Backward Planning: The Crazy Trick That Can Help You Get the Job You Want

Not long ago, I stumbled onto a cool trick to help you achieve your goals. I’ve been trying it and it works. So, it seems like a good idea to share it.

Here’s how it works:

You want to find an awesome job, right? Where do you start? At the beginning, of course (as we discussed recently). But where do you start your planning? How about at the end!

What? I know. It’s so crazy it just might work.

Researchers from the Peking University HSBC Business School, the Korea University Business School, and the University of Iowa recently released the results of a study in which they compared the results of forwards planning (chronological order) vs forward planning (reverse chronological order) in pursuit of a goal. They found that backward planning not only led to greater motivation, higher goal expectancy, and less time pressure but also resulted in better goal-relevant performance.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, the researchers conducted five studies in which groups of students planned their approach to general school work, unit tests, comprehensive exams, or important job interviews. “Some participants planned their steps in chronological order, while others worked in reverse, planning the steps they would take just before their goal and working backward in time until they reached the step nearest in the future.”

For simple goals with only a couple of steps, there was no difference between forward planning and backward planning. But for complex tasks (like, oh I don’t know, world domination), students working backward had better outcomes.

“This suggests that simply changing the way of constructing plans can produce different outcomes,” Jooyoung Park, assistant professor in the Department of Management at Peking University HSBC Business School and first author on the paper, is quoted as saying.

The researchers could only theorize over why this works, one possible reason being that imagining future achievements as though they were in the past makes it easier to visualize the steps it will take to get there.

This makes so much sense.

Try it.

Start with receiving an offer. What did you do just before that? You went to an interview, or if it’s a senior position, two or three interviews (as those tend to have lengthier interview processes).

But wait! Was there something in between the interview and the offer? Maybe a “thank you” note that you sent the hiring manager? If you got the job, this is a likely scenario, as most hiring managers expect one and view it as an essential part of the hiring process.

So, you got the offer, you sent a thank you note (what did it say?), and you went to the interview. What did they ask you in the interview? Did you have the answers? If you did, you probably prepared them in advance. They also, almost certainly asked you if you had any questions for them. What did you ask them that led to you getting hired? How did you know what to ask?

You probably did your research on the company and the role. Good for you! And so on…

The Association of Psychological Science also says that backwards planning may help forecast success rather than failure. “If one starts at the end goal, the assumption is that efforts were successful to get there, while moving from the present to the future doesn’t necessarily assure success, and forces the goal setter to think through obstacles that might prevent it from happening.”

And, continuing on the study authors’ theme if visualization, this may work because when you are working forwards, there are usually several possible paths you can take; but when working backwards, you’ll find that each outcome was preceded by one action. Rather than choosing between several stories to tell at the interview, or several outfits you might wear – you have to choose which outfit you wore, and which stories you told. And these will usually be the best choices because you have eliminated the clutter from the decision-making process.

At least that’s my theory.

So, next time you get a job interview, try planning backwards, rather than forwards and see if it doesn’t provide a better outcome. At the very least, it will give you a clearer perspective on the essential steps you must take to get what you want.

See also: How to stay motivated when job hunting is brutal and you want to give up and cry

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