A successful career path requires careful planning, and one travel planning aid is a map.
Like road maps, career maps offer three key pieces of information:
- How to get from point A to point B.
- How long the trip will take.
- What travelers can expect to see along the way.
Wouldn’t it be great if our supervisors gave us a career map with this information? Such a map would help us make important decisions to guide our career-related goals and aspirations. Fortunately, you can write your own career plan in a few simple steps.
Congratulations. You are a law enforcement professional. I know your decision to pursue this career took a lot of time, effort and determination – and I hope there was a lot of conversation and soul-searching. So what’s your next step? Where do you want your career to take you?
If you’re not sure, then I suggest you take a personal inventory of your career-related desires. Here are some brainstorming questions to get you started:
- What are the things you like?
- What skills and abilities are your strengths?
- Are you ready to travel or relocate?
- Where would you like to be in five years?
- Do you want to reach a certain rank or role?
Writing down your answers to these questions is a good way to start your career plan.
Find the route
Now you should have an idea of what you want to do. Maybe this is a specialist assignment or maybe you want to move into a supervisory role.
Your next step is to learn all you can about the job:
- What are the requirements?
- What are the duties of the position?
- What can I do to prepare for the job?
If possible, talk to someone you trust who has past or current experience in the position. Find out what they liked and disliked about the job, as well as what made them successful.
If you decide you still want to pursue the position, take action using what you’ve learned. Attend the required training and start building your training record. More:
- Try to gain relevant experience.
- Prepare yourself physically and mentally for the position. This may mean improving your physical fitness or completing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
- Start practicing for your interview. There are probably others who want the same assignment. Be prepared to explain why you are the best person for the job and what you have done to earn it.
Sometimes your career plan isn’t so much a step-by-step checklist as an overall strategy to get you going. No plan is perfect and inevitably there will be roadblocks, detours and maybe even a breakdown or two along the way. Keeping your options open allows you to keep progressing.
Sign up for any training you can find, even if it’s not related to your current assignment, and consider taking on assignments outside of your comfort zone. Experience is priceless and makes you a more valuable employee. Who knows, it might open up opportunities you hadn’t even considered.
Also, remember that flexibility includes where you live and work. Depending on the size and type of agency, you may need to transfer to another precinct, another district, or even another state. Your career path might even include moving to another level of jurisdiction, like mine when I moved from a career in local to federal law enforcement.
Respect a realistic ETA
A good prospect should also be based on your career plan. Think of your career in terms of five-year blocks and consider what you can realistically achieve in that time.
- What do I need to do to be ready to go from patrolman to detective in the next five years?
- What do I need to do to be ready to go from detective to sergeant in the next five years?
It can take more or less than five years, and sometimes these blocks overlap, but you get the idea.
If your plan is for a 30-year career, your career plan should allow you to visualize your career in six blocks of five years each. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not appointed Chief of Police after the first block of five years. Most of us won’t. And, if you find yourself stalled and unable to make the progress you’d like, then maybe it’s time to look at strategies to expand your options.
Enjoy the trip
A career map can help you identify what you want your career to look like, what you should be doing to take advantage of opportunities, and what you can do to help keep your plans on track. Remember that even the best-mapped plans are subject to change, so be prepared to be flexible. Your career goals are more like a marathon than a sprint, so keep your eyes peeled and look as far ahead as possible. Take your time and take the time to enjoy the trip.
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