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How to Create Your Career Blueprint or Vision
Part 2: How to Create A Career Blueprint

This is the second article in a three-part series about choosing your career direction, often one of the hardest tasks of adult life. Most of us can work effectively toward our goals, if only we know what they are. The first article in the series dealt with likes and dislikes. It involved reviewing past jobs in order to predict future satisfiers. The key is to incorporate your likes into the new job, and to eliminate your dislikes. The third and final article in the series is called Picture The Ideal First Month on Your Next Job. If you complete all three exercises, you'll have a good blueprint or strategic vision for your future. Look here for instructions about how to complete this three-part exercise.

How Is A Career Like A Custom Home?

Building an ideal career is like building a custom home, one you've designed that fits you perfectly. Almost everyone who builds a custom home is wild about it. They love the style, size, layout, and interior finishes.

Likewise, in the perfect career you like everything involved: the company, product line, people, customers, and location. Naturally, this is only an ideal. Few homes or careers achieve 100% perfection. But many are 95% perfect, and that's much better than a 40% fit. The first and most important step in planning your career is to create a blueprint of what the ideal looks like.

How Should I Start?

Divide a sheet of paper into five columns, or create a 5-column spreadsheet in your word processor. Then fill in the blanks like this:

The CompanyLess formal environment of small companyMammoth bureaucracyAt least 100 employeesYahoo!
Fast Company
The IndustryHi-Tech, Internet,
or e-commerce
Manufacturing of a mundane product Stagnant or shrinking industryTechnology product or service  
The CultureLeadership-Oriented


Innovation and risk-taking are

Fun, casual environment
Highly political

No fun
No humor

Internal chaos

Silly bureaucratic rules Crisis management
Team-oriented Fast-pacedFour ten-hour workdays
The PeopleBright, well-educated

High intellect and motivation
Long periods with no customer contact To depend on others who fail to performEthical people
I can trust

Sense of Humor
Work Tasks
and Functions
Leadership role

Invent the rules as I go

Work with consultants

Supervize staff
of six to eight

Detailed complex problems with no apparent solutions
To become a specialist in a specific discipline Too narrow a job
M&A job with no direct reports Detailed,
repetitive tasks
A big impact

An important role

A significant contribution

Exposure to upper management

Promotion opportunity

Delegate execution of details
VP Title

5% Int'l Travel

The BossFair Self-confident Knowledgeable MentoringInsecure AutocraticGives objective feedback on a timely basis
GeographySuburban campusDowntown or industrial parkD.C. Location within 30-minute commute
ValuesNoble Cause Making a differenceEthics Integrity
Travel 20% InternationalWeekend Travel5% International
IntangibleWork from home
one day per week Mentor who is father figure
Work 60+ hours
per week ongoing
High degree of freedom
The OfficeWork at home two days per week      
PoliticsCollegial collaborative teamBickering among senior managers Worry about being politically correctCompany where I can say what I mean and not offend everybody in the room
Fun StuffCountry Club Membership     450 Mhz laptop
Window view of the ocean
EmotionalCalm, serene environment Uniform, fair standards
Recognition for
a job well done
Environment supports introversion
Too many people who can torpedo my project Cold calls or high rejection
Constant deadlines
High pressure
High stress
Quick feedback High degree of autonomy and control over my projects  
Compensation$175K base
+stock options
Reduction in pay To pay for parking$100K base +bonus +stock Employment Contract One Year
Signing bonus Sabbatical after five years Expense account
BenefitsPaid tuition

Four-week vacation 401-K Disability Insurance
  $500K Life Insurance Major Medical Equal to Current Policy Three-week paid vacation  

The words you see above are only examples. Don't copy them verbatim or use them as a checklist. Search your soul and invent your own phrases. You might even add some new categories down the left side of your chart. Remember, you are writing about your future life, not just your career. So include items to protect your family and personal interests. "Five hours per week for leisure reading" is a valid entry. "Limit work week to 50 hours" is also valid.

As you see, this list is fanciful, not 100% realistic. To say "I want to invent the rules as I go" is a stretch. No job gives 100% freedom to invent one's own path-not even self-employment. But it's the concept that's important. What the author is saying is that she wants more freedom rather than less. And corporations vary widely in their ability to tolerate mavericks. This person may belong in a small, entrepreneurial, free-wheeling company.

Must-haves are very important. They are absolute requirements. While you may give up some of your "wants," must-haves are essential and cannot be compromised.

Think about column five: "Things that would be FUN, but possibly frivolous." This is where your creativity should kick in. Don't let this "Career Decision Matrix" become boring, or one-dimensional. Pick some fun stuff. Go ahead, give 7yourself a raise, or high-speed Internet access, a screamer-of-a-laptop, a health club membership, a window view of the ocean, or frequent international travel.

It's important to make every entry specific, not vague. "WANT more time with my children" is not as useful as "WANT 2 hours per week to play softball with teenage son." "$85,000 per year" is better than "a high salary." Avoid phrases like, "I DON'T WANT a long commute." Instead, say "DON'T WANT to drive more than 30 minutes each way." Think of the Architect and the Custom Home analogy: "Lots of windows," is much less useful than "four 3x4' arched windows in the den."

You'll notice that some entries are one word, others are lengthy phrases. Be spontaneous. Write whatever comes to mind without judging or second-guessing yourself, even if some entries seem stupid, odd, or inconsistent. Attempt to turn off your self-critic.

This is not a 15-minute project. It's a refrigerator exercise, one you tape onto the refrigerator and revisit from time to time, over the course of several days or weeks. This process is important because it helps you focus. It's also important while interviewing, because job opportunities tend to look like apples, oranges, and bananas-very different. That's what sometimes makes choosing the best of several offers so hard. Accepting one offer and rejecting the rest can be one of the most painful experiences of a career. Because what if you choose wrong?

Use this chart to compare and contrast every potential opportunity and job offer, both inside and outside your present employer. You'll be surprised how helpful it is. If you use this grid carefully, difficult choices will be easier, and your next job offer could easily be 95% perfect.

Next step: go to Part 3 of this three-part series, Picture the Ideal First Month on Your Next Job

William S. Frank, M.A., is founder and President of CareerLab. Since 1978, he has devoted more than 20,000 hours as a career, outplacement, and human resources consultant to employees, managers, senior executives, and boards of directors of more than 200 major U.S. corporations. He wrote 200 Letters For Job Hunters, published by Ten Speed Press, and he created the RED HOT Cover Letter collection in the Career Center at America Online, which is visited by more than 1,000,000 visitors per month.For more information about CareerLab, visit
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