Podcast: How to build your career plan

Since early 2020, we’ve all experienced or witnessed considerable change in the world of work, leading many careers to take unexpected twists and turns. In some instances, this has made it harder for professionals to feel as though they can effectively plan their careers in a way that they might have done pre-pandemic.

Hear from Eliza Kirkby, Regional Director at Hays Australia, as she shares her insights on how to effectively build a career plan for the year ahead and beyond.

1. To begin with, please could you introduce yourself to our listeners?

(01:27) Absolutely. So, as well as being a mum and sitting on the board of an engineering business as a non-executive director here in Sydney, I’m also a Regional Director in the Australian Hays business. I look after a diverse group of recruitment teams, that include our HR, marketing and digital, legal, defence and life sciences teams.
I started my career at Hays as a graduate and next week, I celebrate my fifteen-year anniversary. And one of the things that has kept me in this industry all these years is certainly the impact I can have on candidates and their careers. And I will share a story with you, Jon, if you don’t mind. Just before Christmas, I got a call from a candidate who I’d placed as an assistant accountant over a decade ago and she was calling to tell me that she had just achieved her career goal of becoming a CFO or a head of finance and she wanted to thank me for supporting her all those years ago. So, very relevant to our discussion today about career planning and absolutely one of the things I love most about this industry.
Well, congratulations on 15 years with Hays. We often find that at Hays there are people who’ve been here a long time. I’ve been here eight years myself as well, and that’s such a fantastic story to share as well. It’s so good to know that you’re obviously having such positive impacts on people’s lives.
(02:55) Absolutely, and I think for so many recruiters, colleagues, and peers at Hays, it’s the same story for them. It’s the people and the careers that they’re impacting that keeps us coming back into the office day after day and really being passionate about this job.

2. So, as explained in the introduction, this podcast is about career planning. Have you followed a career plan yourself to help you get to where you are today?

(03:21) Absolutely. So, from an early time in my career at Hays, and when I say early, I’m talking within the first six months or so, I knew I wanted to be a Regional Director. So, that’s been my end goal, and I followed a people management career path to get me here.
There have been stages where I’ve been able to fast track my career plan because of high performance but if I speak candidly, there have also been times where having that career plan has helped me push through challenging and tougher times and keep focused on that end goal. I’ll add that I’m lucky to work for an organisation with what we call a meritocratic culture. So, the more you put into this job and deliver results, the faster you’re progressed and promoted. And we’ve got clearly set up career paths, which has meant that throughout my time at Hays, I’ve very much felt in control of my career plan. So, I feel that I’ve been very lucky. I think that there are many candidates that I’ve interacted with over my career that have had to play a much more proactive role in really driving that themselves.

3. Could you explain exactly what a career plan is and what the benefits are of creating one?

(04:32) Sure, so a career plan is essentially a roadmap that lays out a pathway towards your ideal career goal. That could be a particular role in the industry you’re in or even a completely new occupation and it also includes the smaller tasks and achievements along the way that are going to help you get there.
What are the benefits? By having these priorities set out, you’re more likely to work towards and achieve your goals consistently. Creating a clear career plan is also a great way to consciously think about what you want out of your professional life and that’s a question that people often miss when they don’t think about putting a career plan in place. It also means that whenever you next job hunt, you’re more likely to look for a role that is going to move you one step closer to achieving your career goal.
And I have come across this throughout my career that for some people, it’s completely overwhelming to contemplate these bigger questions of what you want out of your career but I think just taking the first steps, thinking about it, breaking it down into that larger goal and then smaller objectives that makes it more manageable and gives everyone a greater chance of succeeding.

4. What time period should a career plan cover? Should you have one for one year, five years, ten years? Should you have multiple career plans that span a certain length of time?

