5 Ways Your Career is like Chess

May 2, 2016

by Mark DeVerges

Recently, my wife Jodi and I were playing chess. It was the first time she had ever played, and it had been over a decade since I had. The general rules came back quickly enough, but brought out a lot of good conversation. It was funny trying to explain the rules about why different pieces could go certain ways while others couldn’t move in that same way.

After teaching Jodi how all the different pieces move, we jumped in went at it. A few games into it, we realized that we were playing the game with the wrong goal in mind. Our goal was to eliminate as many of each other’s pieces as we possibly could. We lost sight of the strategy for how to reach the proper end goal of simply getting the other player’s king in checkmate. While clobbering each other was fun, we were each left with a few limited pieces, which made winning more difficult. It’s hard to play when you’re chasing each other around the board with nothing but pawns and kings.

I realized that’s not the way to play chess and that you want to try to win the game in as few moves as possible. It’s harder to win if you eliminate most of your opponent’s pieces because chances are that you’ve also lost a lot of your own pieces. It was pretty futile and as it turns out, and not a lot of fun to play that way.

Unfortunately, a lot of people try to handle their careers the same way I was trying to play chess. They might chase that next shiny object, whatever that may be, in an effort to shortcut their way to a checkmate win. That might sound like fun, but ultimately too many job changes outside of the strategic path will make achieving your next objective that much harder. It’s important to stay focused on your strategy.

Managing your career is like playing chess. Here are five simple ways to help you make the connection and stay focused on winning – the right way.

  1. Be Strategic
  2. Stay Focused
  3. Keep Your Options Open
  4. Know Your Strengths
  5. Rise to the Occasion

Be Strategic

What is your goal? Is it the C-Suite, operations, working from home? Whatever your goals are, you have to be strategic. The king is your career goal. Protect the king at all costs and don’t let anyone take it from you.

In your daily job, every activity you perform is not necessarily a productive activity. If you can advance and win your goals faster in fewer moves, do it. In chess, it’s checkmate. For you, maybe getting into the C-Suite. It’s important to plan ahead. Do this, and you’ll win in your career goals.

Stay Focused

You can anticipate, but not control, what others might do. I can guess what Jodi might do in our game of chess. If she could get my queen, she probably would. What I should focus on is how I can get closer to getting her king in checkmate and not how to get revenge for losing my queen.

According to author and speaker, Billy Cox, “The two things in life you are in total control over are your attitude and your effort.” Follow your strategy, have options, but know that others might make moves that you are affected by unexpectedly. If you focus on your attitude and your effort, what others do or don’t do won’t be able to affect you in a way that will topple all your strategic pieces. You might not always know what will happen in your career, so you need to stay focused.

Keep Your Options Open

In the game of chess, options are everywhere. Making the right move is important to the development of the game. Make moves wisely. It seems so easy once you get the moves down. But those who know the intricacies of chess know how complex it can be. Trying to determine how your opponent will make a counter move is what the game is all about.

In the real world, knowing when to take advantage of opportunities will help you win your own game of career chess. Make career changes wisely. Have a good mentor. Learn from the masters. Often times, people change jobs too soon. Making too many moves can actually hurt your chances to realize your objective. Try to find a trusted advisor or a career counselor. Any good search firm that specializes in any one thing will be able to provide that high level of sought after advice or counsel. They can help you know keep your options open for future moves.

Know Your Strengths

I like knights because they are the most unique. They can make different L-shaped moves that no other piece can do. But, they can sometimes get boxed in. The knight is the only piece that can jump over other men.

It’s important to know your strengths and to play to them. Know your weaknesses, too, but play to your strengths. If you’re good at something, use that to highlight your abilities. Avoid your weakness, but know your weakness. Don’t let your weaknesses box you into a position you don’t really want. Let your strengths navigate your strategies.

Rise to the Occasion

Jodi and I took turns for starting each new game of chess. It’s nice to take turns going first. But once the game was started, waiting around for your turn wasn’t always very fun. It’s hard to be patient. No wonder professional chess players use timers. Being a part of a team is not fun, if you feel others always get to make the first move.

In your career, you must learn to be patient at times. You have to wait your turn. It’s coming, and when it does you want to be in the position to rise to the occasion. You’ll get to where you want to be, so long as you’re strategic about it. That strategy might be to wait for an internal promotion, or the next step might be with a different group. Use your time wisely. While you’re waiting to win the game, use that time to plan your next move. Eventually, you have to make a move – even though it might be uncomfortable. Use the time you have to figure out what you’re going to do. The good thing is that there’s no timer. No constraints on your time, other than your own preconceived limitations. Plan, be strategic, and have fun. Then make your move.

About the Author

Charlie Kimmel

As President and CEO, Charlie has dedicated his 25+ year career to executive search at Kimmel & Associates. Charlie began his career at Kimmel & Associates in 1990 as a Recruiter. In 1993, he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he received a BA in History.

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