Avoid these two pitfalls in your strategic career planning

We have all experienced the challenge of looking at a role and thinking: ‘I’d love to have that role, but don’t meet all the criteria’.

The good news is even the strong candidates rarely do—if they could do everything in the role description already, where would be the challenge, or the stretch?

Lessons learned

After a little over two years as a lecturer at RMIT, a senior lecturer role became available. It was not directly in the area I had been working in, and I did not receive any particular encouragement internally to apply.

However, I ran into the late Warren Horton, then head of the State Library of Victoria and later National Librarian of Australia. We moved from Sydney to Melbourne about the same time and got to know each other through that process.

Warren was far more senior to me in age and career and always had loads of ‘gravitas’. He had heard about the position and assumed I was going to apply. I explained to him that I could not meet all the selection criteria.

Warren’s response was swift:  that this was silliest reason he had ever heard for not applying for such a role, as it was rare that promotional positions in my field became available.

His view was that I should apply, and then do a combination of three things he had done in similar circumstances:

  1. Assume that I could do the role, not the reverse.
  2. Do some quick research and get up to speed enough to get through the selection and interview process.
  3. Once appointed, subtly change the role to one that suited me better, explaining how much more I could bring to the role than the organisation had envisaged.

I did all of those things and it worked. I got the job, and more or less re-created a significant chunk of it, meaning three years later I was well placed for the next big move. It was my first experience of strategic career planning.

I was fortunate to have a friend who happened to be a natural mentor.

Don’t be scared of reaching for the stars

In my experience, in many cases men will look at a position, assume they can do it, assume they meet the criteria and apply.

While most women tend to be far more circumspect. If they don’t easily meet all the criteria, they are less likely to apply.

While this situation is changing, we see it regularly in our search work when proactively contacting women we believe should or could be a candidate for a particular role.

The response from women often is: ‘but I don’t understand. What makes you think I could do that?’ I don’t think I have ever had that response from a male contacted in similar circumstances.

The timing will always be ‘lousy’ – that’s no excuse

Timing is another issue—knowing when to look at moving roles, when to apply for a promotion, or respond positively to a query from a search firm. Often, the timing is not right but then we usually can’t control or predict when the interesting roles will be available.

We frequently hear a potential candidate say ‘but the timing is lousy’. My response is usually along the lines: ‘if we set aside the timing, is this a role in which you are really interested? If it is, let’s set aside the timing issue for now, as it is rare that someone will come to you with just the right opportunity when the timing is just right’.

It is just not how things seem to work out. Certainly, sometimes it is absolutely right to decline an opportunity because of timing.

But it does mean when you are ‘ready’, the right opportunity does not necessarily just pop along. If you are ready because you are perhaps feeling underpaid or undervalued, and someone doesn’t tap you on the shoulder with an alternative offer, consider being proactive and doing some strategic career planning for yourself.

Adapted from: The Agile Executive: Embracing Career Risks and Rewards
by Marianne Broadbent


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