(06:00) That’s a great question because I genuinely believe that allocating a timeline to your plan is a big key to success. So, having that timeline is going to help motivate you and keep you accountable to your larger goals over the long term.
In general, you can break your career plan down into two phases. So, you’ve got the short-term and then the long-term. And for the short-term phase, once you’ve identified your ideal career, you should develop short-term objectives that will cover say the next three or so years. These will start you down the path towards that goal and they might cover things like the new skills you need to learn, the qualifications that could help you get there or certain experiences you need to gain. And you can think of them as ideally tasks that will set you up to be ready for your next promotion.
Then when you’ve got the long-term phase, you’re obviously looking at longer-term goals and charting a course towards that bigger future goal that covers the next five to ten years plus. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that of course things can and will most likely change over this time and the last year has proven that to us in spades. So, it’s important to be flexible and adapt your plan if and when priorities do change, to remember to check in from time to time to ensure your goal remains achievable, measure your progress, celebrate your successes and don’t be afraid to reset your objectives, both those short-term and longer-term objectives if you need to.

5. What should your first steps be if you’re writing a career plan from scratch or if you’re revisiting one that you’ve already written?

(07:49) I would recommend starting with a wide lens, so, think big to start with. Consider your skill set, your interests, your values, where you want to live, your lifestyle, and then start researching the occupations that interest you and the roles that seem like they could be a good match. So, if you start big, it ensures that you’ve explored all the possible careers of interests before selecting the one that you feel either most passionate about or most comfortable with. And it also ensures that you’re considering really what the day-to-day realities of your career choice are going to be.
If you find yourself, which isn’t uncommon, unable to select between two or more different career paths, take some time to reflect, compare the occupations, consider the qualifications, skills, typical responsibilities, the work environment, salary and work-life balance for each, and don’t forget to consider what inspires you about each option.
You can have multiple career paths. Ideally, you’ll be able to identify your best fit through doing this reflection, and once you decide which career option is the best fit for you, you can then write down your resulting career goal. From there, you’re ready to then plot your course from where you are now to this ultimate goal and you’re going to cover both those short-term and those long-term objectives that we spoke about earlier.

6. How important is it to set realistic SMART goals and objectives?

(09:26) It’s very important that you write clearly defined objectives that you can work towards. And the SMART system is really useful for this. I’m sure most are aware that SMART is an acronym and SMART goals are those that are:

Specific – So, for example, when writing goals, they should be specific and that means being as clear as you can and avoiding ambiguous statements or targets.
Measurable – that’s about making sure you can actually quantify what you want to achieve.
Achievable – being achievable is so important and keeping your goals attainable. It doesn’t mean that some of your objectives can’t be stretch goals where you really need to push yourself but don’t set yourself up to fail because that’s just going to be demotivating.
Realistic – Goals should be realistic, so, you need to be reasonable. Make sure your goals are realistic given your skill set, experience, finances, and importantly, the market conditions you’re facing, now more than ever.
Timely – And then finally, timely. So, creating timeframes to help you feel motivated to stay the course is important.

7. I’d imagine conducting an analysis of which skills are in demand is crucial when career planning. Could you give us some examples of which skills will be crucial to succeed in the future of work?

(10:56) When creating a plan, it’s important to think critically about your skillset right now and what is likely to be needed in the future. So, constant advances in technology mean that we all need to be developing our skills over time. I would prioritise staying on top of technological advances and the influence these have in your industry and building a need for professional development into your plan that aligns with that. You can do that through things like formal education, on the job experience and working with a mentor.

The skills in demand, they absolutely change over time, there’s no question about that. They vary by industry and sector at any moment in time. So, that’s one of the reasons at Hays we compile the most in-demand skills in each industry. So, you could visit our website to stay on top of these desirable skill sets as they’re evolving.
And I’d also recommend making sure you’re following leading organisations, that you’re following experts in your field, that you’re keeping in touch with your local Hays recruiter, that you’re doing all these things to make sure you don’t miss new trends and technologies. In Australia, we’ve got a really great tool which is It’s a skills-match online tool that the government provides, where people can go in, they enter the jobs they’ve done previously and the tool actually matches up possible roles with transferable skills for that individual. So, I would recommend looking out for similar tools in your own local markets.
And one final comment here would be that there is definitely a collection of skills that will always be sought by employers or we certainly believe this to be the case because they’re difficult to automate and they’re difficult to outsource and these are soft skills. So, you’ve probably heard this term. They include things like communication, teamwork, adaptability, creative thinking, influencing, and relationship building. So, adapting these soft skills into a career plan, I think, is an important one.
Great. thanks, Eliza. We’re recording this in early 2021. So, throughout the last year or so, one of the only certainties has been change.

