Originally Published: Tuesday, 1 May 2001 Author: Mark Miller
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_skills/Linux Job Skills Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

From Job Hunting to Career Management

In his latest column Mark Miller, Linux.com staff writer, goes over the basics of the discipline of career management.

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It has been said that goals are dreams with deadlines. Similarly career management is job hunting with a purpose. For many the sole aim of a job hunt is to get a "good paying" job. Little thought is given to long term goals when getting some cash to feed yourself is the immediate need. But for the rest of us, early planning is the key to good career management, for those who wish to be prepared to seek and seize the correct opportunity, not just the first one.

The Career Goal Scenario

To get started with a career management plan, first, sit down and imagine what you want to be doing in the next year and in the next ten years. You don't necessarily need to plan your entire life from coder to CEO in detail, just lay out with a broad brush the job or career features that you desire. For example, you might decide that you want to head up that Java project the company is all buzzing about, or become the lead developer for IBM's Linux servers. Heck, maybe you want to be the head of IBM! Likewise, you may wish to remain in the trenches coding away. That is perfectly OK, but realize that even if you wish to remain in place a certain amount of "treading water" is needed to stay there. Technology isn't stagnant; you will need to keep up. Go ahead and enjoy your dream for a minute, I'll wait.

Now that you see the promised land, it's time to make a plan to get there. Carefully define some of the skills or steps needed to reach your ultimate career goal. These details might include: "learning Java" or "become head of sales at IBM". Whatever it takes to take you from where you are now to where you want to be. I know, you are thinking that there is no road map for traveling through the unknown. Just be like Columbus and estimate. Sure, he ended up way off from his original plan, but the point is he had a goal and got started on a path. Like Columbus you are free to make adjustments as you go. Your plan will be a guide, not an algorithm.

The Career Strategy

By now you may have noticed that in order to reach your goal you might not have to leave your present employer at all. Career management is about more than simple external job hunting. Part of career management is internal job hunting. Knowing your goals will help you to see opportunities within your present organization, whether those opportunities will increase your knowledge and skills or broaden your experience. Note too that you will need to take into account things like how much you are paid and what benefits you desire to have. Career management includes these things as well.

The Skills Gap

Now look at where you presently are. Make an honest assessment of your present skills and knowledge compared to where you wish to be. This "skills gap" should be addressed with a personal training plan. What skills do you need and how might you obtain them? Note that formal schooling is only one way to obtain skills. Don't forget self-study through books or mentoring with someone who possesses the skills you desire. You might also note when multiple approaches are possible. To learn Java you might take a class or read a book or have Jane help you learn it.

It's important to be very realistic about gaining these skills. For instance, if you know that you will procrastinate if you try to learn a topic on your own, then plan to take a class. Do whatever you need to do to get these skills and make them your own. Also be realistic about the amount of time you will have to invest in closing your skills gap. Those books on "Learning Y in 24 hours" don't mean you will be done in a day. They plan on one hour per day. That means at least 24 days to get through the material. Realistically, this means at least a month to cover the material plus whatever time it takes you to play with the knowledge and truly absorb it.

Other Resources

Now you know where you want to go and what skills you need to get there, one final ingredient of your career plan to consider is what other resources are available to help you on your way. Tapping into mentors and other networking resources can be immensely helpful for getting over the inevitable hurdles that your didn't foresee in your plan. Estimate what financial resources will be needed: From the cost of books to complete college degrees or a new wardrobe, this transition will cost something. Be ready with internal funding, a plan for scholarships or apply for a credit card to charge your new suit.

You may be wondering about all this planning. I'm not saying you need to make a detailed plan like one might do for a new business (unless of course your plans include your own business). You might just jot down a few things you wish to remember from your mental exercise. Whatever works for you. The important thing is that you think through your future and move toward it. I personally find writing things down forces me to fill in the gaps in a plan that my mind just glossed over. Your mileage may vary, of course, but there is something concrete about having to put a written plan into down on a sheet of paper (or text file). For me it helps to make it real and not just "something in my head". You can always change it later.

Mark Miller has been the training manager for a large aerospace repair facility and has been involved with training and workforce development since 1984. He has been involved with Linux since 1995 with Slackware, SuSE, and Debian distributions.

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