Whether you have an end of year performance review coming up, want to pursue an internal vacancy, beginning to feel your role is becoming monotonous, or are actively planning to move firms, taking time to work out what you actually want to do is always worthwhile. In fact it's essential.

The idea of this article is to help people do this with a few simple steps/questions. The benefit of this is significant - it will help you communicate your own goals better to your boss, your peers or an interviewer. It will also help with how you frame your experience and aspirations on your CV - nailing that all important intro paragraph that will determine if you get a look in at an interview.

What do you want to do?

The ‘What do you want to do?’ question may seem obvious but it is amazing how many professionals have not actually stepped back and thought about this in the context of their own personal aspirations. Many people can tell you what they think their employer, or future employer, wants but this is not the same. Here at Calibre we speak to a lot of professionals and talk them through the following steps as it really helps them (and in turn ourselves) better understand their core drivers and aspirations. I’ve broken down how to work through each step in more detail but put simply the steps are focused on:

STEP 1) What do you want to do?

STEP 2) Why do you want to do this?

STEP 3) How are you best able to achieve this goal?

STEP 4) When do you want to achieve this by?

To anyone who has not done this recently - irrespective of your intentions - I'd recommend taking ten minutes out, ideally with a pen and paper, to work through this. And please do reach out to let me know how you go:

1. Well, what do you want to do in your career?

Embrace the freedom this question gives you – remove what you feel you should do and simply write down what you would love to do! It’s okay to allow this to be instinctive so if something immediately comes to mind then write it down. Otherwise think about your job and any previous aspirations you might have had. Some we have heard recently are around:

  • ‘be recognised as the go to industry leader, providing technical advice in my field'
  • ‘be a director in a firm where I can focus on delivering complex projects’
  • ‘to change the way my industry works by advocating for more positive culture/values driven approach'

Don’t worry if it doesn’t sound fancy – at this stage it is about getting something down on paper and you will likely adapt it later in the process.

And what don’t you want to do?

Knowing what you want to focus on often requires knowing what you don’t want to do. People often worry about the idea of closing doors or turning down some responsibilities as this may make them look difficult as an employee but remember this is just an exercise at this stage. By articulating what you don’t want to do you are able to really able to be introspective and reflect on your career to date and allows you to have more focus going forward.

2. Why do you want to do it?

So why does this appeal – what is it that makes this prospect so appealing? This in itself may be self-evident but this is actually a key step because the reasons why you want to do this will align very closely with your personal value proposition and will help you communicate why you are capable of achieving what you want to do. Someone who wants to be focused on a particular career path will most likely be very passionate about the aspects of that career path – be it:

  • ‘I really enjoy focusing on detailed complex/technical problems’
  • ‘I strongly believe that by helping people develop and enjoy their job has a huge impact on performance.’
  • ‘I thrive on working on large projects where you have to manage and influence multiple stakeholders’

What do you love about this, what you enjoy doing, what gives you the most satisfaction? And what you least enjoy doing and would quite happily not undertake again. Many people feel that having dissatisfying parts of your job is part of life but it doesn’t have to be. Naturally there are trade offs but remember that an employer is going to maximise their value/return from you if you are motivated and doing the work you love so it is an important component.

3. How must I develop/change to get there?

Many may say, ‘I just need a chance here,’ but it is important you think from the perspective of ‘employers of future you’ (or, if you are looking to set up your own firm, then your target client’s perspective). What must I be able to demonstrate in order to get this opportunity – Put aside the question of what you need from others and focus on what you need to achieve: What gaps are there currently and how can I bridge the gap going forward? Examples may be:

  • ‘I need to increase my exposure to larger projects and put my hand up for’
  • ‘I need to look at expanding my networks in the industry, to be able to increase my profile through talks’
  • ‘I need more opportunity to gain experience leading others’

Can this happen in my current role? What must I do to achieve this? Will increasing exposure to different people and projects be of benefit to me going forward? And how am I going to do this?

I put the model below together last year (based on the McKinsey Strategy model) but it helps visualise the need to break down your progress.

4.. When do I want to achieve this by?

We can’t all walk into our perfect role today but if we don’t think about when we want to achieve something we are unlikely to ever get to work we want to do.

I know we should always be mindful of the steps ahead. It’s important to avoid falling into a ‘when I have 3 more years’ experience’ or ‘when I reach associate level’ as this is looking at ultimately arbitrary measures of value. This is more about giving yourself, and your employer a clearer and realistic pathway to achieving your goal (the career horizon model (above) helps again – with this focus on the x-axis).

Now how can I use this?

So what does this actually do for you now? Well, at worst it has brought your focus to your own intrinsic motivations. We all fall into the rut of coming to work day in day out without connecting this to the bigger, and far more fulfilling aspects of the work you do. Simple ways to make this exercise useful would be:

  • Raise it with your manager/team leader or even mentor the next time you sit down together – not as a list of demands but as a talking point where you actively solicit their opinion, feedback and advice. A third party view is always worthwhile and will not only help others understand your drivers/ambition but also will help you refine this.
  • Use as the basis of your next performance/annual review. A word of caution - it may take some people time to actually understand what appears clear to you. There is also a case that you may not like how people react but don't shut this down - all feedback is valuable. If an employer feels you are falling short in a certain area just make sure the conversation is centred around how together this can be addressed.
  • Build an understanding of what other employers may be able to assist you to achieve your goal and how this may differ to your current organisation. This is of course where Calibre can come in and provide context and a market perspective – With no expectations, you can reach out for a chat with Nicola, Kirsty, or myself at a time that suits.
  • Use this information to frame your CV, your Linkedin Profile or a cover letter – I’ll talk about this more in my next post but it’s important to make sure your passion and drivers stand out on paper – not an easy task!

What do you think?

I hope this has been helpful and I’d love to hear how you get on with this so please do share – equally if you have any other thoughts or wish to discuss anything else around your career do get in touch.