Do you know where you want to be…strategically?

Where are you in your career? Are you happy or is there somewhere else you would like to be? Would you like to make more money, have more responsibility, or have a specific job title that you don’t have today?

If you answer yes to these things…have you given thought on how to get there or are you just waiting for it to happen?

Obviously doing good work in your current job will get you noticed, but it won’t definitely get you where you want to go. You need to think about how you will strategically achieve what you want.

In the Air Force, time in grade and time in service were two of the primary factors that drove your promotion timeline. Once you made it to E-4, you had to start testing for the next rank. Even with the test, time added points to your overall promotion score. If your score met or exceeded the cut off then you were promoted. My first two times testing for E-5, the cut off was so high that it didn’t matter if I aced the test, I wouldn’t have enough points to get promoted because of high cut off scores. Once you start testing for the senior enlisted ranks, they introduce a board score that takes in account many additional factors than just time, test, and evaluation scores.

The reason that I explain this system is to provide an example of how one might strategically achieve a senior rank in the Air Force even when first starting out. Obviously, you can’t jump from E-1 to E-9, but you know when you are eligible for each promotion and you are in control of studying. With proper planning, you can be prepared to move to the next level. Ten years before you start testing for senior NCO ranks, you start planning out your career with special duty assignments, volunteering, and trying to get key jobs and assignments. This way, your board score, which is based off the last ten years of service, reflects well. If you apply this same mindset from the start of your career, you open yourself up to the possibility of below the zone promotion to E-4 and potential STEP to E-5 or E-6.

If you know where you want to be, or how much you want to make, what are the steps that it will take you to get there? What experience will you have to gain, what education and training do you need, what line of promotions do you need to get there?

When you have someone sitting at the bottom of the pile and they want a corner office, they simply don’t apply for those positions and expect to get them. If you look at the qualifications of the position and say to yourself, “I meet these,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you are really eligible for that role.

What are the promotion steps between where you are today and where you want to be? You need to navigate these promotion steps one at a time, with the emphasis of building your experience, credibility, and capability along the route. If you are coming into an organization with a career under your belt, there is a possibility of hopping more aggressively, but you need to learn the business and be respected.

Things to think about when strategically planning your career path:

1. Write down each promotion step to your desired level.

2. At each level, list out position requirements like education, certifications, training, and experience.

3. As these positions rise the ladder, consider the level of management and leadership they have–the span of control they have. Think about how you can gather this type of experience through something like volunteering.

4. Build a network within your company that will help you as you grow. Look for mentors and contacts that can provide advice and guidance along the way.

5. Develop your business acumen based on where you are headed.

6. Plan your route and specifically look for opportunities elsewhere in your organization that will broaden your skills and challenge your capabilities.

7. Understand the time requirements or expectations for each step along your career ladder. Plan for that and work in things like appropriate education and training along the route.

8. Look for opportunities to excel in your current job, like special projects and assignments that show your willingness to be challeneged.

9. Every day, try to do the best job you can in the job you are in today.

10. Don’t get discouraged. Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen the way you planned it. Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Life will punch you in the face…learn to roll with the punches.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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