Put Yourself in the Hot Seat
Continuously improve and reach goals with career audits
by Teresa Whitacre
Auditing is a big part of many quality professionals’ careers. We audit our suppliers and we perform internal audits. Some of us even participate in third-party audits. How many of us, though, have audited our own career paths?
Auditing is defined as an independent, objective exam of whether a process meets the requirements set forth, such as standards, procedures and specifications. We should apply the same approach to our career path to ensure we are headed in the proper direction.
Start with a plan
Following an agenda or a plan is an auditing best practice. When is the last time you wrote a career plan? Developing a plan is recommended no matter what stage you are in your career. When young people enter the working world, they are often told to create a plan and figure out where they want to be in the short term and in five to 10 years. With goals and aspirations documented, the young careerist decides the steps needed to get to the next phase of their journey.
The same philosophy holds true with mid-level and late-career professionals. Older professionals often get stuck. They may be content where they are, they may not have thought about the next move, or they simply are too busy with life’s priorities.
Auditing your plan is important—especially during shaky economic times. Give career planning an annual review, much like reviewing your financial and personal needs. What would you do if your current situation changed? A plan provides guidance and stability during stressful times. A readily available, current career plan also gives you something to review your progress against and gauge achievement.
Audit the plan
To determine whether the plan is correct and achievable, audit the plan against the known requirements. In my 26-year career, I audited my plan numerous times. One of the reasons I obtained Green Belt (GB) certification was because my goals included more work in the project and industrial engineering arena. I reviewed my plan for actions I should take to move into those roles. One evident finding was the need for Six Sigma certification. I became a GB and improved my marketability and readiness for my next career move.
A later audit of my plan indicated I should pursue Black Belt (BB) certification to progress to the next stage in my career. Recently, I completed a BB project, which qualifies me to take the BB exam.
Auditing your career plan also reveals outcomes that may not be realized with your current career plan. For example, a mid-career professional I mentored wanted to become a nurse. I suggested she audit her plan against the field’s requirements. She found nursing was not an option for her because of physical restrictions caused by an injury she experienced years ago.
Take corrective action
Auditing requires corrective action to correct nonconformances. Sometimes career plans don’t meet requirements when it comes to goals or needed skills. In these cases, corrective action is necessary to either obtain the required skills or revise the plan to lead you down another path. Auditing your career plan is not an exercise in futility when you take corrective action and close gaps.
Audits are performed to check compliance, review practices against benchmarks and assess results. Auditing your career plan should have the same effect and will spur continuous improvement to reach your goals. Say what you want to do, do what you say, and prove (to yourself, at least) that you are doing what you set out to do.
Teresa Whitacre is a quality assurance manager in Pittsburgh and a principal at Marketech Systems. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is the chair of ASQ’s Pittsburgh section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8. She is an ASQ fellow.