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Successful Master Career Planning


Todd R. C. Neely, C.P.M.
Todd R. C. Neely, C.P.M., President, Business Insurance Group, Chicago, IL 60652, 312-471-2442
David Bomzer
David Bomzer, Manager of Staffing, Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, IL 60064, 708-937-9909
John B. Elson
John B. Elson, President, The Elson Group, Inc., Glenview, IL 60025, 708-486-0500

81st Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1996 - Chicago, IL

Reality Check.
Did you write in your high school year book, "I want to grow up to be a purchasing agent"? Ask yourself, "When did I get into purchasing and why?" Ask yourself, "Am I actively planning my next career move or am I waiting to see what happens?"

A career determines where you'll live, what time you'll wake up, what time you'll get home, what you'll wear and, in part, who you are. A career is a significant cornerstone for health, wealth, and happiness.

As important as a career is, for most people it is not the result of a cogent, well-reasoned plan. The majority sit back, almost as disinterested third parties, and let their careers develop on their own. The reason for the disappointing lack of planning is that most people are "getters". They get an education, they get a job, they get married, they get a house, they get a family, they get taxed, they get taxed again, and they get buried. The few people who consciously shape their futures through deliberate actions on an ongoing basis are usually the ones who are successful, secure, happy and employed.

Our presentation will first give you an overview of how you can successfully manage your worklife so you can take charge of your career. Then, our presentation will show you how to develop a personal Master Career Plan so you can take charge of your future.

Changing Employment Practices. In your grandfather's generation, the average pre-World War II worker had four different employers during his working life. Socioeconomic changes throughout the world combined with burgeoning technology resulted in many companies' lifecycles being shorter than their employees' average 40 year worklife. During this era, the impact of changing jobs was minimal as most jobs were not highly skilled or specialized. Society did not view changing jobs as a negative reflection on the worker.

During the 30 years after WWII, workers like your parents averaged just over two different employers. Lifelong employment with one company was common and therefore judged right and proper, whereas changing jobs was discouraged by society that viewed such action as a sign of instability and disloyalty. It was common for companies during the 1950s to expect to keep, train and nurture an employee for 40 years. Companies viewed employees as assets and treated employees like members of the family.

The "one job, one employer" expectation has all but ended in most occupations. Today, a person entering the workforce can expect to average more than six different employers. Companies today treat employees like expenses, and during hard times expenses are trimmed. Loyalty is a day-to-day commodity. What you did for the company yesterday is not as important as what you will do for it tomorrow.

Employment Outlook. The past decade has been turbulent for many American workers as companies merge and lay off workers; as companies downsize and lay off workers; as companies re-engineer and lay off workers. Most displaced workers expected to quickly find another job and return to work. Unfortunately, many will fail because their skills did not change to meet new job demands.

As US companies continue to downsize, re-engineer, or merge, the good news from the purchasing employee's vantage point is that over the next five years there will be a 0.6% growth in purchasing positions in the US according to Labor Department reports. The bad news for purchasing employees is that while this percentage is positive growth, it will not be enough to incorporate all new purchasing workers entering the job market. Accordingly, a displaced purchasing employee will discover that finding another purchasing job will be difficult.

Today's business climate presents you with an opportunity to distinguish yourself from the majority of workers who are merely worrying or complaining about their employers' actions. You can take charge and meet the challenge headlong. By understanding whom you are, where you are, as well as where you want to go - you can avoid repeating patterns of behavior which dictate that you will be blown by the winds of change.

A Fork In Your Career Path. Change is one of life's constants. In a purchasing agent's career, change can be as minor as qualifying a new vendor or as major as a company reorganization or a promotion. The historical career path for a Purchasing agent has been to become a senior buyer, then a purchasing manager, then a VP. Changes in business however, resulted in the minuscule growth forecasted in the number of purchasing jobs over the next five years. Now is the time that you must answer the difficult but essential questions, "What job do I want to have in one month? One year? Five years?"

