Changing Careers: the Process of Reinvention

As the Boomers stroll or hurtle into into the last phase of their working lives, we hear the word “reinvention” a lot.  But reinventing yourself doesn’t only apply to Boomers getting older and running short of time, and it doesn’t only apply to changing your work.  If you have been doing something you weren’t really crazy about, or if there is something you have always wanted to do with your time and talent, or if you have been watching transformational change in your industry, or if you just stumbled over a thing you are really good at and really like, then reinvention is just the ticket.

Well.  Not so much, actually, because it isn’t all that simple.  Reinvention is a quick and easy word for a Big Big Change.  In you.   Even people who like change don’t necessarily like being changed.  We can all support change when change is a theoretical, rhetorical, or political concept that aligns well with what we believe are our values.  Until things you reach for in the dark aren’t where they used to be.  Meaning, what you took for granted was not what you planned to alter.

But even if you are motivated, for example, to simply make a living as a teacher instead of as an accountant, the voice in your head that inspired you to make that change has not actually accounted for a.) stretching actual teacher paychecks from now until retirement, b.) actual student attention span and cooperation, c.) school district (i.e., government) management hierarchy, and d.) the difference between your cubicle or office and your classroom, if you get one.  In other words, have you adequately identified your real desire?  Or, in other other words, have you accurately identified all the things that will have to change, meaning those inside of you, some of which you maybe don’t know about?

Here are just a few of the many things that may have to be reinvented on the way to the new you:

1.  Your budget.  If you are the accountant in the example above, of course you have started by figuring this one out.  But for the rest of you, assume you have to start at the bottom of a new hierarchy, at beginner pay or worse, and that you may have to pay for training or education.  Before you dive into that education expense, at least sample the way the new work works, test your assumptions, spend a day in the life of your aspirational role model, and work out the numbers meticulously.  Cash flow is particularly important.  Selling the house to generate the cash for investing in you is not the worst thing you can do, but it might be close.  Consult a conservative expert and know the downside risk.

2.  Your working conditions.  I don’t necessarily mean the door to your office that closes and locks, or the free coffee you and your colleagues enjoyed, or the deadlines you controlled.  I mean that in some of the common places that people want to go to Be The Change, there are not enough dollars to pay for enough people to do the work.  So you do it.  Until it’s done. I mean that you spend your own money on supplies, that you have to raise money to do the projects you want to do, that your future and your pay are not certain, and that all the skills you have don’t necessarily stretch quite as far as the door to your comfort zone entry hall.

3.  Your patience.  Whatever you have been doing, you have been doing more effectively than the thing you have in mind to replace it.  You have shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that allows you to look back over your history and forgive yourself the occasional slip.  In your new world, Not.  The only way to the other side is going to be through the woods, reinventing shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that permits limited self-indulgence.  Reinvention is also reinvention of the learning process, and many of your new things are going to be really really new, not just to you.

4.  Your relationships.   More listening; more asking; more developing.  Sowing, not harvesting.  Open to feedback and critical examination.  Whatever the motivation to make your change, others will be involved in making you successful.  You have to ask questions and you have to be confident that the assumptions that got you interested are likely not completely valid or even useful.  It’s relationship-building that is the core of successful reinvention; this is not something you can do all by yourself.

5.  Your commitment.  And here’s where this gets tough.  When you are just starting out in your first career or your launch job, or whatever got you where you are, you were younger and maybe a tad more resilient.  Each time we make these big changes, our tolerance for imperfection and inconvenience erodes a little.  And if you have ever hit a big big disappointment, it might erode a lot.  So your commitment has to be crafted, and you have to set your rules for engagement and disengagement intentionally.  You are going to slog through some sadness at the loss of something or things you liked, well before the new things you like present themselves.  You are going to hate some days and be angry with yourself for undertaking this thing.  You are going to be appalled at the real thing hiding behind the thing you were expecting, and turn away shaking your head, unconvinced it will all work out.

It will all work out.

My advice:

Plan exhaustively for the things that matter: like money, relationships with your support system, and sound information about what you are really undertaking, for examples.  Invest in a therapist (a proven professional) before you implement the parts of the plan that require you to sell the house, buy the franchise, head into the desert, join a cult, or sign up for expensive training that requires a big loan.

The process takes as long as it takes, so you need to have checkpoints, benchmarks, safety valves, and contingencies.  Before you stop doing what you have been doing, you must have at least a year and maybe more in reserve funds.  Unless you have been pushed unwillingly into a situation where you have no choice, in which case your plan has to be highly flexible and driven by contingencies and the fundamental law of food and shelter: they come first.

