Everyone needs to do career planning; it’s not good enough to wander through your working life and take whatever comes your way. Yes, there are random events that impact us, but we are in a better position to respond to them and carve out a rewarding outcome if we have an endgame in mind.
There are many suggestions offered by many experts on how to develop a career plan, but the secret is to come up with an approach that works for you; that fits your unique capabilities, perspective and outlook.
I developed my own career game plan method. I didn’t want a boilerplate; I wanted something different that would focus on the practical task of implementation as opposed to having a grand plan that was good in theory and nothing more.
What I didn’t want was a planning framework that everyone else used that merely focused on the completeness of the plan; making sure that all of the boilerplate topics were covered, and expecting that success would come from that.
The process that I created — and worked for me from an entry level analyst position to president — was to build a path to your destiny by answering three basic questions.
What job do you want?
This question addresses personal growth — what specific position do you want and when?
Most people are vague when asked about their career goals: ‘I would like a position managing people’ or ‘I want to lead a marketing or sales team’. These aspirations don’t feed implementation very well; they don’t direct you to a specific action plan. And a game plan that can’t be executed isn’t worth much.
To ensure your career efforts are productive, define the specific position you intend to get and when you intend to get there — Roy, mindlessly focused
It makes a big difference to the actions you take, for example, if you are interested in a VP marketing position versus a Sales Account Manager position.
And be as clear as you can on the organization you are targeting. Your game plan tactics will be different if you are interested in BMW as opposed to Apple. Each has a different business challenge and a different priority on the skills and competencies they require.
An amazing benefit of focussing on the specific organization you want to target is that you amass a detailed understanding of each of the potential organizations you could be interested in, which is invaluable not only in making a decision on the one to put in your crosshairs but also to enhance your knowledge and expertise in the organizations you studied.
Too many career hunters are unclear on where they want to land, which is a normal situation for most people. The problem is, as long as you are hovering over a number of possibilities you don’t act. You ponder and reflect. But you don’t do anything to move forward.
It’s better to declare what you think you want today based on the best information you have available and your particular interests. Go after it. You will learn soon enough if it is the right path and you can then adjust your game plan on the run based on what you learn.
And keep your target date close in rather than in the distant future in order to force yourself to take action. I always set my sights on a position that I wanted within 24-months which compelled me to act now. It’s too easy to not act today when your target is 5 years away; there are too many reasons why procrastinating makes good sense.
The answer to question 1 could be — ‘I intend to land a sales director position with BMW by March 19, 2022.’
Who can help you?
Who are the individuals — the foxes — within the organization you’re targeting who influence decisions on who gets selected for various positions in the organization? And further, who are the individuals who know someone in that organization that could introduce you to the foxes?
The fox in any organization is the key manager or executive that has the greatest amount of influence on a particular decision to be made.
If you’re in sales and have a potential deal in front of a client, the fox would be the individual in the customer’s organization who would make the buying decision. If you are to win the sale, you need to figure out a way to make it stand out above your competitor’s in the eyes of the fox.
It’s no different in your career. The challenge you have is to sell yourself as the best person for the job available in a crowd of others who are also interested in the position, and you need to find the fox in the organization who has the most influence on the hiring decision.
Career game plan success means engaging with the right people to spread your word and get attention so you get the invitation to make your pitch. I have seen many talented people fail because they did not cultivate the right channels to express their skills and experience.
If you covet the VP marketing position for TELUS, for example, do your work to identify who can help you, and ‘mentor up’ with these high currency individuals both within and outside the organization.
This is an arduous process because when you start, you are unlikely to know the foxes in your target and with your 24-month implementation plan you don’t have a huge amount of time to graze the field of possibilities. So engage your mentor — I presume you have a stable of them, right? — in helping you by using who they know to get you going. I’ve also found LinkedIn extremely useful to increase your forward momentum as well. Be creative and explore every possibility.
