What Are Your Career Aspirations? A Simple Way to Map Them Out

We might get asked this question in an interview, or an annual performance review.  What should we say?  What has the right combo of growth/drive/pragmatism? A seemingly simple question, and the answer reveals a lot.

We want to put our best foot forward, right?  Show we are open to growing, committed to putting in the work to reach our goals, want the same mutually beneficial relationship that the company wants.

Two things we should keep in mind: being honest is better than saying what we think others want to hear, and we don’t have to have our whole life mapped out.

By being truthful we set ourselves up for long-term success.  If we like research, we should say that.  Saying we want to be managers when it just isn’t true means that a) if someone invests in you and your actions are contrary to your stated goals, they will feel used and b) you will be frustrated and probably unhappy with the way things turn out.  It’s not sustainable to work against our natures for any length of time.

On the other hand, if you don’t know every detail what you want from your career, that’s OK. Life and work will always throw curveballs.  Better that we chart a course, and be flexible to the winds – it’s the forward momentum you generate that will lead to great things, not often the unrelenting quest after a narrow-focused goal. A general plan is best and know that’s OK if that plan changes, because it probably will.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

So: be honest, and have a general idea of where you want to go.

“That’s great, Steph, but how do I actually answer the question?”

I have a few tips you can use to be more skillful in your response.  In management terms, there are three levels of strategy:  vision, strategies, and tactics.  Companies start with a vision, how they want the distant future to look. Strategies are medium-term ideas to drive to that vision.  Tactics are the short-term actions that are taken right now to work those strategies.

Business Planning as Career Development
Business Planning as Career Development

I suggest you state your career goals in a similar way.  Short term goals can be accomplished in one to two years: “Complete this project to develop skill X” “Obtain this certification” “Be accepted to into an MBA school” “Achieve X target through this initiative” “Start a professional networking group” “Gain experience through this cross-functional project”.  Medium term goals can be accomplished in three to five years, and could include an intent to be promoted (that could be a stretch, but a little ambition here is OK).  Maybe you want to finish that MBA, obtain a professional engineering designation, transfer to another department and broaden your company knowledge, etc.  Long term goals are five to ten years on the horizon, and should be a statement of your vision.  This could also include a promotion two or three steps above your current position.

I hope this helps!  If you have any suggestions, you can leave them in the comments below.  Everyone who has a stellar career goes about it differently, and they have great ideas beyond those above.


A note: I will be doing a few different series of posts this fall.  I have an interview series planned, and a series on reliability value.  I’ll try not to switch around too much, the topics will be in blocks of subject matter.  Thanks for reading, I’m glad you’re here.

The Windy City is Mighty Pretty: Three Things I learned from Leadership Training

Last week I participated in a leadership course in Chicago, and all the participants were women. I wrote about the general structure of leadership courses last week. After this experience, I have some takeaways and they are missing from that post:

1. I forgot about sharing stories and coaching discussions
2. I’ve changed over the years 
3. The PEOPLE.  Meeting new people, learning their stories and how they view the world, what drives them, what they strive for – it’s inspiring to say the least.

Stories and Coaching: Though philosophies are introduced, they don’t fully come alive for me until there are stories to connect to. For example, a workplace culture framework is useful to me only when I can picture people navigating within it.

When theories are applied to real life experiences, they stick better. The main difference between courses open to all genders and this one involving only women, wasn’t the theories or content, but the stories. The stories told here were told with a different lens, and there was an honesty and some direct questions that probably wouldn’t have been asked otherwise. I found some solace in the similarities between us. The benefits for me lay in the interactions between participants.

Carmen Lomellin
Guest Speaker Carmen Lomellin

Personal Growth: I’ve changed over the last 15 years. There are a few self-assessments I’ve repeated periodically (one since high school), and I’m almost 180 degrees different on certain scales.  My values haven’t changed – the core of my personality hasn’t changed – but I’ve shifted on certain axes.  

I’ve identifed as introverted since I learned what that was, but I’ve demonstrated increasingly extroverted behaviour.  Perhaps that is because, by and large, extroverted behaviour seems to be rewarded in our business culture.  However, in the time I’ve developed extroverted behaviors, I’ve also learned that introversion is not a flaw but a strength.  I still make calls that I’m uncomfortable making, purely because they make me uncomfortable.  I still need time to stare at a wall and clear my head so I can re-enter the busy extroverted place I work.  But I’m much more open and relaxed than I used to be.

Too much? Or, how I used to be...
Too much? Or, how I used to be…

The PEOPLE:  This is the magic. I like to meet new people, particularly people who are so invested in work and life.  Where did they come from?  How did they get here?  What are the strengths and experience they bring to the table?  What do they do for fun? (That one is always a great answer.) I’m not reaching when I say I was in some fantastic company.  So, thanks to you, Ladies!

In closing, I had very specific objectives for this course, and I’m happy to report I came away with the strategies and actions to work on those items.  But I came home with so much more.

Have you ever experienced a time like this – when you have a basic set of goals, and come away with much more? Met people who inspired you? What was it that made it memorable?