Career Link: Six steps to managing your career

When you're on the lookout for a new job, for whatever reason, you may not feel inclined to plan much beyond what you'll say in your cover letter. After all, you don't know if you'll be called back, and you certainly can't predict if you'll get the position. Why spend time planning something so uncertain?

The cheeky answer is, if you don't have a plan you probably aren't going to get the job, and even if you do, you may regret it. Entering a job search without a plan is equivalent to trying to fix a specific problem in a jet engine by tearing the whole thing apart. It is a waste of time, effort and resources-just a shotgun approach in hopes that you hit the mark.

Instead, before you begin sending out resumes, take the time to build a career management strategy for yourself. A strategy can help guide you through each career step you take, ensuring that each one better positions you for the next. It will also increase your chances of job success and satisfaction by aligning your skills and values with your job moves.

Here are six basic steps to creating a meaningful career management strategy.

1. Understand your values, skills and interests. This goes well beyond "What am I good at?" and "What do I like to do?" Spend some serious time looking inward, talking with family and friends, evaluating who you are and what you would enjoy doing long-term. You may like a certain aspect of a job, but if that becomes 80 percent of the job, will it still be what you want? Would your affinity for a certain part of a job be enough to outweigh your dislike of another aspect? These types of questions should play heavily in your decisions on what positions to pursue.

2. Focus on your future profession. Notice this doesn't say "Focus on your future position." I think it's a mistake to chase titles and positions. Careers and opportunities evolve, so it's important to synthesize what you want and recognize that it may change. Look broadly at your career objectives and not narrowly at your function. Your expertise and current position may relate to security risk or business continuity, but don't limit your view to those things unless you want to hit a ceiling and be boxed in.

3. Set clear goals based on your strengths. Think back to the self-evaluation you did in step 1 and use it to build some objectives: a) You want to work at X type of company or industry; b) You would prefer Y region or location; c) The scope of your job responsibility should be Z; c) Acceptable compensation would fall within $ range. How flexible are you willing to be with these goals? If in step 2 you determined that you'd like to ultimately lead an organization, lay out the incremental knowledge-building and career moves that will help you get there.

4. Always know your next step. You have to have a plan for what you will do if you get the job offer you're hoping for, and what you'll do next if you don't. Don't put yourself in the position of having to re-think everything at the point of the offer. Know what your overall bottom line is in advance. Decide ahead of time what position or type of position you'll apply for next if you don't get this offer, or whether it's time to stay put.

5. Obtain new learning and skills you will need. If you've followed the steps, you already know what sort of position you ought to go for. It's not always easy, however, to figure out what skills you need to compete for it. As an industry we've done a terrible job identifying the skills needed for given positions -- both tactical or operational skills and "critical soft skills" focusing on management and leadership qualities. In the operational areas, extract from a variety of top-level position descriptions the salient points and be able to articulate how those program elements support the organization's stated business objectives. Management and leadership skills are developed with experience and through opportunities to work around talented leaders. Most organizations publish their cultural philosophy and values. That is a good starting point, as is spending time at the library or bookstore reading on these topics.

6. Establish a diverse communication network. Industry organizations and groups are good starting points for network building. Volunteering for projects and committees is a good way to establish direct interaction with people who are not necessarily within your own profession. But don't just volunteer to put something on your resume or to be self serving. Ask yourself if you really care about the focus of the group. People will see through it if you don't, and you'll end up working counter to your own purposes.

While your career management strategy will certainly have to be revisited and revised as your goals and skills evolve, it will provide you an indispensable resource in your job search and career development efforts.

Jerry BrennaAbout the author: Jerry Brennan is co-author of the book Security Careers, and content expert faculty for the Security Executive Council. He is also founder of Security Management Resources, the leading global executive search firm specializing exclusively in corporate security. The new edition of Security Careers includes more than 70 security job descriptions and career paths; up-to-date compensation trends for each position; tips on how to get the best compensation for yourself and your staff; comprehensive lists of certifications, member organizations and job resources; and resume tips and samples.

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