Category Archives: Career management

Get ahead of yourself.

Ten Big Mistakes

What can go wrong?  You know by now that nearly everything has potential for trouble.  The biggest mistake of all is underestimating exactly that.  Strategic errors are the ones that will nail you; here are the big ones that you should take steps to avoid:

  1. Choosing the wrong friends.  Basically, your friends are the core of your network; choose corrupt, lazy, heartless, or even just irresponsible friends and you are taking yourself in the opposite direction of a solid career foundation.  Play with good citizens and nice people.
  2. Staying in one limited circle or venue.  I don’t mean just one group of people—I mean having too few interests and too limited a set of skills.  Think George Clooney in Up In the Air for an extreme example.
  3. Avoiding risk.  Nothing is perfect and you can’t learn and grow if you don’t fail.  You have to try things in order to find out what you are good at and what you aren’t.
  4. Avoiding self-awareness.  It’s important to know yourself and therefore understand others.  If you don’t know who you are, you can’t really communicate what you need.
  5. Using people.  I mean in a bad way.  It’s one thing to take advantage of a relationship by mutual understanding and agreement; it’s another to exploit a person for what he or she can do for you.
  6. Failing to deal with addiction.  You know who you are; it will catch up to you.    Probably when you aren’t expecting it.  Get help.
  7. Holding a grudge.  Are you kidding?  Who cares about your drama?  Grudge-nurturing is energy consuming and corrosive.  Paybacks are. . .not attractive.
  8. Going it alone.  Career management is a group activity and you need a cadre of advisors, an inner circle of other people who are there for you.
  9. Lying.  About anything.  Dishonesty is what it is; there aren’t times when a misrepresentation is acceptable and other times when it isn’t.  Tact is one thing, out and out bull is another.
  10. Indulging your self at the expense of others.  This takes many forms and overlaps a fair number of mistakes, but is worth noting.  If you put the needs of others on your radar and find ways to support the people around you, energy comes back to you.  If you think too much about you, everyone will realize you don’t need help. . . . .

Law Career Planning

I believe that like many professions, the practice of law is a calling, of sorts.  The last time I took the LSAT (yes, more than once) I understood immediately that it was not my calling; I won’t bore you with the details.  If it happens to be your calling, know that getting a job as a lawyer is very different from getting into law school.  You should begin the search for the right position on the day you get accepted into law school.

From that point on, your objective is the job in which you see yourself when you think to yourself, “I’m the attorney I always wanted to be.”

To establish my street cred on this matter, human resources professionals spend time with—and, from time to time, money on—attorneys; it comes with the HR territory.  Depending on how your company conducts its business, in HR you meet and work with a lot of lawyers, some on your side, some on the other.  Some work for regulatory agencies and some work for firms, some work for unions, and some for insurance companies.  Wherever there are people, there are legal conflicts to be resolved, and that is what lawyers do.  I hired them, retained them, called them at home in emergencies, and spent my share of time at negotiating tables and in caucus rooms.  So I have been a client of many firms and many lawyers, and . . .

Street cred continued: I am married to my own talented lawyer.  And here is what I know:

Understanding early in your education how the lawyer you become in your mind’s eye makes a living is key to realizing your vision of your future.  If you wait until you are applying for internships, reacting to suggestions by your career services team, or wishing you had studied harder or partied less, all the wrong things and all the wrong people will influence you. You will be swayed to view your calling as a job.

Besides the very real need to be educated in the law itself is the very real need to understand how you will serve clients, get paid, and get better at what you choose to do.  Your reputation in the profession is extraordinarily important in all three of these areas.  Your ability to blend your own priorities with those of your employer, partners, associates, and clients is crucial.  This is what will sustain you.

Most importantly, if you wish to be really good at what you do, you should like it a lot.  That is less a function of the practice of law itself (which takes a great many forms) than it is a function of being skilled at making the clients you want to serve happy with the service you provide.

So you have to get good at a.) choosing the client you want to serve, and b.) serving your chosen client as well as he or she expects, or better, and c.) effectively and with suitable integrity, promoting your ability to do both of the foregoing.

