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leadership lab

Former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead

Everyone needs a career plan to follow; it’s not good enough to wander through your working life and take whatever comes your way.

Yes, there are random events that affect us, but we are in a better position to respond to them and carve out a rewarding outcome if we have an end game 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.”

What I didn’t want was a planning framework that everyone else used that merely focused on the completeness of the plan or making sure that all of the boilerplate topics were covered and expecting that success would come from that.

The process that I created – and has worked for me over a 33-year career from an 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 covet and when do you want get there?

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.

Define the specific position you intend to get and when you intend to get there. 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.

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.

The answer to this question could be “I intend to achieve a sales director role with BMW in 12 months.”

Who can help you?

Who are the individuals – the foxes – within an organization who influence decisions on who gets selected for various positions in the organization you are targeting?

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, identify who can help you, and “mentor up” with high currency individuals.

Other venues for your fox hunt include social media communities, chambers of commerce, boards of trade and industry associations.

The answer to this question could be: “I will focus my attention and efforts on connecting with Telus managers who are on LinkedIn and are members of local communications networking groups.”

How can you beat your competition?

The competition for career positions has never been greater. You need to be able to position yourself as THE most logical choice; you need to separate yourself from the job-hunting herd.

The killer questions you must have a believable and compelling answer to are: There are many applicants for this position; why should I pick you? What makes you special?

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 likely will not get picked.

My eyes glaze over when I hear “I have great interpersonal skills,” or “I have 10 years sales experience.”

Create your personal ONLY statement to express your uniqueness. The one I came up with was: “I am the ONLY one with the demonstrated marketing experience necessary to successfully move the organization from a regulated monopoly to competitive one, a task that requires an obsessive focus on the customer and delivering highly differentiated value.”

Test the statement with friends and colleagues and be prepared to provide proof points to defend your words.

The answer to this question could be: “I intend to compete with other potential candidates – and win – by being the ONLY one who has the sales experience of delivering both double-digit revenue growth from my high value clients AND growth in their loyalty”.

Three questions, three answers and you have a game plan to start your career journey.

Ponder no longer.

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