October is Halloween time with spooky costumes, ghosts and witches, and other fearsome things. Career management may instill just as much fear. And like Halloween, where braving your fear and getting out there means you end up with a bag full of treats, so does the proactive career manager benefit when you respond productively to career fears:
Fear of downsizing? Then, find out from your manager how you’re doing. Find out from your department head how your area is doing. Read your company newsletters, annual report and trade magazines to find out how your company and industry are doing.
Fear of being stuck? Then, look at where you add value and make sure your manager knows about it. Sign up for training classes in areas where you’re weak. Sign up for projects in areas where you excel. Book breakfast, lunch or drinks at least once a week with a different person each week to ensure that you maintain your network.
Fear of living hand-to-mouth? Then, focus on getting ahead financially. Save something regularly, even if it’s your spare change that you then deposit at the bank. Sign up for your company’s 401K plan or boost your current contribution. Read a personal finance book or Money magazine or a biography of a person who seems to you to have it all.
No one comes to your house to drop off Halloween candy. No one is going to manage your career. The best way to conquer your career fears is by doing something. In the words of Paul Valery: The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
There is a lot of anxiety on how to make a job the job of your dreams. Entry-level workers want to find the career of their dreams. Experienced professionals want to transition to the career of their dreams. Everyone’s asking: how do I fuel my passion AND get paid for it.
While that is truly the ideal – to earn a living while enriching your life — I think people put too much pressure on themselves to find this ultimate job. People seem to think that every job should, not only sustain their financial and physical needs, but also simultaneously sustain their spiritual, mental, and emotional needs as well.
If you find yourself in a job that doesn’t fuel your passion, that is definitely a sign to consider alternatives. But, don’t beat yourself over the head if you’re just working hard, earning your keep, but still not finding nirvana. Earning a living and actually living can be separate pursuits and should be separate depending on the circumstances. In this chaotic labor market, it is difficult to maintain a current job, much less initiate a career transition. If you have a creative dream (e.g., acting), it might not always be possible to rely on earnings from your art to get the bills paid.
This isn’t to say that you don’t pursue your passions. You just don’t have to do that in the context of every paying job or at least your job right now. This ultimate job is your long-term, not necessarily immediate goal. First, try living outside of how you earn a living. Take a class in something interesting but unrelated to your career. Make seeing your friends a priority. Spend time with yourself – to catch a game, to visit a museum. Once you get going on this small scale, you will be renewed, and it will have an impact on your life and career. These small actions might encourage you to make bigger changes, even a career change. Or, you might realize that the way you earn a living is just fine, and you can just continue living outside of your job.
Most everyone knows (or should know) that networking is THE key to getting a job. Here is a review of the basics:
Try networking everyday. Make small talk with people on the elevator.
Practice OUT LOUD the three critical pieces of your networking introduction: your name; your bio; your goals.
Go from low- to high-risk networking targets. Start talking with people you know, then referrals, and then work your way up to cold calls.
Be creative. Contact industry associations, editors of relevant trade journals, and names you see in relevant articles or conferences.
Remember to GIVE and take. Think about interesting and useful information to give back to your networking contacts. Recommend articles you’ve read. Refer people.
Continue networking even when you do find a job. The best time to network is when you don’t need anything. If you continually make contacts and build relationships, you’ll develop extraordinary people skills, make new friends, and be well-positioned in any market.
It’s the start of the school year. For me (a former college recruiter and a parent), for working parents, for people in academia, the year begins in September. In addition, we’re all refreshed from summer and ready to go. So it’s time for an assessment: How has your career changed since last year? Where do you want to be in September 2011? If you don’t have a career plan in place, then you are choosing to let circumstances dictate your fate. But, if you’d rather choose more money, more growth, more freedom, more security or a combination of the above, then craft a plan now.
If you are happy in your current job, then your career plan may not include any major moves, but should include basic career maintenance. Check in with your manager to outline upcoming assignments and get feedback on developmental areas. Keep networking. Work on your life outside of the job – solid finances, physical fitness, strong relationships, emotional fulfillment.
If you are unhappy in your current job, then plot a career transition plan. This could be changing jobs within the company, looking for a new employer or trying a new career. A new job/ career search can be a full-time job in itself, so be prepared to scale back on other activities while you balance your current job and future job/career search.
