This guide will walk you through the surprisingly easy formula for getting the job, raise or promotion you want and deserve!
(This guide is an adaption of chapter #9 from the book Invaluable: Master the 10 Skills You Need to Skyrocket Your Career)
I have had what most people would call a successful career. I was promoted 10 times in 15 years, grew from an individual contributor to a VP-level executive and was able to work for companies like Microsoft and Google. I consistently increased my salary, gained more responsibility and saw my work make a real impact on the company’s bottom line.
None of these happened by mistake. I designed a fulfilling and engaging career that gives me energy and keeps me motivated and excited to go to work. I planned my career and meticulously followed through in order to achieve my goals, and you can do the same.
Most people don’t have a career plan. They go to work, they do their 9 to 5 and hope for the best. They hope their manager will notice their hard work, they hope that the company will decide to offer them a raise, they hope they’ll get the promotion they have been yearning for just because it’s their turn... Let me tell you a secret, hope is not the best strategy for growing your career. Why settle for maybe or one day when you have the ability to design the career you want right now?
I’ll tell you why. Most people don’t realize that they have the power to design their career. They think success just magically happens to a few lucky individuals. They assume that career growth is automatic. If they just do their job, attend an event or two and read the industry headlines, then they’ll be fine. That's not growing. In this day and age, that is the minimum you need to do to stay relevant. If you want to have the career of your dreams, then you need to be proactive and intentional. You need to own your career and steer it in the direction you want to go.
It might be hard to believe, but you have the power to design the career of your dreams.
You can get the job, the promotion and the raise you want and deserve if you are willing to put in the work and own your journey.
Why do you need a career plan?
I’m a marketer, but I spent the first seven years of my career as a travel agent. I didn’t have a plan or a vision for my career, I just needed to pay my rent and make sure that I saved enough to put myself through college. It was a good job. The company was great, the people were great and I slowly moved up the ladder and even became a manager. There was nothing wrong with that job, but it wasn’t my dream job.
The ah-ha moment happened when I started my bachelor’s. I fell in love with marketing and realized that being a travel agent wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my career… I wanted more.
Once I realized that I was going in the wrong direction, I decided to take action. First, I learned everything I could about different marketing roles and focused on the one that got me excited: social media management. Then, I started using Facebook and Twitter to learn how these platforms work. Once I got a grasp on the basics, I approached my manager and offered to launch a Facebook page for the company. I volunteered to do it in my spare time as an experiment in order to see if I could deliver value, and maybe, somewhere down the road, transition into a marketing role. Just six months later, I joined a social media agency and launched my marketing career.
If I hadn’t stopped to ask myself what I actually want to do with my career, and if I hadn’t built a plan to get me there, then there was a possibility that I would still be a travel agent. Luckily, I was passionate enough about marketing that it motivated me to take action towards my goal. Dreams are not enough. If you want to see results, then you need a career destination, and an actionable plan that can help you get from where you are today to where you want to go.
It’s important to identify a destination and set a course for your career, so you won’t get lost. Think about it this way: when you want to get from one place to another, you choose the destination on your GPS. You don’t wander the streets hoping you’ll get to where you want to go. That would be crazy, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to careers, many people forget to set their destination and end up spending their careers wandering around.
Don’t worry, I won’t let that happen to you. By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll have the tools you need to set your career destination, figure out what it takes to get there, and create the opportunities you need to totally crush it at work!
Your journey’s just beginning, but trust me when I say that this is about to get really exciting.
I think you’re going to be absolutely blown away by the results you’ll get when you actively work on developing your career and take action towards your goals.
Are you excited? You should be. So, let’s get started.
Step 1: Evaluation and Discovery
If you want to have a fulfilling and meaningful career, all you need to do is design it.
The million-dollar question is: How do you create a career plan that takes you from where you are today to where you want to be?
In order to design a career plan for your dream job, you must first understand what that dream job looks like. You need to decide on a destination before you can set the course to get there.
