Do Something for your Career Month

I’m officially naming May the “just do something for your career” month. Maybe the message isn’t as compelling as Teacher Appreciation Week or as endearing as Mother’s Day, but still, it may have some redeeming value.

May is the month of renewal, warmth and bloom. If we can apply these tenants to our careers, then maybe we can move ourselves into a new and better place.

Start by rating yourself on a scale of 1-10. What is your current level of satisfaction with your career? 1 is soul crushing, miserable and unbearable. 10 represents bliss, complete fulfillment and overwhelming happiness. Where do you stand?

Once you have your number, write down 5 things you could do to move your number up a notch. Maybe you can talk to your boss about a promotion, have coffee with someone who has a job with your dream employer, or connect with someone new on LinkedIn.

Now here comes the tricky part: do something on your list. I’m just asking for one thing to start. If you want to do all five, please do!

Once you do that one thing on your list, you can officially consider yourself part of the “do something for your career” celebration. Who knows, maybe June will be declared the “do two things” month. By next May maybe your career satisfaction self-rating will be off the charts.

Happy “do something month.”

Make Room for Our Friend Failure

I love this article and have wanted to share it for a long time.

The article is all about the key ingredient to success: failure.

After you read it, you may wonder what it has to do with career development.  To that, I say everything.

Career transitions, job searches, and promotions only occur if you first have a willingness to fail.  But it’s not just about failures.  There is another key word this article uses that I believe is critical: grit.  Grit is the ability to fail, dust yourself off, and try again.

Fulfilling careers don’t come through the blind bureaucracy of the Internet and they don’t fall into our laps.  They come through hustle, discomfort, failure, trying new things, and having some grit to start all over again.

I hear many of my clients say “I’m a terrible networker” or “I hate promoting myself.”  It doesn’t matter.  While I try to reframe my clients’ thinking on these beliefs, I know the reality is this: if you want that job and career, you have to engage in what is most uncomfortable to you.  Take baby steps or big giant leaps, but make sure you try something out of your comfort zone.  If you fail, then pick yourself back up and try again.

Are you ready to take the plunge?  Go try something new right now.  Join a group, sign up for a networking event, call a contact, ask someone for coffee, or sign up for a training course.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  You’ll get a skinned knee and you’ll watch it heal.

Happy failing.

Crisis a la mode

Many of my clients come to me in a state of panic. They are prompted to call me because something has gotten so bad at work that they feel they just can’t take another minute of it. It could be a horrible boss whose negative barrage wears them down. It may be a job that is so mind-numbing it puts their minds into a permanent state of frostbite. Or perhaps they have worked extreme hours year after year at a job that they hate.

There usually isn’t an exact moment they can pinpoint, but they know they need to make a change and they simply cannot wait another minute.

Then something surprising happens. Over our weeks of working together, something normally gives. Their boss lets up a bit, a new and exciting project lands in their lap, or the hours lessen. However, these are usually temporary reprieves that often lead to a negative result.

I know what you’re thinking: how can positive changes at work end up becoming negative? Do I really just want my clients to continue suffering in misery? No; of course I’m happy for their well-deserved mini-vacation. The real problem is that these reprieves make many clients lose their negative motivation. The negative aspects of their jobs and careers were what brought them to me and motivated them to seek a career change. Once the negative is removed, even temporarily, the motivators are gone. I often hear from my clients during these respites, “I don’t know why, but I’ve become complacent.”

So the question then becomes, how do you replace your negative motivators with positive ones? Try to imagine what a truly great job or career would look like. Maybe you’ve even experienced it before. What was that like? Can you imagine your life being better? Capture that image, thought, writing or concept. Now put it in your pocket. I mean, literally, put it in your pocket. When you find yourself feeling complacent again, take it out and read it. Allow it to inspire you. Motivation leads to action, action leads to change, and change leads to improved circumstances and a better quality of life. So get your positive motivation, put it in your pocket, and kick into high gear!

The Old College Try

Has anyone ever told you to give something “the old college try”? What does that even mean? I know the expression is used to ask someone to give it their all or to try their best, but why not give it “the old high school” or “pre-school” try?

Personally, I’m finding some irony in this expression right now. In 2012, 53% of college graduates were unemployed or underemployed. You can give college many tries over but still not land yourself a job after graduating.

We’ve established it is not an ideal time to get out of college and into the job market. So what does this mean? You need to work harder and smarter to get a job and manage your career. By the way, this goes for everyone and not just college graduates.

What does it mean to work harder and smarter? First, get clear about what you are after. If you have clarity of purpose, others will see it. Second, get out and talk to people about your career purpose (and use social media to push the message out). If you don’t share it, no one will know it’s there. Third, shake it up. Try something different in your job search other than online application. Try a new approach. There is always another avenue whether it be interning, volunteering or trying to find a mentor.

The only person who is going to make this happen is you. Keep at it. Although college is not producing the results it used to (guaranteed employment in a field of interest), that does not mean it will not happen. This is where perseverance and grit pay off. If college didn’t give you what you expected, you still need to give it “the old college try.” Keep working at it and you will see results.

