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COLUMNS: ACSM Certification

Creating a Career Blueprint

Riebe, Deborah A. Ph.D., FACSM

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: March/April 2014 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 35-36
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000017
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employed American spends more than half of his or her waking hours each day working. This statistic alone makes it easy to see how important it is to follow a career path of your choice. However, most people don’t wake up in their dream job. Although most people experience serendipity at some point, perhaps being in the right place at the right time to meet a potential employer, creating the ideal career takes proper planning, hard work, and sacrifice. Becoming more career literate and creating opportunities for yourself is a great way to be successful in your own terms.

Creating a career blueprint can help you determine the type of career that you want to pursue and outline the steps that you must take to reach your career goals. A blueprint helps you see the importance of and think more concretely about career development. Blueprints are designed to help you manage your career more effectively and to enable you to realize your potential. Career blueprints not only help students or those in the early stages of their career but also can help those who have been in the workforce for a longer time think about the next phase of their career.

The first step in creating a career blueprint is to identify the type of position you wish to pursue. In the exercise science field, there are many considerations within this category. You might consider what type of setting you wish to work in — clinical, performance, or health fitness. What type of clients or patients do you enjoy working with? For example, do you prefer children, adults, or older adults? Do you wish to help improve the performance of athletes, help deconditioned adults, or work with patients who need close monitoring? You also want to consider what types of work functions you enjoy. Perhaps you want to be in a managerial position where you have supervisory responsibilities. Perhaps having a position with direct client or patient contact is important to you. Think about what you value in a career and think about the characteristics that you don’t want. For example, are you someone who does not want to sit at a desk all day?

As you think more clearly about the direction that you want to take with your career, it is very helpful to consider practical issues, such as compensation, hours, and travel requirements. Determine what you want and what you don’t want. Learn as much as you can about the career path that you are considering and talk with professionals who are already in the field. I was speaking recently with a 30-year-old woman with a B.S. in exercise science who loves to work with athletes. She was considering an M.S. degree in athletic training, with the goal of working as an athletic trainer at a university. However, after talking with practicing athletic trainers and shadowing them for a few days, she realized that hours (many nights and weekends) and the travel schedule would not be feasible because she is a single parent with two small children. She is now considering a strength and conditioning career, focusing on young athletes.

The next phase of the career blueprint is defining the path that you need to take to meet your career goals. Identify the knowledge and skills you need to move forward in your career and ask yourself if you have the necessary education to achieve your goals? You may find that you need more training and/or skill development. Depending on your goals, you may need more education in some aspect of exercise science. Also, you may benefit from more training or experience in other areas such as Web design, public speaking, or business.

The opportunities to learn new information and develop additional skills that will help with career development are countless. Earning a degree or advanced degree opens up many opportunities for securing a new professional position or advancing within your current employment. ACSM offers credentials such as the Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, and the Clinical Exercise Physiologist Association offers webinars several times each year for advanced training in working with special populations. Many colleges and universities offer post-baccalaureate certificates, often with an online component, that can provide you with new skills. Be strategic in your selection of courses and programs. It’s always good to learn new things but keep your blueprint in mind so that you select courses that will help you reach your career goals. It also is beneficial to consider how the field of exercise science will develop during the next 5 to 10 years, as this can be incorporated into your blueprint and put you “ahead of the curve” when it comes to marketable skills. For example, will the changing demographics in the United States offer new opportunities for working with older adults? If so, you may consider a postbaccalaureate certificate in gerontology from a college or university. Will the Affordable Care Act provide more opportunities for referrals from physicians and other health care providers, especially to individuals who have the Exercise is Medicine® credential?

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Once you have a clear picture of the type of career you want to pursue, you should maximize your value by identifying and developing the skills that will help you succeed. Teaching and coaching skills often are an important component in our profession. Even if you begin by teaching something that is not related directly to exercise science, it will help you develop communication skills and become more proficient in understanding how people learn. For example, if you are a good cook, offer a basic cooking class at your local community center.

Consider the following example. Robert was not sure what to do with his life, so he became a personal trainer immediately after high school because he enjoyed sports. He found that he loved helping people improve their fitness and, after thoroughly researching the field and creating a career blueprint, decided he wanted a career in corporate fitness. To reach his goal, Robert concluded that he needed to earn a B.S. degree in exercise science and become ACSM-HFS certified. Although it will take Robert 4 to 5 years to reach these milestones, there are many things that he can do along the way that will help him achieve his long-term goal. The ability to teach group exercise classes is an important skill; Robert could learn to teach group exercise at the campus recreation center and become certified, making him more marketable when he earns his degree. He could take additional courses in health promotion, as this often is an important responsibility of the corporate fitness staff. Taking small, but significant, steps along the way will contribute to Robert’s success in corporate fitness.

Mentors are an important resource for creating and implementing your career blueprint. Individuals with experience in your field of interest can provide you with invaluable advice about how to be successful. You can learn from their experiences and their career journey. Cultivating alliances and advisers is important because you don’t succeed alone. Do not be shy about reaching out to potential mentors; most individuals who have successful careers enjoy helping younger professionals navigate through the early part of their career. Attend conferences that will put you in touch with potential mentors. The ACSM regional chapter meetings are an ideal place to network with leaders in the field of exercise science.

When you create your career blueprint, be honest with yourself, taking your strengths and weaknesses into account. Consider the knowledge and skills that you have and identify those which you need to improve. It can be difficult to think about your weaknesses, but just knowing what they are will make you more self-aware. If this is hard for you, you can ask a family member or close friend to describe your strengths and weaknesses and give you reasons for the description. Keep in mind that many of your strengths are transferable. Were you the captain of a sports team or did you hold an office in a club or organization? Even though you weren’t an exercise leader, per se, the leadership skills that you developed will help with many career choices.

Many people find that thinking about their career choices is stressful. A career blueprint offers a gentle and organized method to plan where you want to go and what it will take to get there. Simply knowing the steps that you need to take can make career planning much more enjoyable.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine.