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Originally published Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 10:01 PM

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A to-do list for the CEO of your career

Let's start off with a pop quiz: Who is the CEO of your career? If you answered with any pronoun that is not in the first person, then guess...

Harvard Business Review

Let's start off with a pop quiz: Who is the CEO of your career?

If you answered with any pronoun that is not in the first person, then guess again. I was reminded (once again) of this recently. I spent a day on the Harvard Business School campus, my old stomping grounds, for a bunch of meetings with professors, students, my book editor, etc.

I'm not sure why I'm asked so often for career advice — guess it could be my job title (chief talent officer), or the well-documented ebbs and flows of my own journey. It may also — unfortunately but true — be my membership in the world's too-small-if-you-ask-me club of woman leaders with kids.

Whatever the reason, I get asked about careers often enough that I can now sum up my answer in a single word: options.

This world, and by extension this world of work, is changing quickly and precipitously. One estimate has it that 60 percent of the new jobs created this century will require skills now possessed by a mere 20 percent of workers today.

This means that whatever your specialty, it's at risk of soon becoming outdated if not completely obsolesced.

In this environment, the name of the game is maximizing option value by actively seeking out opportunities — lateral and diagonal moves along with upward movement — that allow you to acquire more skills, experience new experiences, and expand your networks (don't forget that networks flow sideways and down as well as up) to open multiple career paths for you not just now but at every step forward.

Ask yourself what actions you can take to create more alternative futures for yourself — and greater value for your organization?

Tip: Don't forget to include the "value to the organization" side of things since it directly ties back to having more options — the more value you are to your organization, the more options you will have both inside and outside its walls.

A second tactic is to play an active role in directing your own career journey. Take inventory of your skills, experiences and capabilities, valuing their market relevance, and positioning all as a portfolio to create a consistent and compelling impression.

Also, assess how well you are staying on top of your personal brand (as in reputation) and what it says and means to others.

Finally, optimize your career-life fit. Ask yourself what you need — and what trade-offs are you willing to accept — to be fulfilled in your professional, family, community and other personal pursuits.


Yep, this is all a lot of work. It's been hard-wired into our corporate craniums over the past century that success means climbing a ladder toward a set career destination. But because of a host of demographic and marketplace trends, these long-held assumptions simply no longer hold true. Continuing with a hard-coded ladder blueprint is futile.

The corporate lattice is a more agile and fitting model for you to architect a rewarding 21st century career.

More points to ponder:

• If you worry about taking risks and stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone every few years, ask yourself how much riskier it is not to. (The answer is a lot riskier!)

• No matter what life you think you ordered, odds are that you won't get exactly what you imagined. Life throws us all curve balls along the way. The lesson? Go with the flow (of life). Maximize opportunities; don't squander them.

Cathy Benko is vice chairman and chief talent officer at Deloitte and best-selling co-author, with Molly Anderson, of "The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work."

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