MPW Insiders is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How important is it to know where you want to be in five years? is written by Elissa Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation.
These days, everything moves so fast that you need to have established goals. They can be flexible, but you should have a general end game in mind. And every year, you should make adjustments to each goal to account for changes at home and on the job. Everyone’s vision of success tends to morph from year to year. So it’s really important to take the time to make sure the road you’re on is still the right one. If you’re not driving, after all, someone else might drive for you. You need to be behind the wheel of your own career.
Having a five-year plan requires some reflection on three key things:
If you don’t know where you’re going, then you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. Think about your purpose. When you envision your life in one year, three years, and five years, what would you like to be doing in your career? What unique skills and traits do you have that will differentiate you? Women, in particular, keep their heads down. They tend to be more task-oriented and just focus on getting things done, rather than investing the necessary time to think about what’s on the horizon.
Once you determine your purpose, you need to figure out how you’re going to get there. What are the actions you’ll take to reach your goal? Most businesses have a five-year plan. People need to plan just like organizations do. You might even want to align your five-year plan with your company’s long-term goals if you envision staying with the same employer.
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To help chart your path, consider some key questions: Do you need to get more experience in a certain area, or multiple areas, in order to advance? Would a lateral move to another department in your company help you reach your goal? Do you need to take some evening or weekend classes or receive internal training? Do you want to go to business school to earn an MBA? Think about the end goal, your strategy, and the actions you have to take and write a step-by-step plan to get there and chart your progress.
Sometimes people fail to think about developing allies, mentors, and advocates who can propel them toward the next step in their careers. Identify who the critical people are between you and your goal, and include them in part of your day-to-day working plan. And if you don’t know these critical people, seek out introductions. Consider professional networks or internal employee groups—either formal or informal—you may want to join. They will provide insights so you have a better grasp on your company and industry, and will also help you make critical connections.
One important reason for developing a long-term career plan: It gives you something to talk about with your boss. You’ll be considered forward-thinking and as someone who wants to progress at your company or organization—not just in the next year tied to your annual review, but over the long haul.