When You Don’t Know What You Want

You don’t always get to do what you love, find your passion, or or even identify your dream place on the wheel of jobs and careers.  For a great many people (of all ages and stages), ideal work is elusive, or that job requires so much training and education that it’s out of reach, now and maybe for always.

So what do you do instead?

Here are some alternatives.

  1.  Find the thing that can fund the thing you like to do but can’t get paid to do.

If you make films, write books, create art, or travel voraciously every chance you get, decide what can float that boat, either by supplying funding, or by creating swaths of time, or even by getting you close to the thing in some other way.  Business travelers usually get to keep miles earned, teachers often get summers off, publishers place you near authors and ideas, and editors.  Look for the opportunity to create a platform or a bridge.

2.    Decide where you want to work, geographically, and do what is there to do.

Living where you want to live is a worthy objective, and expanding the definition of “where” to include proximity to things or people you love, as opposed to specific cities makes it a broader, richer set of considerations.  For example, if you want to be near the water, there is more than Florida to choose from.   Similarly, you can pick between cities and suburbs, plains and mountains, cold or warm climates before getting into the nitty gritty of exactly where you might launch a venture.

3.    Select an industry.

What makes your world better and how might you fit into it?  Can you see yourself somehow supporting health care, agriculture, fashion, or automobiles?  A great many people are just plain good at operations, they make things happen, whatever the things are.  For those folks, operational jobs, service jobs, administrative jobs, managerial jobs, are going to be fulfilling, as long as the work makes sense and they can see the need–and do what they do best, make things happen.  Think about pet food manufacturing, tax preparation, attractions management, or theater operation.

4.  Find kindred spirits or just really nice people who appreciate you.

Go where you think you will fit in–who thinks like you do?  Where do your friends go or where are they planning to go?  Is there a training program, a big department in need, a church enterprise, a social enterprise, or a school, or a program?  Collaboration with like-minded people can be rewarding and creates a social structure you can attach to for nutrition, connection, and sustaining interest.

5.  Consider becoming a specialist in a very specialized field.

Focus down into the details and learn everything you can about one thing.  Whatever the thing is, and it could be anything–but you do need education, so that’s important.  Without knowing you, I can’t know what the thing is, but if you start to write about it, people will as you to speak about it, and then you will meet other people and learn even more.  Being an expert does require staying up to date in your chose field–but it doesn’t require much more.  Consultants get found by the folks who need them and eventually this leads to a living.

Very few people are perpetually happy with every career contour, move, feature, or assignment.  Even the self employed struggle with exhaustion, fear, and boredom.  A career is not particularly fragile, most of the time, but it does require some patience, with yourself, and with the choices you have.  If you want different or more choices, you have to move forward, you have to produce, and you have to connect and stick with an idea that makes sense for you.

 

 

 

 

Eight Big Mistakes

I’d rather approach this from a positive point of view–eight things you can do right, right now.  However, unless you see these from the negative side, I’m not sure you can appreciate the problem.  So here they are–the eight big things that can undermine your best efforts to make a good match in the job market.

