT on LinkedIn and industry associations such as techUK, CompTIA or SIIA where you can get in contact with like-minded peers.

Building your network is important, but maintaining your existing one is even more so. Take a look at your contacts and make a list of those who you haven’t contacted in the last year. Give them a call; they may have heard some news you haven’t.

Plan before you plan

It may sound strange, but it makes sense. Make planning a habit, or better yet a ritual. Before you start planning, make sure that you’re away from all distractions and you can fully focus on where you want to be in the future. If you can do that, you’ll have a much easier time outlining what you want to achieve.

Create a to-do-list and include every step you need to take to reach your goal. Because training can be costly, it’s very useful to plan your budget so that you’re always on top of how much you can invest in yourself.

Last but not least, you should also consider mapping your career path so that you can refer back to it and see the progress you’ve made and how successfully you’ve coped with changes around you.