These covet-the-fox practices worked for me:
Identify the leaders in the organization who are making the key business and people decisions today and are likely to be doing so over the next year or so. Foxes need to be carefully identified and targeted just as you would any other customer group that held the potential for your success.
You will be allocating a significant amount of your time and energy on them and you need to be sure that they have the potential to deliver significant benefits to you. If you choose incorrectly you will not receive the expected return on your personal investment.
Discover their expectations and secrets. If you have a deep intimate understanding of the fox, you are in a position to impress them and gain their support in a way none other can do.
The information that would be invaluable on each fox would be things like: what attributes they typically look for when hiring people, the questions they ask, details on their career path, the positions they have held in the past, their personal brand in terms of what they are known for — their strengths and weaknesses, external hobbies and interests and details on their family.
Market yourself with a broad range of skills and expertise that the organization needs to successfully execute its long term strategy; don’t flog yourself as a person having a narrow set of competencies. Select the particular competencies you have that address the key issues facing the organization.
They could include: MBA in marketing and finance, demonstrated achievement in building business strategy, changing a marketing culture from a product focus to be more customer focussed, building market share in competitive markets, improving customer service 25% over a 12 month period, external speaking engagements on competitive strategy and marketing, building strong teams and consultative selling skills.
Be proactive in discovering the opportunities that will be coming up in the organization. If you have a good relationship with the foxes this will aid the process. In addition, stay tuned into the informal communications network in your organization as it is often very effective in knowing when change is in the wind.
With an informed outlook of the possibilities, you can take whatever action you feel appropriate to take advantage of them should they arise.
The answer to question 2 could be — ‘I will focus my efforts on connecting with TELUS managers who are on LinkedIn as well as who are members of local communications networking groups.’
How can you beat your competition?
In my experience, this is by far the most critical question to answer and few career explorers do it well if they do it at all.
The issue is this: since competition for career positions has never been greater; you need to be able to position yourself as the most logical choice for the position you are seeking; you need to separate yourself from the job-hunting herd in some meaningful way that the targeted organization seems relevant.
The killer questions you must have a believable and compelling answer to is: ‘There are many applicants for this position; why should I pick you?’ and ‘What makes you special compared to others?’.
If your pitch doesn’t crisply identify the experience and competencies you possess that are critical for the position and how you are different from others, you won’t likely get picked.
My eyes glaze over when I hear ‘I have great interpersonal skills’ or ‘I have 10 years sales experience’ or ‘My people skills are my strongest suit’ when I ask people why I should pick them for the job — Roy, asleep
How do you go about answering the question?
It’s not about what your strengths are and it’s definitely not about the academic qualifications you have because I’m looking at 49 other candidates for the position you want and they are all saying the same type of thing.
What I’m looking for is a creative expression of how you are different from the other 49 candidates in a way that’s important to my organization.
I created ‘the ONLY statement’ as the way of declaring how someone was not the same as everyone else, rather how they are unique, special and unmatched in the crowd of people all covering the same position — Roy, stand-alone
When I was fighting my way up the ladder in a large telecommunications firm the ONLY statement I came up with was:
‘I am the ONLY one with demonstrated marketing experience necessary to successfully move the organization from a regulated monopoly to a competitive enterprise requiring an obsessive focus on the customer and delivering highly differentiated value.’
This statement was incredibly useful in defining the action plan I needed to win the competition for the marketing, sales, service and operations roles in the organization leading eventually to president of the data and internet organization.
Remember, though, to test your ONLY statement with friends and colleagues and have proof points ready to defend your words. It’s important to have people who know you to nod when you declare how you’re special and not be laughing under their breath.
The answer to question 3 could be — ‘I intend to compete with other potential candidates — and win — by being the ONLY one who has the sales experience to deliver both double digit revenue growth from my high value clients AND growth in their loyalty.’
Answer 3 questions in your career planning work and you have a game plan to start your career journey.