Today, businesses are changing hiring and promotion criteria from a job-defined career path to a skill/experience-defined career path. As an example, this new path might be from purchasing agent, to senior buyer, to project manager for an MIS purchasing project, to MIS training manager. Your dilemma is to discover how the newly defined career path will affect you. Your career success depends on your identifying the skills and experiences that you need to progress in your position, win an in-house promotion, make a lateral move, or take a different path.

Skills: Personal; Technical; Functional. Identifying the skills which are required for both your present position and possible future positions is the first step. Skills are divided into three categories - personal, technical, and functional.

Personal skills include:

  • Creativity
  • Introspection
  • Self discipline
  • Role modeling
  • Self affirmation
  • Desire to learn

Technical skills are specific to a given industry and to a job or career within that industry. Technical skills include:

  • Knowledge
  • Techniques
  • Terminology

Functional skills are generic work skills that are necessary in almost every work environment. They include:

  • Budgeting
  • Negotiating
  • Planning
  • Motivating
  • Organizing
  • Scheduling
  • Disciplining
  • Setting standards
  • Conflict resolution

A competent purchasing agent would have strong technical skills. He should have a thorough knowledge of the business as well as the material and services being acquired. His mastery of techniques and terminology might include understanding the computerized purchasing system and his company's Ts&Cs.

A purchasing manager, while needing to having basic technical skills, should also rely more heavily on functional skills such as motivation, prioritizing and budgeting, to perform successfully. His worth to the company increases based on his personal skills, such as creativity used to devise new and more efficient departmental processes.

Skill Set Career Planning. While most workers can identify their logical next position, a person with a career plan will have prepared his strategy several future positions ahead. . The easiest method for Skill Set Career Planning is to identify where you want to be long-term, then plot back to figure out what positions offer the best likelihood to acquire or develop the skills needed in each of the succeeding career slots.

Let's look at an example of Skill Set Career Planning for a purchasing agent who plans to be the VP-Administration in five years. The first step would be to analyze what skills and experience are required to do the VP's job. VP-level technical skills are at a global level, not a specific departmental level. The VP needs to understand how each person and department reporting to him fits into the total operation of the company. His understanding should include what is happening in the industry rather than just what is happening within a department, to give him the "vision" for planning direction and strategy.

After you determine what specific skills will be required, you need to analyze how to best acquire those skills and comparable experience. Skill acquisition can be accomplished through retraining, career change and skills development. After deciding how you will get the needed skills, you can start to map out the individual steps necessary in preparation for each future career stop. For example, if your plan is to move into another department such as transportation, you could begin by negotiating fuel purchases to learn the terminology. Or, if your plan is to become a VP, you might include volunteering to be the project manager of the new computer system implementation. This action would give you both managerial experience, such as setting priorities, meeting goals, motivating teams, and a broader understanding of departments other than purchasing. As a VP, public speaking would be an important skill, so you might include Toastmasters or submitting papers for speaking opportunities at NAPM meetings.

The Manager's Role.
Ongoing changes in personnel development have created a new role for department managers. In the past, a manager controlled his department's employees' professional growth. Successful managers are more frequently taking the role of coach and facilitator of employees' development. A manager first needs to educate his employees about the need to identify their personal skills and plan their own futures. As the employees' interest in expanding available career options develop, the manager can use skill development and acquisition as a motivational tool thus establishing a win-win scenario.

Self-evaluation as a Tool.
The most apparent and yet most difficult component of the career advancement process is self-evaluation. Although many books provide a wide array of self-evaluation exercises, development of self-knowledge is often a confusing and time-intensive process. For this presentation, the focus of self-knowledge should be in the construction of a Master Career Plan (MCP), that is, a basic document that outlines in macro form the major components, objectives, and timeframes associated with your career.

