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What if you are the trailing spouse or partner?

Thank you, Korey Henson for the topic today, and for not leaving my doorway until you pointed out that this is a tougher problem than it seems on the surface to be.  So I’m going to give it a go, but there may be more than one question in here, and I may have more than one way of looking at this challenge.

I don’t like the terminology here–trailing spouse has a kind of forlorn sound to it.  I can’t think of a different description that isn’t wordy or weird, so I’m just going to go ahead and use this, and edit later if someone suggests a better way to capture the challenge.

And it is a challenge.  I think the first thing is to make peace with your decision to be the trailing spouse.  For the uninitiated, a trailing spouse or partner is the member of the duo or family who has agreed to give priority to the career, job offer, opportunity, or assignment/orders of the other member of the family leadership team.  And to go–geographically, and presumably emotionally–where that takes them all.  It is assumed by the outside world, of course, that you do this happily, willingly, and with a sense of adventure, though simply doing it willingly and with a sense of responsibility for keeping everyone on track might also work.

But publicly or covertly, or even in the privacy of your head,  re-litigating the decision or revisiting the process after you’ve started to implement is not a good idea.  It takes a while for the kinks to shake out of any change and for everyone to adjust to a new normal.  Openly sharing your ideas for making things better is good, but not if what you have to contribute is “I wish you’d never enlisted.”  For example.

If the question is staying behind, it’s one thing if that is staying behind for a while, or commuting, for a while, or trying this out, for a while, or anything that’s just for a little while;  it’s another if that is just an excuse to delay.  I believe that half in and half out doesn’t offer an honest sample of the future, only that it offers different struggles and different issues.  Sometimes you do have to wait for the school year to end, for the house to sell at the price you want or need, or the end of year commission or bonus to come through.  I get that if it’s real–but opportunity cost (dollars or emotional/professional collateral) is a real thing also.  The sooner you get started on the next chapter, the sooner you reap the benefits of the decision to open that chapter.

When one spouse has to quit a job, delay his or her own career move or opportunity, or figure out a new plan for a new reality–while the other is also facing the unknown and untested in a brand new job in a brand new place–more than the practical aspects of what to do are likely to emerge.  I doubt that I can help with the nuances of the personal side of this, but from a career development perspective, my priorities would be, if you are that spouse:

  1. Make the most of your choice.  Don’t waste time.  Put on the new headset and listen–to your own ideas, your words, and your thoughts, along with everyone else’s.
  2. Set goals for your own side of the equation.  Don’t suspend your personal goals, but add new goals.  Adapt the words, the language, and the spirit.
  3. Try new things: actions, behaviors, and reactions.  Don’t try to stay in your groove.  Affirmatively change things up, in the interest of expanding your portfolio of possibilities.

Make the most of your choice.

If you know where you are going, and if you know you will be there indefinitely, try to find the right job for your career progression in your new community.  That means conducting a job search in the new place, which you can do from the old place or wait until you get to the new place.  On a practical level, no one really needs to know what brought you to the new place, but when you are asked what brought you there, you are going to have to answer.  My best advice is to give it all up–tell all–with enthusiasm and joy at your great good fortune.  Regardless of what you really think of where you landed, you love it and look forward to meeting everybody.

You can’t control everything, and that includes the probability that some folks you talk to might think you have another move in your future.  And, you might.  But if someone has the bad judgment to ask, just act surprised and say, “No, we’re committed to This Town.  We both chose this, and couldn’t be happier with our decision.”

If you don’t know how long you are going to be there, and if you are aware it may not be that long, assess your circumstances.  I don’t think you can or should fabricate a scenario of staying forever when you know that is unlikely, or tell a prospective employer that you don’t know something that you do know.  And, by the way, if the spouse or partner is in the service, on secondment for a big company that often relocates families for well-known periods of time, or subject to a published contract that specifies a date, it is what it is.  If you can afford to, consider the following:

  1. Sign up for more education; add credentials.  Consider distance education in a field that will enhance your own career, or help you to transition to a transfer-friendly career.
  2. Start and build a business or practice than you can run from your home, or base from your new location.  Web-based ventures, income-producing blogs and vlogs, consulting, online teaching in your field, and virtual services are not geography-dependent and can represent sturdy economic platforms.
  3. Figure out how to do the job you want from the place you are.  This is not that strange, although the caveat is that you may have to adapt your notion of the job you want.  Don’t say it isn’t possible, just figure out how you would do it if you could.  That’s the starting point.  As a subset of this item, if you are a licensed professional, and you love your profession, you need to become licensed where you are going.

