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Redefining the Career Plan, Part 2

In part 1 of this series of articles, I set out my view that the world of career planning for young law school graduates has changed significantly and asserted that a change was thus also needed in how we planned for our careers. The changed advocated for is one from the relatively static career planning process of aptitude identification and planning to a more dynamic approach that borrows from the disciplines of strategic and risk management. Finally, in order to expand on this point I discussed three core principles including that work has changed, that the work participants are the ones playing a role in changing the work space and that we must change the way we career plan in order to match this changing reality.

In the final part of the series I will briefly lay out a simplified five-step process that I recommend to students who seek my advice on career planning. The steps closely follow the basic process that I engage in with my corporate clients during the strategic planning process and reflect the process that I engage in with my own career planning on an annual basis. A detailed explanation of each step and the tools required is beyond the scope of this brief article however a basic outline should allow you to begin further research and develop a dynamic process for career planning.

Step 1. Internal Analysis

The process of internal analysis is an important introductory step as it involves a detailed examination of your own current context and sets the foundation for the remaining process. Internal analysis should involve an inquiry into a number of areas including values, strengths, weaknesses, goals and priorities. These topics are then used to guide the strategy formulation step and are useful as you monitor and adjust your plan throughout your career. For example, when a new opportunity arises that may not be part of your original plan, you can reflect on which path best accords to your core values and goals. There are a variety of standard exercises that are employed in the strategic planning field for organizations that can be modified for personal use. The most common include value pyramid exercises and SWOT exercises (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).

Step 2. External Analysis

An external analysis entails reflection on an individual’s external environment. Relevant areas of inquiry include the current political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors. External analysis is necessary to determine areas of opportunity that can be exploited in your career development and areas to avoid. For example, new career fields such as a social media manager may present great opportunities given recent social and technological advancements while one might want to avoid a legal career based on a conveyancing practice due to the current economic and competitive environment in this field. The most common tool to assist in this type of exercise is known as a PESTLE analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental).

Step 3. Strategy Formulation 

Upon the foundation of an internal and external analysis you can now begin to set specific strategies for your career. Strategy formulation is meant to result in a clear set of goals and objectives with accompanying concrete steps. Building on the earlier example, if a core value of yours is freedom, a core goal is to be your own boss and a strength area of yours happens to be social media, you may wish to set an overall objective to own and manage a consulting firm specializing in social media use for lawyers. Prior to accomplishing this objective however you will first have to complete your articles, perhaps practice in a technology related area for a time, develop a solid skill set through further education and training and establish credibility through blogging and public speaking. For each objective then you should break down your goals into concrete steps that follow the SMART guidelines (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Responsible, Timely).

Step 4. Strategy Implementation

Once you have set down your objectives and broken them down into SMART steps, it is time to head out into the world and implement your steps in a methodical fashion according to the timelines established.

Step 5. Monitoring and Adjustment

Monitoring and adjustment is the most important step in the entire process given the rapidly shifting work environment in which we currently exist. This is because the best-laid plans often get off track when unexpected events occur or if we do not check in regularly to see if our plan reflects our current internal and external environment. The optimal way to monitor and adjust your plan is to commit to check in with your plan on a regular interval and employ a set of standard questions to gauge whether adjustment of the plan is needed. In addition to the regular interval check in however, situations will often arise, such as an unexpected job opportunity that force you to consider your reconsider plan. These situations are exactly where the formula set out above is most useful, as you will have developed a solid and reasoned foundation upon which to make your judgment.

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