MANY people confuse career planning with planning for a job hunt. They engage in “planning” to look for a better job, seeking a promotion or a salary hike, or finding a job when they become unemployed.

In other words, the concept of career planning is often about the immediate rather than the future of their career. But career planning is not about job hunting or immediate “gratification” like promotions and salary increases at work!

Career planning commences by taking stock of your current skills, achievements, expertise and experiences, as well as interests, values, personal constraints and aspirations.

Based on this, you develop a career vision on where you want to be five to seven years in the future. Once you have a definite vision of your career horizon and a deep and incisive assessment of about your professional competencies, you are in a position to craft your career road map.

Creating a career road map involves plotting out your career milestones over the next few years. This may include identifying an actual plan on how you will remedy a certain shortcoming in your skill repertoire or increasing the competency of a specific skill. It may also include enhancing a specific interest.

All this is done with the key objective to make you a preferred or ideal candidate for a job you foresee yourself holding at the end of the time horizon of your career plan.

Career planning is about plotting a trajectory to grow your career. It must also be consistent with goals you want to achieve that are realistically achievable in the time frame you set.

Grounded in reality

Good and effective career plans are grounded in reality, taking into account the changing work and employment landscape.

Nothing is constant in the world. With the passage of time, things will change. These will include changes in politics, environment, social conditions, technology, the environment and the law.

All these will impact work-related issues and the employment landscape — and, consequently, your career. For example, jobs in Singapore are progressively shifting from manufacturing to service and technology-driven industries.

Opportunities in jobs and careers will also similarly change or transform. Therefore, in crafting their career plan, astute people will spend considerable time in reading and evaluating news in the media about current affairs and the specific industries and companies they are interested in. This may include even how opinion movers and other professionals see the future developing.

In essence, you need to anticipate the challenges and opportunities in the future for the duration of the time horizon of your career plan. For example, with growing emphasis on productivity and customer-centricity, vacancies will increase in the fields of performance and quality control as well as customer psychology.

Be flexible

As the work and employment landscapes are constantly changing, so are your personal circumstances and situation. As your career plan spans between five to seven years, your plan must have sufficient flexibility. And it must be periodically reviewed.

It is a good habit to review career plans annually. For example, while your present job may be smooth-sailing now, it is not uncommon to experience a setback due to an unsuccessful completion of a major assignment or project.

The arrival of a child may mean new responsibilities and consequently slow down your advancement in your present job. Even plans to pursue a master’s degree in the evening may need to be put on hold.

Similarly, deciding to get married may mean devoting time and effort to wedding preparations and setting up your new home.

Many people also fail to take into account that events in their personal lives can impact their career. A catastrophic illness experienced by a loved one or the ageing process of an elderly parent can also impact their commitment to advancing their career.

Consequently, not only are career plans not cast in stone, they also need constant tending and adjustment.

Navigation guide

A career plan is a blueprint for you to better navigate your professional and working life in a competitive and challenging work and employment landscape.

It is an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on how you are getting on in your current job or what you can do to get back into paid employment, if you are suddenly retrenched.

Career planning is also an opportunity to anticipate the future, and engage in developmental plans to hone existing skills, develop new competencies or acquire new knowledge through a course of study or by reading more widely.

Drifting on in your current comfort zone in a job that seems secure at least for the present is hardly an acceptable strategy in the second decade of the 21st century. So set a date to start your planning and resolutely stick to it.