Planning for your career requires considerable thought and commitment. Although we may stumble across opportunities that will take us on a pathway we had failed to previously consider, having a plan for your career trajectory is a winning strategy for advancement and satisfaction. Throughout my years in the field and countless conversations with professionals, I have found that advance career planning is often given little consideration until too late. If you wait to think about your next several career steps until you start a job search, then you have done yourself a significant professional injustice. Searching for advancement opportunities beyond the entry level is more than applying for any job that has title of “assistant or associate” in it. It requires an understanding of where you wish to go over the course of your career in higher education. The positions you hold will shape your marketability and create pathways, whether they are intended or not.
A common trap for new professionals is to jump completely into their new full-time role and invest every minute into those responsibilities. What is often forgotten is the need to continually strategize to maximize your professional opportunities. This includes finding a mentor in the field, pursuing opportunities to continue broadening and refining your skills, and giving careful consideration to your long-term plan. Long-term planning isn’t easy and many people don’t take it seriously because there is no immediate payoff. However, if think you may eventually want to become a Dean of Students or Senior Student Affairs Officer, you need a strategy to help guide you toward that goal.
In order to create a roadmap to assist with the journey, there are a few things you need to consider/plan for:
1) Invest in yourself: Think through and seek opportunities that will diversify your experience outside of your job description. Consider what knowledge, skills, and practical experience you will need to obtain your next position. Remember that titles are nice, but job responsibilities are often more significant in providing the prerequisite tools for career growth and establishing your professional brand.
2) Know the field: Stay on top of trends and understand the internal and external influences that will impact our institutions and students. Be sure to explore topics and engage in on-going learning through information gathering, certifications, and any other means.
3) Articulate and advocate: Many supervisors are interested in professionally developing their team members. Be sure that you have a candid discussion with your supervisor about your willingness to contribute to projects/assignments beyond the scope of your role; it is your responsibility to guide conversations related to your development and to be intentional and strategic in your professional practice.
4) Connect: Network with those around you within your institution—but, venture out of your own department. The more individuals you connect with, the more opportunities you may be given to broaden your professional portfolio. Also, network throughout the field and with those at all levels. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people at conferences or professional gatherings. You may meet a potential mentor who has already accomplished what you hope to achieve.
Knowing what you want from your career will be useful in crafting a long-term career plan that works for you. As you go through your current position, be sure you are giving daily consideration to the opportunities that could potentially enhance your career strategy prior to sending out resumes for the next potential job opportunity.
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