  1.  Too many narratives.  Just who the heck are you anyway?  It is fine to evolve, to have many interests, and to give in to the occasional impulse, but it’s important to establish and maintain your personal brand.  Your narrative isn’t just what you put into the world.  It guides how you think about your choices and how you can explain them to yourself as well.  When you think “Hmm, that was not like me at all” it usually means you were careless or not deliberate or intentional.  The common problem is known as trying to be “all things to all people.”
  2. Mistaking an execution error for a tactical or strategic error.  Let’s say you go to a networking event and you are unprepared, dressed inappropriately, in a bad mood, or just having an off night. It doesn’t mean that your strategy is all wrong.  If it was an event for accountants, it doesn’t mean that you should not be an accountant, or that accountants are not good networkers.  It only means you need some practice.  A strategic error is a big one–like becoming an accountant when you are sure you should have been a charter boat captain.  That kind of error requires a segue instead of more practice, advice, or preparing better next time..
  3. Overemphasizing resume, cover letters, writing samples, thank you notes, and even job postings responses.  Your materials are not you, and your crafting and redrafting of them is not a great use of your time and effort.  Get out from behind the computer and meet new people, make new friends, join other people, collaborate, and air out your brain.  Your tribe–your inner circle–can help you more than that resume, so you should spend time with them and treat them extremely well.  And never, ever, complain to them.  You do have to have a basic resume and to be familiar with the standards for a good cover letter, but thinking these will ever be perfect or that they will get you a job is to exaggerate their importance.
  4. Administrative shortfall.  Keep up with the administration of your life–paying bills, planning, maintenance on the equipment, your health, and all of the other things that go into keeping you on the straight and narrow.  Doing so builds and sustains your confidence in your choices and in your self.  That confidence provides you with space to make good decisions and allows you to be resilient when you are rejected or don’t get what you want.
  5. Debating feedback.  You don’t have to accept all feedback, but you should not debate it or be defensive when you get it or hear it.  If the feedback is objective–a score, count, deadline, or other measure, it’s easy to re-do and check the accuracy.  No debate required.  If it is someone’s opinion, it’s an opinion.  Thank them.  Move on.  No need to defend the castle; it’s yours and owner-occupied.
  6. Not defining your purpose and your core competencies and leading with your strengths and purpose at all times.  We like to think we are good at many things, and usually we are.  but core strengths are what fuels the rocket and purpose is what makes the destination clear. This could not be more important–the ability to assess yourself against criteria that you establish is a foundational career skill and you begin to learn it by simply doing it.  Many of us become known for many things, but are not always sure how they fit together or help us get better at what we want to do.
  7. Undervaluing personal traits, appearance, or language.  We either think no one is looking, no one cares, or that everyone is looking and that everyone cares.  Neither is true–it just matters when it matters, so you have to be prepared for the times when it does.  that means good habits but not excessive self-consciousness.
  8. Accepting innumeracy as a thing that is okay.  It isn’t.  If you say you aren’t good with numbers you will believe it and then you won’t be.  If you aren’t, you need to practice and get better at quantifying accurately.  It’s important.

Your Playlist

We used to call it “Playing the old tapes.” because music used to live on physical recording media.  “Playing the old tapes” meant listening to the songs from when you were stupid, either stupid in love, stupid in breaking up, or, well, maybe just not who you were eventually going to become.  In effect, the old tapes are likely to take away some of your more recent, rational learning and replace it with some strangely familiar, irrational yearning.

Usually, old tapes are just fine for normal nostalgic purposes, like remembering where you were when you first heard some of the classics–Desperado, This Old Heart of Mine, Stairway to Heaven, or Sweet Caroline.  Or anything from the Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin.

But.  We all have a bit of a figurative playlist hanging around inside, and when certain songs come on–something happens and it strikes a familiar chord or when you make a mistake and experience regret, it can trigger feelings that lead to old reflexes and bad habits.  Instead of conjuring up your current vision of competence, new behaviors, and new opportunities to get what you want from within yourself, you find yourself in fear, frustration, or anxiety.

You have to keep your playlist current.  We do that through affirmations.

Everybody who just thought of SNL’s Jack Handy raise your hand.  That isn’t what I mean, but some of those were funny.

An affirmation is a specific, positively written and crafted, present tense description of a desired state.  For example, “I am at my best when I prepare and organize my day.  I eat a healthy breakfast, make a list of priorities, and take the time to think about and visualize how I want to present myself in meetings.”  Or, “I’m happiest when I am able to make others happy.  I look for opportunities to thank, acknowledge, provide feedback to, or otherwise recognize everyone for their importance in my life.”

Or this simple:  “I pay my bills on time, and set funds aside for emergencies before I divert money to luxuries.  I manage my finances by the 15th of each month, and compete the task before the end of that day.”

Or this wild:  “I am innovative and I nourish my creative side.  Each day, I break one habit by doing something completely out of my routine.”

Or this profound:  “I am on the road to changing my life.  Today, I will meet two new people and learn how I can help them accomplish something that means a lot to them.”

Affirmations don’t have to be grand.  I once affirmed my way into becoming a nonsmoker.  I affirmed my way into competence in Algebra.  I affirmed my way into discontinuing my negative self-talk and accompanying reflexive dismissal of compliments on hard-earned skills (Example of my toxic self-talk:  Friend:  You are so good at that.  Me:  Oh no I’m really not; just lots of experience.).  I am a habitual and chronic corrector of negative self-talk when I encounter it.

