What Do Career Search And March Madness Have in Common?

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS
Another exciting season of NCAA Men’s Basketball is moving in the direction of the playoffs.  Soon there will be words thrown around like March Madness, being invited to The Dance, the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite 8, The Final Four, and Bracketology. I am often struck by the similarities between career search and March Madness and would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject.

No matter what team you choose, it starts with a wide-open playing field and ultimately the teams winnow down to the Final Four semi-finals and then the Monday night championship game. It is a ritual that takes the country by storm, the pre-cursor to the beginning of baseball season! As the mother of a son, sports have played a huge part in my life and the similarities to other aspects of our lives  consistently comes to my attention.

What commonalities do job search and March Madness share and what can we learn from them?  Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that at the very beginning of the college basketball season, there is a very large playing field like in job search. There are anywhere from 64-68 teams that will compete across the Division 1 spectrum and it is a clean slate. Ever so slowly, the teams start to play and the standings emerge. Eventually, in each of the regions, the top team emerges and tries to hold onto its spot for prime seeding. Seeding is a technical term referring to where the team will be placed in the regions of the conference. Better seeded teams get better geographical placement. In job search, candidates start out with a large playing field, which they have to narrow down as they figure out what they want to do and what companies they want to apply to in the hopes of gaining an interview.

A lot of work goes into becoming a top seed.  It is hard, physical and mental work. For the jobseeker, being in career transition is some of the hardest work they will encounter, too. What do the players have to do to make it to New Orleans where the final championship game is held? They must do the same thing that jobseekers have to do to get chosen as the final candidate.

The players need to develop a plan for winning and then work on implementing the game plan.  They have to do research including watching practice films of the opposing team and learning as much as possible about the opposing team, which for the jobseeker would be the company. They must learn how to manage the clock and make sure they use it to their advantage. Jobseekers must manage their time between pouring over the computer, attending networking events, taking classes or other ways they invest in themselves. The players must train themselves to focus on the game and the task at hand with laser beam precision. They need to understand that the game is comprised of both long and short shots. Some teams are masters of the long or three point shot, like the Duke Blue Devils, and use a combination of the two types of shots to garner their success.  In search, jobseekers go for their “reach” companies along with their short shots.

The players know how to play to their strengths as well as the strengths of their teammates. For example, if Austin Rivers is sinking his 3-point shots, you pass to him and he plays to that strength. Players work as part of a team and know that having a great coach can be the difference between victory and defeat. This is also true in the world of career transition. In career transition, your career coach is right there with you every step of the way providing feedback and guidance for your success. They are there in victory as well as defeat, providing the motivation to keep going, helping to modify the plays as the field of play changes. Sometimes, even when they are right, the referees make bad calls and the players have to keep quiet and move on without anything further being done or said. In career search, jobseekers deal with submitting resumes and doing preliminary interviews and have to move on without complaining when things do not work out.  In order to stay motivated, it is important that the players celebrate every success and use visualization techniques to help them see themselves being successful. Like all athletes, these players must draw upon their tenacity and resilience regularly to stay in the game. Giving up is not an option. Perseverance is a mainstay. You lose, you learn and move on to the next game. In search, the jobseeker must learn as he or she goes through the process and move on. At the risk of sounding trite, the only thing constant on the court and in search is change and adaptability. Those players who are able to change as the game and season progresses, are the ones who will be successful at the end. The same applies in job search.

The last part of March Madness includes the “Cinderella” factor. This is where any team on any given day, from out of the blue, can win and upend a team that is on its way to the Final Four!  Take the recent contest when the St. John’s Red Storm beat the number 18 team, Notre Dame. The “Johnnies” as we affectionately call them, took down the team that ended the winning streak of Syracuse, a team that had 17 wins in a row in the Big East conference. This year St. Johns has been struggling and is not playing basketball as in the days of yore under Coach Lou Carnesecca. But out of the blue, they defeated Notre Dame, like a Cinderella fairy tale! Another example would include the ascent of the Butler Bulldogs who came from out of nowhere to end up playing Duke for the championship game in 2010.  Talk about a fairy tale, this was amazing.

The same thing happens in search. There may be a number of candidates who are more qualified than you, but all of the stars align, and you are at the top of your game. Your interview is stellar, the chemistry is great and you are the one they choose!

As always, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  If I can be of help to you, please contact me at lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com

Every Success-

-Linda

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