Some people know exactly what they want. They have been dreaming about their career path since they were five years old, and they have spent their entire lives working towards that goal. I’m not that person. When I was 16, I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought it would be cool to be the person who gets to say “objection, your honor”. Obviously, I saw one too many TV shows growing up. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be an architect, but once I realized that this line of work requires me to dive deeper into physics, then I decided it wasn’t for me after all. I then had a short fascination with becoming a pastry chef. I love baking, so I thought it would be fun to spend my days in the kitchen. Once I learned bakers wake up before dawn and spend hours on their feet every day, I decided that baking would remain a hobby. I only started developing a passion for marketing seven years into my career.
If you are not sure where you want to go next or what your career journey should look like, don’t worry. You don’t need to have it all figured out in order to plan your next step. You can plan for the next year, or for the next role, but you don’t need to have a vision for the next decade.
Follow these steps to identify what you want to do next:
The Perfect Day
This is a great exercise that you can use in order to visualize what the future might look like. The idea is to imagine what a day in your life would look like when you have your dream job. This exercise requires that you go through an entire day and capture what you see and feel from the minute you wake up until the time you go to sleep.
Your perfect day will include details about where you live, what you do when you wake up, where you work, what you do all day, who you meet and how you feel. You should ignore any and all limitations and just assume that you can have it all… your dream job, the right salary and a happy life. I like to imagine it all in my head as if I’m watching a movie about my life, and then write down everything I saw in my head. The whole thing should take you 20 to 30 minutes, and you will end up with a story that outlines what you want to do and how you want to live. This is the first step towards identifying your career goals and building a plan to achieve them.
Look at the story you wrote and start extracting insights. What was the profession you imagined? Did you have a specific role? What were you actually doing?
Create a bulleted list of insights that could be used to better define your career destination.
When I went through this exercise, I imagined myself as the CMO of a Silicon Valley startup. I was leading a team, and had the opportunity to make an impact on the company as one of the senior executives. In the career story I envisioned, I spent the first part of my day with my team—removing obstacles and solving problems. I participated in strategic discussions with management and had lunch with a colleague in order to expand my network. The second part of my day was dedicated to marketing work and tasks that I was personally responsible for, such as planning, tracking, strategizing, and creatively thinking—all the things I absolutely love doing. In the evening, I would go home to have dinner with my husband and work on a personal project. At the time, it was a podcast about marketing. I could imagine what the office would look like and I knew what I’d be wearing, but more importantly, I could feel how I would feel when I had the career of my dreams—happy, proud, fulfilled, and energized.
When I wrote the story about my perfect day in 2013, I was nowhere near making it come true. I was not living in California, I wasn’t in a leadership role, and I didn’t have a podcast. However, none of that mattered. I just wrote about my dream; my vision of the person and the professional I wanted to become.
It’s now seven years later, and I’m as close as I have ever been to realizing everything I have dreamed of. I live in San Francisco with my wonderful husband and I work as a startup consultant where I focus mostly on strategy, planning, and creative thinking. I had the opportunity to be the VP of Marketing for a fast-growing startup, where I led an incredible team and made a direct impact on the company’s success. When it comes to my passion projects, I spent two years co-hosting a podcast about marketing with one of my dearest friends who is a marketing genius, and now, I have a few new passion projects: writing and publishing a book (done!) and helping others achieve a new level of success.
Maybe you are not impressed. After all, seven years is a long time, but I had ambitious goals that required time, patience, and dedication to accomplish. I’m not sure where I’d be right now without my “perfect day” vision. The story I wrote stuck in my head and kept me going all of these years, especially when things got hard and frustrating.
Take time to imagine your perfect day. You don’t have to imagine 10 years into the future; you can imagine what your life could look like in just a year from now, and start from there.
If visualization doesn’t work for you, then you can try a different exercise to identify your career destination.
Create a Mental Model of Your Work Experience
This is a methodical brainstorming session that will help you figure out what your next career move should look like.