I hate to hear anyone say they aren’t good at something, and I usually stop that dialogue or soliloquy and say:  You probably would be if you didn’t tell yourself you aren’t.  And that is true, to a large extent.  I was never the math whiz I started out to be after my parents told me I was better at words and meaning.  Oddly, I later found out I was pretty good at both and liked them both pretty much equally.

You can’t control everything with affirmations, but you can make a dent in your mood, your performance, and your ultimate health and happiness.  Calm shines through everything, and learning to affirm what you want influences that more than anything else.  Calm and serenity is not random; it’s the product of acceptance, determination, and positivity.

Start affirmations this way:

  1.  Write your affirmations in positive language, in the present tense, and be very specific.  Each affirmation can be several sentences, or just one.  It helps if you can visualize the active form of the affirmation.  For me, for example, if I wanted to smoke I would visualize myself clapping my hands and smiling–no cigarettes in that mental picture.  I imagined myself joyful after a year of being cigarette-free.
  2. Say your affirmations to yourself each day, not necessarily aloud, and visualize something that represents that affirmation as you do that.  You can do this any time of day or more than once each day, but make sure you advance them each day.
  3. Retire affirmations that are no longer representative of your priorities, that have been accomplished, or that are not under your control.  I think it’s hard to tell someone they shouldn’t try to affirm something they can’t control, but inevitably, we all learn that through experience.  When you learn that through experience, change the affirmation, not the objective.   For example, an affirmation to lose weight does not work as well as an affirmation to eat healthy food in sensible portions.  “Lose weight” is not a behavior, but a result of many small changes, all of which can be affected by specific affirmations.
  4. I like to put affirmations on index cards or on separate pages of a journal.  Focus on only one at a time.  If writing another note or adding a drawing comes to mind, do it.
  5. You can share or not share your affirmations.  When I learned to do this, via Lou Tice’s Investment in Excellence education program, we discussed them with other program participants and it was a powerful experience.

But the most powerful experience is when you begin to see changes in yourself and in your life and in the way you think and react to others.  Think of yourself as a force for good in the world and your affirmations as your supply of spiritual raw material.

 

 

 

Say this, not that.

It’s happened a few too many times in the last few weeks.   Someone tells me they are thinking of making a job change, or a student or grad mentions the future, and I ask, “What are your plans?” or “What do you want to do?”in response.

No matter what, no matter how confused you may be, never say “I don’t know” to the person who asks you that question.  It stops the conversation, it renders your potential helper or ally helpless, and it isn’t quite as honest as you think.

It just looks a little like you may be lost and waiting to be found instead of doing the finding, and that’s not going to inspire anyone to mention the opportunities they might know about.

Expect to be asked this, if you are a student or graduate, and prepare.  If you aren’t a student or grad, but you give someone a reason to ask, you too can be prepared with a good, motivating answer.  The holidays are a great time to meet the very people who might lead to the right opportunity.  Aim for a personal brand that inspires others to get behind you, find a way to help, and enlist in your challenge.  To be effective, you have to say what you do know, not that you don’t know.  “I don’t know” is an affirmation; here are alternative responses, also affirmations. to the question “What are you considering doing next?”:

  1.  I haven’t settled on one thing yet–I’m good at X, Y, and Z (general talents, like planning, analysis, operations, project management, or building relationships).  So I’m exploring ideas that use those competencies.
  2. (Said while nodding affirmatively) That’s my big question–I like so many things.  I find myself drawn to jobs that really test my math skills/persuasive ability/tenacity/fun-loving nature/commitment to animal welfare.  What do you think I should consider?
  3. I’m so glad you asked.  What do you know about XYZ Company (or firm)?  I’d love to work for them and I haven’t met anyone who knows the inside story of their success.  Or how about ABC Company?  Do you think its true that they provide really great training?
  4. I just love work; I’m the one who will try anything and stick to it until I get it done.  If you know of anyone looking for a great utility player, I’m the one they should talk to.  [Here’s what we know about those of you who don’t know: you do know WHO you like to work with and WHERE you’d like the work to be, geographically.  What you actually do probably matters less to you than the organization’s culture and community. You’re the ones who want the fit with the people.]
  5. Tell me what you think are the strongest needs in the market right now with someone who has my skills (name them) and experience (briefly).  I’ve been doing some research on A,B,and C, and I’m curious about your thoughts.