Segue instead of cliff-dive.  If you are an accountant and you want to teach, teach accounting, or even financial management, or even math.   Staying in a subject family makes it easier to exploit one area of expertise while learning a whole new other thing.  As you head for career sunset, you then have a body of work that is more cohesive than choppy.  Choppy is an interesting phenomenon when you see it on a resume, and it’s hard for an employer to entertain.  Continuity, however, is a brand-builder, as it looks more like an intentional progression.

Write your story out as you live it.  This might be journaling, blogging, note-taking, or just memorializing, but it is important.  Your brain is going to be so full of disconnected experiences, emotional reactions, and new information that you will not be able to separate your narrative from your grocery list.  Writing what is happening is a form of planning.  If you are reinventing you, this is the how-to manual that you are creating as you go along.  This might seem like a nice-to-have, but it’s really a must-have.   You have to understand what you are doing as you are doing it, and writing is your best bet for returning to the scene to re-interpret when you need to.

Build strong relationships intentionally.  Even if you find that you have little or nothing in common with your chosen targeted industry colleagues (and that is profoundly unlikely), the process of discovery is most often facilitated by others when we choose to interact.  Even if your process is one of disagreeing with the way things are done and your mission is change, other people are important, and this is a time when you need them.

Just remember, it will all work out.  Once you begin to put a new comfort zone around the new you, you will mostly be where you headed.  But remember–you are expanding who you are, not just redefining your career, and it is worth doing with clear intention and purpose.


Why You Didn’t Get That Job

You were sure you did well in the interviews: you dressed right, talked well, and knew the answers to all the questions.  Your resume, cover letter, and writing sample all looked perfect to you and your advisors.  But when you checked in to find out where you stood in the process, you learned the job had been filled by someone else.  What could have gone wrong?

First, the flaw in your thinking is thinking that anything went wrong.  It may not have been the outcome you wanted or even expected, but it may have been the right thing, for both you and the organization.  You only see the tip of the iceberg–the organization knows much more.  What seems to have gone wrong for you is simply an outcome, a step along the path to the organization’s future.  You may not have been the best candidate for the job.  If you did your best, you did your best.  Sometimes that isn’t enough.  The best candidates may have networked to the interview and position instead of responding to the posting, allowing the hiring manager many more glimpses at their fit.

Second, think about your narrative.  Your narrative is simply your personal story, your truth, your platform.  If you answered all the questions but didn’t reveal enough of your narrative for your interviewers to know who you are and what it would be like to work with you, you concealed that you might be the best candidate for the job and the organization.  It isn’t enough to answer the questions.  You have to generate new questions, ask good questions, and raise important questions.  A robust dialogue that results from a strong and interesting narrative lingers with an interviewer.  If you lurk along the perimeter of a safe version of your narrative, you held back, and that’s not good.  

Third, did you make stuff up?  Now, this is very bad.  And by the way, a talented and experienced interviewer will not let you know that his or her radar is on full alert–quite the contrary, the rope is going to go full out for at least an hour, maybe more.  If you have been scheduled for a half day, you’ll probably go the full half day, and never know that you pretty much blew it in the first hour when you told that tall tale.  If you embellish the truth, you will not be the successful candidate, one way or the other.  The internet being what it is, outright fibs and fabrications get caught very quickly, but more importantly, the aftermath of the interview will raise questions instead of enthusiasm and confidence.  If you aren’t forthright, you aren’t in control of your story and that leaves a murky impression of you.  You look like you take risks at the expense of others.  Not good.

Fourth, you were totally wrong: the answers you thought were right, weren’t.  Because answers are not right or wrong–they are simply revealing, or diagnostic, or supportive of an organization’s growing enthusiasm or concern.  Sometimes, you get called in for that interview just because of one thing on your resume.  Or, that phone screen caught someone on a good day and they were feeling expansive instead of critical.  But when you got to the interview it became apparent that you didn’t have the right stuff.  You weren’t really qualified.

Fifth:  Bad Manners.  Most folks don’t know what they don’t know about etiquette.  Graceless individuals struggle upstream with the burden of un-awareness.  Do you interrupt?  Grab candy from the dish?  Talk too loud or use coarse language?  Wear too much fragrance?  Grab and squeeze a hand instead of shaking it?  You get the picture; only part of an interview is about the content; form and behavior is the rest.  Your personal habits and manners are basic to all performance matters, and if they don’t measure up, an employer will not want to take the risk that they can’t be corrected or improved.  

Last.  You have one chance at references.  If they are marginal, that won’t be good enough.  Your references have to sell you.  Make sure you prime them by calling in advance and laying groundwork for support of your candidacy.

You are unlikely to ever get the precise reason you were not selected for a job,  that means you have to do a lot of guessing, obsessing, and wondering.  Sometimes you can ask, but the answer may not–and should not–satisfy you if you are looking for ways to improve your chances in the future.  If you really liked the people you met, it’s hard not to feel some rejection.  The best thing to do is to debrief yourself on these points and create a (written) list of what you will do or do better, the next time you have an opportunity to interview for a job you think you want.



