Introduction to Career Planning
Why should you be concerned about planning your career?
Because it is your career. If you don’t take responsibility for the success of your career, then who will? Besides, considering all the time and energy you spend at work, why not ensure you get maximum satisfaction from your work and career.
Additionally, GSFC benefits from having a competent and motivated workforce, capable of “re-tooling” itself to meet the demands placed on it by constant organizational and technological changes within NASA and GSFC.
The workplace has been affected by a number of significant changes or trends, which have definite ramifications for your career planning.
• Less job security and employer loyalty. Gone is the era of high job security, with the same employer for life, where good employees automatically move up well-defined career ladders. Even in the Federal sector, in response to increased pressures to reduce costs, solutions like restructuring, down-sizing and automation will continue to eliminate some jobs and drastically alter others. Workers will, of necessity, need to be more mobile in finding the right job--and employer.
• Up is not the only way. With the thinning of management positions and flattening of organizational structures, the traditional linear career patterns will be less available. Employees will need to be more flexible, adaptable and creative in identifying their next job, and may need to consider lateral moves or rotational assignments to broaden their experience or leverage their skills.
• Technical knowledge and skills obsolescence. Rapid advancements in technology and state-of-the-art knowledge requires employees to upgrade their skills and “re-tool” themselves just to remain current with their job requirements. For example, in high-tech organizations like Hewlett-Packard, the skills of some engineers have a half-life of 18 months! Also, missions and projects end and new ones start up, often requiring new or different technical skills or expertise from the workforce.
It is definitely to your advantage to position yourself for long-term employability in the rapidly changing world of work. Begin preparing now for the future, for it will be here before you know it.
Types of Careers
There are some major differences between the university environment and the industrial/laboratory one:
• Industrial jobs give you access to state-of-the-art equipment and give you influence over the next generation of equipment.
• Unless you really enjoy teaching, you are doing yourself and the students a disservice if you take an academic job.
• Industry gives you opportunities for profit sharing and entrepreneurship.
There are many varieties of nonacademic jobs:
A consulting job can provide flexible hours, a variety of work experience, and a chance to be your own boss. A consultant sells his/her services on a short or long term basis to an organization that needs a particular set of skills. The successful consultant must be flexible, work well under tight deadlines, be a good salesperson for his/her expertise, and tolerate risk well.
A government lab usually focusses on a particular set of research problems, related to the agency's mission - defense, energy, etc. Laboratories can provide good interdisciplinary opportunities, job security, and a healthy research environment.
Some organizations engage in classified research - particularly, some Department of Defense labs, National Security Agency, and Department of Energy labs. At installations such as this, some percentage of your time might be spent in research that cannot be made public. This work is important and interesting, but will do nothing to enhance your prospects for a move to a non-classified installation. If job mobility is important to you, then it is vital that you keep a high public profile as well, continuing to do research that can be published openly, and continuing to attend conferences in your research area.
Private industry hires people who can contribute in some way to the company's ``bottom line" of profits. Different companies evaluate the contribution in different ways. At one end of the spectrum are companies who operate labs like IBM Yorktown, Xerox Parc, or Bell Labs, where management has believed that a relatively unfettered research environment will lead to unexpected advances, some of which will generate new commercial products. Although people are encouraged to become involved in some less speculative work, a major part of their time can be spent in work much like that of universities. At the other end of the spectrum are companies that focus on short-term, product-specific tasks that lead to research questions whose answers will have immediate impact.
Again, an important consideration is how openly you will be allowed to talk about your work. Some companies do classified research, and others protect their research and their products as trade secrets or by copyright or patent.
What Is Industrial Life Like?
In an medium or large size organization, your first tasks will probably involve close team work with a more experienced colleague with similar background. You may participate in a project that is well underway, making a specific contribution to software, mathematical formulation, or modeling. Or you may be brought into a beginning project that you will help to shape and then make a fairly well-defined contribution. Evaluation of your work will include the quality of your contribution, your attention to deadlines, your ability to work harmoniously with others, and your oral and written communication skills.
