OVERVIEW OF CAREER PLANS

September 9, 2010 on 1:19 am | In career coaching | No Comments

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.

Honoring Small Dreams

September 2, 2010 on 6:22 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Last week’s post entailed listing 100 dreams.  The large number was meant to encourage you to stretch your mind and your memory to capture all things, big and small, that you wish to accomplish.  This month, pick five of those dreams that are small dreams.  By small dreams, I do not mean insignificant, but rather dreams that can be accomplished with only a small amount of planning or financial commitment.  For example, one of my 100 Dreams is to visit Wave Hill, a garden in the outer boroughs of NYC.  This would be an afternoon’s time and very little money (potentially free since many institutions offer free admission during certain days and times).  Pick five small dreams and do one each week over the next month.  The purpose of this exercise is twofold:

First of all, it will give you a taste of discipline and follow-through, especially if you pace yourself over one month rather than all at once.  The process of following through with small dreams is the same as with big dreams, only on a smaller scale.  If you practice it now, when resources are not committed and the stakes are not high, you have created a fun and rewarding way of learning a critical skill that you need with your big dreams.

Secondly, achieving your small dreams will give you a taste of what is truly meaningful to you.  These are dreams that you have picked for yourself.  Because they are small, they are probably not associated with long-range professional, family or financial gain.  They are likely just satisfying in some personal way to you.  Getting in touch with what is truly meaningful and satisfying to you is another skill that is critical for going after big dreams.  This is why I recommend not picking dreams where there is even a chance you might not follow through.  The impact of this exercise depends on your feeling that satisfaction from YOU making YOUR dreams (albeit the small ones) come true.

Many of my clients are life changers.  Some change careers.  Some change lifestyles.  In all cases, the leap from the original life to the new one seems large.  However, the process is actually made up of small steps, each very doable on its own.  Thus, the leap can be made, not by jumping at all, but rather by staying grounded, as long as you move continually in the right direction.  By honoring your small dreams continually over a set period of time, you practice this small-step progression and you inspire yourself with the satisfaction of fulfilling your own dreams.

The Ultimate To-Do List: 100 Dreams

August 26, 2010 on 6:20 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Some people think of a mission statement as a prose summary of how you want your life and/or career to unfold.  I prefer a checklist approach.  List 100 goals.  If you find this daunting, break it down:

10 professional goals

10 family goals

10 financial goals

10 creative goals

10 places to visit

10 skills to master

10 books to read

10 events to attend

10 subjects to research

10 things you’ve always wanted to do (e.g., bungee jumping).

List everything you want in life, even if you have achieved it already (e.g., college degree).  As you check things off, you’ll be reminded at what an interesting life you have already led.  As you see the things you haven’t gotten to yet, you’ll have the ultimate to-do list.

Love Those Laxatives

August 19, 2010 on 6:19 pm | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

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.

Scaring Yourself INTO Change

August 12, 2010 on 6:17 pm | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

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.

Timing Your Dreams

August 5, 2010 on 6:15 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

It’s been said that you can have it all, just not all at the same time.  This is true for our dreams.  In the April newsletter, you were asked to list 100 dreams.  You probably don’t expect to achieve them all at the same time.  But, have you actually planned out which ones you want now, rather than later?  Revisit your list of 100 dreams and assign a broad timeline for when you want to work on them.

Think in terms of now, soon and into he future.  NOW dreams deserve your attention now.  For example, if one dream is a fulfilling family life, and you currently have small children, then now is a unique and opportune time to work on that particular dream. 

SOON dreams have a two- to five-year time frame, so you might do some planning now, but nothing else day-to-day.  For example, if you want to take an Alaskan cruise within the next five years, you might save money now, but you can wait to plan logistics.

IN THE FUTURE dreams have a longer time horizon.  These are dreams that are meaningful but not time-critical.  You want to have a checklist of these to remember them.  But, don’t fritter away your NOW time thinking, “I’ve always wanted to…plant a garden.”  If planting a garden is a life dream, but not compelling right now, don’t waste time watching gardening shows and dreaming about the possibilities.  Just acknowledge that it’s on the list and that you will get to it when time frees up.

 

Having a broad timeline for your dreams ensures that you don’t feel so overwhelmed by your interests that you end up squandering your energy in too many directions or feel guilty because you’re not getting enough done.  Having a timeline ensures that time-sensitive dreams won’t expire with neglect (as the dream to have children does expire at a certain age!)  Having a timeline acknowledges that all dreams have a rightful place in your life, even if not at this very moment.

The Networking 2×2 Matrix

July 29, 2010 on 6:14 pm | In career coaching | No Comments

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  
 

Relevant

Not Relevant

Willing

I

II

Not Willing

III

IV

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:

Grade school

High school

College

Graduate school

Race/ ethnic community

Social service group

Geographic community

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.

Avoiding the Annoying Trap

July 22, 2010 on 6:10 pm | In career coaching | No Comments

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 Win-Win Solution To Labor Market Chaos

July 15, 2010 on 6:08 pm | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

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.

Surviving A Lengthy Unemployment

July 8, 2010 on 6:07 pm | In career coaching | 2 Comments

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 skillswhether 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.

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