If you are unemployed, then you also need a career transition plan, but with different constraints. You may have more time to devote to your search, but you may have more time urgency and less money. This career plan needs to balance traditional job search strategies with strategies for getting through a job loss.
If the entrepreneurial bug has bitten, then you need a business plan. Do you want to build a company or freelance? What kind of company do you build – product or service, small or large, something to keep or a quick sell? Whether you have a job or not, moving into entrepreneurship requires a plan for researching your questions, starting the business, and growing it.
Recently, I met with a top commercial casting director. He gave me a choice of commercial copy for an Italian restaurant or for laxatives. Now, as an Asian-American, I have about as much chance at landing an Italian restaurant commercial as I do at landing the lead in a Roots revival, so that choice would be a waste. But I could be the new laxatives girl, so….
Thankfully, I’ve never had to use laxatives, but then I had no inspiration. I needed to convey that these laxatives were the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the thought of them, well, was just not as great as sliced bread. How did I get through it? Whenever the copy called for me to say the product name, I substituted my baby’s name in my mind, and so I cracked a smile, my body relaxed, and I got a twinkle in my eye at just the right moment. Behold the power of substitution.
Substitution is a technique I encourage my clients to use when going into a situation that might make them freeze and not do their best. The idea is to substitute something that gives you the desired effect for the actual thing that makes you freeze. A business application of this would be at an interview. One client was interviewing at a top consulting firm. She was prepared but would completely fall apart at the start of the case interview. Consulting firms give interviews called “cases” which are business problems the interviewee needs to solve. These cases are similar to research projects, which this client was comfortable with after two years of graduate study. Therefore, I coached her to substitute a professor for the interviewee and a proposed research topic for the case. She still needs to know how to do cases, but the substitution gets her relaxed enough so that the preparation she has done has a chance to show.
If you are in an audition, interview, sales call, or other important event for which you are prepared but during which you might get rattled, consider using substitution. You won’t forget where you actually are. You will still be able to harness the adrenaline and the energy of the moment. You will still need to prepare. However, you will have one technique to keep you grounded if you feel the need. At the very least, you’ll now know how to sell those laxatives.
One of my coaching clients, thinking of switching from acting to accounting (that’s right, acting to accounting, NOT the other way around!) recently asked me how to know for certain when a career change is right. For monumental life changes (as career changes often are) most clients are excited during the self-assessment process, pumped up for the research and planning phase, and then petrified to make the actual leap. To get past this, ask yourself one question:
Which will you regret more: trying a new career and failing miserably; or staying at the current career and never knowing what might have been?
The answer changes over time. When you first consider change, the prospect of failure is often scarier than the prospect of regret. You can improve your readiness with smaller changes – e.g., adding new skills, making contacts in your new field. Keep in mind, though, that being scared off by potential (but by no means guaranteed) failure might indicate this change is not really for you. You might not be willing to expend the effort to make this change a reality, and you might need to go back to the self-assessment stage.
However, as dreams of change keep calling you, the fear of failure wanes. You might be scared, but you consider the change anyway. You might be like my client, looking to others for certainty about something only you can know for sure. For this client, and others getting scared out of making a change, I propose you scare yourself INTO the change. Use the fear – but fear of regret, not failure. Move towards change because of fear – because your fear of regret outweighs your fear of failure.
Remember, you can regain your career, your reputation, and your money after almost any setback, but you cannot ever regain the time you let pass by. Yes, change is scary. But, if you think change is scary, try regret.
Networking is the most effective way to get the job you want, to progress in the career of your dreams, and to maintain your prime position. Most people think of networking as actively seeking out people who are relevant to their current objectives. This should not be your only target population. Rather, consider a 2×2 matrix (calling all consultants!):
|Willing to talk to you||Relevant to your goals|
People focus on “relevant” people who are “willing” to talk (quadrant I). People also target “relevant, unwilling” people (quadrant III) and work at getting them into quadrant I. However, most people forget about those who might not seem “relevant”, but are “willing” (quadrant II). These people are important because they may be more relevant than you initially think (e.g., they may know some “relevant” people). Therefore, this month’s exercise is to focus on people who are accessible to you, but who may not be obvious networking targets.
