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  • Writer's pictureGuy Liddall

How do I plan my career?

Planning a career at present must seem a bit like property speculation in an earthquake, or picking the right pension fund for your retirement. The whole structure of the industry is crumbling around us, and you are expected to plan your future.

Nevertheless, if we are to keep our high flyers they need to be able to plan their careers, and to lay secure foundations in an ever shifting landscape.

Like most things in life, there are no simple answers to career management, although once you understand the principles, it is not complicated either.

Understand your needs

There is no point in aiming for the very top if you consider family, sport, holidays, travel or recreation more important than your career. If you are not prepared to make considerable sacrifices and compromises with your home life, you will not get there.

Likewise, if money is your driving factor, many managers earn considerably less than their most successful profit generators. Indeed some of the best sales executives are almost by definition poor managers.

Your priorities in life are the most important. The happiest people on our register are those who balance the right level of commitment, the right level of earnings and of fulfilment. The most unhappy are those who are over promoted, or who consistently underachieve.

Know where the top is.

If you know how far you want to go, plan the route there carefully. Reaching the top of your profession, climbing the career ladder, is like an assault on Everest. You can do it quickly, but not many survive an all out assault unscathed, or you can move too slowly, and never get past base camp.

To succeed you need to establish a firm base at one level before moving up another level. Career platforms are essential if you want to survive the rigours of such a fast moving industry.

What are career platforms?

Simple – they are incontrovertible proof that you can perform and succeed at a level for a period of time. You need to show that you have succeeded against objective criteria, and to have done for some time. In my book, that means at least two years.

If the platform is secure, then you can afford a mistake with your next move and not lose credibility. If it is not, then a bad mistake might mean that you are unemployable at your chosen level, and you slip back down the ladder.

A young, newly appointed manager cannot afford to move elsewhere if the job is going well. He or she simply has too much to lose if it goes wrong. The suspicion will always be that the first job was beyond them, and the second disaster proves it.

Changing companies.

This is always the most dangerous move to make, though sometimes very necessary. You may have become blocked in your present employment, or simply associated with doing the job at one level. Even worse, your employer may always recruit from outside, not trusting promotion from within.

Be careful. There are times when it seems so certain to be the right step, perhaps an old boss has just joined and knows your capabilities, or the manufacturer has suggested the move. There are always hidden dangers, especially in ‘diagonal’ career changes (moving across to another company and up a level), and there are no safety nets. Is your boss safe himself, because if he goes you are very vulnerable. Is the manufacturer suggesting change because the dealership is doing badly – is the franchise safe?

Who has succeeded?

All the senior managers in the industry have arrived by different routes. They are very different characters, but most share common characteristics.

Almost without exception they have proved themselves in one or two high profile roles, and have not moved from job to job every year. They all share an almost fanatical dedication to the job, putting great strains on family and relationships. They are single minded about the success of the company, through that comes personal success.

They are deeply suspicious of the job that cannot be turned down and they have probably all had at least one career disaster. They will also freely admit that their big break probably happened quite by chance. They just had the experience, the drive and determination to take advantage of it.

Speaking to these highly motivated, intelligent and successful people, you realise success is not an accident. If you ignore the basic principles of career management, however, and fail to lay firm foundations then when you do suffer a setback, or if you get caught out in a take-over, it may damage your career irrevocably.

Can you leave that possibility to chance?


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