It never hurts to have a lucky break in your career, but capitalizing on lucky opportunities requires more than just being in the right place at the right time. Leadership experts Jennifer Guy and Greg Burnham, owners of the Princeton-based Leading Strategically career development company, say that people who take charge of their own career, and who rely on strategy rather than luck, are the ones who rise to the top of their careers.

Guy and Burnham will give a St. Patrick’s day-themed presentation to the Career Support Group of Mercer County on Saturday, March 18, at 8:30 a.m. at the St. Gregory the Great Community Parish Center, 4620 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square. For more information, visit www.careersupportgroup.org.

Guy and Burnham’s company, Leading Strategically, offers career advice aimed at middle managers. Their website, www.leadingstrategically.com, offers a 45-question multiple choice test that assesses leadership and strategic qualities.

Guy, who has worked for 20 years as a consultant and executive coach, teamed up with Burnham, a former employee of assessment company Caliper, to create the test. Burnham grew up in Queens, where his father was a high school teacher. He has a bachelor’s from Fordham and a doctorate in math from Northwestern. A former technology specialist in the pharmaceutical industry, Burnham shifted careers when a staff reshuffle at Bristol-Myers Squibb left him on the outside. He then worked for the Port Authority and was on the 71st floor of the World Trade Center during the September 11 terrorist attacks. He joined Caliper several years later, staying on until 2011.

Burnham says that in his own career he could have gone further at various organizations if he had approached his career path more strategically. He says the test he developed can help do just that. (U.S. 1, January 20, 2016.)

In a statement for U.S. 1, Jennifer Guy explains how the strategic approach helps job-seekers and people seeking to advance in their careers:

Learning by experience is the traditional way for professionals to find their way in the workplace but it can be time-consuming and occasionally painful. We help clients skip some learning steps. We show our clients where they are, what they know, what they don’t know, and what to expect next. We help them think differently about themselves and their careers by better understanding the role they have now and what is coming next.

When we speak at St. Gregory’s, we will explain how our approach can help professionals looking for a new position in a new company or a better job where they work today. It’s not unusual for a candidate to think of his or her resume in other words to say what they have done. We help them to see their next job, promotion, or other goals from a new perspective. Our approach encourages them to include behavior and thinking when they present themselves, rather than simply a list of skills and milestones. We want them to think about the why of what they were doing or could do, not just the what. Behaviors and initiative matter to hiring managers and help distinguish between candidates.

How are we able to do this? We ask our clients to answer about 50 multiple-choice questions. That’s a 20-minute time commitment. Based on their answers we can figure out where they stand on 12 aspects of behavior that are prized by companies. Once we know where they stand today we are able to tell them what comes next, how to understand what’s next, and how to prepare for it.

The techniques we use make it possible for us the produce several hundred thousand different reports which is an indication of the personal nature of our guidance.

It’s easier to describe in terms of an example. Some of our questions have to do with alignment. Alignment is an indication of the contribution you are making to your company’s progress toward its goals.

If your answers indicate that you need to better understand the importance of alignment, we might give you a report which includes the following story about a significant change in roadway management. We would ask you to read it and think about aspects of the story that might relate to your experience.

When he joined a transportation organization in the late 1990s, George’s first priority was to learn more about the business of highway transportation. He attended a few meetings of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, an organization comprised primarily of staff from different state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) who had responsibility for managing sections of Interstate 95.

At these meetings, speaker after speaker congratulated himself (yes, almost exclusively male) for understanding that he was responsible to get a traveler on I-95 from her origin to her destination. That seemed obvious to George and the fact that the speakers mentioned it puzzled him.

After some digging he discovered that until the early 1990s, traffic engineers saw their job as highway maintenance rather than customer service. They had built the highways and had an engineer’s responsibility to maintain it. Consideration of the needs of the traveling public was an after-thought. In fact the traveling public caused problems. Cars and trucks wore out the road surfaces and driving interfered with maintenance. Accidents were an added nuisance.

The idea that a DOT’s primary responsibility was to get travelers quickly and safely to their destinations emerged in the 1990s and replaced the old way of thinking.

This new strategy changed tactics dramatically, forcing the various DOTs to adjust their objectives. States began to cooperate with each other. Maintenance was coordinated and arranged to minimize travel disruption. Information about incidents and accidents was disseminated quickly between agencies. Preliminary ideas about how to report road conditions to drivers were developed. (Reporting to drivers has since been realized in some GPS devices.) In other words the various departments of transportation planned and executed with travelers rather than roads in mind.

This story illustrates the problem of misaligned goals. The Interstates were built to get people and goods from one place to another but the engineers focused on the job they knew and failed to consider the needs of their customers. It’s fair to say that before the 1990s, they didn’t even know who their customers were.

George’s story should grab your attention because you use the Interstate system and have likely been annoyed at some time in your life by the “careless” approach to roadway maintenance. You might have understood that your needs as a driver were being ignored. If you have had that experience then you should ask yourself whether you have seen examples of misalignment in your company or your job.

If you answered our questions and received George’s story, it would be part of a longer report summarizing the capabilities you’ve developed and pointing to new ones. The report would be composed of other stories and references to printed material and practical exercises to assist you.

In an interview, if you present yourself as aware of the importance of alignment you will demonstrate that your competency goes beyond basic skills and experience, that you put your role in a bigger context and have concern for the company as a whole. That’s a powerful impression to leave — whether you are looking for a new job or hoping to advance in the one you have.

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