The Other Bottom Line

In social enterprise planning, we talk about and plan for a second bottom line.  One bottom line refers to financial success, and the second is the measurable social result, the greater good that comes of planning for improvement in the lives we touch with our economic platform.  The economic platform is there to ensure the social purpose is carried out, not to BE the purpose.  The second bottom line is quantifiable—social good is a real thing, and betterment of health, well-being, and learning are among the many reasons a social enterprise is brought to life.

Which brings up an important point, for me.  Doesn’t every enterprise have a second bottom line?  What about the enterprise that is your job?  Or think of your family as an enterprise, as well, with a revenue stream, along with a happiness stream, and a strategic plan.  In my last blog I wrote about not leaving a job just for money.  Truth be told, I don’t really think you should stay in one just for the money either, at least not indefinitely.

It isn’t just that money doesn’t buy happiness.  It is that time and the opportunity cost of using it all up may be a greater—more expensive—consideration than the money and anything else you are getting from your gig.  So that gig you aren’t happy in isn’t necessarily profitable or productive, if you consider what you are relinquishing to sustain it.

That is not to say it’s a good idea to chuck it all without a good plan, or even several good alternative plans.  The strategy question is often asked in business:  “So what do we do with all of these assets, in order to keep pace with a changing world, do what we love with what we have, thrive into the future, and do the world some good at the same time?”  In a social enterprise (which a family unit, or even a single individual with multiple aims, might be), the last question would be a very specific reference to the social mission of the organization, and might have to be answered before the one about the assets.  Enterprise executives know that change is inevitable and sometimes swift but not always; woe be to the stubborn enterprise that denies it (talking to you, Kodak).

So think of the greater good as your own greater good, and the second bottom line as your fulfillment, your growth, and your well-being.  Of course there is a list in here somewhere and it’s probably a list of steps for planning to upgrade your happiness quotient, but first a word about the timing of life and enterprise planning.  Do it while you have assets and resources, including youth, health, a financial cushion (even a little one), an intact family (if that applies), and the will to consider the largest number of alternatives.  Don’t wait until inertia, depression, or fear have taken over, or worse, you have spent your assets on fleeting things to make you feel better about your situation.

On to planning:

1.  Make a comprehensive list of your assets, attributes, and resources, using spreadsheet software and skills to remind you that this isn’t a list of just any old stuff.  These are the very real things you have and can use to help you transition or change, establish a new platform, and to help you see that you are already an enterprise.  We don’t often think of our good health, for example, as an asset, but if you ever lose it you find out how valuable it is.  Similarly, frequent flier miles look so innocuous—but they can be enormously helpful when you need or want to go to trade show to check out the lay of the land, or meet in person with a prospective employer, or trade them in for a computer.

2.  Gather your inner circle, and seek their participation in developing your mission, vision, and values statements to guide your next chapter(s).   Whatever your plan alternatives or your transformation steps, it is good to seek the inclusion of the team—the team can help.  Please include the naysayers along with the cheerleaders; you may find that the very one who fixes you with a quizzical stare has just saved you vast amounts of pain and suffering, and maybe money.  Engage your circle; ask for help.  Thank your circle, but do what you have to do.

3.  Start writing your intentions, affirmations, plans, mental notes, business ideas, budgets, wild notions, dreams, whatever.  I will say it for the millionth time:  It isn’t real if it isn’t written down.  A narrative that lives in your head with all that misery and confusion is not going to thrive for very long, sorry to say.  Once you see it on the page, with notes, adjectives, and some stark clarity it starts to look like it’s earned a place at the table of your inner circle, a slot on your life’s to-do list, and space in your conversations about investment.  Your narrative is important; it becomes how you see yourself and you have to make sure your personal self-talking points are always positive.  You have to mentor yourself.

4.  Sort.  Organize.  SWOT.  Research.  Seek.  Budget.  Learn.  Negotiate.  I don’t put things like this in order, mainly because I’m not very good at order.  (Now there’s negative self-talk for you.) But really, once you start writing all different kinds of things down, you are starting to set up commitments, and pretty much anything can emerge.  Get a copy of The Artist’s Way, the best book in the world, by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan.  Even if you aren’t an artist, the one piece of advice that the author gives, early in the book, is to write for 15 minutes every day, before you start the day, and before you eat, drink you coffee, shower, or fully awaken.  What you write doesn’t matter, but you should do it with pen and paper, not a screen and keyboard.

My friend Janet Conner teaches this in Writing Down Your Soul, her book and workshop series.  From personal experience, I can tell you that it works.  There is something about writing this way that brings you answers.  Just try it.

5.  Develop a set of written values, standards, goals or guiding principles; if there is a special person or a set of special people in your life who are all in this together, do it as a group.  There is no right or wrong here; this is what you live by, you are just making it transparent so that you can’t cut the corner just this once.  This is accountability in action.

