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Career planning: can a career ever be planned?

Interview by Catalina Schröder

Nowadays no-one can predict how their career will develop from first role to retirement. Consultant Petra Spiess explains how important career planning nonetheless is.

Lässt sich eine Karriere noch planen?© Petra SpiessConsultant Petra Spiess about the importance of career planning
DIE ZEIT: When does career planning start?

Petra Spiess: First of all you have to distinguish between educational and professional planning. Educational planning starts in childhood and is the responsibility of the parents. If they provide their children with many stimuli, the children are enabled to discover their interests, for example through summer camps, music lessons or a chemistry set. Specific career planning begins with the first internship, because at that point I'm determining the direction in which I would like to develop. Even if it leads me to discover that I imagined this job to be completely different, I've taken the first step.

ZEIT: What do I have to consider when planning my career?

Spiess: In addition to the industry you want to work in, you should first consider whether you would prefer to work in a large corporation or a small or medium-sized business. If you choose small or medium-sized businesses, you should complete several internships. Those are more important in this sector than for example experience abroad, which is an indispensable requirement for working in a large corporation. In addition to my career however I also have to consider my overall life plans: Do I want children? Do I have hobbies for which I want to set aside sufficient time, or do I find fulfilment in my work?

ZEIT: And how do I find out what type of career I'm suited to?

Spiess: If security is important to you, you should seek permanent employment in a more conservative industry. If on the other hand you need frequent change, a flexible job is right for you, and you might consider working freelance. This fundamental question is one you have to answer honestly for yourself. In addition, the opinions of friends, family or professors will help. They can for example judge whether you're good at leading others or have a friendly, outgoing manner.

ZEIT: How far in advance is it possible to plan a career?

Spiess: 10 to 15 years at most. Anything beyond that is unrealistic. The possibilities the labour market offers change very quickly today.

ZEIT: What could a career plan specifically look like?

Spiess: You could for example write a career planning diary. Ideally you should note down a proper project plan here. The goal is the job or position that you would like to achieve. You set yourself intermediate goals for the way there. If you already know what company you would someday like to work for, you should complete an internship there while you are at university. If you are already working, you should plan which career levels you would like to achieve in the next few years. It helps to take a look at the book every three or four months to motivate yourself and not lose sight of your goal.

ZEIT: How frequently should I change jobs and roles?

Spiess: In more conservative jobs such as controlling it is important to remain in one department for a longer period. Five or six years is a good reference value. If you move more often, you will seem volatile and unreliable. In marketing on the other hand the situation is completely different. This field is far more agile, and employees are expected to be flexible. If you work in this field, you can change your job every two to three years, especially at the beginning of your career. In addition, if you would like to pursue a specialist career, you should stay in a post longer in order to gain sufficient knowledge. If your goal is a management career, you should change jobs more frequently in order to advance more quickly.

ZEIT: What can I do to develop in the role that I currently have?

Spiess: Networking is still frequently frowned upon in Germany, but it offers excellent opportunities to get ahead. Many things are not discussed at conferences. If you manage to build up a network with your colleagues through lunch breaks, having a drink together after work or going running together, you will be clued in to what's going on in the company. That's how you create personal contacts without having to invite every colleague into your private life. And any time you have the opportunity in feedback meetings, you should tell your line manager what your goals are and what you have already achieved. This will allow you to make clear that the job and your personal development are important to you.

ZEIT: Are there some things where you should just wait and see?

Spiess: The situation on the labour market is always a risk. Of course I can use surveys to find out whether it's worth beginning to study architecture today and whether architects will be in demand in five years. But crises on the labour market can never be predicted with 100% certainty. I recommend following your own interests. If you are completely enthusiastic about your subject, you will have a good chance of finding a job with it.

ZEIT: What are the ways in which can I damage my career?

Spiess: If you have wrong ideas of your own abilities and personality, you will limit your own development. If, for example, you think you are especially well organised and aim for a management position although in fact you are rather chaotic, that will probably go wrong. You should be careful not to allow others to push you too far in a particular direction, and ask yourself again and again: do I believe in what I'm doing? If you try to pursue a career against your personal values, you will quickly fail.

Aus DIE ZEIT :: 01.09.2011