How Do You Like Your Spaghetti?

How do you prefer your spaghetti, al dente or well done?  Did you know that spaghetti is done cooking when it sticks to the wall?  Go ahead—throw some and see if my theory is correct.  Okay, now throw 99 more pieces.

This is what we do in a career change or a job search.  We throw 100+ pieces of spaghetti and hope that one sticks.  Throw and fall, throw and fall, and so on, until the one piece actually sticks against that wall.

One job application, one new LinkedIn contact, one informational interview, one email to an HR manager, one networking event, for example, all represent those pieces of spaghetti.  It takes many throws, so keep at it!  You never know which one will be the toss that results in your new job.

When you find yourself feeling like that piece of spaghetti stuck against the wall and you don’t know what to do, find a brainstorming partner.  Ask a friend, trusted colleague or family member to help you generate ideas.  Someone who can act as a neutral and supportive party is best.  No naysayers, lollygaggers, or bloviators allowed.

Don’t forget to stretch and warm up.  Then go ahead: throw—and expect many misses.

Remember, you just need one to stick.

What’s Your Midlife Crisis?

Not too long ago, I was at a kid’s birthday party talking with a dad of another child attending the event.  I mentioned that I had heard his family was moving to Maine.  When I asked what prompted the move, he replied, “A midlife crisis.”

As a person who is fascinated by people and what makes them tick, my curiosity was piqued.  I listened eagerly as he explained that he lived in DC for more than 20 years and was a writer at a high-profile magazine for a very long time.  He has dreamed about moving and doing something different for years.

A coach can never resist asking the “big” questions, so I couldn’t help but blurt out, “What held you back all of those years?”  He explained that he was worried about security; job security, health insurance, stability for his children and supporting his family.

Again, the coach in me had to probe some more.  So I asked him, “What changed your mind?”  He said his wife had told him, “If you want to do this, what are you waiting for?  When will the time be right?”  I thought to myself, how lucky he is to have such a wise woman in his life.

When I saw that dad again, the family had found a house to rent in Maine and he had a new job that completely jazzed him.  He was beaming as he told me the news.

So, my question to you is “When will the time be right to make a career move?”

I say, the time is right now.

Do You Remember the Days Before the Internet?

I do.  It was many eons ago in a land far, far away.  I’m probably revealing my age right now, but I pulled out all of my typed (by electronic typewriter) cover letters and resumes from post-college job applications.  How did I find the jobs to apply for back then?  Did I write each cover letter over and over again by typewriter?  How did I submit resumes before email?

I barely remember the answer to these questions; but as I pondered it, the information came back to me.  Here are the five steps I took.

  1. I went to the public library and used the typewriters or computers (as they became more readily available) to update my resume and cover letter for each job.
  2. I went to the store to buy fancy paper and envelopes.
  3. I travelled to the copy store and copied each version of my resume and cover letter on a copier with my fancy paper.
  4. I went back to the library to type the address on my envelope.
  5. I went home to stuff the envelope, stamp it, and mail it off to the potential employer.

I took 5 long and involved steps to get a resume and cover letter out the door to send to a blind employment opportunity that I found through the newspaper.  That process was about as fruitful as sending in a blind application online today.

Somehow, it felt like the thing I was supposed to do when searching for a job.  How else did one find a job?  When you started out, it probably felt quite similar—whether you used snail mail or the Internet.  The only difference with the Internet is that it only takes 1 step and you don’t need to go anywhere.

My job search formula was 5 steps = much work = no ROI

Today’s common job search formula is 1 easy step = very little work = no ROI

Now take the 5 steps from my younger years and try something else.  Write an email to an old colleague in your field.  Message a LinkedIn contact who knows people in your field of interest.  Find a conference in your field and meet 5 people who might help you find work.  Keep going.

Here’s the new formula: 5 action steps = leads = interviews = jobs

Now I like that formula much better.

Stats Rule

I love statistics. It makes things that feel murky appear tangible.  They provide a foundation for my actions and help me think about things logically.

Here’s a stat for you.  Only 4-10% of job seekers find their job through an online search.

Yes, you read that correctly. Out of every 100 job seekers, only 4 to 10 of you will land jobs through an online application.

Now wait just one minute here.  Am I trying to tell you that those 100+ mind-numbing hours of eye-bleeding Internet searching were in vain?  Well, yes and no.

Your time spent online should give you a sense of what jobs you like and want to pursue. You can also use this information to gather data about the organizations and companies that are hiring and have jobs in your area of interest.

However, you need to make connections through people.  Jobs are won and lost through people and not machines.  So take those next 100 hours, use the data you’ve collected and reach out to as many people as you can through LinkedIn, email, phone, friends or any other means you can think of.

If you are going to do this, spend your time effectively. Don’t bank on being one of the 4-10. Instead, be one of the 90+ people who find their jobs through people.

You never know who is out there waiting to connect you to the next job.