A very long time ago, I saw a play in our local theater called The Swan (by Elizabeth Egloff)In this story, a large swan comes crashing through a woman’s front window and takes up residence on her couch after turning into a man.  It’s an absurdist play, so the sky is the limit on what is meant by all the symbolism, some of which was really completely lost on me.  But what I took from it was that that swan-man looked a lot like Awareness; once he’s on your couch and living with you every day, you can’t really deny or simplify the fact of him.  The nurse protagonist was seeking a romantic salvation, a whole, comprehensive solution, but that isn’t how it works.  To change Awareness, you have to slowly change yourself, the way you look at problems, and how you consider all the possibilities in your life.

It was a really good play.


Random Career Rules

Over the years, mentors and friends gave me career advice that I didn’t necessarily heed or even value at the time.  Some of the advice I heard over and over again, like it was conventional wisdom that someone has to tell you or you will just stay in the dark on stuff like this.

So here it is, all of it basically things you want to think about when you are about to do something that looks logical, but maybe isn’t so smart.

1.  Never quit a job because of a boss you don’t like, a bad boss, or  because you think you can do better.  You take the job for the work, the experience, the pay, the benefits, location and so on.  And, you might even accept an offer because you want to learn from a particular individual, or you trust that person’s judgment about your suitability for the job.  But don’t follow or quit people; find solutions to difficult relationships.

And, better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

But ethics matters, criminal matters, or grave danger are possible exceptions.

2.  A job that stops giving you satisfaction never starts giving you adequate satisfaction again.  Those are the jobs you should leave.   If you don’t, you become toxic to those around you and you alter your career trajectory when that happens.

3.  In matters of work, it is never about you.  The company is always more important than an individual, and you matter far less than you should or think you should.  Companies need not be logical.

4.  Yes, if you are a supervisor your staff is talking about you and trying to figure you out.

5.  Never make a job move solely for the money.

6.  Do not leave your platform behind.  For example, if you are an experienced Financial Analyst, and are offered a promotion to Mergers and Acquisitions Valuation team, make sure you are taking financial analysis responsibilities with you.  I think this one speaks to the linear nature of the best kinds of promotions: Go. Up.  Not over or around.  But you have to think about that one.  Better, maybe, make sure you are doing something you are reasonably likely to succeed at, if you are also expected to do some new things, too.

7.  Complaining helps nothing.  Nothing at all.

8.  When interviewing, the first interview is for the company to ask you questions; any questions you ask should simply be polite and warmly perceptive.  The second interview is for you, and the questions you ask may be evaluated, bot  for relevance and your personal style.

9.  Whoever cares the most about an outcome is disadvantaged in negotiations.  Stick with a process for arriving at closure, not a method for getting what you think you want.

10.  Being an achiever is better than being a survivor.  That was the best advice i think I ever got.

Advice: Take it, Leave it, or Just Think About it and Decide Later.

Own Your Story: Three Ideas to Help You Unleash Your Own Story

My friend Jay Delaney knows a lot about storytelling.  I think of Jay as a mentor in some respects, as another thing he does very well is to take a big concept and make it operational; this is something I work hard at doing.  Jay is really good at it.  He asks great questions, like “How do you  see that actually working?”  Which can be a very important question, as you might imagine.

Choosing to own and tell your story is a big step forward for you.  Many people spend more time trying to fit themselves into the story they think others want to hear than crafting their personal story–the one that explains who they are and how they got here, and why it matters..  But Jay has written this amazing post that illustrates how your story fits into your career, and he is permitting me to share it, for which I am grateful.  And here it is:


So the truth is this: we need you. You may not realize it yet, but we do. Yes, you. Just as you are, with all of your scars, war stories, failures, street smarts, lessons, victories, and heart. Nobody has walked the same paths you have walked. Nobody has experienced the same heartaches, the same successes, the same loneliness, or the same connectedness as you.

And while you have been spending so much of your time trying to blend in, trying to be like everybody else, trying to conform to the norm, trying to follow the paths of others, we’ve been here waiting on you. As patiently as possible. But it is time. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. Not after you’ve read those books. Not after you’ve landed that dream job. Not after you’ve developed expertise in some new field. Not after you’ve achieved all you want to achieve. It’s time now. There where you are. Today. In this moment. It’s time for you to stand up and own your story. We’re counting on you.

What does it take to own your story?

It takes a lot of courage.

It takes a lot of faith.

It takes a lot of love.

But your story is what we are interested in, so why hide it from us? Why keep it from the people you come into contact with each day? Why lose sight of who you are? Why not step into it and embrace who you are and the unique story you have already crafted through your decisions and your actions?

