How to Design a Career Plan in 5 Days and 38x Your Career
This guide will walk you through the surprisingly easy formula for getting the job, raise or promotion you want and deserve!
(This guide is an adaption of chapter #9 from the book Invaluable: Master the 10 Skills You Need to Skyrocket Your Career)
I have had what most people would call a successful career. I was promoted 10 times in 15 years, grew from an individual contributor to a VP-level executive and was able to work for companies like Microsoft and Google. I consistently increased my salary, gained more responsibility and saw my work make a real impact on the company’s bottom line.
None of these happened by mistake. I designed a fulfilling and engaging career that gives me energy and keeps me motivated and excited to go to work. I planned my career and meticulously followed through in order to achieve my goals, and you can do the same.
Most people don’t have a career plan. They go to work, they do their 9 to 5 and hope for the best. They hope their manager will notice their hard work, they hope that the company will decide to offer them a raise, they hope they’ll get the promotion they have been yearning for just because it’s their turn... Let me tell you a secret, hope is not the best strategy for growing your career. Why settle for maybe or one day when you have the ability to design the career you want right now?
I’ll tell you why. Most people don’t realize that they have the power to design their career. They think success just magically happens to a few lucky individuals. They assume that career growth is automatic. If they just do their job, attend an event or two and read the industry headlines, then they’ll be fine. That's not growing. In this day and age, that is the minimum you need to do to stay relevant. If you want to have the career of your dreams, then you need to be proactive and intentional. You need to own your career and steer it in the direction you want to go.
It might be hard to believe, but you have the power to design the career of your dreams.
You can get the job, the promotion and the raise you want and deserve if you are willing to put in the work and own your journey.
Why do you need a career plan?
I’m a marketer, but I spent the first seven years of my career as a travel agent. I didn’t have a plan or a vision for my career, I just needed to pay my rent and make sure that I saved enough to put myself through college. It was a good job. The company was great, the people were great and I slowly moved up the ladder and even became a manager. There was nothing wrong with that job, but it wasn’t my dream job.
The ah-ha moment happened when I started my bachelor’s. I fell in love with marketing and realized that being a travel agent wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my career… I wanted more.
Once I realized that I was going in the wrong direction, I decided to take action. First, I learned everything I could about different marketing roles and focused on the one that got me excited: social media management. Then, I started using Facebook and Twitter to learn how these platforms work. Once I got a grasp on the basics, I approached my manager and offered to launch a Facebook page for the company. I volunteered to do it in my spare time as an experiment in order to see if I could deliver value, and maybe, somewhere down the road, transition into a marketing role. Just six months later, I joined a social media agency and launched my marketing career.
If I hadn’t stopped to ask myself what I actually want to do with my career, and if I hadn’t built a plan to get me there, then there was a possibility that I would still be a travel agent. Luckily, I was passionate enough about marketing that it motivated me to take action towards my goal. Dreams are not enough. If you want to see results, then you need a career destination, and an actionable plan that can help you get from where you are today to where you want to go.
It’s important to identify a destination and set a course for your career, so you won’t get lost. Think about it this way: when you want to get from one place to another, you choose the destination on your GPS. You don’t wander the streets hoping you’ll get to where you want to go. That would be crazy, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to careers, many people forget to set their destination and end up spending their careers wandering around.
Don’t worry, I won’t let that happen to you. By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll have the tools you need to set your career destination, figure out what it takes to get there, and create the opportunities you need to totally crush it at work!
Your journey’s just beginning, but trust me when I say that this is about to get really exciting.
I think you’re going to be absolutely blown away by the results you’ll get when you actively work on developing your career and take action towards your goals.
Are you excited? You should be. So, let’s get started.
Step 1: Evaluation and Discovery
If you want to have a fulfilling and meaningful career, all you need to do is design it.
The million-dollar question is: How do you create a career plan that takes you from where you are today to where you want to be?
In order to design a career plan for your dream job, you must first understand what that dream job looks like. You need to decide on a destination before you can set the course to get there.