This is different from writing well, presenting a good argument, organizing your evidence, researching case law, and speaking clearly and with conviction, although without being able to do those things, you may not get far.  But you might, and that is the point.  Before you take too many steps, think about the way in which you plan to integrate content with commerce, because both are important.

Next time: Planning your law career

What’s the difference between a gig and a job?

Not that much, from the outside.  But inside your head, make sure you know the difference and make sure you follow the unwritten protocols.  A gig is a great way to bridge a period of unemployment, when you can’t leap forward to your next career step, or find the job you really want.  A gig by nature is temporary and transient, off the path, sometimes way off.

A gig can keep you earning, producing income and maintaining the balance of your reserves, as well as keep you busy and out of your own head.  No one can conduct career management or a job search as if it were a job, despite what the old outplacement professionals used to advise.  “Your new job is finding a job” suggests a level of manageability and control that isn’t realistic, and a pace that never was.  The pace that’s implied in a day in and day out job search will quickly produce boredom, desperation, and bad judgment, not to mention a reduction in self confidence.

Some of the best candidates I’ve ever interviewed were individuals who had taken a detour or a side road to get where they were going.  Relaxed, self confident, and good humored, these individuals could cite the best things about selling on Ebay, substitute teaching, coaching troubled kids, working in retail stores, painting houses, tending bar.   Not anyone’s first career choice, a gig nonetheless can keep you sane, humble, active, and curious, while paying bills and remaining connected to the world.

A gig might be in your career field, but if it is you have to be extremely careful to choose something that isn’t too close to the real job you want.  For example, if you were a CFO and the gig you choose is doing the books for a nonprofit, you’re fine.  But if you accept a job as Director of Accounting, that’s not a gig.  It might make sense for other reasons–you were CFO of a $70M company and the Director of Accounting job is with a $6B corporation.  But it’s not a gig.  You may also switch industries and take steps backward; you can change fields and take steps back: not a gig, a job.

And there are other obligations and conventions:

1.  You have to acknowledge the temporary nature of the gig, for you.  Your fellow workers may not be so temporary, and it isn’t okay to pretend you aren’t.  There are a few exceptions to this: when it’s obvious (you are a PhD botanist working on a landscaping crew), when you are making a total career change and starting at the very bottom (you are a caterer en route to becoming an executive chef, working in a kitchen), or the job is advertised as temporary (you are an accountant working as a substitute math teacher).

2.  Think about what happens when you leave the gig, because the gig remains in your employment history and the folks you worked for become references.  So communicate in such a way that you get a send off celebration when you move on, instead of daggers in your back as the result of all that expensive training they wasted on you.

3.  The gig has to have a story that goes with it, a thing you tell everyone about.  You have to justify this and you have to make it work.  Authenticity is what it’s all about.  The story is the answer to the question, “so what are you doing now?” when it’s asked in the course of your networking meetings, which are now scheduled around your gig.  “Working at Home Depot, for the discount on our new kitchen,” is a good one, so is “working at the hospital while I decide which graduate school for public health to apply to” is also great.  Another approach: “We have very tight investment goals, so I’m working to keep my money working!”  I love that one.  And I’ve only heard it once, but knowing the person who said it, I knew it was not only true, but evidence of her drive.

4.  Do not get too comfy.  If you complain about the boss, working conditions, pay, schedule, or break room, you are in trouble.  And you can make suggestions about improving business, but under no circumstances can you wonder why or complain that your ideas haven’t been adopted.

5.  Your coworkers are in jobs, not gigs; you aren’t better and you aren’t worse.  They are fellow travelers.  If you’ve handled this right, you won’t make them look bad and you will work to make all of you look good.

6.  Plan your exit at the beginning of the gig and stick to the plan.  Do not stop your job search process; do not change your career identity without a specific plan.

7.  On your resume, or in your cover letter, a gig has to be handled carefully but directly.  I might keep it off the resume and put the short version of the story in your cover letter.

8.  When you encounter network connections in the course of the gig–like the head of the company you want to work for showing up at the bar you are tending one afternoon, know you can’t blurt your story right there.  Your first obligation is to your coworkers, boss, and the owner of the business from which your paycheck springs forth.   There is plenty of time, and more than one route to explaining yourself.  Career moves emerge from relationships, not the other way around.

