Winning the Race

contributed by Dr Stephen E Bangert, PhD

Just last week I was working out at a health club when I heard the voices of young children. The club does have a child care room but youngsters are not to be in the workout area or the track that circles it. Nonetheless they were and I watched three, I suspect siblings, race around the track. I would guess they stairstepped in ages of seven, five and four. They would line up at an imaginary mark before one would shout “Go!”. The oldest was a girl who would jog slowly, allowing the middle child to run ahead and the youngest to keep pace with her—at least for a little while, and then she would sprint off.

This game replayed itself several times before it got frustrating for the youngest, and soon I heard pleading: “slow down, slow down.” They stopped once again and regrouped only for the same dynamic to play out. This time the frustration and pleading turned to sobbing of: “slow down, slow down.” And yet he did not quit, but keep running, with tear soaked eyes announcing: “I want to win, I want to win!”

It struck me that we all want to win whatever race we are running; we just have to learn how.

When the contest involves a job search, where the stakes are high, it is important to learn all you can long before the interview begins. Such learning and preparation might be compared to an athletic contest.

Throughout the year a coach is looking to recruit new talent; players that possess the skills that complement the team. Most management texts would say the same about the basic responsibilities of any manager. And when the issue is managing your career, it is important to be continually refining and adding to your skill base and experiences.

Athletic contests are generally planned well in advance. They may be scheduled strategically to compensate for or to take advantage of the teams strength at a certain point in the season. An early game with an estimated weaker team may allow for “working out the bugs”, testing the ability of various players, gaining an early victory and building morale. For the job seeker arranging interviews, there is a definite advantage to strategically schedule interviews of lesser importance, or courtesy interviews with friends, in the early stages as a warm up.

Coaches are constantly working with their players to further develop their skills, from a review of the basics to finesse moves. For the job seeker, its important to brush up on one’s interview skills: what do they anticipate and how will they address likely questions and situations.

Scouting is part of most games in life, be it an athletic contest or some other life event. A coach will scout the opponent to know it strengths and weaknesses, what plays they favor and when they are likely to employ various tactics. Scouting also needs to be part of interview preparation. Learn about the organization, the key executives, its products, its competition, market trends and its stated mission. To the extent possible, know what to expect long before the interview.

As the date for an athletic contest approaches coaches are designing strategies and tactics that will lead to victory. They go into the contest with a game plan. No job seeker should be without a game plan. To the extent possible, learn of the company’s agenda, with whom you will be interviewing, what role they play and the likely process they will take you through. Develop a message that you want to weave into your discussions–a message that conveys who you are, what you bring to the table and why they should want to talk with you further. Decide on the information you hope to gather about the position and the company during the interview. And remember that when you are interviewing, you are selling; so decide how you will gain their agreement and support throughout the interview and how you will close.

All serious athletes are focused on the contest, they get into their zone, they develop a presence, have command and express themselves with confidence. The serious job seeker also needs to get into a zone of concentrating on the goal, reviewing the game plan and presenting themself with confidence.

Of course, seldom does an athletic contest go as planned. Things will change and adjustments will need to be made. The same is true of any interview. You plan, you anticipate, yet there is likely to be an unexpected question or situation and you will need to adjust.

Few athletic contests are won without some solid coaching. The coach serves many roles from creating a vision of the future, to strategizing, to planning, to scheduling, to building skills, to motivating, to serving as a sounding board and an objective measurer. When conducting a job search, retaining a coach who can serve in many of the same roles is invaluable. Consider selecting a coach that you can trust, who is experienced, who can help you anticipate likely questions and situations and who can help you design a winning strategy.

So the next time you are looking to win the job search race, learn how the game is played. Then begin developing your skills, design your plan, scout the company and those you will be talking to, anticipate questions and situations and remain flexible. And lastly, give serious thought to retaining a professional career coach.

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