Planning Your Career

Most members of the young, job-seeking set do not aspire to job titles containing the words "assistant," "junior," "associate," or "aide." However, few people - if any - immediately exchange their college graduation gowns for a seat at the head of the boardroom table, a window office, and the accompanying clout.

Instead, most recent graduates - especially those entering hierarchical fields such as investment banking or corporate law - will have to climb, crawl, clamor, and claw their way to leadership positions. For those with lofty ambitions, the challenge lies in plotting a viable pathway to the summit and then setting realistic short-term and long-term goals.

After you have clearly identified your long-term career goal, the next step is to study how the people currently in that position got there. Of course, many paths lead to the same position, and your personal and professional circumstances will ultimately push you to carve out a unique route to success. However, cultivating a sense for how others have accomplished what you aim to do will help you focus and avoid mistakes.

For example, if you want to be a CEO in the large-scale telecom industry, figure out the names of the executives at Verizon, MCI, AT&T, and Sprint who currently have the kinds of jobs you want. Conduct informational interviews and read biographies, newspaper articles, and magazine profiles about those individuals, paying close attention to how they arrived at their current posts. 

  • How did they gain entry into the industry?
  • What were their first jobs in the field?
  • What was the timeframe of their advancement through the ranks?
  • Did they get MBAs or another advanced degree?
  • What skills did they pick up through either school or work on their way up?
  • Do they attribute their success to mentorship programs, networking, or something else?
  • What patterns and similarities do you notice in all the backgrounds of the executives?


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