8. Do you think that change has made career planning more difficult?

(13:21) Of course, I do. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you about this topic so passionately if I didn’t but what I will agree with you on is that you can’t account for everything that could possibly change in your career. That doesn’t mean setting aside some time to put a career plan together isn’t a valuable thing to do though, and I think rather than seeing a career plan as a strict set of rules, it’s important to see it as a roadmap to help you consciously navigate your career, so to check that you’re being proactive, to check that you’re being focused on the long-term. Doing this helps you put the smaller challenges we face day to day into perspective at times. It can help you stay focused and can also help you get greater enjoyment and satisfaction from what you’re doing.
And I guess I’d also say that planning is something we’re doing in so many areas of our lives. So, just some examples: planning our work week, our personal life events, our exercise schedules, managing our households, managing our kids’ activities. There are so many places that we do planning, and I think that our careers are important, and it stands that our careers can benefit as well from this planning too even during periods of change and perhaps more importantly during periods of change.

9. And with that in mind, would you say it’s important for listeners to be open-minded and flexible when it comes to following their career paths? Is it okay if we move away from them from time to time to focus on other things perhaps?

(14:55) Absolutely, of course. And it’s totally expected and understandable that at various times people will need to do this and deviate. After all, we’ve seen in the last year things can change, and they can change rapidly. Technology and industries, they’re shifting all the time with new jobs being created to support the continuing digital revolution. You might end up staying in the area of work you’re already in or, as we’re seeing more and more commonly, you might find yourself switching careers along the way, in which case, again, your career plan is going to need to shift too but it is also okay to put a pause on things and to revisit them.
One of the evergreen skills that I talked a little bit about earlier was that adaptability piece. As we’ve seen over the last year, it’s such an asset for overcoming the challenges that can arise during your career. So, developing these soft skills to cope with that is important too. And you might find that what you want in your career is going to change over time independent of what’s happening externally in the market. And I guess the most important thing in creating a career plan is to check back in, review and adapt it.
Equally, if you’re presented with an opportunity you didn’t plan for, which interests you and it’s not in your career plan, absolutely, go for it, seize it. You’ll always learn something even if it’s that you didn’t enjoy an aspect of that piece of work. When you have opportunities that are presented that are interesting, go for it.

10. For those of our listeners who had a career plan in place but have been impacted by redundancy or change in circumstances, how would you recommend they go about resetting and reviving their plans?

(16:41) Well, this is such an important question because being made redundant can be such a huge shock. And I know for most people it’s one of the scariest challenges that they will face in their professional lives. So, it’s important to be thinking about how, if you’ve experienced this, you can find a way to move forward. And I think that there are positives that can be taken from situations people are in, so it be a chance to re-evaluate your career goals, to put an effective plan in place and really look for a suitable next career step for an individual.
In this situation, I would recommend, honestly, checking in with yourself and with your circumstances, so asking yourself things like “Do my goals still align with my desires and the reality of my workplace, industry, market or the conditions I’m in at the moment? What’s changed between the last time I wrote my plan and now?” and really importantly, “What can I actually do to lift my value to a future organisation?” This is something that’s been more important ever, particularly in the last year. We’ve experienced a tidal wave of change in so many industries.
And I just immediately think of an example here in the Australia and New Zealand business, One of our insurance clients hired hundreds of customer service staff because they needed to set up an onshore contact centre and data centre due to the pandemic and the things that were going on. And many of the staff that they hired had recently been made redundant or been stood down from the travel industry, again, due to the pandemic. And these candidates were given the opportunity to transfer existing skills and develop new skills in a completely different and new industry to them.
So, I would say to anyone in this position, be open to new possibilities. If you’re in this position currently, I think it’s worth considering whether there are other growing industries that would suit your skills and experience and where you could transfer the knowledge and the offering that you would have.