9.  Keep track of new skills and new learning; think about what you are accomplishing, and talk about it to your friends and family.  Set a good example for others; don’t apologize for the path you took.

10.  If you hate the gig, get a different gig.  Gigs are like that; short and sweet, easy to get and easy to leave.  Take advantage of the gig, politely, of course.  Don’t do anything you really hate for any length of time.

Above all, a gig should fuel creativity and make you feel a little like a fugitive from your real life.  Go for it and don’t look back.

New Year’s Resolutions, of course.

The week before the big ball drops, the confetti flies, and the party begins to wane is not the best time to be making grand and determined gestures in the direction of transformation and renewal. You’re maybe a little tired (I am) and more than a little overdue for some reflection time instead of anticipation time, which is what most of the holidays actually seem to consist of.

But somewhere in your soul, heart, or brain, there’s one thing you know you’d like to resolve, one thing that is either huge or tiny, or huge and tiny all at once. Think about taking that one thing on this year.  After the clock strikes and after you’ve had some breakfast you can make a list of more concrete goals. But the one thing that is at the top of your mind is probably all you really have to take on.

Career-wise, we all know about the lurking change we eventually have to make. Are you addicted to your frequent flying? Are you authority resistant? Do you wait until the last minute to start your work and apologetic about its quality when you hand it over? Do you avoid conflict, say obnoxious things to others, fail to show up when you said you would, or obsess over relationships and react disproportionately to inconvenience? Are you indecisive, a procrastinator, a blamer? Do you take over projects instead of facilitating, do you hold back information, do you elude necessary interactions until others come to you? Do you think no one notices?

And you thought I was going to say you should simply cut back on your cigarettes and drinking, or watch your weight, like Bridget Jones.

Nope. The real problem or real opportunity always lies deeper and we always know it’s there. Some suggestions:

1. Resolve to be honest with yourself.

2. Resolve to involve others in your planning and decision-making.

3. Resolve to ask questions about how others view your view.

4. Resolve to live in the world, not in your own head.

5. Resolve to listen for understanding, not opportunistically.

6. Resolve to live in the present, not the past or the future, and to make your contributions in the here and now.

7. Resolve to live up to your potential, to use your power for good, to choose your words wisely.

8. Resolve to be proactive, to keep a level head, to avoid drama.

9. Resolve to forgive.

10. Resolve to lighten the loads of others whenever possible.

None of these are very specific, but you know when the specific behavior is in play and when it isn’t, because you are you. You can control almost everything you do; so it is indeed possible to do it all differently, whether it comes naturally or not.

Break your bad habit—by first acknowledging that it is bad, or at least unproductive.

After that, quit smoking, cut back on your drinking, count your calories, get more exercise. Happy New Year.

Holiday Career Management

Here come the parties.  Whether you are searching for a job, working in a job you like but planning on a promotion, or working in a job you hate but are glad to have, you can’t escape the treacherous terrain of The Season. 

There are rules.   Some are written; some are not.  Either way, if you want to be at the top of your game, make your own and stick to them.  Here are my suggestions:

1.  Set goals for the season.  What do you want to be for this holiday?  Memorable in a good way?  Memorable in a bad way?  Decide and proceed; knowing in advance what you hope to accomplish makes it easier to decide what to wear to the party, what to gift, and what to say when asked something highly inappropriate by a valued customer. 

2.  If you are working, even as a volunteer or part time, make a budget for holiday gifts, contributions, and celebrations (including party wear) and make it manageable and even-handed.  Stay in the same price range across the board; no splurges on the boss or the office bff.  It’s not necessary and it sends the wrong message.  If you have no money (and after all, who does?) bake something, or spend some time researching a really creative and inexpensive approach (childrens toys, sale table books, mix cd’s, a playlist) that is specially tailored to the recipients.   If your budget is $0, you ought nonetheless to acknowledge those around you with a note or a nice photo, or a card. 

3.  No complaining about the holidays, your family, your time management  problems, your relatives, your undone chores, the weather, the schedule, blah blah blah.  No one wants to hear it and it doesn’t matter.  You won’t feel better for having articulated your personal woe, and neither will anyone else. 

