Managing Your Career in the Biofuels Industry

By Chris Hillman | May 22, 2007
It's no secret that the well-run companies in the world continually strategize, implement and execute business plans. Their plans are fluid, written on paper, have specific goals and objectives, create direction and purpose, and are shared with others to inspire accountability.

Is your career as well-planned? You expend roughly 80,000 hours of your life at work. Think about the impact both personally and professionally that a well-planned and managed career could have. Imagine the possibilities of having a career strategy with measurable milestones, action items, accountability partners and dreams in place.

› Career management strategies
The best place to start is to take an active inventory assessing your current situation and create a baseline. Then, decide where you want to be, and finally create action steps as to how you will get there.

› Where you are currently
How does your current career meet your goals? Consider finances, location, entrepreneurial, autonomy, work/life, philanthropy, friendship, education, self improvement, esteem, travel, retirement and family.

› Where you want to be
What does your dream career look like? Consider company size, whether it's public or private, geographic location, how you are rewarded and/or recognized, your title, responsibilities, the support structure, the type of people you want on your team, the public view of what you do, social responsibility, the level of interaction with others, how and what you will contribute, a compensation package, stock ownership, days and hours dedicated, paying back what you have learned, and how you feel. Do you want to be part of a co-op, multi-plant corporation, design/build firm, technology firm or a supplier to the biofuels market?

The four basic steps to take into account are: knowing yourself knowing your options, matching them and taking action.

The best career choices are made by pinpointing the intersection of your interests, skills and values. In fact, all career development research points to "interests" as the best indicator of someone's satisfaction in a job. So the theory goes, "If you do work that is interesting to you, you will be satisfied." Do you have a passion for biofuels?

How do you most want to wake up each day? Try drawing a picture of the ideal position: the role, responsibilities, tasks, people and environment. If you know what you want to find, you'll increase your likelihood of finding it.

Who are the sorts of people with whom you want to spend your working time? Determine the ways you enjoy working with people: managing them, helping them, teaching them, writing about them or merely going to lunch with them.

What do you want from your position above and beyond a paycheck: Interesting customers? Challenging projects? Stimulating colleagues? Flex time? Independence and autonomy? Clarifying your work values will help you evaluate how satisfying a particular opportunity will be.

What skills do you have that you enjoy using? If you're like most, you've probably gotten very good at doing things you never chose to do in the first place. Ability has very little to do with enjoyment. Discard the skills you don't enjoy and fill your bag with new, more satisfying ones.

A word of caution: You probably base your current career decisions on the skills you have and what others are willing to pay for them. This decision-making philosophy can trip you up. Most of us have the ability to get good at things for which we have no interest. You become very skilled at things you don't enjoy doing, and unless you've refocused your attention toward more satisfying interests, you're continuing to grow into areas where you don't want to go.

How do you want to spend the remaining time you have in this life?

How You Will Get There
What is your strategic career plan? Consider creating a strategic plan that includes the following:

› Goal setting: Set goals and action steps annually. Review your progress quarterly. Are you achieving something every week or month that gets you closer?

› Reviews: Set up touch points with your boss. Discuss your goal with him or her. Work together on plans and agreements that further your career. Discuss succession planning and exit strategies.

› Fertilize your network: Who do you know? Keep connected with previous employers, employees, customers, vendors and peers. People hire people-not resumes.

› Professional trade associations are also a terrific place to build your network. Join the American Coalition for Ethanol, and attend the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo and the International Distillers Grains Conference.

› Choose your mentors wisely. Select a life and careeradvisor. Consider taking advice from people who "have more" then you do. Take financial advice from people who make more money than you. Take life advice from people who are well-rounded. Take health advice from someone more fit then you. Remember that your life is the average of the five people you associate with most.

› Identify industry professionals. Offer assistance, support and mentorship to business colleagues. Also, nobody has their hands on the pulse of an industry like a good recruiter. Keep your resume updated. Remain open-minded to new ideas and opportunities.

› Always have 10 to 12 industry references who can be called on to confidentially vouch for your integrity, qualifications and abilities.

› Consider continuing education. We are either growing or contracting. Challenge yourself personally and professionally by keeping your skills fresh.

What regrets will you have if you don't explore possibilities for achieving a more satisfying career? How will you feel in five years if you don't achieve your goals? Write a blurb called, "If I Were to Pass on Tomorrow." Then develop an action plan to create the ending you want to achieve.

Have fun. If you expect to find more rewarding and enjoyable career opportunities, then the process of creating it should be enjoyable and rewarding. Enjoy the process, and you will enjoy the end result.

Take total control and responsibility for your future. Find a way or make a way.

Chris Hillman is president of SearchPath International of Chicago. Reach him at or (815) 261-4403, ext. 100.

The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ethanol Producer Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).