Career Plan vs. Career Strategy: What’s the Difference?

strategy vs. plan

When it comes to the terms “career plan” versus “career strategy” is there a difference? It depends on who you ask. Some see the plan subservient to the strategy; others (like me) see just the opposite. While to some, it may be a matter of semantics, a career plan in today’s economy and job market is like sailing from Galveston to Tampa using dead reckoning as navigation. You have a plan, you know from standing on the bow of your sailboat in Galveston Bay with a compass, sailing charts, LORAN, and GPS at the ready that Tampa is “out there, a few degrees south of due east.” Well, that kind of planning will get you just beyond the Texas coastline, but even with such great tools, you still have to make adjustments along the way to account for currents, tides, wind, storms, angry white whales, and other navigational obstacles to end up in Tampa and not Havana.

How you account for these weather and navigation challenges is your strategy, and each involves specific tactics to be successful.

where-will-you-be-in-5-yearsNowadays you don’t hear the question: “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” much anymore. That’s an interview question about planning. “Still working” would be an acceptable answer in this job market, but having a plan with well thought out steps along the way for contingencies is, of course, a wise move. I always expected to have a career in the earth sciences when I graduated and worked as a research geological oceanographer for NOAA and then on to Phillips Petroleum as an exploration geologist. But then conditions beyond my control intervened, even with my best laid plans, and I was forced to consider other options when the price for a barrel of oil fell to around $10.00. Time for a complete career change, which took about one year to land that first job in a new career (not my first career change, either).

What are those tangible and intangible qualities that could translate into another career if you were forced into such a situation due to layoffs or the desire to do something else? What skills, knowledge, and expertise (don’t forget “soft” skills) that you now possess can add value to a secondary area of interest should it have to be a primary one? Take inventory now of those tools in the toolbox that can be a lifesaver should the need arise.

Even the best sailboat captain has an orange life vest stowed away down below.

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Want to receive a free copy of my Career Strategy Tip Sheets? You get 5 bundled tip sheets (PDF) for career strategy, cover letters, résumés, job interview, and salary negotiation. Just let me know your thoughts on this or any blog post–or let me know of a career topic you’d like me to discuss from the hiring manager’s perspective.


My name is  Donn LeVie Jr. and I’m a former hiring manager for Fortune 500 companies (Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corporation, and others) and have worked in the federal government (NOAA) and in academia as an adjunct faculty lecturer in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for the University of Houston (Downtown Campus). I am the author of Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), Runner-Up of the 2016 International Book Award for Business: Careers, and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers).  

I lead career strategy seminars (for job seekers and for hiring managers wanting to know how to spot talent) at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations. I also offer a Career Engagement Evaluation subscription program to associations as a member benefit.

Does your conference need a keynote speaker or a professional development seminar for conference attendees? My 2017 engagement calendar is starting to fill up…contact me directly at for more information or use the Contact page on this blog.


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