Take a blank sheet of paper, draw a circle in the middle and write your current title or profession inside that circle. Draw branches that come out of the circle, and for every branch, list a skill you have acquired, a responsibility you own at work or an experience you’ve gained. The goal is to end up with a comprehensive overview of your professional abilities. Add at least 25 branches to make the most out of this exercise. You can either base your branches on your current role or include everything you have learned and experienced to date.
When you are done, divide your branches into two lists. On one list, include everything you enjoy doing at work. On the other list, write everything you hate doing at work and that you hope you will never have to do again. Put your list of dislikes aside; your goal is to avoid doing any of those tasks again. Focus on the list that includes the things you enjoy doing. You can add responsibilities or skills you don’t have experience with yet, but those that you think you would enjoy doing. For example, you might want to gain leadership experience or learn how to negotiate.
Look at the list of things you want to do. Can they make up a role? Even if you are not sure, just write down a few ideas.
For example, if you have content writing experience, great communication skills and you’ve done hands-on social media work, then potential roles may include social media management, product marketing or content marketing. These could be individual contributor roles or leadership roles depending on your seniority.
If you are not sure or you are unable to come up with potential roles that suit your skills, try this: use LinkedIn to search for each of the skills you have identified. When you type “content marketing” into LinkedIn’s search bar, the results will surface professionals who have these keywords in their profile. What are their job titles? Can you identify a role that fits your skills? Click through to see their full profile. Their career journey may inspire a few more ideas.
In addition to professionals, LinkedIn will also surface job descriptions that include your keyword. Browse through those job descriptions to discover new and interesting roles. Click through to see the full requirements for each role, and learn if any of them might be a good fit for you. Your goal is to find a job description that excites you or gets you curious enough to learn more.
When you find a role that interests you, read at least three to five job descriptions to make sure that you have the full view of the requirements.
Tip: search for job descriptions from companies you would be interested in. Some roles may look differently depending on the type of company you work for. Product management at a tech company that sells to business customers may have a different set of requirements than product management at a consumer goods company, even if the job title is the same.
The Career Ladder
The last and most common way to decide what your career destination should look like is to follow a career ladder. Many companies have structured career paths for the roles they offer, and you can use those guidelines to learn what will be required in order to get to the next level. You can ask your manager or find this information on the internal company website. If you are not at the company yet, you can use a website like Levels.fyi to identify the career tracks for top companies like “FAAMG”—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google.
Zero in on Your Destination
Ideally, after going through one of these exercises, you will have a list of one to two potential career destinations. The last step in this process is to validate your selection. Job descriptions do not tell the full story, and no matter how many online reviews you read, nothing compares to speaking with a professional who is currently in the role you are considering. Learning what the day-to-day actually looks like and how you will be spending your time if you take the next step in your career could save you years of regret.
Remember, look for professionals who work for companies that you would consider working for in order to make sure you get the most accurate description of the role. Reach out to them on LinkedIn or use a tool like Mailscoop.io or SalesQL to find their email, and then reach out to them directly. Your goal is to convince them to jump on a call with you and share their career journey. You want to know how they got to where they are today and learn what their day-to-day looks like, so that you can decide if that is something you want to do. Reaching out to complete strangers is the hardest step in the formula, but also the most valuable one, so don’t chicken out!
BONUS: LinkedIn/Email Outreach Templates
If you are not sure how to reach out to professionals, then use the below templates. How to get 80% of people to open your email:
Thoroughly review the LinkedIn profile of the person you are reaching out to.
Look at their social media feeds. You want to learn more about them and (hopefully) find some common ground.
If you see a video they have created, a podcast they interviewed for, or an article they wrote, then please consume that content. By learning more about them, you’ll be able to personalize the message and increase the chances of hearing back from them.
Find a way to add value to the people you are reaching out to. For example, engage with their content, leave thoughtful comments or ask questions. Another way to add value is to look for broken links or grammar mistakes on their LinkedIn profile or personal website and point them out privately, so they can fix them.