4.  Make a special party plan.  Assume any work related or professional organization party is an informal interview for whatever your next career step might be, so, talk to everyone, introduce yourself and your spouse or guest around to the others, and make sure he or she is having a good time.    Attend work related parties unaccompanied if it’s easier on everyone.  Budget your own use of alcohol and don’t spend your whole budget in one place or on one night:  career killing words and deeds are just waiting for the next drink.  If you find yourself where others are doing and saying things that they will wish you hadn’t seen or heard:  Leave.  There.  Immediately.  Nothing to be gained by being able to say the truth or being the One Who Remembers it All.  

5.  Don’t wear party clothes to work.  

6.  Don’t assume that everyone celebrates your holiday, or any holiday.  Although it’s the subject of lots of holiday jokes, political incorrectness is a risk you don’t have to take.  Instead of saying Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah, just say “Cheers.” 

7.  If you are working, resist the urge to leave early more than once or twice, no matter how much clout your position or tenure has earned you.  Volunteer once or twice to cover someone else’s needs. 

8.   Resist the urge to be critical of those who use the holidays as an excuse to be a pain in the ass.  Just let it go and don’t talk about them.

9.  No, this is not a very good time to be job hunting or networking.  The rule is that if you connect with a prospective employer, network contact, or potential career helper or mentor, ask the question, “Can I call you after the first of the year, or would you advise that I do so sooner?”   Do not call the next day unless you are specifically instructed to do so.   

10.  Most important, spend as much time as you can with your friends and family.  Be the calm and stable one, the reliable source of cheer and joy.  Be the one who makes it nicer for everyone else.



The Answer to the Career Plan Question

Last week I asked some smart, accomplished, and well educated young people about their career plans.  College juniors or seniors, athletes.  Well-spoken, articulate.  Honest, apparently, because they individually, for the most part, said they were not sure what they wanted to do.  Maybe grad school; maybe law school.  Some said it more directly than others.  Some had a partial idea of a plan.  One had a long term conceptual plan, a good one, it sounded to me.

If this is you, I have some ideas for you.  Not career ideas—your bliss is your own, and I can’t tell you how to decide.  What I can tell you is that you should not leave a conversation with anyone who asks about your career plans without that person’s commitment to do something for you.  People who show interest in you are valuable resources.  “I don’t know” may be an honest answer to the question of what your plans are, but it is not the right answer.  Networking—in a very real sense—begins with a question like “What are your plans for a career?”

You need a plan for answering the question.

A search for a career or profession is not unlike sales—your objective is to find a need you can fill, using your unique talent and skill.  As romantic as the notion of a perfect career match is, you will never figure out what you want to do if you really do not know the answer, or know how to come to an answer.  What you will do—eventually—is respond to an economic imperative and decide what you will do to support yourself.  The person asking about your plans is there to help.  I don’t think you should waste such an opportunity, or postpone the chance to practice new skills that such an opportunity represents.

Your objectives in this situation are simple:  to start a conversation about you, to establish yourself as a memorable resource, to begin or strengthen a relationship, and to come away with a commitment from the person who expressed interest in you.

The first words out of your mouth should be, “Thank you for asking!”  All too often, people like me feel bad just for having asked, as the question is met with a grimace, a duck of the head, and a pained, “Oh, don’t ask. I don’t know!” Not a starter, for sure.

 The next words are, “I’m excited about my future,” said with a smile.  Excitement can be contagious. A future is something to be excited about.

 After that, “I’m looking at a few options, and I might really benefit from your help,”   moving toward asking for a commitment without putting anyone on the spot.

 You are right, the real question you were asked was “is there anything I can do to help you, inasmuch as I am in a position to help, and so far you have impressed me as someone I might want to help.”

 Here is where your plan is going to be useful.  By now, you know what you are good at, what others have complimented you on for doing well, and what your friends, parents, and teachers say about you.  This is where you specifically don’t identify a profession, because you haven’t yet chosen one, but instead you say:

 “I love to. . . . (Solve problems, build teams, learn new skills, work toward a goal, build relationships, plan the details of a project, research, write, coach, work independently, raise money, serve the public, work with kids. . .)

