Setting goals for career development

Geological careers often progress haphazardly, the chance result of random assignments and events. Although this may be adventuresome, it also tends to lead to troubling mid-career situations where geologists find themselves wishing their expertise were in specialties or areas of greater current interest — their own personal interest, as well as the interest of prospective employers.
The most important thing to understand here is that your view of your career development cannot always be the same as your employer's view. After all, different interests are involved! Although you must certainly respect your firm's needs (and try hard to meet them), your own career development must, in the final analysis, come first. Any professional position represents an implicit contract: the employee is trading his or her energies, knowledge, and time for (1) financial compensation and (2) the opportunity to learn new skills. When this contract, over a fair and prudent time period, is not being satisfied by either or both of the two parties, a change in employment is appropriate; therefore, considerations of balance and accommodation come into play.
Personal and Organizational Career Planning
Thus, we must talk about career planning and goal setting from two concurrent perspectives: (1) personal and (2) organizational. Commonly, these two perspectives will coincide; occasionally, they will diverge, sometimes only briefly. When they diverge, patience is well advised for three good reasons: (1) that unanticipated — even unwelcome — new assignment may well open up a promising area of professional specialization that, left to your own inclinations, you might never have chosen; (2) some assignments are necessary to meet your firm's needs, but of short duration; and (3) another employer may not necessarily be an improvement.
Often your company will work closely with you to set mutually beneficial goals, usually over a multiyear time frame. But sometimes the firm, or your own evolving values, may send you a clear signal that your personal career goals are not likely to be met within the organization. In the long run, this is nearly always a blessing, even if it may seem disguised at the time. If you have doubts about your firm's future plans for you, it is your responsibility to seek clarification, keeping in mind that they themselves may not have settled on such plans. In any case, however, clear and constructive communication about personal career plans and goals in relation to organizational assignments is absolutely essential. Such career discussions should take place at least twice a year, and the conclusions should be written down and exchanged with your supervisor. Many professional employees have found that such career reviews are more effective when kept separate from salary reviews.
Different Time Frames for Career Planning
We also must talk about career planning and goal setting in different time frames. Early in your career, three measures are commonly used: short-term (1 to 2 years), midterm (3 to 8 years), and long-term (8 to 20 years). Frequently, you will find that your employer has specific ideas about how your assignments fit into the firm's short-term needs, as well as some general ideas as to your career progression within the organizational framework over a midterm time frame, but almost no ideas beyond that. After all, life is uncertain, and the firm is understandably self-interested. Also many companies, rightly or wrongly, maintain a short-term outlook.