Some people know exactly what they want. They have been dreaming about their career path since they were five years old, and they have spent their entire lives working towards that goal. I’m not that person. When I was 16, I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought it would be cool to be the person who gets to say “objection, your honor”. Obviously, I saw one too many TV shows growing up. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be an architect, but once I realized that this line of work requires me to dive deeper into physics, then I decided it wasn’t for me after all. I then had a short fascination with becoming a pastry chef. I love baking, so I thought it would be fun to spend my days in the kitchen. Once I learned bakers wake up before dawn and spend hours on their feet every day, I decided that baking would remain a hobby. I only started developing a passion for marketing seven years into my career.
If you are not sure where you want to go next or what your career journey should look like, don’t worry. You don’t need to have it all figured out in order to plan your next step. You can plan for the next year, or for the next role, but you don’t need to have a vision for the next decade.
Follow these steps to identify what you want to do next:
The Perfect Day
This is a great exercise that you can use in order to visualize what the future might look like. The idea is to imagine what a day in your life would look like when you have your dream job. This exercise requires that you go through an entire day and capture what you see and feel from the minute you wake up until the time you go to sleep.
Your perfect day will include details about where you live, what you do when you wake up, where you work, what you do all day, who you meet and how you feel. You should ignore any and all limitations and just assume that you can have it all… your dream job, the right salary and a happy life. I like to imagine it all in my head as if I’m watching a movie about my life, and then write down everything I saw in my head. The whole thing should take you 20 to 30 minutes, and you will end up with a story that outlines what you want to do and how you want to live. This is the first step towards identifying your career goals and building a plan to achieve them.
Look at the story you wrote and start extracting insights. What was the profession you imagined? Did you have a specific role? What were you actually doing?
Create a bulleted list of insights that could be used to better define your career destination.
When I went through this exercise, I imagined myself as the CMO of a Silicon Valley startup. I was leading a team, and had the opportunity to make an impact on the company as one of the senior executives. In the career story I envisioned, I spent the first part of my day with my team—removing obstacles and solving problems. I participated in strategic discussions with management and had lunch with a colleague in order to expand my network. The second part of my day was dedicated to marketing work and tasks that I was personally responsible for, such as planning, tracking, strategizing, and creatively thinking—all the things I absolutely love doing. In the evening, I would go home to have dinner with my husband and work on a personal project. At the time, it was a podcast about marketing. I could imagine what the office would look like and I knew what I’d be wearing, but more importantly, I could feel how I would feel when I had the career of my dreams—happy, proud, fulfilled, and energized.
When I wrote the story about my perfect day in 2013, I was nowhere near making it come true. I was not living in California, I wasn’t in a leadership role, and I didn’t have a podcast. However, none of that mattered. I just wrote about my dream; my vision of the person and the professional I wanted to become.
It’s now seven years later, and I’m as close as I have ever been to realizing everything I have dreamed of. I live in San Francisco with my wonderful husband and I work as a startup consultant where I focus mostly on strategy, planning, and creative thinking. I had the opportunity to be the VP of Marketing for a fast-growing startup, where I led an incredible team and made a direct impact on the company’s success. When it comes to my passion projects, I spent two years co-hosting a podcast about marketing with one of my dearest friends who is a marketing genius, and now, I have a few new passion projects: writing and publishing a book (done!) and helping others achieve a new level of success.
Maybe you are not impressed. After all, seven years is a long time, but I had ambitious goals that required time, patience, and dedication to accomplish. I’m not sure where I’d be right now without my “perfect day” vision. The story I wrote stuck in my head and kept me going all of these years, especially when things got hard and frustrating.
Take time to imagine your perfect day. You don’t have to imagine 10 years into the future; you can imagine what your life could look like in just a year from now, and start from there.
If visualization doesn’t work for you, then you can try a different exercise to identify your career destination.
Create a Mental Model of Your Work Experience
This is a methodical brainstorming session that will help you figure out what your next career move should look like.
Take a blank sheet of paper, draw a circle in the middle and write your current title or profession inside that circle. Draw branches that come out of the circle, and for every branch, list a skill you have acquired, a responsibility you own at work or an experience you’ve gained. The goal is to end up with a comprehensive overview of your professional abilities. Add at least 25 branches to make the most out of this exercise. You can either base your branches on your current role or include everything you have learned and experienced to date.
When you are done, divide your branches into two lists. On one list, include everything you enjoy doing at work. On the other list, write everything you hate doing at work and that you hope you will never have to do again. Put your list of dislikes aside; your goal is to avoid doing any of those tasks again. Focus on the list that includes the things you enjoy doing. You can add responsibilities or skills you don’t have experience with yet, but those that you think you would enjoy doing. For example, you might want to gain leadership experience or learn how to negotiate.
