The biggest mistake made by a job seeker is to begin without planning their search. Jumping into action without a plan is counting on luck rather than skill. In reality, there is no such thing as luck. A quote sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin and used by many more recent management theorists goes like this: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Regardless of the origin of this modern catchphrase, there is a record from ancient Chinese literature written by Sun Tzu in The Art of War sometime in the sixth century BC. “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Another upsetting reality of a job search is that planning for it is a highly emotional experience. It may be challenging to focus on logic and make decisions without emotional bias. There is a sometimes frustrating sense of urgency to do something immediately, but taking time to see the big picture first gives a better chance for success. Job search reality is war. Sun Tzu’s concept of strategy and tactical moves directly applies.
The difference between strategy and tactics could be said to relate to making long term goals and short term goals. These must dovetail into each other, or the plan makes no sense. Each step along the tactical path has to lead to an overall strategic objective.
- Strategy – A realistic job search begins by formulating a clear picture of precisely what defines success. It may sound intuitive, but it is not as easy as it appears. It is more than a static written goal or a single objective. It requires visionary insight. It is like having a private brainstorming session where everything is possible, and nothing is discarded at first glance. Visualizing the path to an outcome means that you have to actually “see” it in your mind and then “see” an overall way to get there. You must think it, see it, and then do it! Maxwell Maltz penned in his classic self-help book Psycho-Cybernetics that we need to “Study the situation thoroughly, go over in your imagination the various courses of action possible to you and the consequences which can and may follow from each course.” The more practical reason to know the definition of success is the classic adage, “If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t know when you get there.” You also won’t know if you failed. The strategic goal may not be just to find a job but to expand career horizons and go places never before dreamed.
- Tactics – The realistic stair-step tactical approach to the objective must be laid out in a logical progression with measured intermediate milestones scheduled along the way. These measure the small successes that add up to be the attainment of the ultimate goal. The reason to measure and record progress is that the nature of a job search means attacking along one front and then perhaps trying that tactic in another opportunity. There is an infinite number of possible alternatives. It is essential to continuously evaluate the present advantages and disadvantages of the original plan as it relates to each milestone. The tough part is being able to focus on the need for flexibility in response to a changing environment. Anticipating challenges and obstacles should be part of the original plan, but it may become necessary for a revision of the plan. Realistic assessment means that if it is working, enhance it. If it is not working, change it. Holding fast to a losing strategy will never gain ground or advance toward the goal of new employment or other career objectives.
Every step along the way, you will be gathering more knowledge about yourself and the companies that are in your path toward your goal. Sun Tzu also said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” If you know yourself and know the interviewers, relating to them will be a piece of cake.
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