Closing the Gap on Your Career Goals
If you still picture a steady progression up the ladder when you think of your career goals, it is time to shift your thinking. For most people, climbing the career ladder is no longer an option. The working world has changed so dramatically that linear career paths rarely exist, except as historical symbols.
But, without those trusty rungs to show the way, how do you figure out the next step in your career? How do you determine if you need to go to business school or graduate school? How do you identify your next job?
You could employ the dartboard method, or a Magic 8 Ball. Or, instead of struggling to find the next rung on that mythical ladder, you could identify your long-term career goals, and then focus on closing the gap between today and your future goals. By focusing on the long-term, and the skills and experiences you need to gain, you will increase your options and give yourself flexibility to operate in today's chaotic working world.
To determine your career plan, first write down your long-term goal. Then, do a Career Gap Analysis, by following these four steps:
Divide a blank sheet of paper into three columns. At the top of the left column, write: "Current Skills and Experiences." At the top of the middle column, write: "The Gap." Finally, at the top of the column on the right, write "Future Needs."
In the right column, Future Needs, list the skills, education, abilities, and experiences you will need to be successful in the future you envisioned when determining your long-term goals. For example, if your future goal is to start your own business, you will need the following: knowledge of how to write a business plan, basic accounting or financial analysis skills, the ability to manage a group of people, experience in writing new business proposals, and marketing skills.
In the first column, Current Skills and Experiences,list all of the skills, education, abilities, and experiences you currently have to offer. When making your list, be comprehensive. Include what you have learned through volunteer experiences, hobbies,and seminars.
In the middle column, The Gap, list the education, skills, or experiences you need to close the gap between where you are now and where you plan to be in the future.
Now that you have identified your long-term goals and the elements in the gap, instead of focusing on the title or hierarchy of your next job, focus on the skills and experiences you will gain to close the gap. For example, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you may look for a job that will strengthen your planning skills. You may consider an opportunity to work more closely with the marketing or sales department. Or, you may look for a specific type of leadership experience in your next job.
Don't overlook opportunities within your current organization. If your goal is to strengthen your skills -- instead of to climb that mythical ladder -- you may find a lot more options internally than in an outside organization. As a known quantity, your current organization is more likely to risk letting you experiment with a new field of expertise. So, a lateral move within your organization could give you the opportunity to gain new skills and experiences.
To close the gap, you can also look for experiences outside of your job. Build your entrepreneurial skills by take a workshop on business plans at your local Small Business Development Center. Volunteer to manage the financials for a small non-profit organization. Or, take some business classes at your local college or university.
By using a Career Gap Analysis, you can create your own unique, flexible career plan and banish the career ladder to the pages of history, where it belongs.
Shannon Bradford is a writer and coach, teaching people how to master their brains to succeed in their careers and businesses. She is the author of Brain Power (John Wiley & Sons, 2002). Take Shannon's free Career Minicourse at http://www.15minutecareer.com
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And apparently home décor and remodeling isn't just for adults anymore (who knew?). Stores like IKEA and Pottery Barn are starting to selling home furnishing products aimed at teens. With baby boomers having more discretionary income with which to spoil their grandchildren, babies and toddlers have also become hot markets. Online start-up ELittle Luxuries offers designer baby furniture and more than 600 other upscale baby items. (http://www.eLittleLuxuries.com) HOT MARKET: Overweight People After reading how much kids spend on food and beverages, it's no surprise that 15% of children and teens are overweight. But we adults have them beat. A whopping 64% of Americans are considered obese or overweight. Businesses that offer products and services to help people slim down and develop more healthy habits are the most obvious. But entrepreneurs willing to think outside the "solve the problem" box by looking for ways to make overweight people's lives easier verses trying to fix them, will also do well. HOT MARKET: Metrosexuals With the enormous appeal of stylish soccer super star David Beckham and shows like Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where gay men help straight men with fashion, grooming, home décor, and social skills, a growing number of heterosexual men are allowing themselves to tap into their fashionable side. One enterprising guy who jumped into the metrosexual market early has seen phenomenal growth. With $20,000 and a dream, Tom Granese launched Regiments, an online store that sells high-end grooming products for men. Less than two years later, Tom opened his first storefront in Dallas with a projected $210,000 in first year in-store sales. HOT MARKET: Hispanics The Hispanic market is certainly nothing new ? in fact it's made Entrepreneur's list for many years now. 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One serves upscale burritos (my favorite is the Thai burritos) and the other is a hip soup, salad, and sandwich joint that opened in a greatly remodeled former Taco Bell restaurant. Idea: Back in my old softball days I always wished someone would cater to all those hungry players and fans by starting a high quality food wagon. Other Hot Trends? Boating and water sports, the hunger for low- carb foods (a trend being taken seriously by restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers), oils and sauces, and multiculturalism which includes the gay and lesbian markets. Hot markets and hot trends lead to hot businesses. Here are some of Entrepreneur's picks? HOT BUSINESS: Children's Enrichment Programs With so many parents in the workforce, more kids than ever before are engaged in extracurricular and after school activities. If you like the idea of working with kids, you can opt to open a physical location like a gym, dance or art studio, or camp, take your program into the schools, or provide private lessons. If you think opening your own place is financially out of reach, think again. While $12,000 is no small sum of money, it's a lot less than a lot of people might expect they'd need to shell out to start their own dance studio. But that's how much former dance student turned instructor Archer Alstaettter dug up in cash and credit cards to found Dance Emotion in Irvine, California. That was five years ago. Today Archer's studio has 500 clients and expects 600-plus to be enrolled by spring. You go Archer! HOT BUSINESS: Home Improvement Remodeling, refurbishing, and redecorating are all the rage. There are some 30 cable shows on home improvement alone. And home improvement isn't all about décor. 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She suggests renting space for one-on-one sessions from a small gym or chiropractic office. Fees for a typical Pilates session range from $50 to $70 an hour. Meditate on that! HOT BUSINESS: Upscale Pet Services According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, Americans spent an estimated $31 billion on pets in 2003. A few of the luxury services cited include pet hotels complete with heated floors, limousine rides, day cruises, and personal shoppers. And apparently the spa trend has extended to the pet world with exfoliating treatments, aromatherapy, liposuction (I kid you not), and chiropractic services. HOT BUSINESS: Outsourcing Outsourcing is one of those good new-bad news things. If your job is being eliminated because it's cheaper for your company to outsource functions like HR, accounting, and network security, then outsourcing is a bad thing. Outsourcing is particularly hot in IT ? and when it comes to outsourcing jobs overseas, it's also controversial. 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