Am I managing my career?

Sound advice? Photo by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

…or is my career managing me? I’ve been pondering that question since I attended a seminar run by CLSIG last week, on “Managing Your Career and Widening Your Horizons”. I won’t detail the entire seminar here – if you’re interested, there’s a good write-up on Tina Reynolds’ blog, and I’ve written a review of the event for the next CLSIG newsletter. I just wanted to throw out a couple of ideas that have been pinging around my head since last week, and see if anyone else had any thoughts on it.

The first speaker at the seminar, Sue Edgar, was emphatic about the need to manage your career, rather than let yourself be carried along by events. The second speaker, Sue Westcott, also stressed the need to understand yourself, your goals and your strengths and weaknesses in order to make good decisions about your career. Both speakers agreed that while a strict, step-by-step strategy for your career wasn’t really practical or necessary, it was important to have an idea of the kind of direction you’d like your career to go in.

I agree that this is a good idea. However, it’s not something I’ve ever done, and if I’m honest I wouldn’t really know where to start. I’m pretty happy with how my career has gone so far, but I’d be lying if I said I’d planned any step of it. I’ve got to this point by just taking the first opportunities that came along and hoping for the best.

Luckily, that has all worked out very well so far. I’ve had some great opportunities along the way, both within and outside of my jobs, and I’m currently in a job that I love. What worries me is where I go next. I think there’s been a certain amount of luck involved with my career path to date: I’ve been fortunate in being offered the jobs I have and I’ve been very fortunate with the managers and co-workers I’ve had since starting working in libraries. But I know that I can’t rely on being lucky forever, and particularly as I start looking for more senior positions, I’m going to have to put a bit more thought and planning into my career moves. The problem is, I don’t really know what I want to do ultimately. I don’t even really know what sector I’d prefer to work in – I’ve got a few ideas, but I don’t really have much experience in any sector other than legal.

The seminar last week was really useful just for getting me to begin thinking about this. I don’t really have any answers yet, but I am going to take the advice of both Sues and start trying to work out what makes me tick, what excites me about my work, and how I could work this into some kind of vague career plan. I’d be interested to hear if any of you responsible adults out there have already done this. Does anyone actually have a career plan? Or are we all just muddling along together?

6 comments on “Am I managing my career?

  1. Thanks! I’ve been thinking the same thing really – I am where I am through luck rather than management….definitely need to put some thought in to it.

    Looking forward to your write up.

  2. Career plan. Uh. *shifty eyes* Yeah, I need to sit down and think about what I want to be doing, my career thus far has been mostly powered by chance, which well, is not something I really want to rely on.

  3. My previous boss encouraged me to do this; he had a really clear idea of where he wanted to be and he was definitely on target to achieve it.

    I found it really difficult to do this though, I don’t think you can have just one clear path anymore. I have taken different opportunities along the way so far and have known the sort of direction I want to go into, but nothing too long term really. I don’t have a “in 10 years time I want to be…” goal, but I do have an idea of the sort of work I’d like to do for the foreseeable future and the sort of area I’d like to work in.

    I would definitely agree that it’s not a good idea to have too rigid a plan though, I think it’s good to push the boundaries and try something a bit different. I have found the most valuable thing in my career development has been trying out different sectors and types of library and information work through both paid and voluntary opportunities, it’s definitely helped me understand what sort of work I’m more suited to (at the moment anyway, that could well change in future).

  4. I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit. There likely has been some luck involved (in terms of co-workers), but you’ve probably actually made your luck through network connections, skills and abilities. You may think you just fell into a good situation, but you wouldn’t still be there if you didn’t fit.

    Having said that, I also don’t have a plan, but I’m open to suggestions 🙂 I think the most important thing is to not get trapped into a situation because you’ve invested either time or money in it. If it doesn’t work, move on.

  5. Sometimes a career path can be serendipitous so cut yourself some slack! That said, I do know what you’re talking about. The key is to make firm decisions but NOT to stick to them. Five years ago, I had just completed my BA, and started as a shelver (work hours suited with kids etc). I decided right there and then I would be a Subject Librarian – get the training, the qualification etc etc. With all the barriers I had (late comer yawn) the path hasn’t been easy, but finally last year I reached a junction where I was able to apply for 2 jobs; either Subject Librarian, or Metadata Administrator. Even after all those years of having an end goal in sight, I weighed it all up and chose Metadata and haven’t looked back. Deviations are good, but to deviate from a plan, you must have one to begin with. What do you really want to do? And will it still be out there when you’re ready?

  6. I’m definitely in the muddling along camp. Mainly because I just don’t get offered jobs very often, so I take what I’m given. Alternatively, I do crazy things like choosing to go *down* the career ladder! I have to say (as you’ve probably guessed) I’m just not very career-minded. I haven’t yet decided whether this is good or bad.

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