Here are three ideas to help kickstart the process of owning your story:

1. Embrace your role as the hero of your own story. When it comes to your life and your story, you are the hero. Heroes rarely have it easy; just think of all the good stories that involve heroes who overcome the obstacles in their path by learning to unleash the power within themselves. To unleash your full potential and achieve the kind of success you desire, you have to take pride in your own story, know who you are, and know how to communicate your story to others. Your story is not just about the successes you have experienced. Your story is about who you are, where you came from, what you value, what motivates you, what you care about, and what failures you have faced. Remember, it’s both the good and the bad that make for an interesting story. And it is often the most painful and darkest moments that provide the greatest lessons and the greatest source of encouragement to others. Embracing your role as the hero of your own story also means taking full ownership of your story. If there is something you don’t like about where you currently are in your life story, then it’s up to you to take responsibility to figure out what to actions you need to take to create the story you want to create with your life. Your greatest artistic creation will be the life that you lead and the legacy that you leave. (And yes, this applies to you, even if you do not consider yourself to be an artist.)

2. Remember that stories are not always linear. When I was in college, nearly 15 years ago now, I developed a list of potential careers. While on one hand, I felt this pressure to choose one and focus on it, the other part of me wanted to be all of these things. That list included things like: filmmaker, chamber of commerce executive, career development coach, city council member, and ambassador. As I reflect back on the past several years of my life, I can see that I have been working my way through this list. In 2008, I premiered a documentary I produced and directed at the SXSW Film Festival. From 2008-2012, I served as the CEO of a neighborhood chamber of commerce in Chicago. And since 2012, I have been working in career development for a law school. I haven’t yet been a city council member or an ambassador, but I still have a lot of life left to live. These experiences certainly did not happen in a linear way, but they are all manifestations of my desire to connect people with each other, with ideas, and with stories that will help us tap into our own creative potential to lead lives of significance. If your path doesn’t follow what others may consider to be a traditional path, don’t let that get you down; realize it’s a strength that you can use to your advantage. You will likely be able to see connections others will not see, and you will likely have valuable insight and perspective from your own mashup of experiences.

3. Know the lessons from your story, and learn from them. This is sometimes easier said than done because we try to do this work in our heads instead of through the written word. How many of us repeat the same patterns again and again? Many of us at times compare ourselves to others, but we forget that everyone is on her own timeframe and his own journey. You have rich experiences in your past that serve as valuable lessons. Do you take time to mine those experiences? Do you take time to reflect on where you have come from, what you have already overcome, and how you have failed along the way? Your secret weapon is to get all of this out of your head and onto paper. There’s a spiritual power in writing things down on paper. One way to learn from your experiences is to sit down and develop a list of 5-10 stories from your past that stand out to you as meaningful or significant. Failures, successes, and transitions are often good places to start the search for these stories. Once you have developed a written list of stories, then write at the top of a new sheet of paper, “What did I learn from experience X?” Fill up at least one page with freewriting for each story and see what lessons emerge. Then, it’s up to you to do the heavy lifting of altering your actions based on the insights you discover from this process. Commit to making one small change at a time instead of getting overwhelmed by making big, massive changes in one fell swoop.

We’re ready for you to step into your story and own it. What are you waiting for?

Odds and Ends: Ten Things Not on Your Radar

These things have come up lately. . . .

1.  Wash your car and keep the interior neat and clean.  If someone walks you to your car after the event, asks you to drive them to the meeting, or just sees the diet cola cans spilling out when you open the door, you will wish you had.  Fill your gas tank at the halfway mark.

2.  When you reference current events, reporting that you heard it on NPR, Fox News, or The Daily Show kind of gives away your political orientation, or so others will think.  Whether that leap to a conclusion or stereotype is fair, accurate, or neither, or you don’t care, just keep it in mind.

3.  You do not have to participate in Social Media at all.  However, if you do, you should keep any account you have up to date.  Especially LinkedIn.  Sketchy profiles make you look administratively kind of careless and unkempt.  As my friend and valued advisor Rick Fernandez would say, you need to think about what you want, hatch a plan, and then you need to follow it.  That’s all.

4.  Curate your social media postings to conform to your brand.  I am amazed at how many cat lovers populate my FB Friends.  I’m also surprised (and delighted) at how few of my friends post stuff that gets others all riled up in the comments section.  Having said that, I now remember that I actually curated my list of friends.  You can do that too.

5.  Think ahead to when you might someday be contacted by a reporter to answer some questions.  What is your personal policy, and have you thought of a plan for collecting your thoughts?  Of course, you know never to spontaneously answer anything in front of a camera or anyone holding a microphone.  And if you choose to speak at all, on the record, do so by appointment.

6.  Keep an emergency kit in your automobile, in the event that you need deodorant, a change of shoes, a wear-anywhere outfit (for women, a black top and black pants with black shoes and a string of pearls, for men a navy sports jacket and grey slacks), breath mints, money. . . you get the idea.  If you are a train or bus commuter, keep these things in your office.  Especially the change of shoes.

