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I recently read a helpful article in a blog called The New Talent Times, ”Nine Job-Seeking Tips for College Graduates.” It offered solid advice worth reading, but I was most taken with its Number #1 Tip: “Create a 10-year plan, even if it doesn’t play out.” 

thoughtbookOne’s first reaction to a tip like this might be, “Oh, yeah, so you can answer the interview question (or business school essay prompt).” But the author, Software Advice CEO Don Fornes, is not just talking about formulating glib answers for potential employers; he is talking about stepping back and looking at the big picture for its own sake:  “You need to focus your search by determining where you want to be in ten years. Then apply for roles that will help you get there. This is important personal introspection that will help you develop career goals.”

This is a central truth in job-seeking that many young professionals have not wrapped their arms around, but which is so imperative, to prevent drifting through one’s twenties without a plan. I am reminded of “Habit #2″ of Stephen R. Covey‘s wise classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleBEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. Mr. Covey applies this habit broadly to how one approaches everything in life, but it most certainly needs to be applied to one’s career.

Baby Girl Looking Up and Climbing LadderMr. Covey describes what he means by beginning with the end in mind: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up? That question may appear a little trite, but think about it for a moment. Are you–right now–who you want to be, what you dreamed you’d be, doing what you always wanted to do? Be honest. Sometimes people find themselves achieving victories that are empty–successes that have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.” He recommends developing a personal mission statement: It focuses on what you want to be and do. It is your plan for success. It reaffirms who you are, puts your goals in focus, and moves your ideas into the real world. Your mission statement makes you the leader of your own life. You create your own destiny and secure the future you envision.”

Okay,  personal mission statements have become a cliché. And it sounds like hard work, spelling out your life’s mission in specific terms, but—it just could be worth the effort. We’re talking about creating an inner blueprint for your career path, to guide you as to which individual positions to seek, a straight edge to help you figure out whether opportunities that come your way are appropriate for you. A personal mission statement is a GPS, a leveler, a litmus test, that will help you recognize what fits and what does not–what is “on strategy” for you versus a time-wasting place-holder, distraction, derailing detour, or dead end. As the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger famously wrote: “If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him” (Epistolae, LXXI., 3).

Young businesswoman with notebook.So how to set about doing this? There are many great recipes out there for developing one’s personal mission statement, as a quick Google search will show. Stephen Covey offers a plethora of resources, from his books to online support systems, including a “Mission Statement Builder.” You can also gain excellent advice from Levo League, an online mentoring community for young professional women,  personal branding guru Dan Schwabel, and job/career sites such as Quintessential Careers and Work Awesome (to name a few).

coffeeteamDon Fornes points out in his article, “I don’t suggest you contemplate your options in isolation; reach out to people who you admire and get their opinions on potential career paths.” Creating your long term plan for your career can, and definitely should, involve people you know, getting input from family members, knowledgeable friends, professors, counselors, professional mentors, and people you have sought out for informational interviews on career paths of interest. Collaboration with others who know what you are all about, who are also familiar with your fields of interest, will facilitate imaginative brainstorming, personal mission possibilities that resonate for you, and realistic steps to eventually achieve your career goals in the job marketplace.

Related posts: 15 Steps to Launching Your Career in College, College Internship and Entry Level Resumes, What Is Informational Interviewing?

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