Owning your career: A guide to career management

The most qualified, equipped and motivated person to manage your career is you. You are best placed to determine your strengths, weaknesses, preferences and aspirations and to build a plan to achieve your goals.


The people who enjoy their careers most are those who learn, develop and grow every single day. There is no better way to move forward in your career than by gaining new experiences, developing new skills and tackling new challenges.


Career management is not just about prospects and promotion, but continuously learning and developing. When it comes to looking for your next role, don’t just look up. Some of the greatest opportunities to learn come from lateral moves across the service or other services; you might even find exciting opportunities in your current role, such as new projects, skills and knowledge.


It will take time, effort and discipline to reach your career goals and aspirations. Always keep your mind open to unexpected possibilities and opportunities. Sometimes your journey might take you down exciting paths that you hadn’t considered before. These paths may uncover new and unrealised talents and push you in any number of new directions, so it’s important to remain flexible so you can embrace them.


While we cannot always predict or control what happens around us, we can position ourselves to be ready and able to react to the situations we encounter. All new experiences lead to growth and progression and can prepare us for our future career, even if we don’t realise it at the time!


This guide will show you how to manage and take ownership of your career step by step. It will also provide you with some simple and practical tools to get started.


Benefits of taking control of your career

Benefits for you include:

  • Wider career and personal development
  • Creating a clearly defined plan to help you achieve your goals
  • Opportunity to gain new skills and experiences
  • Taking control of your own career and opportunities
  • Improving your employability
  • Identifying your strengths, development areas and motivators


There are also clear benefits to your employer, including improved employee motivation, engagement and retention.


10 essential tips to owning your career

1.    Take every opportunity ·         Be open to pushing yourself out of your comfort zone

·         Take on new challenges and try different things, for example, you could: take on more responsibility, complete a new task, get involved in different projects, shadow a colleague, and so on

·         Take appropriate risks

·         Have faith and belief in your own potential

·         Reframe ‘mistakes’ as learning experiences

·         Show that you are capable of handling increased responsibility

·         Observe and learn from those who are successful at what you want to do

·         Ask for a mentor or coach to support you

2.    Set your career goals ·         Set career goals to maintain motivation, focus your attention and achieve success

·         Make sure your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely

·         Include both short- and long-term goals

·         Continually assess your values, talents, strengths, development areas, motivations and aspirations; consider completing a SWOT analysis (see template at end of this document)

·         Be honest with yourself

·         Ask for feedback from others

·         Determine your development areas

·         Seek support from your line manager, a coach or mentor, but remember they are your goals so you must own them

3.    Create a career development plan ·         Create a career development plan and follow through with the actions (see template)

·         Develop a road map to achieve your goals

·         Record your achievements, successes and development to help demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to learning and developing in job applications

·         Evaluate and adjust regularly

·         Keep skills and knowledge current and relevant

·         Consider becoming a subject-matter expert if appropriate

·         Become a sought-after resource and expert

·         Work on your ongoing personal and professional development

·         Don’t become rigid: your plan should give you a vision and path to build upon, not limit you

4.    Define your personal brand ·         Define, create and develop your personal brand. Consider what you want to be known for and how you want others to perceive you

·         Stay true to yourself, and be authentic

·         Understand what makes you different:

o   What value do you offer?

o   How can you stand apart from others?

·         Work to build and articulate your brand as opportunities present themselves

5.    Establish, build and develop long-lasting relationships ·         Identify and build relationships with key people within the service who will help build your skills, knowledge and networks

·         Consider setting a target of making one new contact quarterly; for instance, you could reach out to someone in a different department and learn more about what they do

·         Invest in building strategic alliances including mentors, trusted advisers, sponsors and champions

·         Increase your visibility and share your knowledge

·         Shadow those who are successful at what you aspire to do

6.    Have focus and discipline


·         Prioritise what needs your full attention and when

·         Stay motivated, driven and avoid distractions

·         Use trusted advisers/coaches/mentors for additional support and motivation

7.    Seek feedback ·         Appraise your current performance and future career aspirations through feedback

·         Seek feedback from a variety of sources; don’t just ask those who will say what they think you want to hear

