Why have a career development plan

“I’ll do whatever the company asks me to.”  A common comment when I ask employees what they want to do with their career.  This answer works well until you end up in a place asking yourself how you got so far from what you love; what’s meaningful; what you are good at doing.  You now know the answer–you did whatever you were asked.

It’s not necessarily loyalty speaking in that answer.  More often, it’s fear.  Fear that if you don’t do what is asked, you’ll never be asked again.  Based on experience, this is partially true.  However, it can be avoided.  Taking the perspective of the one asking you to take on a new role, they are trying to solve a problem.  And unfortunately, most of these conversations don’t begin with an ask of, “What do you want to do?”.  Usually, because in their experience, the answer is “Whatever you want me to do”, or some variation thereof.  Or its because the person asking has an urgent need and they are looking for someone with some skills.  You are gifted with skills, and the ability to learn new ones, so you’re not a bad choice from their perspective.  However, if you’re not passionate about the new role, there’s no way to get 100% of you, and eventually it gets less and less as you realize you actually hate the role.

If you don’t want the job, the best response to this question is , “No, and here are the reasons why”.  In this case, most managers get it and see it not as a flat denial of additional responsibility or a straight-up fear of change.  Instead, they actually feel like you thought about change and are looking for a specific kind of change.  

But even better than the best is to not be asked about jobs you definitely don’t want.  This is done by having a plan and communicating that plan to others.  The major outcome of this strategy is to be asked about positions that you might actually want rather than ones you definitely don’t want (or won’t want in 6 months).  

[Aside: Many are scared to say what they want with any specificity because they are afraid of what they don’t know about.  1) do your homework about what might be possible.  2) Keep an open mind.  Try new things continuously to discover those areas.  3) Be willing to change your mind when you find something new to incorporate into your career plan.  Rewrite it, Re-communicate it ]

Jonathan Shaver