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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:

Step One

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."

Step Two

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.

Step Three

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.

Step Four

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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