·         Gain 360º feedback, if possible, by asking team members as well as peers and those more senior, including your line manager, for feedback

·         Listen to both positive and developmental feedback

·         Ask for specific, timely and sincere feedback

8.    Engage in continuing professional development (CPD) ·         Engage in learning activities that develop and enhance your abilities and therefore your career opportunities

·         Make your learning conscious and proactive, rather than passive and reactive

·         Include ongoing training and development as part of your personal and professional growth

·         Consider further educational credentials, technical knowledge and functional skill sets in addition to building leadership, management and other behavioural competencies

·         Tap into all potential opportunities, and never stop learning and progressing

·         Commit to being a life-long learner; this could be through formal opportunities, such as training courses and qualifications, as well as more informal routes, such as job shadowing, mentoring, coaching, reading, secondments, and so on

9.    Demonstrate positive energy and optimism ·         Model positive behaviours not only to positively influence others but to improve your approach and outlook to daily situations

·         Learn about emotional intelligence and self-awareness; for example, we cannot control others or situations, only how we react

·         See the positives while taking on challenges and obstacles with confidence: attitude is everything

10.  Support others ·         Focus on how you can be a resource and helpful to others without expecting anything in return

·         Think about volunteering as a mentor or a coach

·         Thank those who help you, express gratitude and initiate acts of kindness

·         Never burn bridges!


In summary

Only you can own your career! Through taking ownership of and managing your working life, you will see the rewards and enjoy a fulfilling career that allows you to maximise your potential, development and success.

Tools to help you achieve your career aspirations are included below.


Reflection tool 

Think deeply about your career history, and complete the matrix below.

  Current role Previous role Previous role Previous role
Role/job title  


Time in role
Proudest contributions  





What you enjoyed  




What you disliked  




Biggest lesson learned  




Reason for role change  






Know what you do NOT want to do

Your career aspirations can easily become lost in your day-to-day work. To help you focus on defining your career aspirations, eliminate roles and job categories you have no interest in or passion for. This will bring some clarity to your thoughts on what’s next in your career.

Complete the short assessment below to help eliminate some options.


Question Yes No
I prefer to be an individual contributor
I prefer working with others
I am interested in managing people as I think I would enjoy it
I am interested in managing people as I think I would earn more money and gain other benefits
I am interested in making a lateral (sideways) move
I am interested in becoming the service’s best person at what I do
I am interested in taking a role in a different team/area/function
I am interested in moving into a role in a different location
I prefer to lead others through influence
I prefer to lead others through authority and my position
I have been told that I am skilled at coaching others
I want a customer-facing role


Conclusions and considerations

  • Based on your responses, what conclusions can you draw about the roles you are best suited for?
  • What types of roles do you clearly NOT want to have?
  • How clear or confident are you in knowing what roles you want in the future?



Setting career targets

 Having reflected on your career history and explored your career aspirations, you may have a clearer idea of what roles you are looking for next and in the future.

Define the roles you aspire to and assess your skills, competencies and experience in the boxes below.


Next career goal
Skills gap Competency gap Experience gap











Ultimate career goal
Skills gap Competency gap Experience gap












Your career development plan


Supported by your line manager and/or coach or mentor, create a broad career development plan.


  By the end of year one


By the end of year two By the end of year three
Competencies to develop  



Experiences and opportunities to pursue  



Accomplishments to achieve/contributions to make  



People to connect with  



Coaching support required  



Mentoring support required  



Training and development to complete (link to development plan)



SWOT analysis for career planning 

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Completing a SWOT analysis helps you evaluate your areas of improvement, professional obstacles and overall goals and skills development. Doing this at different stages of your career can be tremendously helpful.

Create a four-section diagram; each section is for one of these areas. Then, list the relevant information in each box.

A blank template is included on the following page.


SWOT analysis template


List your relevant strengths








Review your relevant weaknesses


Define any opportunities available to you








Work through any potential threats


When reviewing your analysis, determine whether the strengths and opportunities outweigh the weaknesses and threats. If you find more negative aspects, consider how you can improve your situation using some of the other tools in this document.