Is the Job Proposal Underrated?

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We are living in a difficult economy where opportunities are hard to come by. Not only do you have to do what everyone else is doing, but you have to do a little more to get noticed. Not only that, you have to be persuasive and have a “success story” that sells. If it doesn’t sell, people won’t remember your elevator pitch when looking at a pile of resumes after a career fair. Feeling discouraged? There are other ways to stand out in the competition.

Climbing the Career Leader

When I was in my first few years as a Director of Career Services, I remember observing an area of opportunity when it came to training for the university. Our Director meetings had approximately 50-60 Associate level and Director level attendees trying to learn over the phone how to integrate new systems or adopt best practices on a national call. In fact, all of the training was over the phone on conference calls. I thought to myself, what if there was to be an Associate Dean of Career Services that would handle different regions and would physically travel to coach and observe them? Wouldn’t that be much more useful and valuable? 

When it came to Career Outcomes, achieving 90% Employed-in-Field was no joke. This was very challenging and we could use the assistance. At the time, I was had the number one ranked Career Services Department in the nation. But I had my eyes set on being the Dean of Career Services. Thus, I decided to write my first job proposal. However, I didn’t call it a “Job Proposal” because that’s not what it truly was. It was business proposal for the company, and for me personally and professionally, a “Career Proposition”.
Many innovative companies aren’t afraid to take risks as they want to be leaders in a tough economy. They understand that they must be creative and own a competitive position. As companies grow, additional positions are added, sometimes entirely new. For example, a Chief Diversity Officer is a position that may not have existed in the past and could be the direct result of a job proposal. Sure, I know many of you may be afraid that your job proposal (whether you work for the company or not) may not be accepted. In fact, after writing mine, I wasn’t even sure if I would get a response. 
 However, I did, and I was told: “Hassan, great idea, but we simply don’t have the budget for something like that. Thanks anyway”. As they walked away, they chuckled. This was frustrating to say the least, as I was the only Director who had a place on the Advisory Board and was a member of the Pilot Committee. However, I didn’t let it sway my belief in the value of my proposal. I told myself, “be patient”. It was a “win win” in my eyes and I was going to keep my eyes on the career horizon.
I was confident and knew that I had written a persuasive job proposal. This patience finally paid off. I knew that if I could demonstrate a problem or need, it could lead to a discussion eventually. I was right. Not only was I creating the ideal position for my background, but I was offering value added. Before I knew it, I saw the position posted. Now, granted, I wasn’t given credit for proposing it, I even applied and was a final candidate, but didn’t receive an offer. I was told that I was still a rookie as I was still in my first year and half as a Director of Career Services. Although I had won the Legacy of Service Award, an award typically given to outstanding performers who have been with the university for more than ten years, I still wasn’t perceived as “career ready” for this role. I told myself once again, “be patient”.
I quickly realized that there were different levels of patience, and I convinced myself to stay positive and held on. After all, since I wrote the job description, nobody was going to understand the cost-benefit analysis or scope as well as I could. To my delight, patience was a virtue. Shortly after, I got a call from VP to arrange a call with the new Associate Dean of Career Services to “pick my brain” on best practices and how to turnaround a campus. I was told, “Hassan, you have the reputation for being the turnaround guy”. I said to myself, “thank you” (I think), and took it as a compliment.
Essentially, this was a customized role. So the first thing I explained to the new hire (who landed the job I proposed) that operations will vary depending on location and demographics. There is no one size fits all, especially with technology platforms (career services). If any vendor said they could post jobs and “do it all” (ie mentoring, career outcomes reports, etc), I new that either they were lying, or they didn’t do some of those areas very well at all. 
Macro needs may be obvious, but it’s the micro details that would ultimately make the difference. Since I was familiar with how much the position was budgeted for, as I included this in the proposal, I had an idea of how much wiggle room the new hire had in terms of support, travel and training. Thus, I was direct, showing support and illustrating what I would do if I was in his/her shoes. 
In order to justify the position, I had to encourage the new hire to demonstrate how the position can help and solve some of the underlying issues different locations were facing. For example, conducting a SWOT analysis, plus/delta on events, and focus groups with both staff and students are examples. I found it easy to persuade the new hire to follow my recommended steps of action although I was now speaking to executive management. Reason being, during my career proposition, I was selling myself. I was marketing my career profile for the specific tasks and responsibilities that the new position would entail. Not only is it important to demonstrate the benefit of adding the position, but you have to show that you are the best candidate. For example, qualifying and quantifying your achievements, highlighting your transferable skills and communicating your vision. If you can’t influence the decision makers, who will?
So what’s the overall lesson learned? It’s simple. Don’t be afraid to take risks and be patient. However, think things through. Although your position may not be accepted, it can still impress an employer. If there is no current budget for such a “bridge opportunity”, they may reallocate funds and or draw funds from another area. Your critical thinking skills and ability to assess areas of opportunity while aligning readily applicable solutions is what they really want. Not only may the company still hire you, but they may end up hiring you for an entirely different positions based on your career readiness skills set.
Writing a winning career proposal is not easy, but the payoff can launch your career in a direction it would have never taken. You don’t want to come across overconfident and act as if you know all the hidden issues in an organization. However, you want to offer yourself as the unique solution, providing supporting details as specific as you can, and spell out next steps. Reinforce both the concept and timing of the proposal to optimize your chances of being heard. 
If you are currently employed at the organization, it’s also helpful to include a clear transition plan so that this doesn’t hinder your chances in any way. With any employer negotiation, you must include financial terms such as costs saved as well as time with the new implementation. The proposal shouldn’t be too vague, nor should it be too lengthy, but make sure you are thorough. For example, I not only included succession planning, but I had been focusing on professional development of my staff so they would be ready for additional responsibilities. Timing is critical, consider when the most rational time to champion this is?
Remember, a career proposal is a statement with a goal in mind. Make a strong entrance, meaning, your opening statements are most important. Try anticipating their questions and answer them within your summary. As with thank you letters, make sure you are appreciative that they are taking their time to review this. I can’t emphasize this enough. After all, you don’t want to waste their time and have to make it worthwhile.
In my third year as a Director of Career Services, I was finally asked to step in as the Acting Associate Dean of Career Services and oversee all of the West Coast Operations. Further, I was selected as the Audit Mentor for Canada. This led to being promoted to the most premier location in New York City and I was being considered for several regional and national positions via a catalyst committee. How’s that for a return on investment?
Thus, is the “job proposal” underestimated? Yes, if it is done right! Make things happen! How do you do that, and more importantly, how do know that it’s done right? How do you make it a winning career proposition, based on your compelling career profile? 
It’s all about your story and exposing a problem that with your passion, a passion you’ve mastered, that you can now solve for someone else. You have to show them that you are already successful in the role. Not only that, you have to demonstrate an ability to grow the next generation of leaders, “mentor the mentor.” That’s the secret.
Hassan Akmal is the Inaugural Executive Director of Industry Relations and Career Strategies, Lecturer, Career Mastermind, and Cofounder of the Career Design Lab at Columbia University.

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