After you have some experience, you may be asked to work more independently, perhaps serving as the sole person on a project with your particular specialty. For instance, Margaret Wright of Bell Labs speaks of a project that involved studying radio signal propagation in a building. The team involved one engineer, expert in radio signal modeling, two mathematicians, expert in numerical optimization, and one computer scientist, expert in graph algorithms. An important ingredient in such projects is mutual respect among the team members so that they can trust that the pieces of the project that they only vaguely understand are being handled well. Team members must contribute responsibly and be wise enough to ask help from people outside the team when they are unsure of themselves.
Further on, you may be asked to lead a team or perhaps direct a research division. This requires a whole new set of skills and you should be prepared for some retraining to meet a new set of challenges.
How Should You Prepare for an Industrial Career?
There are several things you can do (beginning in your first year of graduate study!) that will make the prospects of success in an industrial environment more likely. Check the list under the chapter about preparation for an academic career - all of that advice applies here. In addition, work experience is invaluable. Look for opportunities to work in industry for a summer or a semester. Look for industrial workshops that will give you a chance to work on applied problems for an intensive session, preferably in a multi-disciplinary environment.
Obtain some breadth of background. In interacting with engineers or biologists or physical scientists, it is invaluable to know the vocabulary and to be able to understand the underlying principles. Broaden your areas of expertise through course work or seminar attendance.
How Do You Find a Job?
Industrial and government positions tend to work on a shorter time scale than academic ones. It might take several months to have the paperwork progress through the system, be called for an interview, but (at least for unclassified work) the time between interview, offer, and starting data is often quite short.
As in finding an academic job, consult your advisor and other faculty members, and use any contacts you have to inquire about positions
• Choose as references faculty members who know your work well. Also try to include people who have supervised your work or industrial contacts who find your research useful. Talk to them about your goals and provide them with a transcript, dissertation summary, and resume. Ask for advice on whom to contact.
• Your resume should give your educational background, awards, publications, conference presentations, and a list of 3-5 references with addresses. You should list an objective; e.g., ``a research position that applies skills in x, y, and z to w." If you have practical experience of any kind, highlight it on the resume.
• Your cover letter can be brief, but express some enthusiasm, make a clear statement of your research accomplishments and research goals, and mention your advisor's name. Also provide a one page research summary.
• Apply to every company you are particularly interested in, even if it is not currently advertising. Sometimes positions become available unexpectedly, and an interesting application can trigger a position.
• Watch technical publications (SIAM News, Communications of the ACM, IEEE Computer, etc.) for ads. Contact your university's career center. Attend job fairs. Use Internet resources of job listings, maintained by the professional societies and others. Consider contacting a ``head hunter," an employment agency that circulates your resume to interested companies, charging the company a fee if you are hired.
How do you go about planning your career?
The diagram below illustrates the steps involved in the career planning process.
Step 1: Knowledge of Work Environment
1. How is the mission of my organization (i. e., section, branch, division or lab) changing? What other changes are occurring regarding our customers, services/products, work processes, organizational structure, reporting relationships and personnel? Is this a change of which I want to be a part? Or is it time for me to consider a move?
2. What are the organization’s changing needs regarding the workforce and what new expertise and skills will be required or desirable?
3. What opportunities are available for developing these new expertise and skills (experiences, training, brief exposure, professional conferences, mentoring, etc.)?
4. How might my role (job) change in my organization? How can I prepare for or develop new skills for these changes?
5. New expertise and skills my organization wants me to learn include...
6. What new missions or projects at Organization or within work place appeal to me? What are their needs for the future? What kinds of development activities would help position me for participation in another project?
Step 2: Knowledge of Self
1. Of the new and recent developments in my organization or field, what interests me the most?
2. What are my current strengths for pursuing these interests? What do I need to do to reposition my career so that I can get involved in these new developments?
3. Is it time for me to consider working outside of organization? If I am considering a complete career change, what experiences and learning would help reposition my career in the direction of my new interests?
4. Of all the things I have done in the last five years (work and non-work related), what specific activities and functions have energized me the most? What developmental activities--experiences, learning, skill building--would help me grow in or increase these energizing functions?
