Developing a Career: 5 Steps to Effective Career Planning

Developing a Career: 5 Steps to Effective Career Planning

Having a fulfilling career provides you with feelings of accomplishment, confidence and pride. While finding the perfect career may come naturally to some, for most people it takes time and effort to discover the career path that’s right for them and careful planning to pursue and achieve their career goals.

The importance of career planning

Your career is more than the occupation or profession you currently hold. Rather, a career is made up of all the different positions you will hold and the work you will accomplish over time. To build a strong career, like anything, requires a strong foundation. And that starts with a plan. Whether you’re new to Canada or building your career after many years here, a career plan can be a roadmap for your future success.

So how do you create a career plan? In a recent conversation, Christine Cruz-Clarke, CEO of Balzac’s Coffee Ltd., responsible for all company operations including their fast-growing CPG business and their direct-to-consumer network, shared key insights gained through her remarkable journey. Prior to her position at Balzac’s, Christine held a series of progressively senior roles, leading teams in Canada, the UK and Europe.

She offers guidance for pan-Asians looking to start and/or grow a career and helps inform five steps to help you plot a successful career path.

What personal characteristics have you drawn upon to enable your success?

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Is there anything you wish you had done differently along your journey?

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STEP 1: Define your career goals

Have you ever paused and asked yourself: what are your career goals and aspirations? Understanding what you want out of your career is an important first step. At the same time, it can be a little overwhelming. That’s why it’s a good idea to set SMART goals. SMART goals are:

  • Specific: Identify your goal clearly and specifically, including what you want to achieve, and why.
  • Measurable: Set clear criteria to determine and track your progress.
  • Attainable: Your goal should have a realistic chance of success.
  • Relevant: Make sure your career goal is important and relevant to you, and in line with other goals you have.
  • Time bound. Commit to a specific timeframe to achieve you goal.

Keep in mind, there is a difference between career aspirations and career plans. Your career aspiration may be the long-term goal you are pursuing, while your career plan is your means of fulfilling your aspiration. Focusing on aspirations over plans at this first stage is an important way to develop your career North Star, which will guide you as you move through the next steps below.

STEP 2: Identify your career options

Once you’ve set your goals, you can start mapping out the next steps and strategies. You’re now in a position to identify the career options that align to your goals. This may not be obvious, and Cruz-Clarke highlights the importance of developing connections – people who can help you determine the options and opportunities that are right for you.  “Really being able to dive into and develop authentic connections is critically important,” she says and recognizes her ability to develop connections as a factor that has set her apart in her career.

She further acknowledges the role of mentors when making career decisions. “Mentors and sponsors play critical role in one’s career,” she says. “I have relied on my mentors to help me better understand situations and how to navigate them in the moment, whether it was for a specific business situation that I was working through, or a career decision I was trying to make.”

Finding mentors within the pan-Asian community can be particularly beneficial as you navigate the career landscape in Canada, as they can share highly relevant experiences and insights with you as you develop your career plan.

Tips to anyone looking to grow or start their career?

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What role have mentors or sponsors played in your career journey? 

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STEP 3: Identify careers that match your skills

To choose a field that you believe you will succeed in, consider the skills you have to bring to the table – and don’t forget to think about both the hard and soft skills you have acquired over time. Cruz-Clarke encourages individuals to lean into the variety of experiences gained over time, even if they don’t seem to be related to your career goals. And, if you have worked outside of Canada, be sure to tap into the perspectives you brought with you and use them to your advantage.

For newcomers in particular, she offers this advice:

“As you continue to prepare yourself for every new challenge, being able to translate the experiences, credentials, and anything else that you’re bringing with you as a benefit for your prospective employer is also important, because employers in Canada aren’t necessarily as familiar with the context that you’re coming from as you are,” she says.

 “So, the ability for you to articulate what that looks like in Canada, what are some of the parallels, what are some of the transversal challenges that you’ve tackled over time, and can also tackle here, will help you be more successful in landing your next role in Canada.” 

STEP 4: Assess and compare career paths

Once you have determined your options and identified careers that match your skills, you’re in a good position to consider the options ahead of you. While one option may require you to gain more education, for instance, it may have more earning potential. Or there may be a path that you can take right away, but requires relocation. Perhaps there’s a path that’s a bigger stretch, but it aligns better to your core values.

Cruz-Clarke indicates that acting with curiosity and being “the champion of possibility” can help set you apart and enable you to reach your goals – whether you’re building your career or looking to move ahead.

Cruz-Clarke emphasizes the importance of “learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and in particular, how to reframe that discomfort as growth,” she explains. “That’s the best advice I can give to anyone that is looking to grow or even start their career. And as I think back, it’s those roles throughout my career that I’ve known absolutely nothing about on Day One, but have continued to learn and grow with that role, that have given me the most positive momentum and the most growth and satisfaction.”

Stereotype and biases

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STEP 5: Build an action plan

Finally, take a look at your career goals, options and career paths, and create a map for your professional future. Career mapping involves writing down the steps you need to follow to get there, and creating a schedule to keep yourself on track.

Keep in mind, not everyone’s career path is a straight line of promotions and higher levels. And if moving forward once you arrive in Canada requires some reinvention, remember to be patient and keep an eye out for opportunities.

As Cruz-Clarke shares, “bringing the best of your particular culture and blending it into the new work environments that you’re in [can] help to grow everyone’s perspective.  Embracing the diversity that we all bring is part of what makes Canada special.”

Whatever stage of your career you find yourself in, effective career planning, which includes understanding your career goals and mapping out your path, can be a beacon in the complex journey of professional life – and help you make the most of the opportunities available to you. 

What advice would you provide pan-Asian newcomers as they start their careers in Canada?