And I’m looking for opportunities in . . .(Business, Government, Nonprofit, Health care, Education, Law, this country, state, county, city, neighborhood. . . )

Where I can get started and work like crazy under someone willing to teach me how to be the best.”

Yes, there are decisions inherent in this plan that you have to make—so make them; just decide.  A decision like this at this time in your life is not a mistake; it’s a choice, for now.  You can’t be all things to all people, and you can’t pick everything.  You do have to know—and make some small commitment to doing—what you are good at, that others value.  If you are not sure, ask parents and teachers, friends, former bosses or coaches, or just decide on what you believe.  But you must choose, at least broadly, and at least for the  moment.

The important thing is to establish yourself as a reliable and willing professional-to-be who understands that every institution on the planet has an economic life that has to be sustained in order for it to deliver on its mission.  You, as the bright ball of energy you are, are up for providing your talents and skills in exchange for learning, and a paycheck.

But, if your dilemma, your “I don’t know what I want to be or do” funk is simply that the thought of work in a structured setting is a pain you might be able to avoid if you just don’t commit to a specific setting . . .   

If your declaration that you are good at so many things that settling on just one seems unfair to the others makes sense to you. . .

If you are thinking of going to graduate school or law school, or design school, or nursing school, just to delay, not begin, your yet-unchosen career. . .

If any of these rings a bell, realize that you have a time management problem.  Job-wise, we have only so many early career years in which to fall slightly behind or get slightly ahead of the other go-getters in our generational cohort.  These are earning years, whether the earning is real dollars, real influence, real learning, or real experience.  You cannot make the time up; once it is gone, it is gone for good.

Time rolls on, and things change daily.  What you had back then—your academic record, awards, achievements—soon begins to look less up-to-date, less fresh, less competitive in the market.  There is a crop of new graduates right behind you and one behind them, and so on.  There are no jobs that are great all of the time unless you truly love work and all the learning and growing it brings into your life, no matter how far from your perfect job or dream career you actually land. 

Career launching jobs are never perfect, and most entry level jobs are detail driven and feel very distant from the creative and stimulating academic life we have to leave.  But interesting people who land in uninteresting jobs make them perfect for now, by finding the learning and the fun in them for themselves and the others they find there.   That’s leadership practice that translates to leadership experience.

The first step in planning your career is not deciding what you want to do—it’s beginning the conversation about all your exciting choices, with the people most likely to help you get going.  It’s a start.

Telling Stories

One of the things they teach in HR school is a special kind of interviewing. (It may not be that special anymore; I think the word has spread.) It’s called STAR, or something akin to that, representing Situation, Task, Action, and Result. In this form of behavioral interviewing, the interviewer is looking for specific examples of what you have done in your past that are likely to reveal what you would do under certain–similar–circumstances. Presumably, the circumstances are a lot like those you might face on the job you want, or think you want.

For example, suppose you want to be a Human Resources professional, and you are interviewing for an employee relations job. Now, employee relations is usually the section of the HR department where they write and administer the handbooks, policy, and problem solving procedure. Employee Relations folks are likely to need patience, the ability to defuse tension, an eye for detail, and tolerance for what others might regard as mind numbing discussions of who did what to whom and why. They care about justice and are generally good at relationships.

If you want such a job, you would also want to be prepared to be asked questions like:

Was there ever a time when you were confronted by an angry person  who demanded your immediate attention on a matter of great detail and who publicly threatened you? (Situation) If so, tell me what you saw that needed to be done and why (Task) and what you did (Action). What was the Result?

The point is that if the interviewer asked, “How do you handle the anger of others?” you would be likely to say something like, “I’m the kind of guy/woman who doesn’t back down.” At which point you and the interviewer would begin a time honored ritual of trying to understand each other. Frankly, no one but you knows what you mean when you say you won’t back down. Is that like Tom Petty won’t back down or like Katie Couric won’t back down? As you can see, it’s not illustrative.

A story is what is required here, a story about a definitive moment in your life or career when your special skills were called upon and you either successfully or unsuccessfully pulled them out and put them to use. Good storytelling skills can help you–not in redrafting the stories of your life, but in relating them with adequate brevity, focus, organization, and color. Storytelling for career development is a critical skill and a competitive advantage.

