How to figure out your professional gaps and reach your career goals

Mar 25, 2021

It’s been 12 months since a global pandemic shook our world — and completely shifted the way we live and work in every possible way.

The past year may have brought about forced changes in your work or life circumstances. Or led you to totally reassess your priorities and what you want next.

I’m speaking to plenty of people who are stuck or frustrated in their current careers. Others are unsure how to navigate and develop the skills to get to the next stage professionally.

I’ve taken these individuals through a simple career gap analysis which many have found helpful. It’s assisted them to clarify their career goals, create a plan and minimise risk with their moves.

A gap analysis is often used to assess business performance or identify skill gaps in an organisation. However, you can apply the same method to your own career and professional goals.

Do you feel stuck at a career crossroads and unsure what to do next? Anxious about throwing away the time, money and energy invested into your current career?

If so, I wanted to share this process in case it’s supportive for you too.

Read on to discover my four-step strategy to assess your current situation and what you want next. You’ll walk away with clarity on your career objectives, gaps and how to take the next step with intention!

STEP 1 — WHERE ARE YOU NOW?

The first step is to assess your current situation by doing an audit of where you are now. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. In the left column, list out your existing strengths, skills, knowledge and experience.

Start by doing a review of your technical skills. Include your years of experience in a certain profession, industry or specialist expertise. Write down any formal qualifications, certifications, tools or software and language skills.

Then, make a note of your personal strengths or ‘soft’ skills. What makes you unique and what are you naturally good at? Think about your leadership abilities, communication skills, personal qualities or attributes.

STEP 2 — WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO?

Next, get clear on what you’re working towards. What is your ultimate career goal? Where are you aiming to be in your career in 5 years, or 10 years’ time?

If you’re not sure, what DO you know? Dream big here. If you had unlimited possibilities available to you, where do you think you’d like to be?

I recommend creating a list of all the elements you want from your ideal future career. This helps you understand what motivates you at work, what you’re working towards and why. And it’s essential so you can establish the right professional goals.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Nature of your work. How do you spend your working day? What tasks and activities will you be responsible for?
  • Organisation. What type of organisation would you like to work for? Or if you’d like to have your own business, what kind of company do you want to create? Consider every aspect — size, business model, industry, location, culture.
  • Work Environment. Where do you work — corporate office, from home or a co-working space? How far do you have to travel and to where? What does your office environment look like?
  • People. What does your team look like? How do they support you specifically? Who are your ideal clients?

Once this is clear, repeat the first step for the ideal career you’re working towards. What technical and personal skills do you need to be successful in your future role? List them out in the column on the right.

STEP 3 — WHAT ARE THE GAPS?

Now, identify the gaps. What skills do you need to develop to get from where you are now (Step 1) to where you want to go (Step 2)?

Most people think about the education and knowledge gaps they need to close. But more often than not, they need to develop their soft skills. Especially as they progress upwards to a senior leadership or more strategic role.

Note down the technical skills you’ll need to reach this new level. Formal qualifications, further training, industry or job-related experience. For instance, if you want to step into a leadership role with a global company, to you need to gain international experience?

Then, pinpoint the personal skills required to progress professionally. Your leadership style or experience, communication ability, presentation or business development skills. As an example, learning to delegate to support the transition into your first management position.

After going through this process, narrow it down to the top three (five at most) areas you need to develop. This will help you prioritise the actions you need to take to fill these gaps.

STEP 4 — CREATE AN ACTION PLAN

The final step is to design a plan of action to close the gaps you’ve identified. Consider the following areas.

Simple steps in your existing daily role

Make this as easy as possible by identifying a simple action you can take in your current role. What’s one small step you can take to address these gaps?

A common area for my clients is developing their leadership skills. This can be tricky if leading a team is not part of your daily work responsibilities. My advice here is to look at how you can lead in a more informal capacity.

Can you mentor a more junior team member (or someone in another team)? What about putting your hand up to take on and lead an extra project? Or a voluntary position outside work where you can develop your leadership skills?

Tackling bigger development gaps

If you’ve got a development gap to fill which will take longer, map out the first step. Start by researching business schools or putting your application together for your MBA. For a job move, your initial step could be brushing up your resume or updating your LinkedIn profile.

Think long-term

Always keep in mind, your ultimate career goal might be a 5-10 year plan. It could also involve a couple of job moves — each one getting you closer to where you want to go. In this case, always consider what is going to be the next, best step.

Stay open-minded! Even if it feels like you’re taking a step backwards in level, responsibility or shelving your existing skills and experience.

Here’s a practical example. Say you’re a lawyer in a specialist, leadership role in a private company. Your 5-10 year career goal is an executive position in a large, public company.

To get there, you’ve identified you need broader legal knowledge, corporate and operational experience. Therefore, your next career move may involve taking a step back in level — in the right role and company — to bridge these knowledge gaps.

The priority is to make sure your move is intentional and well thought out. Remember, you’re not throwing away your existing experience — you’re adding to it! As long as it gets you closer to your long-term goal.

Developing your career or navigating professional change can be challenging to do alone. This simple strategy has helped my clients gain clarity, know their gaps — and create an actionable plan. I hope you find it supportive too!

Want help to figure out your career goals and create a plan to reach them? Find out how to close the gaps between where you are now — and where you want to go.

Book your free 45 minute Stratey Call HERE to get started!

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving corporate leaders and business owners at a mid-career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms.

Stacey also supports professionals to transition from their corporate job into their own consulting business. She works virtually with individuals based across Australia and internationally.