Career Blueprint

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

“The best way to predict the future is to plan it.”
Peter F. Drucker

This is the second article in a three-part series about choosing your career direction, often one of the hardest tasks of adult life. Most of us can work effectively toward our goals, if only we know what they are.

The first article in the series dealt with likes and dislikes. It involved reviewing past jobs in order to predict future satisfiers. The key is to incorporate your likes into the new job, and to eliminate your dislikes. Now to part two: the blueprint.

How Is A Career Like A Custom Home?
Building an ideal career is like building a custom home, one you’ve designed that fits you perfectly. Almost everyone who builds a custom home is wild about it. They love the style, size, layout, and interior finishes.

Likewise, in the perfect career you like everything involved: the company, product line, people, customers, and location. Naturally, this is only an ideal. Few homes or careers achieve 100% perfection. But many are 95%-98% perfect, and that’s much better than a 40% fit. The first and most important step in planning your career is to create a blueprint of what the ideal looks like.

Blueprints, by the way, can and should be changed. A builder of million-dollar custom homes told me, “It’s so much easier to erase a line on a blueprint than it is to jackhammer a concrete wall.” If you don’t want to report to two bosses at the same time, write it into your blueprint, and be reminded to avoid it in your next assignment. That’s so much easier than finding yourself suffering a dual reporting relationship.

The blueprint is your target. It’s a high-resolution digital photo of your perfect work and life situation. You use it at least three ways:

    1. To guide every step of your marketing campaign from branding statements, resume and letter writing, to LinkedIn and social media profiles, to all conversations, interviews and negotiations,
    2. To choose the right offer among several choices, and
    3. To turn down wrong offers.

How Should I Start?
Create a 5-column document or spreadsheet; then fill in the blanks like this:





The Company

Less formal environment of small company

Mammoth bureaucracy

At least 100 employees

Fast Company

The Culture



Innovation and risk-taking are

Fun, casual environment

Highly political

No fun
No humor

Internal chaos

Silly bureaucratic rules

Crisis management



Four ten-hour workdays

The People

Bright, well-educated

High intellect and motivation

Long periods with no customer contact

To depend on others who fail to perform

Ethical people
I can trust

Sense of Humor

Work Tasks
and Functions

Leadership role

Invent the rules as I go

Work with consultants

Supervize staff
of six to eight

Detailed complex problems with no apparent solutions

To become a specialist in a specific discipline

Too narrow a job

M&A job with no direct reports

repetitive tasks

A big impact

An important role

A significant contribution

Exposure to upper management

Promotion opportunity

Delegate execution of details

VP Title

5% Int’l Travel

The Boss







Gives objective feedback on a timely basis


Suburban campus

Downtown or industrial park

D.C. Location within 30-minute commute


Noble Cause

Making a difference




20% International

Weekend Travel

5% International


Work from home
one day per week

Mentor who is father figure

Work 60+ hours
per week ongoing

High degree of freedom


Work from home
one day per week

Mentor who is father figure

Work 60+ hours
per week ongoing

High degree of freedom

The Office

Work at home two days per week


Collegial collaborative team

Bickering among senior managers

Worry about being politically correct

Company where I can say what I mean and not offend everybody in the room

Fun Stuff

Country Club Membership

The $20,934.45 Mac Pro from Apple

Window view of the ocean


Calm, serene environment

Uniform, fair standards

Recognition for
a job well done
Environment supports introversion

Too many people who can torpedo my project

Cold calls or high rejection

Constant deadlines
High pressure
High stress

Quick feedback

High degree of autonomy and control over my projects


$175K base
+stock options

Reduction in pay

To pay for parking

$150K base +bonus +stock

Employment Contract

One Year

Signing bonus

Sabbatical after five years

Expense account


Paid tuition

Four-week vacation


Disability Insurance

$500K Life Insurance

Major Medical Equal to Current Policy

Three-week paid vacation

The words you see above are only examples. Don’t copy them verbatim or use them as a checklist. Search your soul and invent your own phrases. You might even add some new categories down the left side of your chart. Remember, you are writing about your future life, not just your career. So include items to protect your family and personal interests. “Five hours per week for leisure reading” is a valid entry. “Limit work week to 50 hours” is also valid.

As you see, this list is fanciful, not 100% realistic. To say “I want to invent the rules as I go” is a stretch. No job gives 100% freedom to invent one’s own path, not even self-employment. But it’s the concept that’s important. What the author is saying is that she wants more freedom rather than less. And corporations vary widely in their ability to tolerate mavericks. This person may belong in a small, entrepreneurial, free-wheeling company.

Must-haves are very important. They are absolute requirements. While you may give up some of your “wants,” must-haves are essential and cannot be compromised.

Think about column five: “Things that would be FUN, but possibly frivolous.” This is where your creativity should kick in. Don’t let this “Career Decision Matrix” become boring, or one-dimensional. Pick some fun stuff. Go ahead, give yourself a raise, or high-speed Internet access, a screamer-of-a-laptop, a health club membership, a window view of the ocean, or frequent international travel.

It’s important to make every entry specific, not vague. “WANT more time with my children” is not as useful as “WANT 2 hours per week to play softball with teenage son.” “$185,000 per year” is better than “a high salary.” Avoid phrases like, “I DON’T WANT a long commute.” Instead, say “DON’T WANT to drive more than 30 minutes each way.” Think of the Architect and the Custom Home analogy: “Lots of windows,” is much less useful than “four 3×4′ arched windows in the den.”

You’ll notice that some entries are one word, others are lengthy phrases. Be spontaneous. Write whatever comes to mind without judging or second-guessing yourself, even if some entries seem stupid, odd, or inconsistent. Attempt to turn off your self-critic.

This is not a 15-minute project. It’s a refrigerator exercise, one you tape onto the refrigerator and revisit from time to time, over the course of several days or weeks. This process is important because it helps you focus. It gives you direction and clarity. This chart answers the common question, “What do you want to do?”

You can summarize this chart in one or two sentences to get your so-called elevator speech: “I plan to be an executive coach to senior leaders in a doing-good Fortune 150 entertainment company based on the west coast.”

Your blueprint is also important while interviewing, because job opportunities tend to look very different, like apples, oranges, and bananas. That’s what sometimes makes choosing the best of several offers so hard. Accepting one offer and rejecting the rest can be one of the most painful experiences of a career. Because what if you choose wrong?

Use this chart to compare and contrast every potential opportunity and job offer, both inside and outside your present employer. You’ll be surprised how helpful it is. If you use this grid carefully, difficult choices will be easier, and your next job offer could easily be a 95%-98% good fit. After you compete and analyze this grid, and talk it over with your family, friends, and business advisers, go to last exercise in this three-part series.

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