There are other reasons to learn to tell good stories–mentors find that illustrative stories are softer learning tools that are less direct and more personal. Leaders often use inspiring stories to make a point and set a culture. Recruiters tell motivating stories to make you want to go to work for a company or executive. You need to tell a good story to show who you are and why you should go to the next step for the job you want.

There are lots of good books about storytelling, written by storytelling professionals; you should get to know something about the topic in general. But here is my advice about responding to STAR interview questions with an effective story.

1. Do your homework. What do you think the job requires? Do you have it? When did you last use it? What did that look like?

2. You are the hero of this story, whether you are comfortable with that or not. This is not a time to downplay your role. You are describing yourself–by telling both what you did, and revealing what you did not do. Remember this: one of the more effective aspects of behavioral interviewing is that it allows the interviewer to observe what you did not do–you can’t hide what is not there.

3. Be brief. The color of your shoes and the name of the street you were on probably are not relevant, so you can leave them out.

4. Focus on what you want to communicate–your behavior and how it affected/effected the outcome you wanted, or, if you are a huge risk taker, how it caused exactly what you didn’t want and what you learned from that. Tempting. I wouldn’t, but we’re all different.

5. Stay organized; provide details in order. Don’t throw in a flashback or surprise ending or you will spend the next ten precious minutes regrouping.

6. Keep the drama to a minimum–do not make faces, add tone to your voice, or wave your hands around. All of these diminsh the quality of your words.

7. The story should be self explanatory. You should not have to go back and explain how this anecdote relates to the question you were asked. If you have to, know you missed the mark, but your best bet is to provide only two more sentences: “Well, here’s what I learned from this experience: (add learning here).”

You can practice this. You can learn to think in stories and STARS. Since the best interviews turn out to be conversations, your goal is to tell a story that lifts up your conversation, lengthens it, and gets you asked back for another, and another.  Good storytellers are warm and a little fearless when they reveal details about themselves.  Don’t apologize, defend yourself, or alter the details after you’ve provided them.  A credible story is always better than a careful one–you are human, after all, and it is your story.

Plan for Success

Many years ago, I was in a mid level human resources management job in my hometown, in a wonderful, diversified company that provided me with enormous job satisfaction, extraordinary compensation, terrific benefits, and great experience.  I liked the job, loved the boss, and learned a lot.  And I knew it couldn’t last forever, maybe even not much longer.  The year we paid no bonuses, I made a plan.  The three things in my plan were:

 In order to qualify for another senior level human resources job as good as this one, I must complete my undergraduate education and obtain a master’s degree.  (I had five years of college but had left school before graduating.)

 In order to have the greatest number of choices of jobs in my profession, I must become an experienced and confident traveler.  (I had developed a fear of flying, and had not had to travel much over the prior ten years.)

 In order to build a good future in my profession, I must get a good job in a Fortune 500 company and build a more substantial list of professional accomplishments.

It took me five full years to do these things, but I can’t tell you that I would have done them had I not a serious conversation with myself.  To be honest, there were five things; I also had to dump a loser boyfriend and get comfortable with the idea of relocating to small Midwestern city far from my native Pittsburgh.  If you want to list ten things, that’s your choice, but you have to have three, and you have to write them down and revisit them from time to time.

If you look at my three things, you’ll see a couple of important words that tip you off to what I was determined to have in my career.  These are the things I work for; look for the things you work for when you identify and compose your own success factors.

First, I used the word “senior” level.  I knew I wanted to move up in my profession—I wanted influence and I wanted to be the top HR person wherever I worked.  Throughout my career, I found that I was sufficiently “different” in the way I approached the HR profession to warrant avoiding a reporting relationship with a more traditional HR executive.  I love reporting to business people, and I don’t mind breaking HR traditions when I do; it’s easier to just admit it than to try to defend it when things don’t work out.

Second, I work for choices.  I always want as many choices as I can garner.  In the instant situation, a fear of flying was going to limit me in ways I could no longer deny.  Getting over it was going to have to happen if I was to have the choices I craved in my next job.  Besides, it was a silly fear, it made no sense,  and I could not defend it.