Set goals for your side of the equation.

Wherever you are going, you need a network, a plan, and for heaven’s sake, goals.

Goals make your story and your side of the story meaningful; goals protect your career accomplishments.  Goals give you a role and a purpose that might otherwise start to fray a few weeks into your journey.  Goals reflect your intentions and tell you who you are.

As you meet the new friends you are inviting into your life, goals are what you mention, and ideas are what you ask for.  You may be completely unaware of the opportunities in your new community, but by talking about what you want to accomplish while you are there and as you get to know your new friends, a world of possibilities will probably open up.

  1. Join local organizations, clubs, and groups–not indiscriminately, but within your interest areas or profession.  Volunteer for assignments, jobs, and events that give you a chance to meet other people and talk about your ideas, plans, and goals.
  2. Ask others about themselves, their town, their interests, and their opinions.
  3. Write.  Even if you are not a writer by nature, keep a journal, a record, and a daily quota for getting your thoughts on paper.  Because you are in a very new place, your imagination, your fears, your dreams, and your words, which are always important, are especially rich.  Don’t fail to capture them.

Try new things.

You may not know all the things you are good at; you may have never tested all the things you thought you wouldn’t be good at.  If you have always done what you’ve been doing until now, you really don’t know what other things might make you happy every day.  If you are otherwise uncommitted, this might be just the right time to sample other choices.

In the Try New Things Department, doing research on yourself is worthwhile.  Here is how you do that:

Ask the people who know you well what they think you are good at, or what you would be good at if you overhead the chance.

Seek out the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory, Strength-finders, and other instruments that provide you with insight (when delivered by individuals qualified to offer insight, by certification and experience).  

Pay attention to what you say, do, and respond to positively or negatively for a while.  Write down your impressions of what happened and why you reacted as you did.

Review your past; take a good look at your box of old stuff, your expired resumes, and your transcripts from college or grad school.  Give some thought to what you loved and hated about the day to day in those days, and compose some thoughts to accompany the narrative that is playing out in your present. 

There are clues to some hidden talents, skills, and interests in all of these.

If you try one new thing every week for one year, you will have 52 new experiences by the end of one year.  Whether you try consciously or not, you will have had new experiences, but you will not have planned or prepared for them, or tried the ones you’ve always wanted to.

Let’s talk about your resume.

What your resume looks like depends on your choices.  If you create continuity you will have continuity.  If you create a left turn in an otherwise fairly stable career, you will have a left turn.  Your cover letter is usually the place where career ventures or adventures are brought to life; your resume is just the timeline and sequence of what you did and what it yielded.

As you are making your decisions, it’s probably less important that they look logical than it is that they look like you liked what you did and added new skills, new competencies, and new connections.

I am not a fan of the resume that has every detail of everything you did in your career to date.  I have had to talk intelligent adults out of including a 9th grade science fair project on an executive resume.  (Allow me to say for the record that I could author a pretty effective cover letter that included that science fair, but not on a resume, please.)  I think resumes should help tell a story, but never the whole story.  A resume–along with it’s constant companion, the cover letter–needs only to get you into a conversation with someone who can get you an interview.  Thus, be brief, and interesting.  There is not much more to it.

Gigs, on Resumes

Let’s say that you have built a family business around selling second-hand fashion on eBay.  Let’s say that this is so successful that you have full-time and part-time employees on your payroll and that you expect to cover the cost of your children’s education out of your profits from this venture.  But it is not your profession, the way that you see it.  You are, in fact, a lawyer.

Does the gig belong on your resume? That depends.

If you are looking for a lawyer job, this won’t help you, and in fact, it might suggest to a prospective employer that your attention will be divided.  However, you could identify it as an interest, hobby, or avocation.  Whether or not you have heretofore involved the whole family, you can make the case that this is a family venture, implying that you are not the driving force on it’s specific operations.

