Our founder, known around the office as simply ‘B’, is a voracious reader of books about all things business and leadership. In this column she each week shares the key points from one of her latest reads.

There are few “books of substance’ about career management, so I was very happily surprised when I came across Chris Nadherny’s book “ The Proactive Executive”. Chris Nadherny worked for 30 years for the executive search firm Spencer Stuart and gained many insights on how successful careers are formed. He shares those generously in this book.

Below I have summarized my key take-aways from the book.

I. The first principle for a successful career is a proactive mindset.

Though this may sound obvious, 30 years as a C-level recruiter at Spencer Stuart, taught Chris Nadherny, that many professionals just let their careers “happen”. They treat their careers like most people treat their health: They only start making a conscious effort to manage their career when they encounter a problem, such as losing their job,  missing out on a promotion or receiving a disappointing performance review.

The problem is that just doing well in your current role isn’t enough to get yourself ready for your “next great career move”. You need to also strategically add and strengthen the skills, competencies and experiences you need to get to the next level.

To be able to do that requires a proactive mindset and a clear vision of where you are heading and what you need to do to get there – i.e. you need a plan that outlines what your long term career goal is and what skills, competencies and experiences you will need to achieve that. Based on this plan you can then take a proactive approach towards how you do your current role and how you develop yourself, both on-the-job and in your own time, ultimately ensuring that you emerge with the skills, competencies and experiences that you need to qualify yourself for that next great career move.

By the way, this advice does not just apply to young professionals. Proactive career management is a must at any stage of your career.

II. Be highly aware

Over the duration of his 30 year career at Spencer Stuart, Chris assessed thousands of successful professionals and counseled many whose career paths had been disrupted or stalled. So he knows a thing or two about what it takes for professionals to get to the next level and what might hold them back.

In view of that Chris Nadherny dedicates one whole chapter to the importance of cultivating awareness, which is an often overlooked but key driver of career success. By this Chris doesn’t just mean that someone needs to be self-aware – i.e. know their own character, strengths and weaknesses, feelings, motives and desires. Self-awareness is important but on its own isn’t enough. You also need to have

  • situational awareness, which is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend what is occurring in your business environment and why and to anticipate what is likely to happen next and what actions need to be taken.

  • organizational awareness, which is a person’s ability to grasp the broader goals and objectives of the company and to understand how she fits into it and what she needs to do to successfully operate in it. This is about having an appreciation for where and how decisions are made, the objectives and motives of others, and who her allies are.

  • feedback awareness, which is the ability to be open to and act on feedback, both formal and informal

  • reputation awareness, which is about knowing how your work product (impact) are perceived by others in the company

Each of these are critical to a person’s career advancement. If absent, careers of even the most functionally talented professionals eventually derail.

III. Set yourself apart

Nadherny implores professionals to think about their set of skills, competencies, experiences and characteristics from a supply & demand perspective  – i.e. to think about their own market positioning. Ideally, to really set yourself apart, you want to have a set of skills, competencies and experiences that are in high-demand but low supply.

Nadherny recommends using a simple 2×2 matrix to plot your various skills, competencies and experiences against supply and demand.

Once done, you can then use this framework to decide what skills, competencies and experiences you need to add or strengthen in order to make yourself more attractive in the job market – i.e. to improve your market positioning.

IV. What makes a great candidate?

As an executive search consultant, Chris has been asked the same question thousands of times: “What makes an executive an attractive candidate for a potential employer?”

So In the fourth chapter of the book Nadherny shares his list of 10 key components (see image). None of the factors are surprising, but it is helpful to see them listed so clearly .

For example, take a moment to re-read your resume and check whether the following factors are well reflected in your resume.

  • Experience: Does it clearly identify that you have the skills, knowledge and experiences to be successful in the role you are applying for – i.e. one resume does not fit all. Rewrite as necessary to highlight those aspects of each of your prior roles and experiences which convey that you have the skills and experiences that are specifically required for

  • Impact: Make sure your resume does not just describe your day to day responsibilities and activities but first and foremost your impact – i.e. mention your achievements explicitly

  • Potential: Promotions while at the same employer reflect that others recognized and valued your potential. So don’t skip over them by just listing your last position. Make a point of communicating your upward mobility over time through the ranks.

10 Key components that determine a candidate’s overall attractiveness to a potential employer*

  1. Experience
  2. The impact you have had through your work (results/achievements)
  3. Your potential as reflected by the pace of your career progress
  4. Stability or tenure with your prior employers
  5. Quality of the organizations/people you have worked with
  6. Presence
  7. Passion
  8. Influence
  9. Intelligence
  10. Reputation

* from The Proactive Executive by Chris Nadherny

  • Reputation : Don’t be shy to list any company awards or other signs of recognition (selection for a high potential track; employee award, etc) which reflect positively on your positive reputation at any of your prior employers

The other components are key things to keep in mind both when interviewing and may also be a useful pointer for what to focus on in your further professional development