Look at the list of things you want to do. Can they make up a role? Even if you are not sure, just write down a few ideas.
For example, if you have content writing experience, great communication skills and you’ve done hands-on social media work, then potential roles may include social media management, product marketing or content marketing. These could be individual contributor roles or leadership roles depending on your seniority.
If you are not sure or you are unable to come up with potential roles that suit your skills, try this: use LinkedIn to search for each of the skills you have identified. When you type “content marketing” into LinkedIn’s search bar, the results will surface professionals who have these keywords in their profile. What are their job titles? Can you identify a role that fits your skills? Click through to see their full profile. Their career journey may inspire a few more ideas.
In addition to professionals, LinkedIn will also surface job descriptions that include your keyword. Browse through those job descriptions to discover new and interesting roles. Click through to see the full requirements for each role, and learn if any of them might be a good fit for you. Your goal is to find a job description that excites you or gets you curious enough to learn more.
When you find a role that interests you, read at least three to five job descriptions to make sure that you have the full view of the requirements.
Tip: search for job descriptions from companies you would be interested in. Some roles may look differently depending on the type of company you work for. Product management at a tech company that sells to business customers may have a different set of requirements than product management at a consumer goods company, even if the job title is the same.
The Career Ladder
The last and most common way to decide what your career destination should look like is to follow a career ladder. Many companies have structured career paths for the roles they offer, and you can use those guidelines to learn what will be required in order to get to the next level. You can ask your manager or find this information on the internal company website. If you are not at the company yet, you can use a website like Levels.fyi to identify the career tracks for top companies like “FAAMG”—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google.
Zero in on Your Destination
Ideally, after going through one of these exercises, you will have a list of one to two potential career destinations. The last step in this process is to validate your selection. Job descriptions do not tell the full story, and no matter how many online reviews you read, nothing compares to speaking with a professional who is currently in the role you are considering. Learning what the day-to-day actually looks like and how you will be spending your time if you take the next step in your career could save you years of regret.
Remember, look for professionals who work for companies that you would consider working for in order to make sure you get the most accurate description of the role. Reach out to them on LinkedIn or use a tool like Mailscoop.io or SalesQL to find their email, and then reach out to them directly. Your goal is to convince them to jump on a call with you and share their career journey. You want to know how they got to where they are today and learn what their day-to-day looks like, so that you can decide if that is something you want to do. Reaching out to complete strangers is the hardest step in the formula, but also the most valuable one, so don’t chicken out!
BONUS: LinkedIn/Email Outreach Templates
If you are not sure how to reach out to professionals, then use the below templates. How to get 80% of people to open your email:
Thoroughly review the LinkedIn profile of the person you are reaching out to.
Look at their social media feeds. You want to learn more about them and (hopefully) find some common ground.
If you see a video they have created, a podcast they interviewed for, or an article they wrote, then please consume that content. By learning more about them, you’ll be able to personalize the message and increase the chances of hearing back from them.
Find a way to add value to the people you are reaching out to. For example, engage with their content, leave thoughtful comments or ask questions. Another way to add value is to look for broken links or grammar mistakes on their LinkedIn profile or personal website and point them out privately, so they can fix them.
Hey, [the person’s name]. I was looking for [profession/role] leaders and landed on your profile. I’m impressed with your background and would love to hear more about your journey as I’m planning the next steps in my career. Would you be open to jumping on a quick call? I’ll be happy to accommodate your schedule.
Hey, [the person’s name]. I enjoyed your interview on [name of podcast]. What you said about [something they said] really resonated with me. I would love to learn how you became [their role] because it’s what I want to do next and I am sure that I could learn from your experience. Would you be open to jumping on a quick call? I’ll be happy to accommodate your schedule.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Conversation with Professionals
The best way to ace this conversation is to know what you are looking for. This is not a networking event, it’s an active investigation. While you want to keep the conversation warm and friendly, you also have two goals to achieve:
1. Find out what the role looks like in real life and what you’ll be doing in your day-to-day.
2. Learn what it takes to qualify for this role, i.e., the most important skills, experiences and qualifications you need to have in order to get this job.
