The Zig Zag Principle

Zig Zag PrincipleThe Zig Zag Principle / the road to success is never a straight line is a new book by noted business leader Rich Christiansen that I highly recommend. In it he explores the dichotomy of the accepted axiom most Americans were brought up with “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” Being an executive resume writer and career coach I also found that this premise applies to a job search, and even more so for individuals attempting a total career transition.

In the introductory chapter titled ‘Deliberate Detours’ Rich writes, “When I graduated some 20 years ago with my MBA my mindset was the exact opposite… [of what it is today]. I was certain that I could excel in business by sheer force and determination. I truly believed that my success would come by setting my sights on a goal and then going straight for it. With that as my strategy I plowed towards my goals no matter what was in my way. In fact I plowed through things that had no business being plowed through.”

Many job seekers today, in particular individuals who climbed the corporate ladder in their companies, and those accustomed to being recruited for top positions in their field are now finding themselves clueless about how to write a resume and search for a job in this economy. They’re discovering, often the hard way, they can no longer achieve their goals as they did in the past. It would behoove these individuals to understand the Zig Zag Principle.

Here are a few examples.

In the past people were taught to write a straight-forward resume that is a fact sheet describing where you worked and what your job’s duties and responsibilities were at each stop, and then list your skill sets and your education on the resume in that order. Many new job seekers follow this process and this is the same document they send to every employer. They are also accustomed to using a cover letter to explain why they should be considered for the job rather than making the subtle changes to their resume. This straight line tactic in resume writing no longer works.

Today writing a static resume is not enough for many job seekers and you need to learn how to write a core resume and how to creatively Zig Zag with the information to customize it for different jobs. For one employer you need to stress hard skills, for another soft skills, for another your specific industry expertise, and leadership ability must be focused upon for some employers above all else. Most important what you’ve done in the past is less consequential since it is not so different from what your competition has done. Today you need to Zig Zag through the resume and at each stop show not only what you did but how well you did it.

However the Zig Zag Principle is most apropos when talking about what type of job you should be looking for. In the past most people planned their career straight up and avoided detours at all costs. You had a plan of x number of years in this role, then move on to the next role and so on and so forth.

Today this is harder type of progression is harder for many of you to achieve especially as you go up the ladder in terms of experience level and age.

Some of you may have to come to the realization, sooner rather than later, that your career can not go according to plan in this economy. You must learn to accept and embrace the Zig Zag Theory and make it work for you. Some of you may be forced to abandon the dream of moving on to a higher level position even though you are well qualified for the role and the title, prestige, compensation and perks that come along with it and make a lateral move and it may require a cut in pay.

Moreover some of you may have to take a step or even two steps backwards to get yourself back into the game and this Zig Zag is OK as long as you choose your next job wisely.

Worse yet some of you may have to resign yourself to a whole new career or lifestyle in order to get back to work. Much as many of you may not want to, you may have to Zig and bite the bullet and go back to school for additional training (retraining), degrees or certification in order to be competitive in this job market. And some of you may be forced to Zag and consider relocation as the only option to finding gainful employment.

The bottom line is a straight line approach is not the shortest distance between your last job and your next. There are many detours ahead and if you work with a good career coach you can learn how to get around these obstacles without falling into the pitfalls, and how to use these detours to your advantage in finding a job and advancing your career.


Perry Newman, CPC CSMS is a nationally recognized executive resume writer, career coach, AIPC certified recruiter and SMMU certified social media strategist known for his ability to help his clients get results. You can view his sample resumes at, and email him your resume at for FREE resume critique.

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