7.  Know your tells.  If you turn pink when irritated or confused, know that you do.  If your throat closes when you are upset, if your eyes narrow when you are skeptical of the news you are hearing, if you sneeze or cough when you are nervous:  acknowledge to yourself that you do these things.   If you get animated after copious amounts of caffeine, if you yawn a lot when bored or restless, if you talk too much, too loud, too shrilly when under pressure, you need to be aware that these things are controllable.  But first you have to know you do them, and want to get them under your control.

8.  Learn to gauge how much information is too much for the occasion.  Sometimes it’s better to not say everything that’s on your mind or even in your notes, because the occasion calls for strategic restraint.

9.  Keep your office or cubicle clean and fairly tidy, but not immaculate or spotless.  But limit the amount of personal junk and memorabilia you display.  It isn’t your home.  Also, think about what you want to display, as it tells your story; edit.

10.  Think about who can hear you,  whenever you are talking on your phone or with another person or group in conversation.  Ask yourself if you would be so open, vocal, or loud if you knew your future employer’s chief executive was in the vicinity.

The point of most of these has to do with advance planning or just thinking ahead.  Having choices is important; knowing that you are flexible can give you both confidence and allow you to take advantage of opportunities when opportunities come your way.



The Basics

I have been whispering about jobs and careers for a very long time, and publishing this little blog for almost five years. This month, it’s Back to Basics.  Here are ten fundamental principles that are worth repeating every once in a while:

1.  One size does not fit all; that is, career advice is not universal. It differs depending on markets, professions, individual competency, life strategy, and so many other things. It isn’t a good idea to automatically accept a Truth you read about on the Internet or in your morning paper.

2.  Make a plan, and write it down.  It isn’t real if it isn’t written down.  Plans need action items, goals, timelines, and key players, among other things, to create energy and make them real. One reason it’s hard to document your intentions is that you have to face reality; you are probably missing some connections, logic, clarity, or courage and when you write out the plan, you can see what isn’t there as well as what is.  Realization is a good thing.  Part of the process is affirming what you are going to do about that.

3.  Know yourself and trust yourself; you are who you are.  You should try to be the best you, and you may want to change what you can change for the better, but you should not try to be, or pretend to be, anyone else in order to qualify for a job.  First, it is more apparent than you think it is, and makes people uncomfortable and distrustful of you.  Second, if by some chance you are temporarily successful, you will be miserable faking your enthusiasm and comfort in what will probably be a very awkward fit.

4.  Pace yourself.  The point of a process is to do things in a logical order, making sure that each step is correctly undertaken and puts you in a favorable light with assorted stakeholders and decision-makers.  For example, a connection to a possible opportunity begins with an inquiry, not a request for a job, a cover letter seeks a meeting, not a job, and an interview inherently is a conversation, in which each party is trying to determine if further discussion is warranted.   And, if you don’t pace yourself, you will feel rejected, when in fact your timing is simply off. They are two very different things.

5.  Choose confidantes and advisors carefully, and do not share your feelings and fears outside your innermost inside circle.  If you take advice from someone who does not have your own interest as motivation to help you, know why they want to help.  Validate specific advice.  Don’t share secrets.

6.  Try new things in order to gain new skills and acquire new competencies, but don’t try things out for the first time on the biggest or best opportunities.  Practice is important; you have to get your stupid out—that means being clumsy once or twice in order to learn what clumsy feels like, why it feels that way, and what it would look and feel like if you did it better.

7.   Manage your behavior well.  Lose the drama. Keep your temper.  Thank people often. Return favors. Pay it forward. Be nice. Watch your tone.  Don’t fuss. Stay calm, even when no one else is calm.  But don’t overdo, oversell, overcompensate, or overwork.  Balance is really important.

8.  Get good at administration.  That means keep your life and affairs in very good order.  If I asked you when was the last time you changed the oil in your car, would you know the answer?  The amount of the last check you wrote?  Do you know the balance in your savings account?  The date of your next dentist appointment?  Resources are finite, you have to replace what you use up, and it’s really important to know what you have and what you need.

9.  Give priority to relationships; people and their values matter. Some people value your respect, others value your kindness.  Know who is who in your life, and what matters to them. Remember birthdays, or write them down. You build relationships by being accessible, taking some risk when you reach out, and trusting that your intentions are worthy.

10.  Build and carefully and deliberately maintain a reputation for something that others value.  That’s not just doing a thing well, or making a bold mark, but ensuring that you are very consistent: if you are in your groove, there is an outcome or a feature to what you are doing that will benefit the greater good.  You want others to remember you, to think of your name when the subject of your specialty arises.

That’s how careers happen and how careers are made.