On the other hand, if you have to feature the business as your economic platform during a period of unemployment, your resume may instead reflect the prominent leadership role you held, the business experience you gained, the entrepreneurship and sales/marketing skills you now possess.  You need not go into great detail on the resume itself–all you want to do is get into the folder of candidates.  If, as a lawyer, your business operated in a state where you were licensed, and if you in fact, set up the business, structure, and documents, and if, in fact you conducted the business’s legal affairs, you might be both its CEO and General Counsel.

Both of these treatments of exactly the same set of circumstances are correct, assuming you are able to smoothly transition in your head from facilitative leader of the family business, to founder and leader of the family business.  You might, for the record, have not one dollar of sales, not one customer on the line, not one iota of confidence that you will ever figure this out.  That doesn’t mean that you are not an entrepreneur, that you are not working at your business every day, that you are not one day going to experience the exhilarating feeling of making a profit.  Or on a different timeline, enjoying the spectacle of your son or daughter figuring out what you had not been able to for years.

Building a narrative for your situation is part of brand-making, endemic to turning yourself into a great candidate, and making your story compelling.








I Got the Job I Thought I Wanted. . .

You can love your profession, your day in and day out routines, and even the growth that comes of ever-increasing responsibilities, and still not be happy in your job.

Maybe you are an introvert stuck in a cubicle farm with low-ish walls and neighbors who sing Bohemian Rhapsody (in unison, like at a Green Day concert) while balancing receipts.

Maybe your chair has been broken for months, your back hurts, and you have no one to advocate for you.

It could be that you have no one to talk to, hang with, or grace with your great ideas.

The location might be nasty or inconvenient, or way too far from or close to your home.  The commute gives you too much time to hate on this company, boss, job, and every minute you spend on it.

At your company, everyone brings their dog to work and you are afraid of dogs.  You are a cat person in a sea of dogs.

The dress code is too formal on business dress days and too casual on casual days.

There is more work than you were promised and there aren’t enough people to do it.  It’s the right work for you, but not in this quantity.  You have no time to enjoy it or do it well, meaning to you standards.

There is less work than you expected, it’s much less complex than you were led to believe, your resume and self-esteem are both getting lighter by the minute, and you have no idea how you will explain this on your resume.  You are falling behind your expectations and your peers.

You aren’t paid enough for the hours and hours and hours of labor and intense stress.  But you are paid well.

Your boss is mean, crazy, narcissistic, borderline, codependent, addicted, misogynistic, unreliable, deplorable, or unabashedly disengaged and running the company into the ground.

The professional development opportunities you were promised haven’t materialized.

The truth is, you should have been able to suss this stuff out during the recruiting, selection, and hiring process.  If you networked to the job, did some research, asked anyone who works at the company what it’s like to work there, or even Googled the people who interviewed you, you might have learned enough to ask more questions.  If it makes you feel any better, most people don’t examine either themselves or their prospective business companions that closely.   It’s hard to be critical of someone who is courting you, who says they want your best stuff, and who seems to be right on your own wave length at all times.  Love is indeed blind when it comes to corporate courting.

But in case you want to know how you got here, I’ve made up a handy-dandy set of questions and true/false statements you can use to determine if this one’s for you, or not for you or anyone else.  Because this is almost always a head-banging Monday morning qb fest, it’s in the past tense.

The Basics:  True or False

  1. I checked with my network and circle of advisors for clues about this job and company. People who know me well know how I work and what I like and dislike about what I do every day.  They put timeinto advising me and talking through the pros and cons of this opportunity.
  2. I completed a thorough job application for this position, and went through a competitive qualification process.
  3. My references were checked. All of my references.
  4. I was interviewed thoroughly for this position. They asked really good questions.
  5. I met key people I’d be working with, and had the chance to ask questions about the organization, culture, workload, dress code, equipment, hours of work, commute, pay, benefits, and supervision. So I asked those questions and listened to the answers.
  6. I also asked the hiring manager, my boss, a lot of good questions about the company, the business, my role, expectations, customers, industry, philosophy, and anything else that seemed important. The boss listened carefully and responded thoroughly, appropriately candidly, and used language I understood.
  7. I was provided with an offer letter that detailed my responsibilities and included a job description as well as description of benefits and pay,, and I accepted the job in writing as well.
  8. I had a thorough orientation and on-boarding. I was educated and trained on everything I needed to know.
  9. Everyone I work with at the company knows my name and uses it.
  10. I have a copy of an up to date handbook or policy manual.
  11. I am greeted by people I work with each day, and feel a sense of belonging.

