The introduction first tells the story of the research that showed how to make better career decisions by applying business strategy concepts to careers. It uses two examples to illustrate the way the book's stories will show the career strategy principles in action. It describes the book's step-by-step methodology to help readers get to fresh insights and positive impact. It sets in-going expectations about the potential for positive personal impact from reading the book and completing the book's exercises. And it presents the book's overall outline.
Career strategy begins when people recognize their personal values related to work. This chapter presents the jobs/careers/callings model and explains how people with callings enjoy greater happiness and personal satisfaction. It describes what distinguishes people in each category. Calling people are ambitious and emphasize the work as a positive end in itself – service, craftsmanship, and/or institution. Career people also are ambitious, but they emphasize what they take out of work – money, power, and prestige. Work isn't as important to jobs people who hope to contain sacrifice and earn acceptable pay. Ironically, calling people who don't emphasize pay and prestige often accomplish a lot, advance, and earn near the top of their professions. Understanding personal values at work is essential to finding a calling. This chapter then shows how to explore those values. The result of Chapter 1 is a prioritized list of values related to work.
In the short term, strengths are why an employer will hire someone. In the long term, strengths are the platform on which people can set career aspirations. People who emphasize their signature strengths will accomplish more, be happier, and have a good shot at finding their calling. Understanding strengths, therefore, is critical to career strategy. The strengths that are most important to career strategy are those that are distinctive and that closely relate to what's required for success at particular kinds of work; that often means the most important strengths will be narrow and very specific. It can be hard to understand oneself in that way. This chapter presents strength assessment exercises and shows how to use them. The result of Chapter 2 is a ranked list of strengths.
Callings emerge when people find fields and roles that reflect their values and use their strengths, but it's often hard to imagine what those fields and roles might be. Most people need techniques to stimulate creative thinking about appealing future fields and roles, and this chapter shows how to brainstorm future possibilities. For example: building off current strengths, building off extreme versions of strengths and values, imagining dream jobs and nightmares, recalling past interests, and writing an article about one's career for publication in ten years. It also identifies the most stimulating situations. The result of Chapter 3 is a list of potential fields or roles for people to explore and research in depth.
Rigor matters greatly in career decisions, and yet people often fail to get the information they need to support rigorous thinking. Once people imagine appealing fields and roles, for example, it's time to investigate them in depth. This chapter shows how to research fields and roles by taking full advantage of public sources of information and by talking with people who can provide the inside picture. This chapter also shows how to experiment with possible fields and roles; experiments are especially important when people are considering radical career moves. This chapter spotlights four big topic areas that are part of most career strategizing – organization culture, role, sacrifice, and industry and business outlook and shows how to investigate each of them.
The personal value proposition (PVP) is the heart of career strategy. Just like the value proposition in business, PVP is a person's target field or role, what's required to succeed there, how the person's strengths match those requirements, and what the person expects in return. This chapter shows how to determine a person's aspirational PVP – the positions they hope to reach over the long term, together with the capabilities they need to develop and the record of accomplishment they'll need to have in order to get there. That aspirational PVP is the result of this chapter. Setting direction, it is the foundation for developing long term career strategy.
A long term career strategy is not only the aspirations expressed in the personal value proposition, but also the steps required to reach those aspirations. This chapter describes the four categories of initiatives people can take. Two are career path planning and education; they both build personal capability and thereby develop the "product" people hope to become. The other two are a winning reputation and a powerful professional network (including executive search firms); both are essential assets to "market" that "product". This chapter shows how to build the product and the associated marketing muscle – the steps people can take to bring each of these initiative areas to life. The result of Chapter 6 is a list of possible initiatives to pursue across all four of these categories.
This chapter discusses three remaining steps. First, determine which of the potential initiatives to pursue, with what level of effort, and their timing and sequence. It sometimes requires a fundamental decision about how serious someone is about a new career direction. The goal is to create a productive portfolio of mutually reinforcing actions. The second step is to turn that portfolio into an implementation plan in the form of a strategic roadmap. The roadmap not only makes effective implementation likely. It also illuminates the main contingencies, provides a final check on the strategy, and stimulates strategic thinking. The third step is to prepare for on-the-go learning once the initiatives are underway. The results of Chapter 7 are the portfolio of initiatives and the plan to achieve good implementation of that portfolio.
