Some of us feel comfortable going with the flow, not having a preconceived plan or a vision, and we can get lucky doing that. For instance, my undergraduate thesis supervisor had an interesting, non-linear career path. He did his MSc in Genetics, got bored of the lab work, followed his friends’ footsteps and went on to get a doctorate in chiropractic medicine. Once he graduated, he discovered that front-line work wasn’t a good fit for his personality. In searching for alternative options, he stumbled upon the field of Health Research Methodology and went on to get a PhD in the field. Despite the fact that his approach of “going with the flow” had essentially worked for him, when asked what advice he would give to someone like me just starting graduate studies he was quick to say that he would encourage students to spend time reflecting and carving out short and long-term goals as to not have to waste resources pursuing degrees and jobs that ultimately do not fit your passions. He said that most high achievers have a clear vision of their goals and set the pathway to get there before they start. This advice makes sense because it requires time and consistent focus to gain necessary skills, knowledge, and experiences to master anything. A clear vision for the future keeps you focused and accountable in the present and prevents you from seeking degrees and other offshoots from your primary path which may not serve you in the future.
Lately, I have felt compelled to devise a long-term career plan. I am pursuing a professional Masters degree, which many of us may agree are expensive and stressful. But on the positive side, putting the work into this degree often provides a work placement at the end. It would be ideal to complete a placement where I can see myself working after graduation. A placement is an ideal way to access internal job postings and prove our worth to the management. I plan to be picky when deciding on a placement and make sure it aligns with my future vision in order to plan the most concise path to my long-term career goals.
As always, when I feel the pressure of having to make a big life and career decision, I seek out as much advice as possible from my mentors. It is really the quickest and most efficient way to gain high-quality expert advice at no cost! Their responses are based on the plethora of knowledge and experiences they have accumulated over the years. In this blog, I’ll share a simple set of career goals which were inspired by a conversation with John Rankin, a leadership development consultant, and retired Vice-President and President of several successful companies. I will also share an effective worksheet on goal setting designed by my mentor Dr. Greg McQueen, an international leadership coach.
Know and Tell Your Story Well
First thing’s is first. You’ve got to know your story and be able to communicate it well. We spend a lot of time accumulating experiences to stand out and be competitive. But are you taking the time to reflect on the experiences? It is crucial to be able to pool together these experiences and be able to tell compelling stories of who you are and what you want in a career. This will help define a personal brand that is genuine and unique to you. You need to know your stories if you want to impact people at a deeper level and leave a lasting impression. What people remember the most is how you made them feel. Genuine compelling stories often touch people at an emotional level and will allow future employers to better understand you and what you can bring to the table.
Network, Learn and Refine Your Goals
Once you have a rough idea of your goals, you will want to start chatting with mentors who have pursued the same goals or are in the field of your interest. Seek out experts in your faculty, local university, or, at local businesses where you can envision working. This will give you an insight into the reality of the career, what the field or the job is really like and what it really takes to get there. John says most accomplished mentors are usually the most open and generous with time. He jokingly says that’s partly because they love to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. That works in our favor! The easiest way to approach potential mentors and start a conversation is to just ask them about themselves! Listen with genuine curiosity and enthusiasm, and only speak when you have something interesting to add. Listening carefully also gives you an idea of what relevant follow up questions to ask. Knowing their stories well can help you refine yours. Once you’ve collected information from several mentors, you can use this to refine your own career goals – on your own accord or by using the worksheet below!
Leadership Skills – Always Evolving
Generic leadership skills are crucial for success in any field or position and are also critical in carrying out the goals you have laid out for yourself successfully. Leadership is all about emotional intelligence. It also requires an ongoing effort to understand traits about yourself and others around you. As you evolve through school, early career, and towards senior positions, you should make it a habit to routinely check in with yourself and evaluate your leadership skills. Are you self-aware and disciplined? Do you manage your emotions well and react with reason? Are you an aggressive learner, always wishing to know where you stand and how you can do better? Most importantly, are you empathic towards others? Are you able to understand another person’s experience, perspective, and feelings? Without empathy, you will not inspire others or gain trust. Furthermore, it will be difficult to reach your goals if you can not inspire others or yourself to help you achieve them.
Design a Second Home you Love – Your Work Space
Reflecting on and envisioning your ideal workplace is a satisfying activity that can help with further refining long-term goals. Do you enjoy lots of contact with people? Do you like to work quietly and without interruption? Do you enjoy variety or consistency? Do you prefer to work as a team? How much direction do you enjoy? Do you enjoy giving direction and guiding others? Do you enjoy academia and research? Do you prefer more hands-on frontline work or direct patient interaction? All these are significant factors in determining the workspace in which you will thrive. It’s important to mentally design your ideal workplace to understand how your goals and their outcomes can get you to a workplace like this in real life.
Before moving into the goal setting worksheet, I wanted to share a few more words of wisdom from John.
First, you must have a general VISION of what you’d like to be doing in 5 to 10 years. Not a specific job, but a description of what kinds of things you hope to be doing? With what kinds of people? What will be challenging? What will be satisfying? How does it fit with your leadership story?
As distinct from your vision, goals are milestones along the road to your vision. However, the journey is not linear. Sometimes you miss a milestone or a fork in the road provides another opportunity. Your vision is your north star. If obstacles or opportunities arise, your vision guides your decisions.
Just as goals may change over time, your career vision will also evolve. A very rough rule of thumb is about every 7 to 10 years. John’s own career vision has changed over the years. First, upon graduating with an MBA, he hoped to become a vice president of a large Canadian company within ten years, then CEO of a non-profit and finally, spend semi-retirement in a variety of part-time consulting roles with non-profit organizations and boards. Roles that allow for satisfying contributions to worthy organizations, but which allow flexibility and free time to enjoy a range of hobbies and grandchildren.
Aim high and be resilient! Set high achievement goals, stretching yourself. John uses an example of “falling off a horse”. If you fail or fall get right back up. But he says there’s more to that. Reflect on why I fell? What went wrong? and What did I learn from it? Challenges keep you sharp and present, they also keep things exciting. Having a rational approach helps you figure out how can do better the next time a similar challenge arises.
Goal Planning Worksheet
Dr. Greg McQueen has, as he says “cobbled together” a working goal sheet from various sources in including the Niagara Institute for Leadership Development and the De Groote School of Business Emerging Health Leadership Program. The attached goal sheet is an example that is easy to follow and self-explanatory. Users should adapt this format to fit their own needs and perspective. The secret is to keep it simple, clear, achievable and understand that goals are like your vision they are iterative and evolve as you grow. They are not static. It is critical that you write them, share them with others and review/update regularly. No matter what goals you craft you must be willing to practice working on accomplishing the goals. Every professional athlete, no matter how good, continuously practice to improve.
Most importantly, remember, this is not just a rational process. We must engage our senses and feelings to understand our vision. True satisfaction will come from pursuing emotionally engaging goals meaningful to you.
I have included two references that Dr. Greg thinks should be of value to the readers:
Elizabeth G. Saunders, “Before You Set New Goals, Think About What You’re Going to Stop Doing”, Harvard Business Review, Feb. 5, 2018.
Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishback, “What Separates Goals We Achieve from Goals We Don’t”, Harvard Business Review, April 2017.