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How many of us do actually have a career strategy or long-term development plan? How often do we concentrate on drafting a couple of actions for development plan without putting strategic thinking behind it? How often do we accept the job offer because of the 'nice' job title and not really understanding how it fits into our career strategy? 

The truth is that nice job titles won't get us anywhere, it's our critical experiences that do. 

What do I mean under 'critical experiences'? 

Critical experiences are opportunities that often stretch out of our comfort zone and at the same time bring us to a different level of expertise and make us true professionals. 

They are 

Repeatable – More than one person in the organization can go through the experience across business units and geographies. They may not happen frequently, but they are not isolated incidents either. For example, working on a merger/acquisition, or a joint venture could be a critical experience. 

Developmental – They support and accelerate your career development as you progress over time, based on predetermined criteria for success in your organization. For example, leading a cross-functional team that operates on a global scale might be particularly important for someone interested in moving to the next level in a multi-national company. 

Timeless – They stand the test of time. For example, they are not tied to a specific technology, since technology changes so rapidly. However involvement in changing the way your company operates due to business advantages gained from technology may result in a critical experience. Rolling out new technology to field operations is often an important experience in one's career. 

So how can one understand what critical experiences are needed to build an exciting career?

You can use some of the steps below to help you understand critical experiences, build them into your career plan and decide on how, where and when to get them. 

  • Self-assessment – where you stand. 

Study the field you're working in. Check job descriptions for positions you're interested in. What are the skills needed? Which skills are you missing? Where can you get them? 

  • Map critical experiences – where you want to go. 

Find people in the roles you're aiming for. Ask them about their career, ask them about their most challenging experiences, assignments they had. Ask for advice on where to move next. You'll be surprised how many people are actually willing to share! 

  • Self-development – distinguish between short- and long-term actions. 
Once you have assessed yourself and mapped critical experiences, always ensure that you pay attention to any experiences you're missing. Ensure you come up with a long-term and short-term action plans to correct and fill these loopholes. 

  • Communicate your development plan – let others know. 

Once you've understood where you need to focus, put those actions in your development plan. Communicate it to your network, look for opportunities. Having a right network is vital. Ensure that the networks that you create are relevant to your job choices and career aspirations. 

  • Work on getting the right experience – where to get it. 

Think (and talk to others) of where can you find these critical experiences – is it an additional project you take in the company or can you get them outside of work? 

  • Find a mentor – necessary support 
A mentor can help you in obtaining essential knowledge on what will help you succeed in this environment and provide you with a bigger picture. 

  • Learning – continuously update yourself on latest market trends, technology, etc. 

Keeping up to date with the world (which is changing fast!) is essential. Take advantage of any opportunities for learning that come your way. It can be through knowledge sharing forums, online videos, online programmes, reading, etc. 

  • Be open to new & scary 

Sometimes getting critical experience would require moving out of your comfort zone. As this HBR article mentions, "True leadership development takes place under conditions of real stress". Be open to that. It can be a move to another country, function, working on something you've never done before, taking risks. 

Well, these steps is a good exercise to do. However you should keep revising your skills / experiences on a routine basis as this would help you to keep track of your career. 

To read more 

Forbes article on 6 essential experiences for leaders in the 21st century 

Article: 5 tips for development while staying at your current job