CAREER DEVELOPMENT / AUG. 09, 2014
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How to Stop Your Career From Derailing

Whether your career aspirations are formally written down and proudly shared, or more fluid and personal, the prospect of career derailment - somehow veering off your chosen career track, or else grinding to a shuddering halt, can be a worry. With changes in personal circumstances a fact of life, restructures and redundancies a real part of many careers, and the prospect of a ’job for life’ long since consigned to the history books, taking positive personal action to avoid career derailment, with these ideas and tips, makes absolute sense, whatever career stage you’re at.

Know what is important for you

Before you can really plan for your future, and therefore guard against career derailment, you need to take some time to understand yourself. As absurdly basic as it may sound, having a good idea of your skills, interests and preferences when it comes to work, will provide you with a solid basis to work from.

If you are already in a position you enjoy, you may well have done some of this thinking already to help you land the right job for you. If not, or if you don’t see the job you’re in now as a realistic long term prospect, taking some time to think about what is important to you will help you keep your career on track even if you change between jobs on the way.

Think about these questions - What do you really enjoy doing in your current job, or in your work and educational experience? What is important to you in terms of working environment - would you enjoy working independently, for example, or as a part of a larger team? Does the nine to five appeal, or the thrill of running your own business? What words do people use when they describe you - could these hint towards an ideal longer term career path?

Have a career plan

By understanding how you will enjoy and get the most from your career in the broadest sense, you can start to think about the individual jobs which will get you there, so that even if your circumstances change, your longer term career continues in the correct direction.

It can be daunting to think about your long term career prospects and ambitions. An average working life can be forty years or more - a length of time that is literally impossible to imagine to the average new grad, or even those further down their own career path. However, without some form of plan, it will be impossible to stop your career from derailing at the first sign of trouble. Realistically, there is no need to plan your entire career at once; start by thinking about the next five, ten, and (if you’re feeling brave), fifteen years. Modern working patterns mean that many of us will effectively have two or three different careers in a life time, so work on a more imaginable scale to start off with.

Talk to others in your field of work or business about their career experiences, review industry publications and join appropriate industry bodies to network and build your career plan with the input of others. Whatever you come up with, write it down. Written goals have been shown to be more effective and motivational, and will keep you better on track even during moments of difficulty.

Write a mission statement

Whilst businesses need mission statements to sell shares and reassure the city about their priorities, a personal mission statement could help you keep your focus on the goals you set yourself, and the way you choose to live your life, as well as helping guide the smaller decisions in your daily life. In only a sentence or two, you are aiming to sum up what you’re all about, what you consider a life well lived, what you aim to do or deliver with your time on earth. Sound difficult? Many online tools exist to allow you to craft a mission statement unique to yourself in easy steps

Writing a mission statement is a valuable exercise, both to help you communicate easily who you are to others around you, but also because the process of coming up with this statement may well help you understand your own motivations in life more thoroughly too, and therefore help you through moments of possible career derailment. Once written, memorise your statement, write it somewhere you will see it (this could be on the inside of a cupboard at home, or on your car sun visor, places others may not see it without invitation, but where you can read it often!), and it will quickly become a filter, a guide to help you when faced with difficult career decisions.

Get a mentor

A mentor can be a powerful support when times are tough, and if you are facing career derailment. Building a relationship with someone appropriate as a mentor will help you draw out answers to even the most challenging questions to keep you on track. However, mentoring is a long and ongoing process, which is unlikely to prove fruitful if sought out during a career crisis - find a great mentor you can bond with and form a meaningful long term relationship to get the best for all aspects of your career.

Develop flexibility

Finally when looking to guard against career derailment, it is essential to understand that career decisions and outcomes are not always in our own hands. Redundancies happen. Businesses go into administration. Roles come and go. Personal circumstances change. Your career is a direction of travel, the journey and the destination are both important, but don’t let either eclipse the other. If you take a wrong turn or are temporarily unable to move forward, keep a sense of perspective and you will bounce back.

Riding the wave of change is a lot easier if you are prepared to be flexible, keep in mind your longer term aims, your overarching mission statement, talk to your mentor and others around you, and keep optimistic, to avoid career derailment and enhance your chances of a successful journey.

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