The Art of Career Building: Chapter 1 - Career Planning

Career building is one of the most important issues we face in our lives. However, few of us take it serious until we reach middle age and the best opportunities of our lives are behind us. Why don’t we take it more serious? I believe it’s because we don’t know how. As I recall, high school and college focused on how to get a job, not how to build a career. All the books I can find on career issues focus on how to get a job, how to interview, and most importantly how to get the highest possible salary. Gary Gagliardi has interpreted The Art of War for modern career builders and what Sun Tzu finds more important is improving your position over a lifetime. Although we have to win present battles (get a job), we also have to win the peace and build a strong career on purpose.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a job or not. The Art of Career Building is an instruction manual for how to get a job, how to grow once we get the job, and how to establish a position that makes getting your next job (or promotion) easy.

You might think you would have to manage an innumerable set of factors to grow your career. As it turns out there are only five. That’s right, there are only five factors that determine your career position and all you have to do is improve on these five factors over a lifetime to ensure career success.

These five are:

  1. Your professional goals.
  2. The trends in the job market.
  3. Your career options.
  4. Your job skills.
  5. Your career-building methods.

These five factors determine your career position. It’s this position that you are trying to improve and defend to build a career. You want to improve each of these areas, so let’s examine each one.

We begin with your professional career goals. You have to have a larger perspective of your professional life that establishes a higher purpose than just earning a paycheck. You have to devise career goals that go beyond a paycheck and look toward the end of your career. Imagine your retirement party and think of the legacy that you have created. This legacy cannot be completely self-serving either. Think bigger. How has your career path affected the lives of others along the way? You want career goals that inspire others to support your success. Consider how your employers, customers, suppliers, and coworkers lives were enhanced because of your success. Take the time to examine the successful careers of people in your field and establish your career goals.

The next factor to consider is the trends in the job market. As you know, the job market shifts from good to bad. There are times when employers can’t find enough people and times when they have too many people. These trends drive your decisions. They determine when you can move and when you should stay. Going against the trends makes your search that much harder. This is why we focus on our career position and not just “getting a job.” If your only focus is getting a job, you won’t think about it until business trends are not in your favor. You’ll be looking for work at the same time as thousands of others. Not smart.

The next factor is your career options. You can stay with your current employer, change jobs, seek a promotion, or even change your occupation. You can seek out a challenging job or an easy one. You can take whatever is available or be selective. It’s your decisions that determine your success. Once you know your options, you then watch the trends and time your next move.

These three factors work together. Your professional goals determine which career options make the most sense for you. Also, your ability to take advantage of those options depends on the trends in the job market.

The next factor is all about you. The job skills that are important are universal and include five personal skills by which employers will judge you. These include your reputation (are you trustworthy?), your judgment (are you smart?), your reliability (are you disciplined?), your fortitude (do you have the courage to make timely decisions?), and your intentions (do you really care about people and the mission - that is, are you likeable?).

The last factor is your career building methods. Do you have a process for building your career? Whatever methods you choose they should be focused on your relationships with other people and support your professional goals.

The environment in which you build your career consists of your career options and the business trends. Together, your job skills and your career methods are what make you competitive in that environment. All four of these are dependent upon your professional goals. Establish your professional goals, then identify your career options, and time your next move to take advantage of business trends. Your success will then be determined by your job skills and having career methods that support your professional goals.

Sun Tzu offers seven questions that help you determine if you will succeed or fail. Gary has done the work for us all by converting these questions from the context of war to career building. If you can honestly answer these seven questions, you will know when you can and cannot advance your career.

  1. Which opportunities are consistent with your professional goals?
  2. Are you improving and developing your job skills?
  3. When and where should you look for new positions?
  4. Which career advancement techniques work best?
  5. Which groups have control over your professional future?
  6. Which opportunities give you training for the future?
  7. What risks and rewards make sense for you?

The final part of this chapter reveals that building your career means one thing - controlling people’s perceptions of you. We all know that perception is reality so it’s your job to manage those perceptions. If the work is hard, you want to make it look easy. If you’re thinking of changing jobs, appear willing to wait for the perfect opportunity. Even if you have no plans to change jobs, you can appear ready for a change. If others are uncertain, be decisive. Controlling perceptions isn’t about lying, it’s about showing people what they want or expect to see. How many times have you been polite with an irritating customer when all you really wanted to do is walk away? How you conduct yourself can instill confidence from your superiors and fear in your rivals. There are also times when you want your rivals to become overconfident so you may allow them to see you as vulnerable. Make no mistake; all of career building comes down to this one thing, controlling perceptions.

While I have not covered all the nuances discussed by Sun Tzu in this first chapter, you now have enough understanding to begin applying The Art of Career Building in your own life. Study the five factors of your position and dedicate yourself to honestly answering the seven questions. In the final analysis, any improvement in these areas is real career advancement.

In the next post, I will discuss chapter two and show you the economic consequences of choosing the right position or job while you pursue your long-term career goals.