What’s Your Five-Year Career Plan? Do You Have the Experience Needed to Accomplish Your Goals?

Where do you see yourself in five years?  Aside from being a popular interview question, it is also a great question to ask ourselves on a periodic basis to ensure that we are reaching our goals.  Now, I’m sure we’ve all read things about goals and the importance of goal setting, so instead of repeating this view, I’d like to quote a rather radical perspective about goals:

“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” ~Steven Covey, Author Ten Habits of Highly Effective People

 Notice that Covey doesn’t discount the importance of goals but rather emphasizes the importance of planning.  To provide you with a framework for setting professional goals for yourself, I challenge you to consider your resume: what do you want your resume to look like in five years?  10 years?  How do you get there?  Let’s answer this by focusing on each of the major sections of your resume:

WORK EXPERIENCE: Are you in a job that you like?  Are you working in your field?  If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” then perhaps you need to switch employers or even careers.

According to a January 2014 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that wage and salary workers have been with their current employer was only 4.6 years with only around 30 percent of workers staying with their employer for longer than 10 years.  I don’t say this to encourage you to job-hop.  That can be highly detrimental to your career as it damages relationships, may make your job less stable, and will not necessarily increase your job satisfaction.

However, if you are not satisfied in your current job and/or are not working in a career that uses your educational background, the time for a change might be now.  With the national unemployment rate at 4.9 percent, the lowest it has been in eight years, thousands of jobs are created each month with more than 5.6 million job openings as of December 2015.  Particularly if you’re able to relocate, there are lots of job opportunities available.

If you are happy in your current position, but you are looking for advancement, consider these suggestions:

  • Volunteer to Do More: To show your boss that you are ready for a promotion, you not only need to do your current job exceptionally well, but you should stretch yourself to do even more. Is there a project that needs to be done whom no one has had time to do?  If so, volunteer to get it done!  Did your boss send an email to you and your colleagues asking for someone to be part of a new initiative?  If so, that “someone” should be you.  This might mean coming in earlier or staying later, but it shows that you have the capacity to take on more responsibility, an essential characteristic of a leader in any organization.
  • Seek Out a Mentor: To help you learn how to perform more effectively, seek out a mentor who can teach you how to advance. Perhaps this person works in a senior role in your current organization.  Perhaps this person is someone whom you met at a local meeting of your professional organization.  If you don’t have a mentor, see if you can sit down with someone at your organization and pick their brain about what makes him/her successful.  Set up a 30-minute informational meeting, or get together with them for lunch and ask for their advice about what you can do to move up.  You can also find a mentor outside of your organization by using resources like the UMUC Career Mentor Program.

EDUCATION: Education is a vitally important section on your resume, particularly if you want to change careers.  Make sure you have listed all bachelor’s and master’s degrees that you have received in reverse chronological order (most recent first).  Want to advance your skills but don’t have time to do a full master’s degree?  Consider enrolling in a certificate program.  UMUC currently has 17 undergraduate and graduate certificate programs to allow you to gain skills needed in today’s workplace.  Examples of these include Cybersecurity Technology, Spanish for Business and the Professions, and Project Management.

You may also want to obtain certifications that are specific to your target occupation.  If you are a cybersecurity professional, for instance, have you considered obtaining the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification?  Or for those of you working in human resources, consider the Professional in Human Resources (PHR).  Employers often look for candidates with specific certifications like these or require that a current professional complete the certification to move up.  If you don’t know what certifications might be important in your field, you can search by the name of your occupation, industry, or the name of the certificate using the U.S. Department of Labor’s Certification Finder.

EXTRACURRICULAR INVOLVEMENT: How do you spend your spare time? “Extracurricular involvement” encompasses other facets of your life that might influence your professional development such as volunteer work or hobbies.  These are important areas to your professional and personal growth and can be very self-rewarding and fun.  Consider using these ancillary activities in your life as ways to develop professional skills.  For instance, if you are working in an administrative role but want to move into a career that uses your accounting degree, consider volunteering as treasurer of the parent teacher association at your child’s school.

Even hobbies can be interesting resume builders and potential conversation starters in an interview situation.  Have you run a marathon?  Do you enjoy traveling to new places?  Hobbies like these can demonstrate unique aspects of your character and show the employer that you are open to new, unique challenges.

Clearly, there are lots of ways in which you can advance your skills, but, as Covey’s quote suggests, all of these ideas are useless unless you have a plan in place to accomplish these goals.  Five years is plenty of time to take your career to a whole new level or to take it down a different path.  Consider what you would like to have on your resume in 2021, and take a few minutes to write it down.  And if you need assistance in fulfilling these goals, know that UMUC is here to help.  Good luck!

Kristin Schrader is the Assistant Director of InternPlus at University of Maryland University College.  She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities.  Most recently, she was the Lead Trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop teaching transitioning service members about the civilian job search.  She is passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.