In a recent column, I conjured up the vision of an unemployed techie named John. I had him charging up the hill under fire armed with nothing more than a resume and having something less than a fifty-fifty chance of closing with that well-entrenched employer on top.
When a person loses his job, or feels threatened by impending layoffs or outsourcing or shaky economic conditions, the most natural thing is to reach for what is most handy—a resume.
But this impulse to reach for the "equipment" and neglect strategic planning is not going to win the battle. It could even undermine the entire offensive.
Some people don’t feel equal to the responsibilities of strategic planning, yet that doesn’t relieve them of the necessity of taking them on.
To be successful, a campaign must start out with a strategic plan from which tactics (the specific steps for accomplishing that plan) are derived, and logistics (the requirements for equipment and other resources) are determined.
Strategic planning is the sort of thing that generals are trained to do and to achieve long-term work security today, you will have to be your own—both general and foot-soldier at the same time. You will have to think your campaign through and take charge of your own charge!
If you find yourself spending a lot of time doing the equivalent of cleaning your rifle, i.e., writing and refining your resume, it could mean you’re bogged down in the trenches when you should be running the show from headquarters.
Some people don’t feel equal to the responsibilities of strategic planning, yet that doesn’t relieve them of the necessity of taking them on. Not feeling competent in the role of command is one reason why some people remain foot-soldiers, but working the process from the top down—even if it only means finding out what you don’t know—helps discover ways to sharpen your attack.
To guide you in "retraining" yourself not to "fight the last war", I have listed below some indicators of a lack of preparedness in each of these three areas: strategy, tactics, and logistics.
- Lack of clarity about your exact position: this usually shows up as an inability to identify the career patterns that have brought you to where you are right now. You can’t figure out where you’re going unless you can see clearly where you’ve been and how you got where you are now.
- If you’re oblivious to the things you’ve habitually done both to enhance and to retard your forward movement, you won’t be able to draw confidence from your victories or learn from your defeats. Santayana’s famous statement ("Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes") holds true no less for individuals than for nations.
- Unclear objectives: many people set about implementing a marketing campaign to generate job leads before they’ve worked a self-assessment process to identify and prioritize what they really want. I recommend having two or three clearly defined areas of interest that match your values and skills before "taking the field." If you don’t have them you need to do more "scouting".
- Fear of taking charge: you can’t just "follow orders". You have to create your own rules of engagement. The equivalent of sitting in the trenches, i.e. waiting by the phone, isn’t going to work. You have to make it happen.
- Closure: to achieve the mobility "this war" requires, you will have to travel light, which means you can’t carry baggage from the past. "Off-loading" requires time and space to fully experience any loss you may have suffered.
- Camaraderie: in the "last war" it was all about who you knew. In "this war", it’s about how well you know them. If you neglect to build strong, meaningful relationships, your career will suffer. This sort of relationship-building is as different from traditional networking as the "band of brothers" who’ve experienced combat together is from a group of college drinking buddies.
- Camp Boredom: effective generals know that good discipline is just as important between engagements as it is during action. Armies constantly drill to maintain good order and so should you. If you’re having trouble structuring the time you spend on professional development, it’s probably because you are not applying the same business disciplines to them that you would to a work-related project.
- Panic and Desertion: people flee the field because of real or imagined danger and wiith career goals, the root of the fear usually concerns money. Putting temporary financial supports in place can provide the sense of security you need to persevere and win your objective.
- Lack of support: during your "scouting phase" you can probably go it alone, but when you settle into taking decisive action, you’ll need to maintain regular contact with two or three people with whom you can share the gory details of your campaign. It’s also a good idea to keep a journal to check in with yourself regularly, and it doesn’t hurt to have places you can visit for sanctuary and renewal when you need it.
- Poor communications: developing a corps of people you can count on to support your career objectives is only as effective as your communications with them. If you allow yourself to be cut off from your "supply line" you can’t expect to prevail. Maintaining regular contact with key "support personnel" is essential to achieving your career goals.
- Too heavy reliance on a resume: if you’re spending more than 10 to 20% of your time chasing print or electronic job postings, if the main focus of your campaign is moving resumes around like pins on a map, you’re marching across an open field under heavy artillery fire and you aren’t likely to meet your objective.
- Alone at the computer: research is valuable as long as you remember that its purpose is solely to prepare you for a meeting. Nothing happens without a meeting, and when you learn how to fight this war, you will be generating as many of them as you can handle. If you’re not out of your chair and across the table from someone at least three times a week, you’re not fully engaged.