It doesn’t take that much discipline, but it does take a dedication of your time and it does require conscious decision-making to turn toward production and away from dreaming.



When It Doesn’t Go According to Plan

My friend Jay Delaney and I worked together when he lived and worked here in Florida, not that long ago.  He always has the best way of looking at plans, one of my favorite subjects.  Jay points out that improvisation, and the ability to creatively deploy whatever you have at hand, whatever is right in front of you, is key to creating your map.  And that is the name of Jay’s blog:  Create the Map.  Here is a Guest Post by Jay, generously loaned from the wonderful Create the Map:

What do you do when you’ve spent all that time crafting the perfect plan, and it just doesn’t go according to plan? It rains.  You run out of money.  You get fired from a job.  People are unenthused about your brilliant idea.  Do you give up?  Abort the mission?

No.  You adjust, and you keep moving forward.

I’ve learned that one of the greatest skills in any creative endeavor or in any job is this: the ability to improvise. I once took an improv class, and the fundamental rule I learned is that you must always say yes to whatever scenario, line, or cue you’re given.  If your improv partner asks if you want to hitchhike your way to Albuquerque, you better get that thumb up in the air.  Each yes propels the scene onward; a no would bring it to an abrupt halt.  And I’ll admit, I’m not so sure that kind of improv was my forte, but I’ve definitely developed an ability to improvise in my work and in my creative life.

The beauty of improvising is that it’s empowering. It invites you to use your creative energy to troubleshoot whatever comes along.  And it’s a powerful tool to tame the perfectionist within.  When you map out a path expecting that it won’t go quite according to plan and expecting that you’ll have to improvise at some point, it makes it less catastrophic when challenges arise.  You begin to realize you don’t have to have every single contingency accounted for.  I’m not suggesting you become pessimistic and assume that the worst will always happen. I’m just suggesting that you expect to rock your improv skills. And I’m suggesting that you be open to the surprises that await you and see them as opportunities instead of burdens.

There is such a thing as too much planning. I’m an advocate for planning and goal-setting, but too much of it can be a bad thing.  Preparation can become an excuse to keep you in the safe zone.  To keep you in the purely conceptual realm.  To keep you from taking action.  Sometimes you have to accept that it’s time to stop planning and start doing.  Sometimes you have to just take the plunge and learn as you go. The best advice I ever got for making a movie was to pick a date to start shooting and just do it.  That’s what I did when I made my documentary.  I knew I’d never feel completely ready to start shooting, but I picked a date and I got started.  Stop just dreaming about what you want and start doing the hard work and heavy lifting needed to make it actually happen.

You don’t have to have everything figured out from the get-go. You can adjust.  You can edit.  You can revise.  You can learn as you go.  Sometimes I have a hard time with this.  I’ve also learned that a certain amount of naiveté in any endeavor can be a true advantage.  You don’t know what you don’t know, and that can save you from analysis paralysis.  If something is new to you, use the naiveté to your advantage.  If something is not new for you, then by all means don’t sit back and analyze it to death.  You won’t ever be able to anticipate all the twists and turns that will come your way until you dive in and get started.

Don’t wait for the perfect plan or the perfect time to get started. It won’t ever come.  And if you sit around and wait too long, the inspiration may vanish.  If you’re inspired to do something, to create something, to make something, then take action.  Now.  Right now.  (You have permission stop reading now and start doing.)

Action breeds inspiration, not the other way around. I’m a firm believer in this.  I’ve learned it from experience.  I know some people sit around waiting until inspiration strikes or until motivation hits them like some thunderbolt.  It’s when we take action and have our wheels in motion that we open ourselves to new opportunities, new adventures, new lessons, and new insights.

Create the Map is not about planning each and every step of the journey before you’re even out of the gate. It’s about creating your own unique path each step of the way, as you’re traveling.  It’s about learning as you go.  Creating the map each day of your life as you live it.  Learning by doing.  Learning by listening.  Learning by taking action on what matters to you.  Now.


Fitting In: Going Out of Market

I am originally from Pittsburgh, though it’s harder for new friends to detect that than it used to be.  I left Pittsburgh many years ago to take a great job in . . . Kansas.   The job was headquartered in Topeka, but involved so much travel that I don’t think I noticed anything but the weather when I landed at KCI from time to time. But when I moved to Atlanta and subsequently found myself job hunting again, I truly began to understand the impact of regional customs and cultural differences on a career and a job search. 

Some places are easier to access than others.  Some places are harder to understand; they look friendly and open but aren’t, in the end.  For what it’s worth, not even the natives realize the nuances that define the day to day functioning of community networks and relationships as they affect newcomers or those who want to be newcomers to that job market. 