Prepare a list of questions in advance, and spend the majority of the conversation asking questions and listening, not talking about yourself. Ideally, you will speak with five professionals and start seeing commonalities. Take notes during the call and summarize what you learn from these conversations. You want to end up with a list of bullet points that include the most important skills, tools, certifications or experiences you’ll need to acquire in order to step into their shoes.
You can use this template to ask questions and collect answers.
Step 2: Gap Analysis
Taking the next step in your career usually involves stepping out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself. That’s actually good news because it means that you are going to learn and grow while you go through this process. It also means that there is a gap between where you are today and where you want to go, and your job is to identify this gap.
The first step is to create the ideal candidate profile for the role you want by using the information you collected during your conversations with professionals as well as the job descriptions you reviewed earlier. Collect all of the information and eliminate any duplicates. You want to end up with bullet points that represent the skills and the experiences that are required for your dream job. Rank these skills in order of importance from the most important one to the least important one.
Now that you have an overview of the ideal candidate profile, it’s time to see where you stand.
For every requirement on the list, rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 to determine how well you qualify. For example, if the role requires management experience and you don’t have any, then write 1. If the role requires technical skills that you have mastered, then give yourself a 10. If the role requires great communication skills and you feel quite confident in your abilities, write 8. If your communication skills are only decent, write 5.
When you are done rating yourself, remove any skill that was rated higher than 8. These are skills that you don’t need to work on… you already have what it takes to qualify. Look at the remaining skills. You want to focus on the intersection of skills that are crucial for the role and are rated the lowest. These are the skills that you must work on in order to get to your dream job.
Step 3: Gain the Experience You Need
Did you create the ICP (Ideal Candidate Profile) for your dream job? Awesome. Now, it’s time to turn yourself into that ideal candidate. You already have a solid understanding of what you need to focus on in order to dramatically speed up your career progression, so you might be wondering: How do I go from where I am today to where I want to be? Shouldn’t I wait for my manager to put me up for a promotion? How am I going to gain all of this experience if no one hands it to me?
I’m glad you asked!
This is exactly what you are going to learn in this chapter. You are going to learn three different ways to gain experience and qualify yourself for your dream job without breaking the bank or depending on your employer to help you out.
I promise you, getting the experience and the skills you need is easier than you think, but it will require time and effort.
1. Independent Learning: Can You Learn This Skill On Your Own?
The most obvious path to growing your career is to simply educate yourself. We live in a time where education and knowledge are at our fingertips, and we can literally learn about anything with a click of a button. Independent learning is a great way to get started and gain the basic knowledge you need. It can also help you check the box when it comes to formal requirements like certification or training.
Here are a few resources that can help you with independent learning:
Take an online course or certification
Download a software program, work with it and learn how to use it
Follow an influencer or an expert and learn from the content they are sharing online
Follow a YouTube channel
Join a Facebook or Slack community
Listen to relevant podcasts
Read a book
Let’s be honest. Learning is awesome, but it’s not always enough. Reading about Facebook ads is not the same as running and optimizing a campaign. Writing a sales pitch is useless unless you get to practice it on prospects. Don’t worry, there is something you can do (independently) in order to gain some hands-on experience. This idea is often overlooked or ignored, but it is actually a great way to put the theory into practice without risking your career. You can volunteer—offer to do work for free in order to gain the experience that you need. You can help a family friend, a neighbour or a local business. All you need to do is offer the service that you want to practice for free, but mention you don’t have a ton of experience yet, so it will be a learning experience. As long as you commit to doing your best and delivering results, then most small businesses will jump on the offer to get free work.
BONUS: Volunteer at a Startup
Like most small businesses, startups are young companies with few resources and big ambitions. Especially early on, startups will take all the help they can get. If you want to gain experience working in the tech world, then startups are your best option. The problem is that early on, these startups fly under the radar. They are not household names like Airbnb or Zoom just yet, so how do you find them?
There are a few ways to find promising startups before they become well-known brands:
Search Google for “best startups in [industry name]” or “best startups to work for”. You’ll end up with a list that includes some of the more familiar names as well as some new up-and-coming startups.
