Career Path: Six Steps to Your Successful Career Path
Over the past two decades, records and information management (RIM) practitioners have begun to enjoy the ability to create a structured career path. No longer are they solely relegated to dark, dusty file rooms. They are now emerging as serious leaders in the organizations they serve – especially by demonstrating expertise in effectively managing digital records.
Alan A. Andolsen, CRM, CMC
Although leadership may come calling without request, more often it comes to those who prepare for it by planning their careers. The following illustration provides a six-step framework for career planning that can be useful for those starting a career or for those evaluating or contemplating a change in their current career.
The first step begins with understanding yourself. A number of areas of selfknowledge are very important in laying a foundation for a career plan.
Personality and Attitudes
You first need to understand your own personality (e.g., outgoing or shy, passive or aggressive, thoughtful or emotional). In addition, you need to be clear about your own attitudes toward life and work. For example, a positive attitude about work defines who you are and may turn you toward a career that provides the opportunity to engage in a driving passion but would not interest someone for whom work is simply a necessary evil to provide income and stability.
Skills and Achievements
One of the most helpful tasks you can undertake to understand yourself is to create an exhaustive and objective list of your skills. Next, inventory your achievements. In both cases, even the smallest achievements or most minor skills may be important in helping you understand what you can do and what you might like to do.
Knowledge and Learning Style
This requires a critical look at what you have learned in life – whether academic or practical knowledge gained from your work or other elements within your life. Beyond that, it is important to understand how you learn. For some, the best learning occurs when they interact with other people. For others, the written word provides the information needed to gain a skill or to understand a process.
Most importantly, you should understand what you value most. This requires a rigorously honest evaluation of those things, persons, or experiences that you treasure and that you would give up only with great difficulty.
Inventory your interests. They should not be limited to personal pleasures outside of your work experience but should include interests from all aspects of your life.
Finally, evaluate how much risk you are willing to take. Those for whom risk poses little or no problem will be able to consider avenues that those who are more risk averse would never consider entering. This determination is one of the most important in establishing a long-term career path.
Once you understand yourself, the next step is to investigate what options are available. A successful career plan makes this investigation as comprehensive and exhaustive as possible. Careful attention to each of the elements below can prevent false starts.
The Internet provides a spectacular resource to research an almost infinite number of occupational choices. Starting with simple searches on sites such as google.com or about.com, you can collect a rich and diverse background on those careers that attract you most.
For RIM professionals and those interested in the field, ARMA International’s Records and Information Management Core Competencies provides an excellent outline of the skills and abilities required to be successful in RIM from an entry-level position though executive management.
Once you have narrowed your research for a specific career, talk to someone involved in that career about its elements, time demands, needed skills, and responsibilities. Such first-hand experience can be invaluable in determining whether the career is truly appropriate for you.
Another approach, though possibly more difficult to arrange, is to locate someone who will allow you to accompany him or her on the job for a day or two. This job shadowing model can provide a substantially different perspective on a career than what might be gained through simply reading about it or interviewing someone about their experience.
If possible, work at the job – even as a volunteer – to further deepen your understanding of the career and what its rewards and challenges might be. In particular, volunteering at a not-for-profit organization that has a position similar to your career interest may contribute greatly to your ultimate career choice.
Finally, as an integral part of occupational research, you should understand what the trends are for the careers that interest you. Government statistics and related resources that track the growth or decline for a wide range of careers are a good source of information and are available on the Internet (e.g., U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics at www.bls.gov/OCO and its Occupational Outlook Quarterly at www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/ooqhome.htm).
After understanding yourself and doing research to understand the type of career that might interest you, make some decisions that may narrow your career choices:
The first set of decisions focuses on your longer-term career goals. Do you want to eventually become part of management? Or do you prefer to remain in a line or staff position and focus on deeper knowledge in the specialty you have chosen? Again, Records and Information Management Core Competencies can provide guidance to determine what is required if you decide on an upwardly mobile RIM career.
The next focus is on what you want for your personal life. In addition to possible considerations about a family, do you have other passionate interests that you want to have time to enjoy? Do you enjoy travel and would that element in your career enhance your personal life?
The intention to contribute time and talent to volunteer organizations may affect your career choice. For example, if the Special Olympics or Habitat for Humanity are organizations that you respect, you may want to choose a career where those organizations are supported by your employer.
Finally, you need to decide whether you are dedicated to lifelong learning in your career or whether you desire to learn the skills necessary to accomplish your job and then focus on personal interests.
As a RIM professional, one goal may be to attain the Certified Records Manager (CRM) designation. To maintain the CRM, a RIM professional commits to an ongoing program of education. The knowledge and experience required to pass the examinations that lead to the CRM are substantially congruent with the RIM competencies. Together, the CRM study outline and the competencies provide a clear path for continuous learning.
If you have done your homework properly, you are ready to move toward your new career. This step, as the others above, should be approached in a structured fashion.
The first and most obvious step is to identify where the jobs actually are. Again, the Internet has numerous sites where job opportunities are listed (e.g., ARMA International’s “Career Link” at www.arma.org/careers and the Institute of Certified Records Manager’s “Career Opportunities” at www.icrm.org.
This strategy, however, is only one of many. Conscientious and dedicated networking with individuals either working in or related to the target industry or service can be a very fruitful avenue for uncovering specific job opportunities. Most effective is personal contact within an organization that can result in an invitation for an interview.
Resumes and Letters
The resume should provide a clear, straightforward, and honest outline of overall career objectives, past experience, education, and achievements. Often helpful are letters of reference that provide an outside verification of your capabilities, skills, and achievements. The resume and letters of reference need to be customized to the specific organization where you have a good chance of securing an interview – blanket distribution of resumes by e-mail or postal mail is seldom effective.
The interview is the culmination of the job search process. Each interview should be approached carefully. Research the organization so your comments during the interview are relevant and demonstrate a real interest in the organization. In addition, try to understand in advance what the actual interview process will be (e.g., single face-to-face interviews, group discussion, multiple visits).
Again, the Internet is an excellent source of tips on how to prepare for an interview (e.g., www.collegegrad.com/jobsearch/Mastering-the-Interview).
The job offer and acceptance completes the first major milestone in the career planning process. However, if the job offer does not match your long-term career plan, then seriously evaluate the offer and decide whether it would be better to wait for a job offer that truly provides an initial step along a career path. Those who have achieved the CRM designation will find that both the overall responsibility and salary level of the positions they are offered are higher than the average.
Once on the job, the career planning process is not over. Throughout your current job, you must be constantly evaluating your successes and failures in relation to your desired career path. You must use each of these experiences as an opportunity for growth to prepare yourself for the next step along that path. Referring to Records and Information Management Core Competencies and taking advantage of ARMA’s online RIM self-assessment tool at www.arma.org/competencies can assist in identifying areas for self-improvement and resources to help you strengthen your performance and broaden your career options.
The final step in career planning links that effort to what you want out of life. It is an unending process. You cannot relax and coast but must continue to be actively moving the plan forward.
In essence, you constantly must be evaluating all of the above steps. As time passes, your career or personal interests may change. If you are not attentive to these changes, you may find yourself continuing along a career path that is no longer fruitful or satisfactory. You need to be constantly alert to opportunities for personal growth and change that may require modification of your career plan.
Career planning is a challenge for all RIM professionals. In the coming decade, those who pay attention to the above steps, track their progress, strive for the CRM and other relevant certifications, and integrate them all deeply into their lives will not only be successful but will contribute greatly to their companies and institutions and to the RIM profession. In the final analysis, leaders and careers do not just happen: they are created.
Alan A. Andolsen, CRM, CMC, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From July - August 2008