These are all signs that the company did its part of the talent management/talent recruiting and selection process responsibly.  They think or they thought that you are the right person for them.  They see you as a member of their tribe, regardless of what you think.

But, a great many people get caught up in the race to get an offer, and are seduced by the idea of a dream job.  A particular job isn’t right for everyone—the only way you can determine that it’s right for you is by asking and answering questions with an open heart and open mind.  You have to be willing to let the wrong job go by.  A company that is careless—one that is not diligent in learning about you—will by definition not care about you.  The same is true for you:  how did you contribute to the outcome you wanted or the outcome you got?

Now the Questions:

  1. Did I really pay attention to what I was asked about my preferences, interests, likes and dislikes; am I really aware of my preferences, interests, and likes and dislikes? [The reason I ask is that one of the questions I am most often asked by students or other job seekers is “How do I answer the one about my strengths, weaknesses, and preferences?”  Answer truthfully, with humor and humility]
  2. Was I blinded by the light of the possibilities, such that I didn’t see the reality? [If you are a Myers-Briggs NTP or NFP the answer is yes.]
  3. Did I feel desperate, and did I allow that feeling to override my good judgement? [This is complicated; if you came into the process confident, you may desperately want it to end well and you try to perform better and better. If you came into the process without confidence, you may just want an offer to prove to yourself that you are good enough.  Neither is particularly objective.]
  4. Did I like these people when I met them the first time? I mean were they friendly, warm, inviting, encouraging, and did they seem honest and fair?  Did they speak my language?  Did the questions they asked me relate to the work, the fit, the job, the culture, the industry, or the organization’s published strategy? [Did they have to read the questions from a screen or a page?  Bad sign.]
  5. At any point did I say to myself, “Oh well, I can do this for two years.”? [That is a very bad sign.]
  6. Have there been negative articles in the press, online, or on the Coconut Telegraph about this company, its executives or board, or this industry? [Gossip is not a positive sign.]
  7. Did you do all the talking in all your interviews? Did you do none of the talking in any of your interviews?  [If you got no feedback through the normal communication process, you should ask for feedback before making any assumptions about how it went.  If the answer to your request is that it went “fine” assume that it didn’t.  The only possible answer to a request for feedback from exactly the right candidate is “everyone scrambling to find more money to offer you because you are perfect.”]
  8. What did you like the best, above all other things, about the opportunity? Did you verify and validate it that it was real?  If the answer to the former is one of the following: power, glamor, political clout, visibility, influence, fun, or something like these, they are not real.  They are not independent variables; they are dependent on you. [So none of those actually count.]
  9. Did you figure out (in the process), the exact difference you would make there? e. did you see the picture with you in it, and internalize how you would personally and professionally make it even better?
  10. What did your closest confidant say about the opportunity? Why?

A new job always has uncertainty and risk in the bargain.  We negotiate with ourselves time and again over what matters and what doesn’t.  But as you go along in your career, know that it is a mark of the best candidate to ask the right questions and prove you are as invested in a good outcome as your prospective employer.



Content or Tone?

Intergenerational Communications is a long way of saying that the young’uns and their elders aren’t clear with each other when they talk and write.  And that is often a problem.  For example, I find that when I bring up the subject of three ring binders–my favorite method of organizing all the important stuff I can find on a subject–I can feel the group eye-roll working it’s way forward at the table.  And yet, I know I am not alone among the boomers who love the smell of school supplies on a fall morning, and the romance of knowing that your binder holds the key to an A on that term paper.  I say binder, you say Outlook folder.  I tell the Konica to print, collate, and hole punch.  You save to the L Drive, Basecamp, or google Docs.  But it isn’t the only thing that separates our sensibilities.

I don’t know if Facebook released our inhibitions about what we share.  I don’t know if it is the casual tone with which we tweet or comment scathing (though perhaps earned) remarks about our politicians, celebrities, or former third grade bullies.  Or our siblings.  And I don’t know if getting back in touch with old (old!) friends and frenemies returned us to a wilder time or self.  But sometimes it isn’t how you say it, but what you choose to say.