If you want to move your job search to a city or town where you haven’t lived and worked, your first and best bet is to try to focus on a place where you have family, friends, or any kind of network or foothold.  These are significant advantages, and you will be competing with people who have them.  Referrals, support, answers to questions, ideas, and opinions are all genuinely helpful.  If you don’t have that network, this will be a climb, but it may be worth it.  So try.

1.  Be ready with answers to “why and how” questions; your first test for an out of town job will very likely be a sudden and unexpected phone screen (mainly because you are going to send a lot of resumes in response to postings, even if I tell you that is not the best way to do this.).  When I make those calls, I get this a lot: “I’ve always wanted to live in Florida, and when I saw your job listing, I knew it was my chance.” In less than a minute, I know this applicant has no idea where in Florida the job is, how much it costs to live there, what characterizes this community, or how they would make the move.  You can’t fake research, or the answer to “How much time have you spent here?”  “Why Birmingham?” or “What is it about Cleveland that appeals to you?” 

2.  Plan your detailed adjustment to this new community ahead of time and based on the assumption you will get the job you want, because doing so will make you look well-prepared.  You will get questions about things like that.

There are places that are harder to adjust to than others, and talent managers and recruiters know that.  I flunked an in-person interview for a great job in Manhattan when I couldn’t answer basic questions about public transportation or plans for housing.  In my head, job first, worry about the rest later, but a talent manager in New York knows that newbies to that lifestyle have a very high failure rate.  No one wants to be your first NY employer.  

3.  Read the local papers, blogs, gossip columns, sports chatter, and learn about the neighborhoods, prices, traffic problems, cultural icons, political challenges, and other important stuff about the community.  Know the name of the mayor, for heaven’s sake.  If there are sports franchises, how are they doing this year?  What are the hot buttons in this city or town?  What are the big charitable causes?  Where will you volunteer, and what do you bring that makes you a good prospect? 

You want to look and sound like you really want to be a part of the bigger picture, not just the latest incumbent passing through this job.  If you get the job, you get to be a part of the lives of the folks you will be working with—so what do people who live here do?  Do that . . . 

4.  Spend actual time where you want to live.  Go there; endure the worst and enjoy the best. Talk to the locals and find out how they speak—and what they talk about.  At least in your interview you will be able to say that you did that, and that you connected with folks.  When I interview, there is a vast gulf between someone who is sitting in front of me asking good questions, and someone who is describing to me the great conversations they had in order to get a variety of viewpoints and answers they wanted.  Vast.  

5.  Interviews are not the same in Miami as they are in Arkansas.  Even though you may be asked a few of the same-ish questions, people experience and interpret word choice, language, cadence, emphasis, volume, and facial expressions differently based on what they are used to.  

I speak more softly and slowly than I used to when I lived and worked up North, but I haven’t been able to lose my animation.  I think I have learned to simplify my vocabulary and say fewer words.  And I think this is because once I left Pennsylvania, I experienced myself as too loud, fast, and wordy for the room—I looked at the other people I was with and they were more measured in all things, and I thought they seemed a lot less impulsive.   When I go back, it’s a little jarring to interact; I’m not used to the culture. 

In some parts of the country, fluency is a second language is a huge advantage, often a preferred qualification.  If it is your advantage, be sure you can back up the claim that you are fluent.  Your interviewer may decide to conduct the interview in your second language, her first.

6.  Dress like the locals do, but for an interview, take one step up the dressiness scale.  Now, that is not to say that your heels should be higher or your necktie silkier—more like suit instead of sport jacket, for the interview, and pearls with that blouse and suit.  

In some parts of the country, a dress is more the norm than a skirt suit, and colors matter.  Find someone to ask about the company you are interviewing with and the right clothes for the level of job.  Pants for women are still a question, especially in certain cities and professions.  And shirt collar tabs for men, type of tie, and actually even type of shirt have regional connections.  It is very much worth it to dress according to the norms in the place you want to work.

On that note too, if you are from Florida and you are interviewing in Washington D.C. in January, you may need weather boots and a winter coat.  Make sure yours are reasonably in fashion.  Similarly, if you are flying in from Connecticut in March for an interview in Florida, for the most part lighter tropical wools in dark colors are worn until summer.  And you won’t need that coat, so leave it at the hotel or in the suitcase.  these are examples, there are other big differences in seasonal weather that can affect your wardrobe and gear preparation.  If you look wet, cold, sweaty, or just out of place, your hosts may be sympathetic–but that’s not the reaction you really want.  

Stay ahead of things like this; that’s the point.  You want to look, sound, act, and kind of feel like you are local and already there.  

It is harder for an out of town candidate to get the job, almost always.  Organizations know there will be delays in getting you there, hiccups in leases and home sales, admin matters, adjustment issues, and generally, the productivity delay while you acclimate to new surroundings.  Your job is to minimize that perception, and sound like you are very low maintenance, highly planful, and determined to participate in and enrich the community.