The current personal value proposition (PVP) is conceptually similar to the long term aspirational PVP from Chapter 5, but the current PVP is for the near term, often to set up a productive job search. It targets plausible near term opportunities that are consistent with long term aspirations where current strengths are a good match to the requirements of those positions. If people set the right current PVP, then their "marketing and sales" activities to identify opportunities and secure offers will come naturally. This chapter shows how to develop that current PVP. It also shows the benefits of targeting a single field or role and therefore having a single PVP, together with the conditions that may lead people to pursue two targets at the same time. The result of this chapter is the current PVP.
Even with a strong personal value proposition, attractive opportunities won't land on the doorstep. People must find them. There are three sources of opportunity – public sources that anyone can see like job postings, affiliations (such as industry associations, alumni groups and university career centers), and professional networks. Networks are by far the most important of these – people who are close acquaintances and (often more important) the much larger number of looser connections. People with strong job search strategies commit the great majority of their time to networking. This chapter shows how to make the most out of a professional network. The result of Chapter 9 is the plan for massive, structured outreach – who to contact, when, how to conduct the discussions, and what to do after meetings.
Once opportunities are identified, people meet employers to secure the offer. Serious job candidates come to interviews fully prepared. They'll have the best chance to turn interviews into offers if they can take the employer's perspective, understand what's needed, and show they're the right fit. They're deploying game theory in an informal way. This chapter shows the two ways to prepare. First, people must prepare to explain how they match the employer's needs, drawing on the personal value proposition and what that suggests for the elevator speech and several other activities. Second, people must prepare for the interviewer's questions. While they can't be sure what questions will be asked, they can draw on the experience of interviewers and other interviewees to get ready. The result of Chapter 10 is a proactive plan to communicate the personal value proposition and to respond to potential interviewer questions.
The opportunity search plan pulls all this preparation together. It's a plan to communicate the personal value proposition to target audiences through networking and then in interviews to get the offer. It's similar to the strategic roadmap from Chapter 7, but in a job search there'll be many more small steps and follow ups as appropriate. What will happen after any particular activity is highly uncertain, so this plan is more of a sequenced "to do list" than the contingency planning in the strategic roadmap. This chapter shows how to craft a productive opportunity search strategy. The result of this chapter is that written search plan.
Tough career decisions can happen when different objectives suggest different answers. The conflict among objectives can paralyze people or lead to emotional decisions that don't reflect a true understanding of the situation. People need a rigorous way to evaluate alternatives in light of how well they meet objectives. This chapter shows how to structure that thinking with a simple evaluation matrix that focuses investigation on the topics that matters most, leads to judgments about how each alternative delivers on each objective, and pulls all that together into an insightful synthesis. The result of Chapter 12 is a structured analysis of how well alternatives meet objectives.
Tough career decisions also occur if there's important uncertainty about what will happen if one alternative is selected or another. People need a rigorous way to compare alternatives in light of how well they manage uncertainty. While no one can know the future, good forecasting can reduce uncertainty. And then the right intellectual structure can build on those forecasts and help understand the risks and opportunities. This chapter shows how to forecast the result of career decisions, how to prepare an integrated evaluation model to understand how scenarios affect alternatives, and how to think through alternatives' strategic intent (big bet, adapt to the future, no regrets move, hedge, option). The result of Chapter 13 is a structured analysis of uncertainty. Chapters 12 and 13 together produce the integrated case for each alternative which should lead to the decision.
Staying on track is hard. People must be on top of events – for example, the prospects for their employer, the prospects for people in their field, how well they're doing, whether they're still enjoying the work, and whether their aspirational long term plan still makes sense. They'll benefit greatly from a periodic review of all that – a personal annual report. It's a structured way to evaluate one's progress and anticipate future developments. Chapter 14 shows how to prepare that personal annual report.
While sound career strategies create the best prospects for success, they can't guarantee everything will go as hoped. Everyone needs personal resilience and the ability to maintain perspective in the face of surprises and disappointments. This topic raises broad philosophical or religious issues that are beyond the scope of this book. But in the context of career strategy, actions like preparing and following a first class plan, detachment from the results over which one has little control and noticing small victories along the way can build confidence and staying power. Chapter 15 shows productive ways to seek this kind of resilience.
The book's conclusion addresses three topics. First, it summarizes the book's main takeaways. Second, it explains how the people who will benefit most from the book's concepts will be those who consciously cultivate career strategy skills. Those skills will enable them to shift strategies as institutions, external situations, and their own interests and goals change over time. Finally, winning career strategies will not only be good for the people who have them. They also will be good for employers, or at least for those enlightened employers who attract and retain people who're following winning personal strategies. Making that happen is the aspiration for the book.