Let’s start here.  What’s really in your head need not come out of your keyboard, pen, pencil, crayon, Sharpie, or brush.  And, if I may, this means you, whether you are twenty-five, thirty-eight, fifty-two, sixty, or beyond.

We talk, all of us, about tone.  I read a wonderful article on The Muse this morning about the manner in which the use of emoticons and emoji diminish our credibility in the workplace.  However, those of us who check all grammar, spelling, word choice, clarity, thoroughness, and so on–because Mrs. Barone from 11th Grade AP English is standing right behind us–all add that smiley face because we know that somehow our compulsive composition comes through as smug, competitive, willful, defensive, or worse.  So we try to neutralize the tone of an email instead of having an in person conversation–the more suitable (and far less convenient) communication channel.

So when you talk, whatever the content, it’s an exchange–I say this, you respond.  Then I listen to you, and that determines what I say next, and so on.  For me, then, what I have to communicate unfolds, and the tone is necessarily one of exploration and collaboration, under the best of circumstances.  Arguments are different, of course (and having those by email or FB or some other platform is unwise).  But either way, the content you offer is guided by how you experience my reactions when you mobilize it.  If you go over the top of my tolerance, I will usually communicate that gently and according to rules of etiquette.

You can’t get there in digital formats. If you have to work really hard on the tone of an email, it is very likely a content problem.  Tone shines right on through and should not be used in an attempt to conceal what you really think.  Emoji (or is it emojis?) don’t help; they make the problem worse.  When you have to try that hard to make the recipient think you aren’t saying what you actually set out to say, you make it much much worse.  The conversation that should replace it begins something like this:

“Forgive me for bringing up what may be a rough spot.  Can we talk about binders?”  Or something like that.  It may not be binders, and the spot may not be rough or it may be scratched raw.  But writing out your position in an email, posting to a timeline, tweet, or other content platform means that your content–the purpose of your communication–is being read on the recipient’s schedule, in the recipient’s frame of mind, and wherever the recipient happens to be geographically or emotionally.  That is simply not ideal for you, and no amount of shaping and decorating your words will make up for the deficit in your thinking.

Back to the intergenerational dimensions of this problem.  If you were born with a keyboard in your hand or mouth and if you tend to want to stab a screen with your index finger nearly every time you are near one, you have long ago come to terms with shorthand and pictures as your primary way of making a point.  You must develop language skills immediately or the older people (the ones large and in charge) may not see your value.  And, that way you can teach them the shorthand.   You seem more likely to be tone-free than tone-deaf.  Neither is great.

But you are at risk for pointing at and posting content that makes a lot of assumptions about the sensibilities of others.  I don’t mean violent or sexual content.  I mean oversharing, unburdening, making political statements, and trying to get over on someone.

And at the other end of the spectrum, If you make binders of your and other people’s thoughts on relevant subjects, know that you are the opposite of the screen stabbing shorthanded identified above.  The longer you write, the more you will be misunderstood and unheard.  You are tone-heavy, and perhaps content-heavy too.

A conversation–supervised by a qualified interpreter–might help.



William Bridges originally published Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes in 1980, which is around the time I first came across it and began giving copies to friends, coworkers, and clients.  So simple a paradigm for understanding your personal reaction to the things that happen to and around you, it barely qualifies in the world of academic models that took shape later in the decade and in later decades.

I always struggled with organizational development diagrams, pictures, arrows and circles, lines and boxes, and pictorials representing the theoretical flow of human energy or other intangible movement.  I’m not sure if I’m just linear, or whether I start to digress as soon as I see something ambiguous, like the word “change.”  I love the idea of change, and I’m a transition diver–I just go for it and see what happens–but the pictures tend to feel very controlling and unfriendly to me.

So the simplicity of Bridges’ model is that it isn’t really a model, it’s kind of a lens you can choose to use.  In his view, change is what happens around you, it’s external.  Transition is what you do to adapt.  Before you can transition to a beginning, there has to be an ending, and after the ending there is a neutral zone.  You pass through the neutral zone at your own pace, and eventually find yourself at a new beginning.

