How to Make Better Career Decisions and Avoid Setbacks
Nathan Bennett, a management professor at Georgia Tech and co-author of Your Career Game, explains how game theory can help people make better career decisions, give them an edge in today's competitive job market, and how it can help them rebound from--if not avoid--career setbacks such as layoffs.
Tue, May 11, 2010
CIO — When Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles started working on their book, Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals (Stanford University Press 2010), they noticed that the vast majority of career management books offer the same advice: Get to know yourself, what you like and dislike, what you're good at, and find a job that combines those things.
Bennett and Miles also noticed that the career advice that authors and experts dispense today hasn't changed much in 50 years. They found an article published in 1959, for instance, that advised professionals to consider their interests, abilities and personality when matching themselves to jobs. Sound familiar?
Bennett says Your Career Game takes a different approach to career management. Instead of focusing on strengths and weaknesses, Your Career Game aims to help people better plan their careers and make better career decisions using the principles of game theory.
Game theory, explains Bennett, a professor of management at Georgia Tech, is a way to model decision-making when there are interdependant, competing individuals involved in a given decision. It attempts to mathematically represent rational behavior and rational decisions when different people are interacting, he says.
Game theory is popular in politics and has been used to understand terrorism and evolution. Bennett and Miles believe game theory lends itself to career management, even though people involved in career decisions don't always act rationally, because careers can easily be thought of as games—strategic games that have rules and involve multiple players, often with competing interests.
Moreover, in many people's careers, they want to win something—whether a promotion or a position as the CIO of a Fortune 500 company. And as in a strategic game of chess, an individual has to make a series of moves in order to achieve that goal and win his or her career game.
"We see game theory as an opportunity to really reconfigure the way people approach their career decisions," says Bennett. "We think it provides them with a framework that allows them to be more strategic."
Game theory offers its practitioners a series of questions they can ask themselves to model a decision or outcome, whether it relates to someone's career or an election. Because game theory emphasizes thought and logic, it seems suited to the mathematical, analytical minds of IT professionals.
In this Q&A, Bennett explains how game theory can be applied to career management, how it can give job seekers an edge in today's competitive job market, and how it can help professionals rebound from—if not avoid—career setbacks such as layoffs.