Your Career Compass: Developing Your Career Plan + Marketing Yourself

  •   August 2, 2017
  •  Mary M. Wheeler, Partner, donnerwheeler

Welcome back to the Donner-Wheeler Career Planning and Development Model. In my last column I introduced you to the first three phases: Scanning Your Environment, Completing Your Self-Assessment and Reality Check and Creating Your Career Vision. In this article I’ll highlight the final two phases of the Model: Developing Your Strategic Career Plan and Marketing Yourself.  

Developing your strategic career plan

A strategic career plan is a blueprint for action. Similar to a treatment plan, it consists of the identification of goals, action steps, resources, timelines, and evaluation of success. By creating a career plan, you begin to move and to make decisions.  It is important to write down your plan. Without a written version, it is easy to forget steps or fall out of sequence with the things that need to be achieved. A written plan also makes it much easier to continually review, refine, and re-evaluate both your goals and your progress.

To begin you need to set career goals. A goal is the purpose or objective toward which an endeavour is directed. You may choose a combination of short-term and long-term goals to transform your career vision into a reality. Moreover, you can concentrate on one goal at a time, pursue two at once, or balance a short-term and a long-term goal. Whatever goal you set it should be realistic (“I can do it”), desirable (“I want to do it”), and motivating (“I will work to make it happen”). The process of setting career goals is very similar to SMART goals you set in your clinical practice.

Once you have identified and written down your goals, you are ready to answer the question, “How do I achieve my goals?” A strategic career plan is like a map outlining a series of specific goal-directed activities that over time will guide you to your destination. A career plan is more effective when it is broken down into specific manageable action steps. To identify your action steps complete the following sentence: “To achieve this goal, I will....”

Once you have decided on your career plan, it is important to examine the resources and opportunities within your environment. Many resources are available to you. You can access information from your network, your mentors, colleagues, the Internet, newspaper, professional publications, professional organizations, a career center, and workshops. Making a thoughtful inventory of your available and potential resources should be your first step in creating the action steps associated with each of your goals.

Timelines and indicators of success are important to articulate in order to help you target your activities and stay focused. Timelines ensure that you dedicate your time and resources to accomplish the assigned goals. Then you need to identify how you will know that your plan is working? If you have identified your long-term and short-term goals and documented your plan, including specific action steps, required resources, and timelines, you have a good start at identifying indicators of success. As you design your plan, think about what success will look like for you. Record your personal indicators to help you evaluate your plan at those different stages.

Career plans should be dynamic, responsive to personal circumstances, and professionally stimulating. To ensure that your plan remains flexible and relevant to your career vision, you must continuously re-evaluate your goals and your means of reaching them and be ready to adjust your plan as aspects of your self-assessment change, as your continuous environmental scanning indicates that changes have or will be occurring around you, or as you move into different stages of your career.

Once you have a plan in place and on paper, you should be ready to market yourself so that you can successfully implement your career plan.

Marketing yourself        

Regardless of whether you are in a clinical or non-clinical practice role, when it comes to career planning, marketing involves the ability to identify your professional and personal qualities, attributes, and expertise so that you can effectively communicate what you have to offer and why you are the best person for the role you are seeking. Marketing yourself is facilitated by making yourself visible, establishing a network, acquiring a mentor, and developing your written and verbal communication skills. Developing a strategy for self-marketing can assist you in moving from the planning phase to the results phase in achieving your career goals.

Throughout their daily interactions individuals have many opportunities to present themselves to—and to influence—others. As we do this, we create a certain image and send a particular message about who we are. In fact, you are your own best marketer, so before you begin to use all the other marketing tools and strategies available, consider the “product” that is you.  Being successful in marketing ourselves is having the confidence in who we are and in what we want to do and projecting that to others. After we understand and deal with our self-image, we can go on to make use of the other marketing tools and strategies.

Networking is about building relationships. Most often we network as part of our role.  You also can network with others, not affiliated with your role, to meet your career goals. It is a mutual process that may involve the exchange of information and resources both in person and in writing. This may be accomplished through gathering information, seeking referrals to others, or looking for new opportunities. The process of developing a network begins by thinking of people who share your values and interests and who may be helpful to you. Who you know is not as important as who knows you. Building your network is an ongoing process, and people in your network will change over time. Always take the opportunity to meet and speak with others. You never know who they know.

Acquiring a mentor can provide the additional support and guidance necessary to help you transform your career dreams into reality. A mentor can support you in all phases of the career development process. Mentors may be able to open doors for you by helping you learn ways to become more politically savvy and to meet the right people. A true mentor relationship is one that mutually benefits both the mentor and the learner (protégé). The mentoring relationship conveys mutual respect, common interest, and the desire to grow professionally.

Marketing yourself on paper through your résumé and cover letter, curriculum vitae (CV), business cards, and publications are also key marketing strategies.  An effective résumé and cover letter is customized for each employer and represents your knowledge, skills, and achievements in such a convincing way that the reader can get an immediate sense of who you are and what you can do for them. A CV is usually used to apply for grants, scholarships, awards, and academic appointments and is a detailed and comprehensive document that describes your professional and academic interests.  Both the résumé and the CV create a first impression, and their main purpose is to get you an interview or an opportunity to present yourself in person. So take the time and care required to pull together a professional looking résumé and/or CV and cover letter. Your personal business card represents who you are, so you want it to be attractive and look professional. Also writing about your work in newsletters, in journals, etc. offers further opportunities to market your knowledge and skills.

Marketing yourself in person includes interviewing, making presentations, and acting as a mentor. Physiotherapists need to be prepared to sell themselves and their skills in a variety of ways. Developing strong interview skills is essential for career success. Interviewing is a serious process, no longer can one “wing it”, and from my experience, the idea of going for an interview just for practice is also no longer wise. Always remember, once you are asked to be interviewed, the prospective employer sees that you have something that they could use. The interview is then a wonderful opportunity for both the prospective employer and you to determine whether in fact there is a good fit. And remember to come to the interview with your questions; the interviewers will have theirs. Presentations provide another opportunity to market yourself through identifying to others how you have made a difference to patient/client care through practice, research or education. If one of your goals is to share your knowledge and expertise with other physiotherapists, then why not offer to be a mentor? Being a mentor may not seem like a self-marketing opportunity, but you will in fact be acting as a role model by sharing your knowledge, skills, and accomplishments with a less experienced physiotherapist.

Self-marketing is about using your various resources to present yourself in the best and most positive way. There are a variety of strategies and tools for marketing yourself both in writing and in person. To be effective, these tools must incorporate what you learned in your self-assessment and must truly represent who you are and what you have to offer.

I hope by now you have an understanding of the Donner-Wheeler Career Planning and Development Model and how to use it. Regularly evaluating how your career planning activities are working for you will help you determine which phases of the Model need more attention, updating, or consultation and support.

In closing, by now hopefully you have checked out the Career Compass Section of Physiotherapy Alberta’s website (https://www.physiotherapyalberta.ca/physiotherapists/career_work_health_resources/career_compass). Not only are these articles posted but there are two career conversations with physiotherapists William Tung and Kelly Stark and a video on an Introduction to Career Planning and Development. Watch for my upcoming webinar in the fall where I will show you how to apply our Model. Finally, my last column will focus on mentorship, one strategy to achieve your career goals.