Third, I am future oriented.  I am always looking down the road.  I’m a planner.  I know a future doesn’t just happen; you build it.  I’d spent many years and was about to spend many more in a wonderfully entrepreneurial company with some of the most terrific folks I’d ever meet.  But I wasn’t well-educated, and now my experience was not as competitive as my peers, as well, having taken place in a largely unknown place, no matter how financially productive that had been for me.  If you want to do HR you have to do it in great places with good HR names associated with them.

 When you establish your success levers, you must:

 Be precise; state what you mean.  This isn’t the time to be general, obfuscating, coy, or excessively demanding of yourself.  Getting an MBA is not the same as just going back to school.  You might not need an MBA; you might simply need to master principles and the language of accounting. 

 Be truthful with yourself.  If you have spent the last ten years addicted to a raft of Tivo’d soap operas or you spend your evenings with Nintendo or Wii, and now you are going to have to use that time and your intellectual resources more productively, this is important to acknowledge, and this is one place in the planning process where you must mention it.

 Correlate what you must do with why you must do it.  “In order to build my reputation as a clear-headed, reliable EMT supervisor, I must stop spending my off-hours in Bob’s Bar and begin using the time to volunteer for additional shifts.”  “In order to build a stronger network of caring people who will help me, I must volunteer for some committees at the church.”

That’s all:  Precision, Truth, and Correlation.  But once you have articulated what you have known all along, it isn’t as big, it isn’t as scary, and it isn’t avoidable.   It’s there to be done.

American Idol and Career Planning

When you watch American Idol, I bet you see a singing competition, or maybe even a judging show.  Not me, I see Career Development in action.


I am an American Idol Fan.  Sometimes I vote.  And, I read Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Slezak every week during Idol Season.  As you may know, last week Scott McIntyre was sent home, and this week Slezak’s Idolatry video featured Scott in three videos, explaining himself.  I was fascinated. 


He confirmed what I’ve always believed about the Idol cast, the kids who got the job: They Got The Job.  Now everything they do—everything—is about what they want to do after this gig.  Scott McIntyre, apparently, sees himself as a singer/songwriter with a specific brand and a very specific future; he had worked all of that out before the show began.  Since Idol doesn’t provide the top ten contestants with an opportunity to show off an original composition, Scott (who has a catalog of compositions numbering in the hundreds at least) decided to commit to his personal arrangement style for each performance, no matter the theme of the show in a given week.  He also crafted his plan for responding to criticism and comments from the judges—with help from his diplomacy training and experience as a Marshall scholar.


Scott may well have both secured and prolonged his term on the show by being extraordinarily poised, diplomatic but determined to be himself, and generally committed to his sturdy and grounded image of himself as a career singer/songwriter well beyond the Idol Finale and Tour.  You might say he had a plan and a brand.  Unlike lots of contestants who can sing a lot better.


Adam Lambert’s plan and brand are working for him, too.  I think his plan is to have the most memorable performances, wouldn’t you say?  His spectacular vocal ability and control is enhanced by his acting—and his ability to execute his fully-thought-out plan flawlessly.  Paula called him brave; I would say the word is prepared, actually, which for me only enhances the experience of watching his high wire acts.  He seems to have the best advisors of anyone on the show (you don’t think they work all this out in their heads, do you? Remember Archuleta’s dad?).  His range, flexibility, and credible (no, I didn’t mean incredible) daring—his distinctive difference—will procure his future, no matter the outcome from this point. 


But that is the point.   These are all hard-working, talented career seekers looking for opportunity—to get it, the smartest among them are armed with plans, advisors, experience, training, research, a network of go-to help, and a strong sense of who they want to be when this job ends and new opportunities present themselves.  There is no substitute for focus, commitment, and a purposeful plan.   I think Paula’s wrong about Fortune smiling on the brave (or something like that); I think Fortune smiles on the disciplined who stayed on message.  Take a career lesson here; think about and plan for exactly what you want, all the time. 


You might think Idol is a competition (as Randy often puts it, “a singing competition, Dawg!”), but I don’t.  I think it is a collaboration of like-minded career seekers (including the producers), who put on a great show every week and reap the rewards of their individual preparation, planning, and performance.