Choosing the right degree program often comes down to flexibility. For most people, interests, aspirations, and goals change over time, and holding a degree that offers access to multiple career paths is generally a smart move. One of the most flexible degree options in the business realm is management, especially at the graduate level. With a degree in management you can work in virtually any industry, applying your leadership skills and training in a variety of capacities.
Despite the flexibility of a management degree, though, a career development plan is still a necessity. Even when you earn your degree from one of the best online MBA programs, without a plan, you are likely to flounder a bit in the early days of your career while you try to figure out what you want to do. Not only does not having a plan make it more difficult to articulate your goals when looking for a job, it’s also a sign that you lack the leadership abilities necessary to be an effective manager.
Having a plan puts you in charge of your career, not your boss or the HR department. Instead of waiting around for your boss to decide you’re ready for a promotion, a plan puts you in control and pushes you to take the steps necessary to move up the ladder — and know when it’s time to move on from one position to another.
Creating a career development plan not only takes the control of your career away from others, it’s also an indication of your leadership abilities. In short, it’s practically impossible to lead others if you can’t lead yourself. Leaders don’t leave things for others to handle — they take ownership and make things happen.
How can you make things happen for yourself? Start with some self-reflection.
Getting to Know You
The term “development” means to grow or to advance, so your career development plan should focus on how you can improve and add to your existing skills. The first step in that process is to analyze where you are now, and identifying your strengths and areas for improvement. In fact, you might even consider conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your management and leadership skills to more specifically identify those areas that need work.
As you consider your strengths and weakness, focus on your management skills and signs that you are ready for a greater challenge. For instance, the best managers tend to be problem solvers, great communicators, big picture thinkers, and highly professional. Evaluate your skills in these areas to determine where you need the most work; for instance, you might be a fantastic writer, but need more work on your public speaking or interpersonal communication skills.
In addition to self-reflection, it might also be useful to seek feedback from others. You most likely have access to evaluations from your leaders, but you can also enlist the help of your colleagues. Many companies use a 360-degree feedback questionnaire to evaluate leaders; if you aren’t part of that process, talk with your boss about joining that process to help identify areas for development.
Once you are aware of your deficiencies, you can then work on a plan to address them.
Creating a Career Development Plan
The most common problem with most career development plans is that they are not action-oriented. As you create a plan, focus on specific actions you can take to improve. These might include:
- Taking additional courses or earning an advanced degree
- Reading relevant literature
- Attending conferences and seminars
- Seeking a mentor or coach
- Joining networking groups, online or in-person
- Investing in online training
- Seeking feedback from others
As you think about the actions you plan to take, set concrete deadlines and create a plan for accountability. For example, you might work with your boss or mentor to develop your plan, and then have regular check-in meetings to discuss your progress. Most importantly, though, you need to think about how you will put your new learning into practice, and measure the success of your efforts. It’s one thing to read a shelf full of management books — it’s something else entirely to put the knowledge to work.
Career development is an ongoing process. Approach it with an attitude of openness and a commitment to lifelong learning, and you will have a long and successful management career.