In the preceding article I shared with you my own experience with the value of developing functional skills as opposed to worrying about the amount of industry experience when you're job hunting. Now I want to offer some advice on landing a dream job: Create a plan, revisit it at least twice a year to make sure you are on track, and stick to it. This is a process I have tested and fine-tuned—and had success with—during the course of a decade, and I'm delighted to share it with you today.
Prepare your own annual Growth Playbook (GPB)
The GPB is the cornerstone of General Electric's (GE) annual strategy planning for every business and market. Prepared at the start of the year, it examines current market performance, product portfolio, competitive landscape, and potential to win within target segments. But what it really accomplishes is creating a framework for thinking strategically about where the company should be at x number of years in the future and what hitting those targets would require.
The same process should apply to your own professional development: Here is where I am today, what I am capable of achieving, where I want to be, and how I'm going to get there.
Think of the present opportunity as a springboard for the job ahead, whether it be with the same employer or with someone new.
That is how I avoid falling victim to complacency and sustain optimum performance. It's a win-win situation either way you look at it. I get to acquire the skills necessary to move up the ladder, while my business gets the best out of me.
In my case, Ford Credit became the impetus to a six-year international career in consumer finance. GE equipped me with the commercial orientation and made my management style more focused. Merryck & Co. helped take my interest in the learning and development industry to the next level while allowing me to hone my business development skills. All of these are the building blocks of my current role, leading executive education marketing and sales at the world's top business school.
"What am I capable of achieving?"
You are what stands between your current situation and where you want to be. It takes a lot of guts to get out of the comfort zone of any job, especially in these challenging economic times, but to grow professionally, you must never stagnate, whether that means taking on increased responsibility in your current role or taking a new job altogether.
I have seen countless cases throughout my career of talented people who didn't achieve their potential because they just got too comfortable in their roles. They were, of course, good at what they were doing, but paradoxically, being good at what they were doing robbed them of the confidence to challenge themselves.
About a decade ago, I worked with a manager with big aspirations at a large conglomerate. The company considered her a rising star and rewarded her well for performance in terms of both pay and perks. Because she was good at her line of responsibility, and leadership development at the organization was lacking at the time, her superiors never thought of taking her off the assigned duties. She herself did little to influence the situation, and she is there to this day. Over a span of 10 years in a virtually unchanged role with the same employer, she simply missed the train. What has changed is her hope of making it big.
"Where do I want to be?"
This is probably the hardest question to answer. But it doesn't have to be. When you narrow down the possible answers, they all focus around just two simple points: (1) What is it that I care about, be it in my personal or professional life; and (2) what is it that makes me happy?
I agree with one of my mentors that at the fundamental level, we work to pay the bills. But it goes beyond that. Think about a time you were praised by your boss, or you yourself felt good about what you had accomplished. What made the difference? You cared, knowing that a good result would ultimately satisfy something that is important to you. Follow that route.
What I care about is giving opportunities to people to foster their potential. I am fortunate to have been "raised" by my first manager, whom to this day I consider a friend and a mentor. It is now my opportunity to pass the same gift on to my teams (a topic I know I will come back to). This is what makes me happy and drives me to seek out roles in which I can fulfill this interest.
"How am I going to get there?"
We live busy lives in a busy world, and it only gets more so the higher up the ladder you go. At the same time, the ever-changing face of business calls for cutting-edge skills that help you stay afloat.
Think of education as your competitive advantage. Sure, reading scholarly journals can be informative, but it will never replace the live classroom experience in which you get to bounce around ideas with other executives. Even as I wrote this column, I was en route to a fellow business school for an Exec Ed course to expand my knowledge and learn from other practitioners in the business.
I am a real believer in Exec Ed and have chosen places to work based on the quality of development provided. GE is certainly the leader of the pack, where, while on the leadership program, my cohort went through two-week long semiannual global training paired with mentoring, coaching, SWAT assignments, and much more.
I also make sure that all my teams take full advantage of the development needed to help them succeed now and in the future (remember the first point above). Coaching, mentoring, shadowing, in-and-out-of-classroom learning, and peer conferences are good options to consider when evaluating your own learning and development strategy.
Get your résumé right
Focus on your résumé to make sure it reflects all the points covered above. I can't stress enough the importance of getting it right. Even I, who am not a fan of hiring based on a couple of sheets of paper, very often see no other way to find a suitable candidate than by reading résumés. How else could a hiring manager select you for an interview, even with the best recommendation?
My résumé is composed of five sections: a short professional profile, bullet-pointed key competencies, succinct business experience, detailed education and professional qualification, and a few interesting personal facts. The last point always has the potential for surprise, as you never know what the reader may identify with. For example, one of my interviewers became fascinated by my interest in speaking at international conventions, because it was something she loves to do as well. In the end, we spent a good 10 minutes sharing thoughts on our mutual interest. The lesson: Make it interesting, but also a relevant value-add to the post you're applying for.
I have spent weeks making sure the content speaks for itself and reflects my true competencies and potential. Do not embellish your experience and turn any gaps into opportunities that the job you're applying for would help you close. An experienced interviewer will pick up on those and will understand your motivations. A smart manager will give you the job because he knows you will be acquiring the skills to make yourself more attractive in the market, while giving your best to the job (back to my first point again).
I hope you enjoyed these personal accounts of landing fulfilling jobs. I would like to leave you with my motto: Believe in yourself; dream big, but be realistic.
Next month, turn to my Young Executive column for advice on the importance of personal happiness and lifestyle choices to a successful career.
P.S. I have consulted countless executives on optimizing their applications, and I am happy to answer any specific questions you may have regarding your very own CV. E-mail me your questions.