Go to crunchbase.com. This is the largest database for tech startups and it is free to use if you sign up with your email. On the search screen, use the left side bar to narrow down your search. Choose an industry, a keyword, amount of funding, etc. You will only get to see the top five companies on any search with the free version, but you can run multiple searches and get past that limitation. You can click through to open the individual profile page for each startup, learn more about them and see their website and product description. You will also see who the founders are, so you can easily look them up on LinkedIn and find their emails.
One more overlooked resource is Y-Combinator’s alumni list. YC is the best startup accelerator program in the world (Strip, Airbnb, Dropbox), which means that startups graduating from this program are off to a good start. You can see the full list of startups on their website.
Once you find a startup you like, do some research to try to determine if they could use your help. You don’t want to waste your time offering your free services if they are already paying someone to do the work. If it seems like they can use your help, then reach out.
If you want to improve your chance of getting in the door, don’t send a general sales pitch. Take the time to come up with specific suggestions about what you can do for them. Just create a simple bullet point list with ideas and include this high level “strategy” in your pitch. For example: Instead of offering to “run their social media”, describe the topics that you will include in your content plan for the next two weeks. Instead of offering to help with their go-to-market plan, run a competitive analysis and explain at a high level the top three strategies you recommend for them. When you show someone what you are capable of, you give them a taste of the benefit they stand to gain by working with you; hence, making them more likely to accept your offer.
2. Just Do It
Sometimes, learning isn’t enough, and you need hands-on experience to hone in on your skills. In this case, the best solution is to simply do it. Take what you have learned in theory and put it into practice. You don’t need to wait for permission and you don’t have to pursue an employer. You can build a project to showcase your skills and gain the experience you need outside of work. You can build a website, write content, analyze some data, and interview customers or sell products online. It may sound daunting, but it’s actually easier than you think. All you need is an idea, some free tools (there are tons of free tools you can use to build your project) and Google.
Tip: Some people build projects around their passion or personal brand. If that’s not what you are looking for, then you can create a project for a company or a product that you like. As long as you use information that is publicly available and you make it clear that you do not represent the company in any way, then you can easily build a project for a real company.
The best part? You can use this project later on to impress a hiring manager and land a job at that company.
3. Use Your Current Job to Gain the Experience You Need for Your Next Role
This is, by far, the easiest way to gain experience, but most people completely miss out on this opportunity. People who do not realize that their career is their responsibility wait for opportunities to come knocking on their door instead of creating them.
Unfortunately, waiting is not a good strategy. If you have career goals, it is up to you to go out and get them. No one will care about your career as much as you… not your manager, not your partner, not your friends, no one. If you want an opportunity to grow and improve, then you need to create it, and what better place than your current employer. Gaining new skills involves doing more work, which means doing more than you are paid to do. Can you imagine a company saying “no” to an employee who wants to contribute more without asking for an increase in pay? Not to mention, if you happen to mess things up, no one will get mad or ask you to leave because you won’t be messing up your real job, you’ll be experimenting with a “side project”. As long as you are able to continue doing your work and doing it well, then you should be able to take on a few additional projects without ruffling any feathers.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Create opportunities by volunteering: For example, let’s say you want to develop leadership skills, but you don’t have any direct reports. Instead, volunteer to mentor more junior employees. You’ll get some leadership experience and the company will gain more engaged employees.
Initiate a project: For example, come up with a small project that will help your company—one that is not a top priority, but would be “nice to have”. Let’s say that you think you can improve your company’s Google ranking by updating all 375 posts on the company’s blog. Suggest this project to your manager and offer to do it in your free time. Work on two to three blog posts every week and track your progress. If you succeed – great. If you fail – who cares, it was just a side project.
Offer to take the load off of your manager. You need to be strategic about this offer—this isn’t about doing grunt work, so don’t be manipulated into running errands or passing notes. This is about taking on a new responsibility in order to learn, so be specific and ask your manager for the responsibility you want. For example, if you want more experience creating business reports, then ask your manager if you could help them prepare the first draft of the next report. Even if you don’t nail it, you will still save your manager a few hours of work and you’ll learn from their feedback.
Seek mentorship: Ask your manager or a colleague to help you learn a specific skill they have. For example, if you want to learn about budgeting, then ask your manager to share the budget they manage and explain the process they used to create that budget. You can also ask to be included in budget meetings without being an active participant.
