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Developing your career takes a carefully chosen path

When Lark Ismail first interned as an administrative assistant while in college, she wasn’t sure that she would eventually go into the field for her career.  “I simply thought of my job as a way to help small businesses in an office setting,” she says.  But after Ismail graduated, she began to focus full-time on virtual administration.  She currently is the owner of Lark’s Virtual Solutions in Los Angeles, Calif., where she helps many small business clients manage their office needs remotely.

Ismail credits her decision to create a career development plan with helping her land her initial group of clients.  “It forced me to think about who my ideal clients were, and then identify a list of skills I needed for those businesses,” she says, noting that her eventual goal is to focus on executive clients as well as supervise other administrative professionals in a virtual environment.

Creating a written individual development plan is an important step toward reaching your short and long term goals, says Russ Hovendick, founder of Directional Motivation, a career resource company.  “People who have targeted development plans tend to make more money over their careers than people who don’t have plans,” he says.

It is estimated that the number of administrative supervisor positions in this country will increase by nearly 15 percent by the end of the decade.  Have you created a career development plan to make sure you reach your goals? 

Here are five important steps career experts say are necessary for creating a path to success.

1. Identify your goals and note skills gaps

Identify what your career goals are and take concrete steps to achieve them, Hovendick says.  Perhaps you’d like to run a large office, or support a C-level executive, or move into another area of business, such as marketing or information technology.  “Start with the end product in mind and work backwards,” he says.

Next, start making a note of the skills you’ll need to master in order to succeed in those roles, he says.

When Ismail first started completing administrative work for clients, she realized that many people needed an office professional who had project management skills.  She felt that she could handle those tasks, but by reviewing her development plan, she realized that she hadn’t demonstrated this ability. 

Ismail realized that she needed look for project management courses that she could enroll in and complete to show potential clients that she had mastered this area. “I needed to prove that I had that skill,” she says.

In addition to reviewing your own plan, find someone who’s knowledgeable to help you identify skills gaps.  You may not know every skill you need to advance your career, so it’s important to look for a mentor to help guide you along, says Hovendick.

“Find someone who has ‘been there and seen that’ from a higher perspective that can give you valuable insight into your career,” he says.  “A good mentor is one who questions you a lot and provides an analysis of your strengths.”

Chrissy Scivicque is founder of career coaching company EatYourCareer.com.  She advises clients to write down the incremental steps necessary to gain needed skills.  For example, you may need to take classes to learn a new office technology, or volunteer for a company-wide project that will expose you to several different business departments.

Whatever areas you identify for improvement, make sure you write down what they are, and how you plan to master them, Scivicque says.  “A plan forces you to create deadlines and make a commitment in writing,” she says.

3. Share your goals with your manager

Somebusinesses encourage development plans as part of the annual employee review.  “I believe it’s really wonderful if a business does that with their employees because it helps you and your manager be aligned in your goals,” Scivicque says.  “Take advantage of these offerings.”

If your manager knows your goals, he or she may be able to provide you with areas of responsibility that help you build your resume, she says.  In addition, if you show that you’ve done your research for a particular job, it could help you build a case for a future promotion.

It is also equally important to review your goals without your manager present, she says. “I would recommend that you go through the process on your own, just in case you have goals that don’t necessarily involve your current company,” Scivicque says.

4. Review progress

When you have a written plan, don’t let it sit around and gather dust.  Review it on a regular basis and make sure you’re on track.  “Revisit those goals every six months to see how you’re doing,” Hovendick says.  “And celebrate your accomplishments, even if they are minor ones.”

Many people begin their careers with enthusiasm, but sometimes they become complacent in their jobs, or stuck in a certain role, and aren’t able to advance as far as they could, he says.  Reviewing your goals on a regular basis is one way to guard against this complacency.

In addition, you should ask yourself if the goals and interests you had in the past are still valid.  Give yourself permission to revise your goals as you progress along your career, Hovendick says.  As you gain more experience, you may want to branch out in other areas that you didn’t cover in your initial development plan. 

5. Anticipate roadblocks and be willing to take risks

If you find your plan stalling, be flexible and open to different options that might come your way even if they seem challenging at first.  “You have to be a motivated and persistent person, and you have to be willing to adapt to keep up with changing client needs,” Ismail says. 

For example, the transition from working in a brick and mortar office building to setting up shop in a virtual environment was a challenge because it was a change of routine, Ismail says.  “But I found it rewarding, and it helped me become a better administrative professional,” she says.

By creating a career development plan, sharing it with mentors and reviewing your progress regularly, you can take huge strides to having a rewarding career, says Hovendick.  “The little steps you take today determine your future success.”   

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More than 4 million administrative assistants and secretaries, along with more than 1.4 million first line supervisors of office and administrative support workers, were employed in the United States in 2010 (U.S. Department of Labor).

Nearly 493,000 administrative assistant and secretarial positions will be added in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020, representing growth of 12 percent. More than 203,000 office supervisor positions will be added, representing growth of nearly 15 percent. (U.S. Department of Labor) 

(Margarette Burnette frequently writes about business and personal fi nance topics. She is based in the Atlanta, Ga., area.)