03 November 2016

Tips from a corporate headhunter #1: Start with a sound career management strategy


Contrary to common practice, maximising your career potential is not primarily about dusting off your old resume, adding your latest job description, and applying for advertised jobs en masse.

79% of available career advancement opportunities don’t appear on job boards. How do you give yourself a competitive edge in your career, and accelerate your trajectory for lifetime career success?

As a corporate headhunter for more than 20 years, I have witnessed countless talented and capable people miss out on stellar career paths.

They did not realise that by doing something just slightly differently, they could triple the odds of maximising their career advancement throughout their working life. And it is not necessarily about applying for jobs.

If you think of karma as the sum of our actions that decide our future, good or bad, practising Career Karma correctly by taking the right action increases the odds of creating a great future for yourself that others may think is just luck. As you know, luck favours the prepared.

In this series of four blogs, I’d like to map out the ‘something’ that you, too, could do ‘just slightly differently’ to open up more career advancement opportunities for yourself.

Let’s lay the foundation with a solid career management strategy.

Leverage the 3 Ps: Ponder, plan and prepare

Maximising your career success starts with minimising the risk of making wrong career decisions—with the 3 Ps.

I speak from (bitter) experience when I say that most of us in careers generally get buffeted along by fortune; some good, some bad. We don’t plan ahead but tend to react to events when they arise. If you get nothing else from my tips other than being spared the pain of making a poor career decision, then that would be a great return on your investment of time.


The first step of career self-discovery and fulfillment is to STOP and think. Find a quiet place, away from noise and distraction. Take your time to think about what’s really important to you and where you want your career to go.


First, record the answers from the previous step in detail:

  • On one piece of paper, answer the question, ‘What is important to me?’
  • On a separate sheet, answer ‘Where would I like to be in 10 years?’ and ‘What experience or qualifications do I need to get there?’
Second, schedule a regular career-planning day, say on the same day every year, to review your 3 Ps, and plan for contingencies if things do not go as planned, often due to unforeseen circumstances.

Third, create a career file. This is one small piece of groundwork that most of us fail to do. Besides all your academic and career records, this file should also include training certificates, old versions of your resume, employment contracts, performance appraisals, written references, and a history of your job applications. Keep both an electronic version and one consisting of old-fashioned paper.


Bring together the results of your pondering and planning, clarify your roadmap, then prepare to execute your strategy based on the answers you have outlined in the previous stages.

Now that you have done the internal work, turn your attention to the external environment.

Know how the career advancement game works

When embarking on career advancement activities, the average person just adds their latest job to an old resume and start applying for advertised positions, or passively waits to be spotted by recruiters. No prizes for guessing what kind of results most of them they get.

Whether you are passive or active about moving your career along, prepare yourself for your next role you want even if you are not currently looking for a new job. Or better still, let it find you.

The largest source of career advancement opportunities are not advertised jobs, but word-of-mouth from the people you know and connect with—your network.

In addition, there are three other ways to keep your finger on the pulse of your career worth:

  • Maintain ties with recruiters you know, not by asking for a job point blank, but occasionally updating them on your career progress.
  • Help recruiters you don’t know find you easily, by minding your online profile
  • Know what is being advertised, and follow companies of interest to get a bigger picture of their business or staff changes.
In my next blog, we'll zoom in to explore some of these preparation tactics in more detail.

Meanwhile, zoom out to the larger perspective that there's a systematic process for prioritising whom to contact, what to say, and what to do (and not do) which is beyond the scope of this blog series.

While you could read about that detailed process and more in my book Career Karma, you may also find it valuable to learn some of it through our infographic and a free 45-minute webinar I shall present in collaboration with Velpic.

Velpic and I share an interest in empowering more people through education, with knowledge formerly available only to a select few due to cost or other limitations. Velpic's Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) does it by making it easy for trainers to allow people anywhere to watch multimedia lessons on their computers and mobile devices anytime.   

This time, I hope you will join us on our live webinar, where I’ll speak further about how to maximise your career potential.

We welcome you to download the free webinar recording by clicking the image below.

Call-to-action for James Fairbairn webinar - registration > recording > eBook

About James Fairbairn. An executive search, selection and retention expert for over 21 years, the author of ‘Career Karma’ and ‘Resume Karma’, and a sought-after public speaker, James has advised and acted on behalf of ASX 200 corporations, privately-owned family businesses, government trading entities, and not-for-profits to appoint senior professionals and executives in these organisations. In this time, James has read around 50,000 resumes, interviewed at least 5,000 people, and drunk enough coffee to fill Sydney Harbour.


James Fairbairn

James Fairbairn

Partner at Lester Blades - Executive Search, Selection & Retention