Help others: Observe and identify problems, then offer your help. By taking on different tasks, you’ll learn different skills. Your CFO may need to review a new tool and would appreciate your feedback on the technology. Your sales team may need help conducting win-lose interviews and your customer support experience will go a long way in the process.
Internal internship: If you want to learn from a different team in your company, then you can offer a trade-off. You will use your skills to help them with something they need and that you already know how to do, and in return, they will give you an opportunity to intern for them and learn a new skill.
These are just a few examples of how to gain the skills you need and create opportunities for yourself. Once you have your goals mapped out clearly, then use these ideas to create an action plan.
Step 4: Create Your Career Plan
This is where the rubber meets the road. You know what your destination looks like, you have identified your gaps and you have brainstormed ways to create opportunities and gain the experience you need. Now, it’s time to put it all together and turn your ideas into actions.
1. Go back to the list of qualifications you need to work on. For each qualification gap, come up with a few suggestions to demonstrate how you could gain the experience you need. Use the three buckets mentioned in chapter 3 to come up with ideas.
2. The ideas you outlined are most likely high-level goals like “get a certification” or “build a website”. Big goals can be overwhelming and scary, and that could stop you from taking action. If you want to make sure you are motivated to follow through, then you’ll need to simplify every high-level goal and turn them into small, bite-sized tasks that you can perform in one to two hours. This way, your tasks won’t seem overwhelming and you’ll know exactly what you need to do on a daily basis.
Here is an example. Say I needed to gain more public speaking experience. Instead of working with a task that says “gain public speaking experience” (which is too vague), I would pick the task apart and outline the different steps I need to take in order to actually complete this goal.
Decide what you can talk about.
Research to see what is currently out there.
Create a high-level outline for your speech.
Map out industry events/event platforms/local communities.
For the relevant events, find the contact person.
Create a pitch to convince event planners to have you as a speaker.
Reach out to event organizers with your pitch and book a keynote.
Write your speech.
The key here is to focus on primary tasks—tasks that cannot be simplified further. In the example above, a task could have been phrased as “Apply to speak at events”, but that’s a complex task. In order to apply, you first need to evaluate and choose a topic that you can speak about. You need to figure out how to “sell” your keynote and then work on pitching yourself as a speaker. Each of these tasks can be completed in a matter of hours, not days or weeks, which makes them actionable. When your entire list is stripped down to its elements and all you have are bite-sized tasks, then you will be more likely to follow through.
3. Once you have a list of actionable tasks, it’s time to prioritize them and set up a timeline.
You can prioritize:
By urgency: Start with the tasks that require the longest time to be completed.
By ease: Start with the tasks that you can execute quickly in order to gain momentum and feel accomplished.
By importance: Start with the tasks that you ranked the lowest for because those are your biggest gaps.
Personally, I prefer to work on one goal at a time and complete all of the tasks related to that goal. Other people like more variety, so they work on tasks that belong to different goals in parallel. It doesn’t matter how you choose to tackle your tasks as long as you work on them regularly.
4. Add due dates to each task and create a timeline. You will end up with a repository of prioritized tasks with clear deadlines. This way, every time you review your career plan, it’s easy to choose which tasks you want to work on.
5. Set up a weekly reminder to review your tasks and choose which ones to work on every week. If your tasks are very neatly organized, then it shouldn’t take more than five minutes. I set up a reminder for Sunday, which is when I plan the week ahead, and I choose one to two tasks to work on. I also plug them into my calendar to ensure they will get done.
In order to keep you organized, I created a free resource that you can use to track your progress. It’s a simple spreadsheet with tracking options to mark tasks as either “in progress” or “completed”. All you need to do is add your tasks to the spreadsheet and you’ll have a working repository. Download the template here.
Congratulations! Your career plan is complete! All you have to do now is start executing and you will start seeing results. It may not happen overnight, but very soon, you’ll start seeing the compounding effect of gaining small wins. Before you know it, you’ll cross off all of your tasks and you’ll be ready for the next stage of your career. The only thing standing in the way of you getting the job of your dreams, the raise or the promotion you want is your ability to stay committed and work on your goals. Luckily, that’s what we are going to talk about next.