11. And on the other hand, are career plans still helpful even if you’re satisfied with your current career?

(19:06) Well, I think they certainly can still add value. I think that some job research, some conscious consideration of where you are, your achievements, the trajectory that you’re following at the moment, I think, that can still surface interesting things about your work life that you might not have thought about before. I think that having a plan that’s down in black and white on paper or on your computer can also make you feel even greater satisfaction from the career achievements that you’re achieving along the way. So, I do think that’s really an opportunity to explore the possibilities that the world of work can offer. And I think that there are benefits both when you’re sailing along as you hope to be or when your struck with challenges, change or difficulties that you are having to face.

12. And for those of our listeners who may have been working towards a promotion which has been put on hold due to the pandemic, how can a career plan help to get them back on track?

(20:05) Well, I’d firstly say don’t be discouraged and certainly people in this boat are not alone. Events of the pandemic have and are going to continue to require extraordinary ongoing action both from candidates and organisations looking to survive and to navigate their way through but I would say it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to reach your goals eventually.
So, if you’re in this situation, use this time as an opportunity to review and adjust your plan. We see a growing trend for workers to leave their organisations to achieve a promotion. And so, perhaps, you’re looking to develop in a new role externally. And if so, this is the time to assess if there are things you can do now to add to your skillset and make you more attractive to prospective employers for that promotion you’re looking for. And for this, you can find advice on how to approach your job search on our website, absolutely.
If the promotion you’re seeking is internal, I’d recommend speaking with your manager, bringing your relevant accomplishments from your career plan, other supporting evidence. If you haven’t already shared your aspirations and your goal, I think, if you can discuss a promotional timeframe that is realistic, if it’s appropriate, and obviously industries and organisations are being affected differently at the moment, but also talk about other tasks that you could take on now to help you progress and then add those into your career plan. Even if your promotion or all promotions across the organisation you work for are currently on hold, I think it’s really good advice to keep looking for opportunities to develop your skill set to move forward so that when promotions do end up back on the table, you’re at the top of the list.

13. If you’re hoping to progress in the current company that you’re in, should career planning be done on your own or should it be done in conjunction with your manager?

(22:07) This is going to depend on particular circumstances but I’d say, generally speaking, if your manager is in a position to guide you and help you progress against your goals, then it’s definitely worth asking for their input. I’d recommend maybe expressing your long-term goal and asking your manager to help you with short-term goals or even asking their opinion on how you can best work towards achieving what you’re trying to achieve.
I think you showing interest and ambition may also engage them in taking a more active approach in your development but the one thing I would say, Jon, is that if you’re thinking of changing your career, it could be the case that your manager won’t know how to help you get started or they may not want to help you get started in many instances. So, if that’s the case, I would talk to a recruiter or a trusted friend, family member, mentor, someone that’s objective and outside of your organisation, about your plans and how you’re going to go about actioning them.

14. What advice would you give to those that feel as though they’re not getting the support they need from their manager?

(23:21) That can be a tricky relationship or circumstance to find yourself and to navigate a positive outcome from. What I would start off by saying is that managers can be such a wealth of business and industry knowledge and they can really help you fast track your development. If you feel that you aren’t getting the support you need from your manager, I think it’s worthwhile having a think about the areas in which you’d like more assistance, think about how they could be helping you develop. Perhaps there’s a short-term goal you could suggest they help you work towards.
Your development isn’t in the hands of your manager. You need to be proactive and really work with them in a two-way relationship to achieve that progression and development. I think, be proactive and request a meeting with your manager where you ask them for their advice and support. There needs to be a little bit of strategic thinking done here because what you don’t want is to accuse them of mismanaging or neglecting you.
You want to make sure that you’re posing your request for more support as a win for the organisation as much as it would be a win for you. So, it’s in the organisation’s interest that you develop your skills, that you offer and give back more to your organisation, that you stay engaged, remain passionate, etc. And adding that you appreciate, value and respect their input and their opinions won’t hurt either.
We all lead busy lives or when we’re not in lockdown, we usually lead busy lives. We’re dealing with many conflicting priorities, which means we can lose focus on our career plan which we have established already.