All of these are more digestible than “I don’t know.”  You think the question was “What do you want,” but really, it was “How can I help?” in disguise.  It is the relationship with the person who asked–an interested helper–that you are looking for.  The right job emerges from that relationship.

Five Things You Can Do Right Now

Without preamble, these are for you if 1.) You are not happy with the way things are going at work, or 2.) You are happy but concerned that you are not keeping up with your career plans, or 3.) You have not been thinking about yourself and your career, or 4.) You just feel like doing something to generate a different tempo in your work/life balance, or 5.) You just try stuff you read about online.

  1.  Start a new kind of journal.  This is a paper and pencil (or pen or tape and crayon; just not pixels and code) exercise.  Begin by buying a portable book of paper and a pen or pencil just for this journal.  When you see or find something written or drawn that generates new ideas, affirming research, or just pictures or words that move you, write, copy, cut, paste, or draw in your book.  That’s all.  Just think of this as focused, real-world Pinterest, maybe?  In only a little while, you can start to see your new pattern, and watch it pick up steam and energy. I think of this as my portable vision board.
  2. Research.  If you want fresh ideas, a new perspective, new friends or an interest group, or a better sense of what could be nagging at you in the back of your brain, research is one of the keys.  Research tends to be outward–it’s not always okay to hang around in your head and expect new thinking to just show up.  Research includes asking people the questions that lead to answers or new questions, using search engines to gather formal knowledge, and going to places where information is dispensed.  Developing spreadsheets and data follows immediately–it isn’t real if it isn’t written and organized.
  3. Sleep.  You need to process, and that happens when you aren’t fully awake and alert.  If you have to nap, you have to nap; if you need to sleep through the night, you have to arrange to do that somehow if it doesn’t come easily to you.  Pay attention to this; you need to sleep in order to think and make good decisions.
  4. Affirm.  Practice affirmations to manage your day to day mood, reactions, energy, outward appearance, and interactions with others.  If you are experiencing distress or confusion, frustration or anger, it’s really important to get that under control.  The best way to get control of yourself is to affirm that you are who you want to be.  Negative self-talk (“I’m a mess; I’m out of control; I’m too angry to deal with this; I’m never going to get what I want”) is affirmation, and it’s powerful.  The only way to stop it is to replace it with positive self-talk (“I can handle this setback; I’m getting a lot done; I’m going to be fine; I am calm and thoughtful under pressure; I’m really in a great position to get what I want”).  Write your affirmations in your new Journal and review them every morning and evening.
  5. Create a timeline and list of goals.  All goals should be time-sensitive, if not time-bound.  Write your goals and deadlines in your journal and revise them as needed; you can do that; they are yours.

I promise–this little list is better than stewing helplessly about and letting your fears and frustrations boil over and change you in a negative way.  Don’t force your own hand by reciting the crazy over and over.  Build your strength buy staying in control and performing some basic rituals–you will find comfort in the process of quantifying and articulating what you really want.

So I made a list. . .

What was interesting about the whole list thing was that my husband Jim adopted it immediately.  See number 3, below?  Twenty-four hours after it was published, we had a replacement cable box.  Now I did go to the Brighthouse office (along for the ride, it seems), but there was no doubt Jim was on board with the cable box plan.  Note: what a good idea; who knew the whole system had been upgraded while we suffered and rebooted?

Number 2: the car at least has new headliner, but we continue to discuss the detailing and the timing of same.  And his car has been added to the list.  As well as several matters that extend beyond detailing.  And the notion of a new car seems to be under discussion.

I had a wonderful lunch with Laura–two hours and I got to see her amazing son when we picked him up from camp.

Number 5:  closets cleaned.  Not fun, not at all.  However, Jim has cleaned out at least three more, and they really needed it.  We seem to have a lot of closets.  We did discuss turning a room into a closet, but then were not sure what we would do with the closets.  For those of you wondering about closets, it’s Florida and we don’t have basements.  But we do have garages, and now those are cleaned out also.

The stuff in number 6 was discarded.  By the time it got to the envelope it was not interesting.  Lesson learned.

I couldn’t part with the textbooks. Not one.  I have no idea what that means.

Numbers 8 through 12 did not get on the table, and I think I know why.