Step 5: How to Stay Accountable
Most people are able to create a career plan. They follow the guidelines, they get excited about their future and they promise themselves that they will follow through. The reality is only a few stick to their career plan and get the results they want. It’s not because most people are not capable of achieving their goals, it’s because they do not follow through. They simply quit before they make any meaningful progress.
I don’t want that to happen to you. You deserve to have the career of your dreams. You deserve a fulfilling and engaging career that gives you energy and makes you happy. You deserve to grow and learn so that you can maximize your potential and become the best version of yourself. This is why we need to talk about accountability and look into a few processes that could help you stay motivated.
Try one or more of these strategies whenever you feel like giving up:
1. Track your progress: Tracking your progress is essential for keeping yourself organized, but it actually has an additional benefit. When you see progress in the shape of crossed off tasks or green cells on a spreadsheet, you feel more accomplished. I’m not 100% sure what the psychological triggers behind this feeling are, but it’s true. This is also part of the reason why I asked you to simplify your task list. When you have primary tasks that can be completed within one to two hours, you end up completing a task every single week! You get to experience the joy of crossing it off and patting yourself on the back on a regular basis. You become addicted to this rush you get when you accomplish something, and that motivates you to keep going. If you stick with this schedule for about four weeks, then it will become a habit and you’ll essentially become addicted to working on your career development growth. How awesome is that?
2. Prioritize your career development and use your calendar to stay committed: There is a saying, “If you want to get something done, give it to the busiest person in the room”. It sounds counter intuitive, but it’s true. People with a crazy workload know how to prioritize and be as productive as possible. They know how to manage their time, and as a result, they get more things done. No matter what you have going on in your life, if you are serious about your career, then you will find time to work on your tasks. Whether that means you need to wake up an hour early or skip your favorite TV show, you can find an hour a week to spend on your professional growth.
If you don’t believe me, try this: For one week, track everything you are doing. Document your activities throughout the day in 15-minute increments and be specific.
6:00 – 6:30 a.m. workout
6:30 – 6:45 a.m. shower
6:45 – 7:00 a.m. breakfast
7:00 – 8:00 a.m. read and respond to emails
8:00 – 8:30 a.m. business call with a customer
8:30 – 8:45 a.m. checking social media
8:45 – 9:00 a.m. checking emails (again)
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. got work done
10:00 – 10:15 a.m. chatting with colleague on slack
You get the idea. Every minute should be accounted for. When the week is over, group similar tasks into buckets. For example, workout and meditation can be grouped together under health. Replying to business emails and crafting a report can be considered “work”. Count how many hours you spend on each bucket and calculate the % out of your entire week. If you spend seven hours on health out of a five-day week (120 hours), it means you dedicate 6% of your time to health. You may find (like I did) that you are spending more than an hour a day looking at your phone, which adds up and may take 5% of your time.
By giving up screen time for one day (or spending 15 minutes less every day), you will make time for career development. It’s not about having more time, it’s about prioritizing your career goals.
Now that you are committed to prioritizing your career goals, how are you going to keep yourself accountable? Add your tasks to your calendar. For most people, a task penciled in is a task that needs to be done. If you keep your tasks in the spreadsheet, you will never look at them again. Schedule them in your calendar just like you schedule work meetings. You wouldn’t dream of missing a call that was scheduled by your manager, right? Treat your career goals the same way. If they are on your calendar, then they have to get done.
3. Celebrate your success in order to create a habit loop: You may be accomplishing small tasks every week, but those incremental wins add up and compound, and in a matter of weeks or a couple of months, you could achieve one of your goals. When you understand that most people barely grow at all in a year, then you’ll realize that completing even one goal on your career plan is huge! Celebrate every completed task and every goal you achieve. You deserve it. Just by investing one to two hours every week to grow your career, you will outperform most employees in the workforce. Kudos.
4. Think like your role model: Whenever you are facing a hard challenge, remind yourself that the people you admire most, the role models you look up to, all had to overcome the challenges you are facing in order to get to where they are today. They didn’t give up, so if you want to be like them, you need to push through.
When you are ready to quit, when you don’t feel like doing the work, when it seems like you are not making any progress, ask yourself: What would [insert role model name] do?