15. What would you recommend listeners do to ensure that they feel motivated to remain on track?

(25:17) I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think this is really where that timeline that you attached to your goals can be really helpful and useful. And this is also where it’s key to set realistic goals and to check in and make sure you’re adjusting them based on what is going on. If your career plan includes several smaller, easier to achieve goals that lead you down the pathway to that overarching goal, it provides you with extra motivation to remain on track. So, that’s a good way to remain motivated is checking in with that career plan and acknowledging and celebrating those smaller achievements along the way.
I’d say, stay as positive as you can. I know everyone faces a tricky balancing acts between the competing priorities of their lives and their careers. And I think just keep checking in, adapting your plan and flexing it if you need to are really sensible things to do in this market and particularly when it can be difficult to stay motivated or remain on track.

16. How can listeners track their progress to maintain motivation? Being able to see that there are differences happening, that there is progress, obviously can give you a real boost.

(26:36) I highly recommend finding yourself someone you can work together with on your career plan, so finding yourself a mentor or a sponsor to work with you and to guide you. It could be your manager or a trusted advisor, a family friend. Set up regular meetings, perhaps monthly or quarterly, so that there’s an opportunity that you can be held accountable and hold yourself accountable to your plan and also to discuss and re-evaluate career objectives with your mentor as well.
So, I think it’s important that you’ve got those meetings or checkpoints to maintain some accountability. Also, as we’ve talked about several times, reviewing your plan. So, if you find yourself struggling to meet your goals or if you find yourself losing drive, ask yourself whether you still want the same things, are those goals that you had set reasonable considering the other commitments and priorities in your life or the market conditions you’re facing. And if not, then don’t be afraid to reset them and realign them.
Thank you so much, Eliza. I think, the past year, there’s been so many changes and it’s given people a lot of time to reflect on what they’re doing in their lives, what they want to do to make them happy, changes that they can make. So, I think this is a really, relevant topic to be discussing at the moment. And I think that’s some fantastic advice that you’ve shared with our listeners that will help ensure that they’re making progress in their careers and that they’re motivated to constantly develop them as well. So, thank you so much for sharing your insights and advice today.

17. I’ve just got one final question though before you go. If you had one piece of advice to help our listeners navigate their careers for out of the pandemic and beyond, what would that be?

(28:30) I’m going to steal a piece a quote from someone else here. A quote from Arthur Ashe, which I find incredibly motivating and so relevant in this market.
The quote that he said is “Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.”
I’m not sure if you’ve heard that one before but I think it’s appropriate. So, in terms of starting where you are, what does that mean right now? Well, we’re experiencing an unprecedented global pandemic. So, be realistic, be fair to yourself about whatever professional circumstances you find yourself in. The careers of people in different countries, industries, professions, and organisations are being impacted in such completely different ways now that, I think, starting where you are is really important.
The next step is, use what you have. So, what are your strengths? What are your capabilities and experiences and qualifications? And what tools and resources are at your disposal to help you move forward?
And then, finally, probably most powerfully, do what you can. So, this is about taking action. Don’t make excuses, take action. And once you start taking action, it’s a game-changer because your action is either going to bring progress or it’s going to highlight areas that you still need to develop and work on. This, in turn, helps propel you forward and continue navigating your career through that career plan and that career journey.
So, I think that this advice from Arthur Ashe couldn’t be more relevant in the market that we’re experiencing right now.

About this author

Eliza Kirkby is Regional Director of Hays in New South Wales and has full day-to-day operational responsibility for several key Hays business units.

Eliza joined Hays in 2006 as a recruitment consultant. Her successes were quickly rewarded with promotions and today she leads a team of over 50 consultants, sits on the NSW board and is the account manager of several key National Accounts.

In addition, Eliza has extensive experience developing innovative project recruitment solutions for clients, including designing and implementing assessment centres for 400+ staff and leading assessment projects to support restructures and volume recruitment requirements.

Eliza holds a Bachelor of Economics and Honours in Psychology from the University of Sydney.

Follow Eliza on LinkedIn

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