Pyramid Strategy: Career Planning and Education for Success


Most parents do not start their children’s primary education with goals in mind, with personal objectives. But, when American general public education began to evolve there were underlying objectives associated with its foundation. Horace Mann’s public education philosophies were implemented to a large degree for the purpose of assuring that America’s young citizens of European descent were sufficiently educated to engage in necessary menial tasks, to take care of equipment, and to manage the new manufacturing infrastructure developing across our young America.

Now, with a growing disconnect between employers, and U.S. educational systems (primary through advanced degrees), with a lesser assurance of the value of any certificate or diploma in the marketplace, you must have your own plan. High-quality STEM and technical schools explicitly define their objectives, including certificates, diplomas or degrees you may earn, as well as jobs and markets that their programs serve. You should also be able to determine the effectiveness of these schools regarding their abilities to graduate and place their students into quality work. To the extent possible regarding your interests and options available, make appropriately informed decisions about these schools even at the elementary level. Also look at the details of pathways leading to public servant positions including: fireman, EMS technician, military, law enforcement, border patrol, public education, gas/electric services, water systems maintenance, natural resources management (e.g., forestry, waterways, ports, bays, lakes and oceans care), transportation, infrastructure construction/maintenance (e.g., roads, bridges), medical care, mortuary science (people die), city, regional, state, and national political management. Medical and legal services are not exported. All of these pathways are stable, legitimate career pathways that cannot be exported (although you must watch local governments that may open contract bidding foreign entities, exporting jobs, importing foreign laborers, at our expense). Primary, secondary and high schools often promote higher education (general and specific programs such as the International Baccalaureate HS diploma) without specific post-education targets, and many of the previously listed highly-paid career paths and positions that deserve to be filled by better-trained personnel go unnoticed by students. Fine Arts (FA) and Liberal Arts (LA) colleges and associated programs generally do not attempt to be explicit regarding their ability to successfully train and guide graduating students to success in the market (e.g., recently observed an athlete on Ivy League website who posted a major as “Literature/American Folklore”, anticipated career…). Schools should exist to help with relevant knowledge and skills development and enhancement, and assist you in effective career placement. So, admissions recruiters and department representatives may be slow to respond, vague, and somewhat defensive, from personnel at FA and LA schools. Such is simply a reminder that you should have your own objectives, strategies, and plans before considering the merits of specific colleges and universities.

The Pyramid Strategy

After research, consider the defining the position that would be the top position in the area(s) of expertise in which you are interested. If you have more than one very distinct interest, you need to create a pyramid for each top position.

  • Refer to the desired, top position as Position #1.

  • Then consider: If you were unable to reach position #1, what is/are the next most desired, similar/related position(s) for which your [actual/anticipated] training, experience, and interests would make you most qualified? Refer to that/those position(s) as #2. [Note that the #2 positions (if more than one) should have distinct titles and roles, and your education, training and experience to date should be sufficient at which to compete and excel.]

  • Next, consider level #3. As you descend levels, the position titles, required education, and skills are lesser than those at #1. However, the central position (in a vertical/straight path to #1) should be occupied by a title/job that is/might be considered an earlier phase of a natural progression toward #1. The suggestion is that the central position on row #3 is most consistent with the education and skills required for #1, however, not yet of sufficient experience to reach #2 or #1 at this time. The further you diverge from the middle, vertical path, or the more zigs and zags you make if you choose to proceed toward #1, the longer it takes to advance if you are able. The windows of opportunity, preparedness and resources must all intersect with action, at the right time.

  • Level #4 – level #n. Your personal pyramid may be as many layers deep as is relevant.

Some might ask “Why call it a pyramid, when from your start point you could head anywhere, with any geometric description?” First, the baseline is broadest at the onset, when your interests may be most diverse (even if not detailed well), and time available to allocate is greatest. Second, while factual, the query lacks relevance to your personal objectives. You may know exactly what you want and can point straight upward to the pinnacle of your objective. The presumption is that at the onset, with little commitment to your objective, the base number of possibilities is greatest. But, as choices are made, with investment (time, money, effort), focused learning, practice, and experience, you are increasingly committing to a narrowed pathway, whether you describe it as pyramidal (2D) or inverted conical (3D).

Progressive, adjunct research and strategy evolution is required as you traverse the build-out of levels, alternative positions at each level, and associated training and experience you may need to continue straight upward through to reach level position #1 in your pyramid, as well as for deep and broad complementary development required to cover a reasonable number of peripheral options away from midline at each advancing level. Particularly, if the probability of reaching position #1 is small, acknowledge that collateral/circumferential position options require engagement in relevant education and training, experience, and costs. Although engaging this process is arduous, it is meaningful inasmuch as your primary path of education, physical attributes and skills, experience, resources, persisting interests and other circumstances may not intersect opportunities as you would wish. By strategic planning in this manner you will not be surprised by your eventual position on the pyramid (or inverted cone), having considered what might be the most desirable alternative paths for you prior to proceeding. Of course, your plan can only be as robust as you are mature, your resources sufficient, your counselors/advisers insightful and capable, willing and available to work with you, and you are willing and able to execute and modify the plan over time. Of equal or greater importance is that you also learn to recognize distractions, distracting people, unhealthy behaviors, undesirable beliefs, and messages, no matter the sources, judiciously addressing them so that they do not impede your progress.

Education in the Pyramid Strategy

Consider objectives to accomplish at the following levels: primary, secondary, high school, technical, two-year or four-year college, graduate and professional school, and related post-educational apprenticeships, internships, residencies and fellowship training. All of these systems may not be relevant, strategic components to reach your objective. Where they are applicable, it is important to develop associated skeleton paths and flush out details as soon as you are able. Details for success will include course/training content and strategies for success in each, at every level, as well as consideration of how to respond to suboptimal (even poor) performance or changes in your support resources and personal attitude/interest in relevant materials, at any point in the process. All should be addressed (salvage versus redirect to new objectives) in as timely a manner as is possible. For example, if you see that your objective requires excelling in mathematics including higher level calculus, advanced studies in probability and statistics, as well as learning to code in a number of languages for optimal application as a Data Analyst, but your interest and skills applying some of the high-level course materials are not as they should be, it would be much more ideal to have considered complementary and alternative pathways in advance, avoiding feeling stuck and believing yourself to be a failure. The example also points to the desirability of flushing out primary paths (to level/objective #1) with sufficient lead time and detail, but not with such detail so as to limit actual, interim performance data input, and attitude assessments, accounting for errors in objective and qualitative projections.


Most schools do not promote delivery of market-valuable education. Rather, they sell the “opportunity” for students to develop themselves in robust, information based, culturally enlightened, experience rich environments. As such, increasing numbers of students, even if graduating from high school and college, manage to do so with diverse experiences, but fewer quality job prospects than anticipated. This often occurs because, from the onset of their education, the students, families, market and educational systems fail to plan cooperatively. Generally, the family, friends, and customary support persons do not know to initiate the processes, at other times their efforts are overwhelmed by surrounding, alternative, sometimes adverse influences including the students’ own inertia (resistance to change).

This approach to academic and career planning and high achievement is not applicable only for the young, those early in the process. For the older student, combine your historical formal education, informal/self-taught education and skills, as well as work, volunteer, and other experience, looking at where they meet your present interests. Success, where preparation intersects with opportunity.  Succeed independently or more efficiently, with coaching.

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