5. Find a comparison: This exercise may seem a bit unconventional, but it works. Whenever you feel like giving up, do a quick reality check. Search for professionals on LinkedIn who have achieved the goal that you are working towards. For example, when I wanted to lead marketing for a startup, I searched for startup CMOs. I browsed through dozens of profiles until I found someone who seemed to have less experience than me (on paper), yet was able to get the job of my dreams. When you see someone who is less qualified than you achieve what you are dreaming of, it will make quitting seem stupid. I mean, after all, if they can do it, surely you can. I know it’s an unusual way to get yourself motivated, but if you can harness your jealousy in order to get you motivated—do it. You have the power to design the career of your dreams and turn it into your reality. You now have the tools to figure out what your next step should look like, what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to go and consistently move towards your goals. You have the strategies that you need in order to create opportunities for yourself and gain the experience you need in and out of work. You have everything you need, so the rest is up to you.
If you want to become a high performer, if you want to position yourself in the top 10%, if you want to skyrocket your career while everyone else just stands on the sidelines, then all you need to do is take action. Right now. If you get started today, then tomorrow, you will be one step closer to your dream job.
Step 6: The Secret to Growing Your Career 38x
This guide walked you through the process of building a career plan, but this plan means nothing if it’s just another document saved in your Google Drive. If you don’t take action towards your goals, then they will never become your reality. They’ll just be one more dream that didn’t come true.
We don’t want that to happen to you. You deserve to have a fulfilling and engaging career, so I’m going to show you one more thing that will make it crystal clear as to why you should consistently work on your career goals if you want to see results. The first time I saw this, I was blown away, and I still think about it when I need a boost of encouragement to keep me going.
If you are serious about growing your career, then I think you need to understand the value of incremental growth. I alluded to this when I explained how you can stay accountable, but let me show you the numbers in order to make it more tangible:
If you grow just 1% every day, you will get 37.8x growth within a year.
Incredible, right? This is the power of compounding. The compound effect is the strategy of reaping huge rewards from small, seemingly insignificant actions. The knowledge and the experience you gain when you work towards your goals adds up until you become an expert. It’s kind of like going to the gym. One workout will not make you fit, but if you work out every day for a month, you’ll end up with a hot body.
Here is the thing, though—you can’t replace your beginner workout plan with the Rock’s workout routine. That will just lead to a world of pain with no real benefits. One workout won’t change your body even if it’s an intensive one, but if you work out consistently, you’ll build muscle mass and eventually become fitter.
You need to apply the same logic to your career. One project, one book, one task will not get you the results you need. Your focus should be on consistency, not magnitude. This means that following through every single week is the key to achieving your goals. You can put it into a formula:
Small tasks + consistency + time = significant results.
I know what you are thinking. There must be a hack or a way to get there faster.
I’m sure some people will tell you that they have the secret, but I don’t want to lie to you. The secret to growing your career (and your life) 38x is to take small steps every week, consistently, until you start reaping the rewards. So, every time you want to ignore that reminder on your calendar telling you that it’s time to work on your career goals, prompt yourself to think about the compound effect. That one small task you are trying to ignore may not make a huge difference on its own, but ignoring it will keep you from reaching your end goal and maximizing your potential.
If you want to learn more about the compound effect and how to use it to jumpstart everything that you do, then check out the book summary for The Compound Effect, by Darren Hardy.
You have the power to design the career of your dreams. You do not need to wait for a company, a manager or karma to get the role, the raise or the promotion you want and deserve.
As you have learned in this guide, there is a simple formula that you can use to identify your next role, figure out what it takes to get there, and then do the work to gain the skills you need to go from where you are today to where you want to go.
It’s simple, but it’s not always easy.
It’s easier to watch Netflix.
It’s easier to browse Instagram.
It’s easier to wait for someone else to hand you what you want.
It’s easier to settle for less.
That’s what most people opt for. Easy. But, if you are reading this guide, then you are not the kind of person who settles for easy. You want more, and you are willing to put in the work to design the career of your dreams. I have good news for you. I’ve been teaching this formula for years, and I’ve seen it work again and again. No matter what your profession is, no matter how senior or junior you are, this formula works!
If you made it all the way to this part of the article, then you have all the tools and resources you need in order to build your career plan. From this point on, it’s up to you to put in the work and keep going, consistently, so that you can enjoy the rewards of a career plan.
I have faith in you. I know you can do it, and I hope that you know it, too.
The journey for the rest of your life is about to begin, and I can’t wait to see what you do next!