Hey, [the person’s name]. I was looking for [profession/role] leaders and landed on your profile. I’m impressed with your background and would love to hear more about your journey as I’m planning the next steps in my career. Would you be open to jumping on a quick call? I’ll be happy to accommodate your schedule.
Hey, [the person’s name]. I enjoyed your interview on [name of podcast]. What you said about [something they said] really resonated with me. I would love to learn how you became [their role] because it’s what I want to do next and I am sure that I could learn from your experience. Would you be open to jumping on a quick call? I’ll be happy to accommodate your schedule.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Conversation with Professionals
The best way to ace this conversation is to know what you are looking for. This is not a networking event, it’s an active investigation. While you want to keep the conversation warm and friendly, you also have two goals to achieve:
1. Find out what the role looks like in real life and what you’ll be doing in your day-to-day.
2. Learn what it takes to qualify for this role, i.e., the most important skills, experiences and qualifications you need to have in order to get this job.
Prepare a list of questions in advance, and spend the majority of the conversation asking questions and listening, not talking about yourself. Ideally, you will speak with five professionals and start seeing commonalities. Take notes during the call and summarize what you learn from these conversations. You want to end up with a list of bullet points that include the most important skills, tools, certifications or experiences you’ll need to acquire in order to step into their shoes.
You can use this template to ask questions and collect answers.
Step 2: Gap Analysis
Taking the next step in your career usually involves stepping out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself. That’s actually good news because it means that you are going to learn and grow while you go through this process. It also means that there is a gap between where you are today and where you want to go, and your job is to identify this gap.
The first step is to create the ideal candidate profile for the role you want by using the information you collected during your conversations with professionals as well as the job descriptions you reviewed earlier. Collect all of the information and eliminate any duplicates. You want to end up with bullet points that represent the skills and the experiences that are required for your dream job. Rank these skills in order of importance from the most important one to the least important one.
Now that you have an overview of the ideal candidate profile, it’s time to see where you stand.
For every requirement on the list, rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 to determine how well you qualify. For example, if the role requires management experience and you don’t have any, then write 1. If the role requires technical skills that you have mastered, then give yourself a 10. If the role requires great communication skills and you feel quite confident in your abilities, write 8. If your communication skills are only decent, write 5.
When you are done rating yourself, remove any skill that was rated higher than 8. These are skills that you don’t need to work on… you already have what it takes to qualify. Look at the remaining skills. You want to focus on the intersection of skills that are crucial for the role and are rated the lowest. These are the skills that you must work on in order to get to your dream job.
Step 3: Gain the Experience You Need
Did you create the ICP (Ideal Candidate Profile) for your dream job? Awesome. Now, it’s time to turn yourself into that ideal candidate. You already have a solid understanding of what you need to focus on in order to dramatically speed up your career progression, so you might be wondering: How do I go from where I am today to where I want to be? Shouldn’t I wait for my manager to put me up for a promotion? How am I going to gain all of this experience if no one hands it to me?
I’m glad you asked!
This is exactly what you are going to learn in this chapter. You are going to learn three different ways to gain experience and qualify yourself for your dream job without breaking the bank or depending on your employer to help you out.
I promise you, getting the experience and the skills you need is easier than you think, but it will require time and effort.
1. Independent Learning: Can You Learn This Skill On Your Own?
The most obvious path to growing your career is to simply educate yourself. We live in a time where education and knowledge are at our fingertips, and we can literally learn about anything with a click of a button. Independent learning is a great way to get started and gain the basic knowledge you need. It can also help you check the box when it comes to formal requirements like certification or training.
Here are a few resources that can help you with independent learning:
Take an online course or certification
Download a software program, work with it and learn how to use it
Follow an influencer or an expert and learn from the content they are sharing online
Follow a YouTube channel
Join a Facebook or Slack community
Listen to relevant podcasts
Read a book