Neutral zones can be troublesome, because you are neither there nor here–not at an end or a beginning.  When you long for the comfort of your old life, your old ways, your old self, just the longing itself lets you know it’s past, and therefore not present.  You have arrived in the neutral zone.  In the neutral zone, you aren’t really moving forward and you can’t go back, and that can create a lot of unconscious or subconscious maneuvering, as you try to hang on and try to move ahead, simultaneously.  Physically, you might experience feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, pain, all the while looking for the happiness a new beginning can represent.  Confusing, on a good day, but with all the potential for destructive action on the worst days.

We don’t always know the exact way in which we create what we think are safety nets, back-up plans, rationalizations, and alternatives, but sometimes they exert more power than the real deal, the intention or ambition that started the end of the old and the plan for the new.  It helps to be self-aware and to know that the something that is going on inside you is healthy and a sign that you are adapting.  You can hit the pause button, listen to yourself, and figure out what to do next.

I recommend Bridges’ book, now a classic, and in a new revised (2004) edition.  It’s short, elegant, simple, and very straightforward.  It applies to so much of our big and small changes in life, whether we are conscious of the neutral zone or just sail though it.  Aging, illness, graduation, moving from one house to another, loss of job, new job, new partner, divorce, breakup, best friend moved, empty nest, promotion, new hobby sports injury, weight gain, weight loss, new boss, new president (!). . . .you get the picture; it’s a lens for clarifying why we often feel a bit stuck, unstable, or just not there yet.

What the Job Pays

One of the more challenging job questions goes something like this:

“I found out about a job I think I might want.  The description (or posting) checks almost all my boxes.  But how do I find out what the job pays so I know whether (or not) to apply?”

The short answer is that you necessarily apply before you know the pay, and the rest of the story is that you may never find out.  However, I can tell you how this usually works or plays out, so that at least you know there is no secret code that everyone else has, but you don’t.

Notes on pay:

  • Base pay usually represents the value of a job to an employer.
  • A “range” means the range from the minimum value of a job to the maximum value of the same job (the most an employer will pay).
  • The midpoint is the value of a job when the person in the job is fully qualified and experienced in the job.
  • Job value is employer specific, though it is usually tied to two balancing factors—external competitiveness and internal equity.
  • The employer sets the midpoint (and the minimum and the maximum around it) according to an employer-specific formula, which is based on the employer’s human resources or talent strategy (including the frequency and basis for pay increases).

Usually, an employer wants to bring in new employees above the minimum and below the midpoint of the range.  Typically, an employer will not want to hire above the midpoint, for a lot of reasons.

If an employer does not have any of those things—ranges, midpoints, formulas, and so on—pay is set based on what the employer can afford, or according to the “going rate,” or via internal equity (what everyone else gets, plus or minus a factor for contravening forces, like fairness to a long-tenured staff member, or desperate need for a specific skill set).

Sometimes the highest paying jobs are those that require “combat pay,” which is based on working conditions that include long hours, emotional stress, crises to be managed, or job insecurity due to industry or company circumstances.

Base pay does not usually take into account any kind of discretionary or performance-based cash incentive arrangement, it does not include the value of health and welfare benefits and perquisites (like a paid parking space or club membership), and it does not include stock or other ownership provisions.  However, an employer may choose to establish a less competitive base pay policy because of other highly attractive features of its talent strategy.

So into this pay landscape you wander, interested in a job you heard about, but needing essential information:  What is that job worth to that particular organization?

Most employers don’t advertise pay ranges, either internally (to their employees) or externally (to the market).  The reason for this is simple:  internally, pay becomes a distraction, and externally, it usually isn’t necessary, unless the employer is forced to compete for talent based only on pay.    Employers typically would prefer that employees are focused on customers, clients, constituencies, and just about anything other than how much the work they or anyone else is doing should be worth.

If you think you want a certain job because the work sounds like a fit for your experience, skills, and ambitions, your next step should be to research the company and the other employees.  Who are these people and how might you help them get where they all want to go?  I think you should go so far as to seek important information about the person to whom a job reports and what their experience is, what they might teach you, and whether you would be the right fit for that person’s organization.

Next, you need to examine competitor companies, to see how your target company and job stack up in the industry, community, and your profession.  Look for articles, mentions, tweets, legal actions, sanctions, and gossip.  All important.

If you are still interested, and after all your research you can see how this job that fits you also fits into the overall company strategy, it’s time to apply, even though you still don’t know what the job pays.  If along the way, you have somehow connected with someone who works for the company, you should not ask that individual what the job pays.  From this point on, pretend (to yourself, not to anyone else) that the job pays exactly what you had in mind all along.