Master Career Plan.
Step 1 VISION STATEMENT. A broad, detailed statement that defines the future goals and aspirations of the individual - including timeframes, company size parameters, specific position title and whether one's current employer can provide this opportunity. For example:

My goal over the next five years is to reach the number one position in purchasing at a manufacturing company with a minimum $100 million in sales. The rationale for my goal is my current position as Senior Purchasing Manager for the X Company, a $75 million producer of flight widgets for the aerospace industry. It is possible that my current company will still be appropriate for me to achieve my vision.

I believe the number one position with a larger company will provide me with:

  • Better training and supervisory opportunities;
  • A more expansive and interesting career;
  • Better long-run compensation;

The ability to deal with more sophisticated information and related systems. Step 2 Describe and support the timeframe. This step carves out the specific macro year-to-year activities necessary for success.

Step 3 Establish the "How". In this step the individual specifies the exact activities that he/she expects to undertake on an annual basis to achieve the desired result. The list may include specific assignments, projects or certifications.

Step 4 Establish a Near-Term Objective. This objective must be reasonable, achievable and realizable within a timeframe of one to two years. This objective may also include any specific prerequisites such as: certification as a CPM, or annual CPE, or multi-level management and technical experience including supervision of several areas simultaneously coupled with advanced computer systems experience.

Pairing the Master Career Plan with an evaluation of strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes (SW/LD) is the next critical component of self-evaluation.

The SW/LD Continuum.
Once a viable MCP is developed, it is necessary to write down many different micro elements which comprise the overall MCP. Committing these elements to writing helps to motivate the individual to take small action steps towards the achievement of the goal. These micro steps encompass a number of different areas necessary for the career searcher to understand.

Identifying one's strengths and weaknesses and melding them with one's likes and dislikes has been shown to be very beneficial for the career searcher. Not only can one achieve greater insight into one's current position, but the exercise provides a straightforward vehicle for comparing one's overall profile with future positions.

The advantage of pairing strengths and weaknesses with likes and dislikes is that it provides for much greater insight into the types of positions that one should pursue. For instance, if one is strong in planning but this is an activity of strong dislike, it would be smart to steer away from positions that have a heavy emphasis in this area. When presented with the SW/LD continuum, most individuals are surprised that they can identify an activity that they dislike but in which they show great strength. This flies in the face of normal logic. However, a good example of this for most people is balancing a checkbook ÷ you may not like it very much but you certainly need to be good at it!

In addition to the continuum, the MCP approach shows individuals how to develop an understanding of their strengths (and weaknesses) to at least three levels of detail. For example, if planning is stated as a strength:
Level 1 - I am good at developing plans for my department.
Level 2 - The plans that I develop for my department are based on a strategic review of our strengths and weaknesses as well as threats and opportunities.
Level 3 - My plans are quantifiable, providing performance guidelines such as supplier quality and delivery, rejection rates, and specific product costs.

Carving out strengths and weaknesses to at least three levels of detail encourages the purchasing professional to identify the skills in which he/she is truly strong/weak and the specific reasons why. This analysis will help in performance development, identifying needed training and matching abilities against future positions either inside or outside one's current company.

The overall MCP approach is advantageous for three main reasons:

  1. It provides a documented vision from which an individual may plan their near-term career.
  2. It offers a technique for comparing the components of one's current position to those of other positions, including future positions. Because the MCP focus is on strengths and weaknesses plus likes and dislikes, the individual increases self-knowledge beyond the mere identification of his/her existing skill set.
  3. Finally, it allows the individual to create graphical views of the self-evaluation components so that each may be QUANTIFIED. MCP is a powerful tool because it minimizes the subjectivity inherent in self-evaluation.

Change is inevitable so you must manage change or it will control you. To effectively control changes affecting your career, you must analyze the skills you will need far down your career path so that you can begin to acquire and develop those skills now. While the future is not predictable, you can shape your destiny using determination, imagination, and a well-organized Master Career Plan.


Elson, John, and Dick Wright. Career Success Workbook. Rolling Meadows: Elson/Wright Associates, 1992.

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