Using ‘The Art of War’ For Effective Career Planning

    June 27, 2006

Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” has been profoundly discussed by academics and historians since its publication. It has also been widely used in implementing marketing strategies, in project management, in combat operations, in politics, and in any field that requires strategic planning and implementation.

However, can the centuries-old principles of Sun Tzu be applied to career planning and advancement? Yes, definitely!

Like all aspects of life, career planning requires a good strategy to combat the common pitfalls of job search like stress, rejection, low self-confidence. The fundamental laws and principles detailed in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” can be useful for any career-driven employee or job seeker.

Five Fundamental Laws

There are 5 fundamental laws in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”:

1. The Moral Law

This law was explained by Sun Tzu as that which “causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.”

Blind obedience from a leader’s followers seems to be the grist of this law. When applied against the backdrop of job hunting and career development, however, it changes into something else. What is demanded from a job hunter or an employee is also obedience, but not to another person. Rather this obedience is to one’s belief that by the strength of one’s knowledge and experience, a good employee or a job seeker can achieve career success. In effect, such self-belief unites the individual with the business organization he or she is affiliated with.

Working for a company or looking for a job becomes a project of self-determination with the end-goal of achieving a high-paying position in a prestigious business organization.

2. Heaven

Sun Tzu explained this as the law that “signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.” It is a law of constant opposites: the good and the bad, the pros and the cons. It refers to the constant struggle of many career men and women to balance their work and personal lives without one aspect usurping too much time and energy from the other.

A person who can achieve equilibrium between work and family life experiences less stress. Less stress can contribute to a worker’s higher level of work performance.

3. Earth

This law, according to Sun Tzu, comprises distances, great and small, danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. In a nutshell, it refers to the risks that workers and job seekers may face at present or in the future. Thus employees and job seekers are advised to prepare their minds and bodies by continual participation in trainings and seminars. For technical jobs, the margin of error is decreased. For the rest, the quality of employee performance is maintained.

4. The Commander

The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness. Therefore everyone who aspires to succeed in life and work must practice these virtues, and must be above reproach. A chink in the armor can be the source of defeat for a person who fails to uphold these virtues.

5. Method and Discipline

Method and Discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank of officers, the maintenance of roads for supplies, and the control of army expenses.

These responsibilities are not so different from practicing time management, knowing one’s priorities, maintaining a healthy lifestyle to protect one’s self from sickness, and budgeting one’s expenses so there are enough savings for that Bahamas vacation.Who is your opponent?

“All warfare is based on deception.” This is the underlying principle of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”. Thus, when facing one’s opponent, hiding the truth of one’s condition or intention is always the best way to win. When your opponent is strong, feign weakness. When your opponent advances, feign retreat. When moving against your opponent, appear as if you won’t hurt a fly.

These may all seem mercenary, and would have better served war freaks than peace-loving corporate wage earners. But believe it, ‘deceiving the other side’ might well apply on one’s job. Imagine working for the minimum for a large company with a set of stringent rules on employee performance and evaluation. Wouldn’t it be to your advantage to provide an element of surprise for your superiors and the Human Resources people that you are able to plan and implement a project or some other task effectively? They all would think: Who would have thought…?

Showing off or putting on airs will certainly be drawbacks to that promotion. Some managers might be impressed with all the posing and posturing, but when it comes to employee evaluation, the quality of work that an employee can produce will certainly be more persuasive. It might lead the management to finally give you that raise you have been hoping for, or that promotion you have been hoping to get.

Therefore, in the world of work, it is always their selves that people face as their biggest opponents. How other people perceive you and your capacities as a worker can contribute a lot to how you are valued by your superiors and coworkers.

To beat this “opponent” we can follow Sun Tzu’s Five Fundamental Laws: The Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, The Commander, and Method and Discipline. Anyone who knows these five basic laws will surely have a successful career and a balanced work life.

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Claire Bretana is the webmaster of – the largest minority job search site for African Americans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, women, gays and lesbians, disabled, veterans, and mature workers. Search for jobs and post your resumes at today!