In the earlier stages of my career, I thought if I just worked hard and did a great job, I would eventually get recognized for it and promoted.

It wasn't until the mid-part of my career that I discovered being good at what you do is necessary but it’s not enough to ensure success. Thinking strategically about your career is essential.

There are three phases when it’s most important for you to think strategically about your career.

The 3 Phases You’ll Face in Your Career

  1. You know where you want to go but you want to know how you’ll get there.
  2. You're unhappy where you are and you need a new direction and need to do something about it.
  3. Everything is going fine, which makes it really easy to simply “coast”.

We all experience these phases at different times in our careers, and it can be difficult to get out of them. So, knowing how to navigate the pitfalls of each phase will ensure success in your career.

Let’s start with the first phase where you need to think strategically about your career.

1. You know where youre going

Even when you have a clear goal, you might not be clear on exactly how to get there.

When I decided my goal was to make it to the C-Suite of my organization, I couldn’t see the clear pathway to get there. I eventually achieved my goal but it was a long and, at times, difficult journey. There were many moments when I wasn’t sure if I was doing the “right” things to help me along the way or if I was even on track at all!

It wasn’t until I became strategic about my career trajectory and gave myself structure, milestones and a plan to reach my big goal that I felt confident I was moving in the direction of my aspirations.

The simplest and most effective way to do this is to have a career plan.

A career plan doesn’t have to be complex or prescribed, like “At age X I’ll be here and at age Y I’ll be there”. It can be simple. Just make sure you’re using a framework that is manageable, flexible for change, and energizing for you to look at and use.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want in your career?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years?
  • What are your big career aspirations?

Simply having an idea of that big picture goal gives you direction.

It’s about working smarter, not just harder. This brings us to the second phase where you need to be strategic about your career.

2. Youre unhappy where you are

Whether you’re just feeling stuck in your career or you’ve fallen into a career “bear trap” and are trying to get out, this is a great time to pull back and develop a strategic plan.

The tricky thing about this phase is that when you’re really unhappy or feeling stuck, it can be hard to find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is when it’s helpful to take your long-term vision and break it down again by creating shorter term “interim milestones”. These are like yearly checkpoints that let you know you’re on track to achieve your big goals. They give you something to shoot for when your big 5-year goal seems too distant to relate to.

Since a year can feel like a long time, you can also break the interim milestones down further. Having 90-day goals and specific action steps to take towards your milestones will give you the clarity and the confidence to act, and the momentum to keep moving forward to achieving your bigger vision for your career.

And finally, the most overlooked phase where you need to be strategic about your career.

3. Everything is going fine

This is actually one of the most dangerous times in your career because it’s when you can miss a lot of signs. It's really easy to not even think about planning your career and just coast along.

Then before you know it, you’ve been in the same role for too long or moving sideways when you want to move up. Or maybe you’ve advanced but it feels like it wasn’t on your terms and you’ve gone wherever the wind has blown you.

Once you pass a certain point in your career, it’s not enough to work really hard, do an excellent job, and believe the organization will recognize, reward and promote you. So don’t get lulled into a sense of complacency because this strategy has worked for you in the past.

This is the time to zoom out and do some planning. As they say, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”, and the one mistake you don’t want to make is to do nothing.

While having a career plan doesn’t guarantee success (you never know what will happen in the world!), it does give you a much, much higher likelihood of success.

Creating your career game plan can be simple, easy and fun

When you’re stuck in one of these phases, trying to get out can seem daunting and even impossible. But it can be simple. It can be easy. It can even be fun! And you don’t have to do it alone.

If you’re wondering how to go about creating your own career plan, join me in my free 5-day Career Mastery Challenge where I’ll guide you step by step to create your own career game plan so you can achieve your big goals.

Each day of the Challenge is dedicated to one of the five essential parts of your career plan. And in just five short days, you'll come away with your own personalized Career Success Roadmap that gives you clarity on your big career goals and how to reach them.

If you’ve been meaning to step back and think strategically about your career, this free Challenge is your opportunity to do it with a proven structure, guidance and support.

Join the Career Mastery Challenge now. It’s free and will be the best thing you can do for your career.

So, which phase are you in right now? Leave a comment and let me know.