Get ahead, get a plan

John Caunt

If 1998-99 is the year you are resolved to do something about advancing your career, you have about seven months before the start of the main job-application season. In that time you can achieve a fair amount, but you need to start now.

You should be clear and realistic in your aspirations and should have identified any areas of weakness. It is then a matter of mapping out your approach for the coming academic year with a plan for developing skills, and a strategy for making successful applications.

Increasing your skills and experience

Set out, as fully as possible, steps you might take over the coming months to remedy your key weaknesses. Think about the full range of possible actions, from formal training to making the most of opportunities within your current role.

Some of the steps will be clear and straightforward. Others may be more problematic if your current role offers no chance to obtain experience or develop the skills concerned. Where this is the case, a process of reflection, reading or talking to others about the issues, coupled with determination to apply know-ledge gained wherever possible, may be sufficient.

Identify colleagues you may approach for information and advice. Most people will be pleased to help, and discussions may reveal previously unconsidered opportunities for broadening your experience. You may be able to use activity outside your work to develop some skills.

Your job-application strategy

Some people view job applications like lottery tickets - the more you fill in, the better your chances of success. This is true to a point, but making a decent application takes time and energy. Spraying second-rate applications in all directions is a waste of time.

So resolve that you will only submit applications you are proud of, and that they will be for jobs you are pretty sure you want.

It is worth preparing a good CV in advance of the application season, but resist the temptation to work up a standard application letter. If you have identified weaknesses in interview performance, you can build your confidence over the coming months by involving yourself more in similar situations. You might, for example, decide you are going to speak more at meetings, to take the chair or make presentations if the opportunity arises.

Five ready-made resolutions

1 Target your energies. Too many people over-commit themselves. They collect responsibilities with frenetic zeal and pitch themselves into every available training opportunity. Some pull it off, but for others the result is a reputation for doing lots of things poorly.

So use your available energy wisely. Discriminate between important activities and those that are marginal to your current job and future intentions.

2 Try to view the elements of your action plan as worth doing in themselves, whether or not the right job turns up in the course of the year. Such an attitude lets you feel more in control.

3 Where possible, break down elements of your plan into bite-sized chunks.A sense of progress and achievement is as important for you as for your pupils.

4 Resolve to turn setbacks into learning experiences. With the right attitude, even the most disappointing circumstances offer development opportunities and the chance to approach the next challenge with increased knowledge and renewed determination.

5 Be prepared to adapt your plan to changing circumstances. When you are in a traffic jam, it pays to find another route to your destination.

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