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Career development stages

CAREER planning, to the uninitiated, would be a one-time process, something that is done by high school students or fresh graduates at the beginning of their working life to choose a profession or career path. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Considering that most people change their careers (not jobs) as many as four to five times in their working life, career planning is, and ought to be- a lifetime process.

It is a process that needs to be regularly reviewed, updated and changed.

While there are any number of things that can affect the way your career shapes up- circumstances, changes in attitude, your family, the economy, market trends and even the stage of life you are in, a successful career plan is one that can adapt to these changes and reinvent itself when required.

Like the changes in a man's life span, his career too undergoes various stages of development; and, just like a person's life, career options too are flexible in the initial stages, and have a propensity to become more predictable later on. This is not to say that you cannot break free of your chosen career at an advanced stage. -

In fact, many people have done just that! But, it is also a fact that your options will be limited once your career follows a set path for a certain amount of time. So, what is the ideal stage to explore your career options?

When do you begin to get into the skin of your career? When do you outgrow it? Is there something called a seven-year itch or a mid-career crisis? When is the ideal time to switch over to a new career? If these are some of the questions that cross your mind when you think of career planning, this article attempts to answer some of them.

A whole new world: Assessment
For a baby, its first real comprehension of faces, of sounds, voices and colour can be an overwhelming experience. It opens up a whole new world for them. Then curiosity takes over, prompting them to explore the world around them.

Compare this with the feelings you go through when you are young, inexperienced and not sure about what you want to be doing for the rest of your life.

At the assessment stage, you are almost like the baby as far as your future career is concerned- unaware, gullible and irresolute. In this stage, you are still getting ready for your life's work.

This stage is characterised by a lack of direction, in that you are not sure what your values, strengths, and weaknesses are. You are curious to explore your options and find out what fits you best.

Taking assessment/psychometric tests or approaching a career counsellor or coach for advice and direction can be of great help to you at this stage of your career. Proper counselling can help you get started in the right direction straight away without loss of precious time or resources.

Swinging times: Exploration

In the exploratory stage of your career, you are researching on the opportunities that exist for your kind of qualifications and personality traits. This stage is characterized by feelings of confusion, and excitement. You may feel overwhelmed by all the jobs and opportunities that exist as you begin the process of researching.

You may find yourself being pulled in different directions. If you have a positive approach at this stage, you can learn about many possibilities that you can explore. However, to be successful, you have to do some serious preparation and research.

Steady road ahead: Commitment & retention

You have had your fair share of adventure dabbling in diverse professions, testing waters and having fun. Now you are ready to settle down and stabilize your career.

In the commitment stage, you will feel confident about what you want to be doing for a career. At this stage your focus will be on gaining knowledge and experience, setting long-term goals and adopting a success-oriented mind-set.

You will want to remain committed to your career by continually updating your skill sets and staying on par with industry standards. This is the most important stage of your career building process.

Restlessness and change: Transition

After years of working very hard to achieve success in your career, you suddenly find something amiss- it could be the lack of growth opportunities, dearth of challenges or plain boredom and disenchantment and you suddenly realize that you have fallen into a rut.

You could call it the (nth) year itch, mid-career crisis, world-weariness or burnout- these are all symptoms that your career needs a transition.

The transition stage is characterized by feelings of discomfort because you are unsure of what you will be doing next (and/or if you will be happy).

If the spirit of adventure still beats in some corner of you heart, now is probably the time you will break free, and make conscious changes in your career direction by seeking what you crave most, be it new opportunities, job satisfaction or better work-life balance.

Career cycles vary, and patterns change from individual to individual. For some it may have very few changes or some may go through a transition repeatedly.

Some may even have very quick career cycles- they may complete the entire cycle within a year or so! For others, it may take ten or twenty years to come the full round.

A clear understanding of the various stages of career development not only helps to identify one's current priorities and chart out a career plan for the future, but also helps leaders and managers chart an effective career path for their employees.

Exploration

In this stage, individuals hover on to their preferred area of work. It is a macro level understanding of a person's professional interests. Individuals explore the various opportunities available to them and identify their area of interest.

This is an ideal stage for assessing employee interests and skills. Charting out a career plan according to employee interests keeps employees motivated and therefore ensures higher productivity.


The Hindu - Education Plus - Wednesday, May 10, 2006