The main value of the list appears to have been in motivating my list-maker husband.  Anything he could participate in, motivate, cross off the list, or influence, got done.  But by the time I got to number 8, I was in serious in-my-head territory and it may be that these are really too cerebral and/or creative for list inclusion.

But I have been paying more attention to lists, list-makers, and list management techniques and will be experimenting with another round.  Jim says that getting something on the list is a task in itself, that half the effort is done when the note is made.

I don’t see that.  Oddly, I remembered everything that was fairly concrete, and carried that list in my head.  But if I had not written and published the list, I don’t know that Jim would have made sure that even part of the times got checked off, which for a list maker is apparently the best thing about the list process.

————————————————————————-

1. Finish Christmas presents for sisters. I make these, so this requires time and a brisk pace, but also quality.

2. Get car detailed. This has its own list.

3. Replace sitting room Cable Box. Which has been tiling, sputtering, achieving a dead stop, and generally not working for at least 6 months.

4. Get together with Laura H. It’s been too long.

5. Clean out at least three closets.

6. Mail stuff that has been sitting on the table in the upstairs hall.

7. Discard MBA textbooks. Okay, most of them.

8. Assemble letter and photos for Dad. Actually mail those too.

9. Find out what is in the pantry cupboard and why we need it. Also check the dates on the packaging.

10. Learn how to Twitter and Instagram.

11. Research M.Ed. programs.

12. Outline a chapter. Or the whole book

Making a List

I was once interviewed for a job by a very disorganized person.  She was so disorganized that ten minutes into the interview, she very suddenly exclaimed “Oh My  God; I forgot!” And then loaded me into her car to continue the interview while we sped toward an unknown destination where the incomplete task awaited her attention.

When it was my turn, I asked her if she was organized, given that it looked like she might not be, and that could very directly affect the quality of my work life.  She paused, and then tapped her right temple and said that she thought of herself as “Intuitively Organized,” which as I well know means “Nope, not me.”  I declined the next interview and escaped.  I tend to work better with the well-organized, list-making, question-asking, reminding, and all around beloved obsessives who start every day, if not every hour, with a list.

List-makers, you fascinate me.  I marvel at grocery lists, being one of those folks who decide what I need once I get the cart, and not a minute before.  I check my email to find out what’s on deck for the day ahead.  I decide what to watch once I’m seated in front of the television.  I get it all done, mind you, and to a fairly rigorous standard, but without a list.  There’s a plan–find dinner, get work done or just moved in the right direction, watch television–just not a list.

So for this vacation, I’m going to learn to make a list and see how that works out.  My plan is to get organized, so here is my list so far:

1.  Finish Christmas presents for sisters.  I make these, so this requires time and a brisk pace, but also quality.

2.  Get car detailed. This has its own list.

3.  Replace sitting room Cable Box.  Which has been tiling, sputtering, achieving a dead stop, and generally not working for at least 6 months.

4.  Get together with Laura H.  It’s been too long.

5. Clean out at least three closets.

6.  Mail stuff that has been sitting on the table in the upstairs hall.

7.  Discard MBA textbooks.  Okay, most of them.

8.  Assemble letter and photos for Dad.  Actually mail those too.

9.  Find out what is in the pantry cupboard and why we need it.  Also check the dates on the packaging.

10.  Learn how to Twitter and Instagram.

11.  Research M.Ed. programs.

12.  Outline a chapter.  Or the whole book

We shall see how this goes.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

A Letter From Your Mentor

This is a guest post contributed by my dear friend and mentor Professor Kristen David Adams, an extraordinary woman, author, and law professor.  We have had many occasions to wonder together at good choices and bad choices made by the people with whom we share our connections.  I think Kristen says it better than I ever could.

Words From Your Mentor

Good afternoon, Mentee. Earlier today, I made an introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts, at your request. I am not entirely sure that you understood the significance of your having made this request, or of my having granted it. So here are some things I would like you to know.

You Probably Can’t Improve My Relationship . . .

Although I think highly of you, which is why I made this introduction on your behalf, you probably are not in a position to improve this relationship for me. Here’s what I mean: the person to whom I introduced you already thinks highly of me, which is why he or she agreed to talk with/meet with you. My contacts expect that any person to whom I would introduce any of them would, similarly, be impressive.

. . . But You Can Harm It.

