How to choreograph your career pathway (ask these four questions!)

As a career/executive coach, I am a fan of concrete strategies, based on thoughtful analysis. One of my favorite tools is an oldie-but-goody, from the 2007 book by Cathleen Benko and Anne Weisberg entitled Mass Career Customization.

Why do I love this book? Because it gives life to one of my foundational coaching mantras: Think sequentially. (Curious about my other top mantras? Watch my video.)

When you are planning your career path (you ARE planning, right?), how do you account for different phases in your life? Like the times when you don’t mind a lot of travel. The times you when you will be raising a young family or tending elder parents. The times you may be studying for an advanced degree. The times you want to rock it in overdrive.

Benko and Weisberg offer a four-part framework to guide you. So, for any give phase of your career (now, next, or later), ask yourself:

  1.  Pace. How quickly do I want to progress to the next level? Shooting star, or holding steady?
  2. Workload. How much work do I prefer to take on? Consider the number and type of assignment, along with adjunct activities such as recruiting, office morale activities, community outreach, etc.
  3. Location/Schedule. When and where do I need to perform my work? Consider your ability to travel, your need to be at home, and if you have schedule constraints.
  4. Role. What position and responsibilities can I handle? Better to be an individual contributor, or a manager/leader? Line or staff?

As your life takes its twists and turns, your answers to these questions will change. Rarely is anyone in full-on career advancement mode their entire lives. So, the best way to handle anticipated — or unforeseen — life situations is to assess what you want in a job at any given time.

A change in your profile does not mean that your career has to stall! If you recognize that every career has its ebbs and flows and are conscious about anticipating your life situation and work capacities, then you can choreograph your optimal career pathway.

If you are clear about where you are in your career path, the more likely that your employer will align with your situation. If that is not possible, you will be clear about the need for a different employment situation.

And you will know that, even if you are in a conscious “hold” pattern at work, you will be back on the fast track in your next phase. And you can prepare. (You ARE preparing, aren’t you?)


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