In the Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a bright young man named Finch manages to work his way from a lowly mailroom clerk to a junior executive after only one day on the job. Within a few weeks, he ascends the ranks further still, becoming a Vice President, and eventually Chairman of the Board.
Of course, things don’t really work that way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of executives with dreams of making a similar climb. And it certainly is possible to work your way up the corporate ladder, and even reach the very top. The only difference is, in the real world, it takes more time, effort, and planning. Here’s a step by step guide to executive career planning.
Outline Your Goals
Where do you want to be, jobwise, a year from now? How about five years, or ten years from now? Where do you ultimately want to end up, and what do you want to be doing? Map out your career goals, from the very big, down to the very small. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going.
Create a Strategy
Now that you have an outline of your goals… What’s it going to take to achieve them? What will you have to do? What obstacles are in your way? Again, look at both the ultimate, big picture goals, and the smaller, more immediate ones. Use this information to create a timeline of exactly what you should be doing and when, in order to help you towards your goals. Note that this could mean moving up the corporate ladder within your company, or moving to another company that better fits with your goals.
What are your strengths that will help you along in your career? Skills, experience, natural aptitudes, or anything else that could be helpful. Now, what weaknesses might hold you back? Bad habits, personality clashes, knowledge gaps, etc. Now, set about honing your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses. Is there a particular set of skills that you need in order to reach the level you’re aiming for? How can you get it? Do you always react in a particular, negative way when faced with certain circumstances? Be aware of it and try to eliminate that behavior. Turn yourself into the type of person that the position requires.
Develop Your Personal Brand
You won’t get anywhere in your career if no one knows who you are. You are a brand, and your goal is to get someone else to invest in it. Make sure you have a perfect and polished executive resume, as well as stellar references. But your brand isn’t just limited to job hunting. Whether you’re in an interview or merely going through your daily work routine, how you present yourself to those around you is key. If your company offers any sort of paid additional education or training, take it. Taking the initiative is a great way to make yourself stand out from the others. Of course, don’t oversell yourself. Don’t deliberately go out of your way to show off how great you are when you know that the higher ups are looking. Instead, present yourself in the best possible light at all times and establish your brand as one that others will be interested in.
You never know when or where you may meet someone who can help
you along on your journey. Make connections wherever you go. Within your own company, see about getting someone to mentor you. Not only will you gain valuable knowledge from their experience, they’ll also have an active interest in you, and may recommend you for a promotion or other advancement. Likewise, when you meet people at conferences, trade shows, and other events in your field, they may be able to help you move your career forward in all sorts of ways. Connect with them and touch base regularly, just to stay on their radar.
Things rarely, if ever, go exactly the way you want them to. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Be on the lookout for opportunities that don’t necessarily fit in with the plan you’ve mapped out, but could still represent an important step up for your career. By being willing to follow an unexpected opportunity, you could end up somewhere better than where you originally planned.
Advancing your career at the executive level takes a lot of time, hard work, and commitment. But in the end, anything is possible. With drive, initiative, and careful career planning, you can reach your goals and get everything you’ve ever wanted.