Having said this, you are in a position to make me look bad. Very bad, in fact. If you are rude or nonresponsive, you may cause my contact to second-guess my professional judgment in having sent you their way. Thus, you can actually harm my professional reputation as well as your own, by handling the situation badly.

Think About It.

So stop and think about this for a moment, and you will understand what a gift it is that I made a professional introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts. In fact, given that I am putting you in a position in which you could ultimately harm one of my close professional relationships – and there is actually no clear upside for me other than the fact that I care about you –one of the greatest acts of confidence is for a mentor to introduce a mentee to a member of the mentor’s own professional network. Don’t undervalue this gift.

It’s Not About You

To be blunt, I actually don’t care whether you decide you aren’t interested in whatever my contact has to offer, or whether you are terribly busy when he or she contacts you, or even whether you are dealing with a difficult personal circumstance that makes it difficult for you to be responsive. This is a situation in which it is, really truly, not about you. It’s actually about me; specifically, my long-standing business relationship with another person whom I value.   

Treat My Contacts Better Than Your Own

To sum up: (1) Introducing you to my own network is probably the greatest gift I can give you, (2) Any rudeness or non-responsiveness on your part has the potential to hurt my professional reputation as well as your own, and (3) There are really no circumstances in which it is acceptable for you to be rude or non-responsive to one of my contacts, whom I have engaged on your behalf. So don’t look to the Golden Rule here; instead, treat my contacts even better than your own.

Note:  If you have not asked for help, but it is offered to you, and you don’t know you have the ability or the will to follow through, say so to the offerer.  It sounds like this:

I appreciate your confidence and trust in me, and I know how valuable your offer is.  I am not quite ready to accept it, because I don’t know if I can follow through in a timely way.  Can I call you or let you know in a few days?  I have some other obligations and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.  I hope you understand.  And thank you very much.”

If, however, you have asked for help, support, or a referral, your patron or mentor goes to the front of the line.  

Rebranding In Place

You’ve been in the same job or company for a while; the honeymoon ended long ago, and you’ve been pretty comfortable.  You work with friends, they know you well, and you have no serious complaints about the organization.  Work life is good.

Except for one not-so-little thing.  You just put a good bit of time and effort into getting your advanced degree in an discipline related to your work–let’s say an MBA.  But when you did that, after the celebratory party and the cards of congratulations from your coworkers, nothing changed.  It’s same old, same old.

You probably didn’t have a new career plan for your newly minted, better credentialed, and more prepared, educated, and informed self–you never saw yourself leaving and you don’t need a career plan if you aren’t seeking a new job, right?

Not so much.  Assuming you don’t want to put all that work you did to waste, you need a career plan for blooming where you’re planted, as they say (though I don’t know anything about horticulture, I love that expression).

This isn’t always easy, and there are some risks.  If you have ever gone back to a high school reunion after many years, you know that when you do, you are likely to be treated by your former classmates as if you were in twelfth grade, and you are likely to react to that as you would if you were in tenth grade or younger.  And, if you showed up dramatically changed, even your best friends don’t know what to do or what to say.  You just don’t seem like you.

Of course your education isn’t sudden; you’ve been changing ever so gradually all along your path.  But you have been attending to your classwork and you have been wearing the pained expression of a work in progress, that students in graduate programs tend to wear.  You’re not where you were, and not where you are headed; in transit.  That all changes when you are finally fully degreed and decreed.

And, that MBA (or whatever your new credential you have earned) isn’t front and center for anyone in your workplace except you.  If people know about it; they are waiting to see the evidence–it helps them, or it doesn’t.  It helps the organization, or it doesn’t.  You help, or you don’t.  So the first thing is identifying how you can help.  And then helping–really helping, not issuing new opinions or making corrections that to the new you seem obvious.  It’s a long way between theoretically and technically accurate and actually useful and operationally viable.  We all forget that sometimes

But here are some ideas about managing what you can manage on the personal branding front.

1.  Avoid this: “In my finance class, Dr. So and So said to do it this way.”  I have no further comment.  Just don’t do that.

2.  Change your resume and change your LinkedIn profile, and anything else that shows where you have been and what you have done.  That way, you can articulate exactly what has changed and exactly what hasn’t, which is very important.

3.  Do have a conversation with whomever in your organization has those conversations about how you can accept more work and responsibility, in addition to what you already have.  Yes–more work, not a better job or title or more money.  You have something to prove before you move up.  Test your wings before you ask for their gilding.