5. Other things I would like to learn are...
6. What non-work related issues do I need to consider as they might affect my career plans (e.g., health, family, financial, social)?
Step 3: Integration of Knowledge of Self and Work Environment
1. In what areas do my interests and personal plans overlap with the changing needs of my organization? [Any areas of overlap represent “first choice” development targets.]
2. What knowledge’s, skills or abilities are important for increasing or maintaining the quality of my performance in my present assignments? [Lack of attention to these development needs will surely affect my opportunities at GSFC.]
3. What knowledge’s, skills or abilities would help prepare me for opportunities or roles I might have in the future?
4. Compared to the developmental needs suggested by these factors, other interests for development that are important to me include...
Step 4: Goal Development
A goal is a statement of a desired outcome or accomplishment which is specific, observable and realistic. Based on the data you have generated about yourself on the previous worksheets and your specific career issues, write some goals for the next one, two and three years.
1. What I want to accomplish by this time next year is...
2. What I want to accomplish by the end of the second year is...
3. What I want to accomplish by the end of the third year is...
4. What barriers or obstacles might prevent me from accomplishing my goals on time (e. g., time, money, other commitments, etc.)?
5. What can I do to overcome these barriers or obstacles? What resources are available to help me?
Step 5: Method for Taking Action
1. There is a wide range of potential actions for me to consider in order to achieve my goals:
• New assignments in my current job -- Rotation to a different project/job
• Volunteer for a task force or process action team
• On-the-job learning from someone who is more expert in a specific area
• Seminars/conferences (on-site)
• Seminars/conferences (off-site)
• University courses
• Commercial/contracted courses
• Self-paced learning (books, videos, computer-based instruction, etc.)
• Academic degree or certification program
• Sabbatical leave
• Conduct informational interviews
• Move to a new job outside of the Federal Government
• Start my own business
2. In planning my career moves, I must be open to consider all the possibilities. “Up” is not the only way (i. e., moving from a technical/professional position into management). I must be willing to consider these moves:
Lateral Move: Change in position within or outside an organization, but not necessarily a change in status or pay. Job Enrichment: Expand or change my job in order to provide growth experiences for myself. Exploration: Identify other jobs that require skills I have and also tap my interests and values. Job rotation is an example. Downshifting: Taking an assignment or job at a lower level of responsibility, rank, and/or salary in order to reposition my career in something new and interesting to me, or to achieve a better balance between work and personal life. Change work setting: Keep my job duties pretty much the same, but have a different boss, organization or employer. No change: Do nothing, but only after careful consideration.
Your Individual Development Plan (IDP)
To the extent that any of your career goals involve acquiring some new skills or expertise, an Individual Development Plan (IDP) will be very helpful. Using the attached IDP form (MS Word Doc), begin drafting your plan by incorporating the goals you formulated on the “Goal Development WORKSHEET” and the relevent actions from the “Method for Taking Action WORKSHEET”. In selecting actions, try to achieve a balance between formal training activities (e. g., courses, seminars) and other kinds of learning experiences (e. g., work assignments, books). Also, include realistic timeframes for completing your actions.
Your Supervisor’s Role
Your supervisor is in an excellent position to support your development in several ways. He or she can:
• Give you feedback on your performance in your current job and identify your strengths and areas for improvement.
• Act as a mentor and coach for you.
• Represent the organization’s needs, goals and opportunities.
• Let you know what is happening around organization.
• Help assess your advancement potential and your qualifications for other positions.
• Act as a resource and referral for exploring your options.
• Support your training and development with time for training and funding.
Realistically, your supervisor may not be able to support you very much if your goals are to leave organization and work elsewhere. However, the more closely your goals are linked to those of organization, the more valuable a resource your supervisor can be in your career planning.
enlightened companies recognize the importance of rewarding senior researchers who do not choose (or have no aptitude for) management. A good manager understands the concerns of the researchers he/she manages and acts as buffer and advocate. A good manager is a filter, suppressing the ``noise'' from higher level management while keeping the unit informed of important news. At the same time, a good manager presents the unit's case for resources and keeps higher management aware of the unit's accomplishments and value