Family and friends are examples of “willing”, often quadrant II people. But every group to which you have ever belonged is a potential source for quadrant II. Make a list of these groups from past to present:
Race/ ethnic community
Social service group
Special interest and hobbies (e.g., music school, sports teams)
Remember that some groups are very tight-knit and willing to help even a stranger from the same group. For example, one candidate moved from a PhD in biology to a venture capital job, not by networking exclusively with the VC crowd, but by networking extensively with other PhDs in biology who transitioned outside that field. These fellow PhDs knew what this candidate was going through and wanted to help one of their own. One of these PhDs had transitioned into banking. He had some VC contacts, and the rest is history. If this candidate had focused only on who was “relevant”, he may have missed this important contact.
Networking is critical to the jobseeker. Most jobs are filled via referrals, not ads. Getting inside is especially important in a slow economy, when companies cut recruiting costs. Add to this the competitive labor pool and you may be tempted to network too aggressively. You think it shows persistence, ambition, and moxy. However, networking the wrong way can just be annoying. Here are some tips to avoid the annoying trap:
MAKE A REASONABLE CASE FOR WHY YOU ARE NETWORKING. I recruited for a firm that only placed senior strategy consultants. We received countless inquiries from people with no background or interest in consulting. Do your homework, and only approach relevant targets.
IF YOU APPROACH SOMEONE REPEATEDLY, SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENT EACH TIME. Your first approach might be an informational interview. Your second approach might be a personalized thank you for the interview. Your third approach might be an interesting insight about what you discussed. Each time, new information is shared. No approach should just be to check on job openings.
USE THE INFORMATION YOU ARE COLLECTING. In the above example, information gleaned from the first interview is useful at least two more times – for the thank you and for a future insight. It is also useful when networking with other people in the field. You appear knowledgeable about the industry when you share insights from one insider with others.
REMEMBER TO MAINTAIN THE NETWORK. When your search is over, circle back to the people who helped you along the way. Get into the habit of not only calling people for help, but of building genuine relationships.
A Fortune magazine article for a past downturn highlighted the changing scope of layoffs – affecting white-collar, as well as blue-collar; recent graduates, as well as experienced. The downturn is even hitting historically stable jobs, such as banking and consulting. In these precarious times, one might wonder, “Can anyone win in this problematic labor market?”
An indiscriminate market that hits even the safest careers highlights an important and often overlooked point about the choices we make. There is no 100% job security. Every choice carries a risk. If you make a career choice just to mitigate your risk, you could experience a potentially bigger letdown. Let’s say you choose that consulting job, even though your dream is publishing. Because consulting is stable. Because publishing doesn’t pay well. If you’re one of a significant number of recent graduates who got laid off when several big-name firms downsized, you’ve lost out twice: 1) you’ve lost your job; and 2) you’ve compromised your dream for what turns out to be a false sense of security.
A better approach would be to acknowledge that all careers carry potential risks and therefore to take the risk for something you truly want. This approach is a win-win solution. If things work out, you have your dream career. If not, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did your best for what you love. Either way, you’ll have a fabulous time on your journey.
There are special considerations when you are unemployed for more than six months. Your skills and expertise are getting stale. Motivation is waning. Unemployment benefits are running out. Here are some survival tips:
IF YOU FEEL YOU’VE BEEN OUT TOO LONG, remember that, in this difficult market, many qualified candidates share your predicament. Employers will not hold this against you, if you come to interviews with fresh ideas. To keep your knowledge fresh, read trade journals, attend conferences, and keep in touch with your employed peers.
IF YOU THINK YOU’RE NO LONGER COMPETITIVE, improve your skills – whether specific to your job or in general (e.g., computers, marketing, communication skills). Look at libraries, community centers or colleges for free or subsidized classes. Teach yourself through books or online resources.
IF YOU’RE TIRED OF LOOKING, find different ways to keep motivated. Network with jobseekers to share support and ideas. Keep a journal of your progress. Treat yourself after meeting certain targets (e.g., after making five new contacts).
IF YOU’RE LOW ON CASH, keep your financial goals separate from your career goals. While it would be ideal to make money by finding your next full-time job, you don’t want to take whatever comes along just because you need the money. In the immediate term, your financial and career needs are separate. Some ways to make cash: freelancing, temping, selling, babysitting, housecleaning….No job is insignificant if it keeps you in the search long enough to land that next job.