4.  Volunteer for the drudgery and the most difficult of the unpleasant assignments.  That is more important than anything else you can think of to get noticed.

5.  Seek a mentor, or several in different areas of your interest.  Ask for help in promoting what you can do–ask for change, not advancement.  Rebranding is not self-promotion; you are asking for help in crafting a new narrative, one in which you are versatile, reliable, willing, loyal, open to new ideas, and always willing to help.  And you happen to have more education than everyone thought you did.

6.  Try new things.  Things you didn’t know you would like.

7.  If you work in a really big company, one with a job posting system, bid on jobs.  However, understand that there is an informal system and a little track that runs alongside the formal one.  You have to run on both tracks–you have to have political as well as educational capital.  If you have not been nice, start being nice right now.

8.  And to that point, if you have been a diva or the equivalent, you might want to quietly let folks know you have seen the light and you are doing some serious self -assessment.  And that you are making changes; if you are, be truthful, and make the changes.  Think about your narrative–you can’t erase the past, but you can acknowledge that you learned from it.

9.  Clean up the outer image, if need be.  If you have gotten into the habit of wearing jeans and dressing more casually than the management in your organization, you are remediating at this point.  Don’t do that suddenly; take one step up the sartorial ladder every few months.  We go from jeans, to slacks, to slacks with a jacket. . . . . or mix it up.  Dress for meeting days.

10.  Bear in mind that accomplishing an educational goal is a huge personal step–it takes time, money, and there is opportunity cost.  Others were growing and working hard while you were growing and working hard, though perhaps at other–equally important–qualifiers.  Be sure you notice, when you come up for air, all of the other changes and advancements around you.

When it comes to promotions and advancements, it isn’t always fair and it isn’t always your turn.  And you may not get what you thought you would from your hard work.

More education may give you many more choices,  but it doesn’t guarantee the other elements of your personal brand.  What it’s like to work with you, how you treat the work and the others around you, and how you represent your employer and organization are functions of who you are and what brought you to this point.  

And that’s usually what earns you opportunity.

They don’t need what you have.

And, as you know, you don’t have what they need.

Sometimes it’s really hard to understand why you didn’t get a call back after applying for and interviewing for a position you really wanted.  But it shouldn’t be hard to understand why you didn’t get a call back for a job you shouldn’t have bothered to apply for, a job far removed from your skills, temperament, and competencies.  A position that doesn’t require and couldn’t possibly include the things you are good at and like the most when you get to do them.

Don’t apply for, ask for, or otherwise pursue jobs that aren’t for you.  It just wastes everyone’s time and energy.  And, paradoxically, it will make you even sadder to fail to land a job you didn’t really want.

I think we place very high value on jobs we want, and far less value on all the others.  So when you go after a job on which you have placed low value, and then you don’t even get an interview, it makes you somehow feel worse.

That makes no sense at all, you know.  Organizations are looking for the right people, the ones they know belong there and will thrive and perform in the job.  they are not looking for people who have half or fewer of the qualifications the organization painstakingly listed so the right folks will know who they are.  Before you hit the send button, say (aloud) to yourself, “Perhaps they will overlook my shortfall in years of relevant experience, as well as the fact that my education is not in Finance and I don’t have a Series 7 license.  I’ve always wanted to live in Charlotte, and this is as good as any of the other jobs I saw on Monster.”

How does that sound in real words?  You see, it is possible to play head games with the screen that doesn’t say “No!” sharply when you try to upload all the wrong stuff at midnight after a few pints of Cherry Garcia and an Oreo or two.  In  your head, this is a numbers game and you never know.  You might just get an interview and if you do, you can wow them with your personality.

Not so much.  It’s a lot more likely that you will be rejected, either actively, with a nice letter, or passively, by never hearing anything at all.  If you do get an interview, and you don’t meet the qualifications, you will quickly learn that you don’t really want that job.  But somehow you are now engaged, and your head turns to “How do I get out of this?”  Thinking you will be considered.

So when you don’t get an offer, and you are feeling bad about that, remember what my wonderful sister Amy said to me many years ago on a similar occasion of not getting a job I most certainly did not want and for which I was in no way qualified:

“Why are you so upset?  They just don’t need what you have.”