It is better if you apply without knowing what the job pays.  The message conveyed is that you like the sound of the work.  It also conveys that you have confidence in your judgment.

Only three things can happen next.

  1. You apply for the job and no one contacts you, because they don’t see the same “fit” that you do.  Remember, they know more about the company, job, and other applicants than you do.
  2. You apply for the job and someone contacts you to ask you screening questions, which may include asking your salary requirement.  It’s a legitimate question, not a trick question—you have to answer it.  You might begin with a dodge, like “it depends on the whole package,” but at the end of the day, the screener is looking for the ball park.  If you are at $200K and the job pays $85K, it’s the wrong ball park, and you both know it.  If you don’t care about the money and you would do this particular job for $100K, then say $100K, you might be in or close enough to the ball park.  If it’s $75K, say $75K; they aren’t going to give you less than the job is worth to them, with you as the incumbent.
  3. You apply for the job and are invited to interview.  You are offered the job, and a   compensation and benefits package is offered to you, which you can accept, decline, or negotiate.  Or you are not offered the job, and at that stage it’s unlikely that it had anything to do with money.

If you are asked for salary requirement information during the application process (on the online application, for example) answer truthfully.  And, if you are asked for your current salary, you do have to answer that question truthfully, and it is a different question.  What you are currently earning and what you require of the applied-for job are two different things.

The best thing to remember about pay is that it is not an absolute.  Once you have met your future leadership and colleagues, they may decide that you are worth more than the last person in the job, or that they undershot the market.  Or, if you are wildly unqualified but impressed them, they may decide that they will take a chance on you but at less than they planned for the fully qualified but higher paid targeted talent.

The only real guidepost in all of this is to never do what you personally can’t afford to do.  I once had a headhunter try to talk me into taking a job with a company that wanted to pay 75% of the annual cash compensation as discretionary/incentive pay following the end of the fiscal year.  The remaining 25% to be paid out monthly would not have been enough base pay to cover my mortgage and other expenses.  It was a hell no for me, but for someone else, it might have been fine.

Many people work for health or retirement benefits, for needed access to a new career or training in a specialized field, or discounted education, or other, personal objectives.  Cash compensation is only one of many reasons to pursue a great job.


The Perils and Problems of Group Interviews

Full disclosure:  I hate these.  Either as a participating interviewer, or as the interviewee, I experience these as far less effective and useful than one on one conversational interviews.

For me, if I’m advising an employer, the objective of every step of a process should bring out the best in a job candidate, reliably, and intentionally.  And with group interviews, there is high risk of turning off a candidate or diminishing candidate performance unless the interviewing team has clear objectives and experienced leadership, specific individual assignments,  and is transparent with the candidate about how performance in the group interview will be evaluated.

If you are a candidate, you want to find out as much about the folks who will be in the room as you can.  Usually, you will be given an itinerary in advance, including names, titles, times, locations, and so on.  Look up every one of  them up on LinkedIn, research them on the organization’s website, and ask your connections how you would likely work with them or with their staffs if you get the job. Once you have done your homework,  prepare yourself based on what you learned.

And if you are ushered into a room with a group of folks who look nice and well-intentioned but not particularly organized or focused, at least heed the following guidelines.

  1. Ask if you may have the names and positions of the interviewers.  It isn’t an unreasonable request, especially for someone who plans to write thank you notes to each member of the interviewing team.  But you will need this for a more important reason—remembering names and roles as the interview progresses will become increasingly harder as it goes along.  The names are important for obvious reasons, but the roles give you context for the questions you are likely to be asked.
  2. Introduce yourself and summarize your interest and what you hope to accomplish in the available time. You can thank the assembled for giving you the chance to be there, too, and that’s a nice touch.
  3. Make sure everyone there has a copy of your resume and any other materials they might need.  You should have extra copies with you.
  4. If you need water or tissues, ask for them before you sit down and before the door is closed behind the last person in. It’s hard to believe, but entirely possible, that no one is in charge of this event.  It’s unlikely that the absence of basic comforts is a test, so ask for the water before your throat closes, and for the tissue before your nose runs or your brow erupts in sweat.  If you wait for the crisis, it’s your emergency, if you ask ahead of time, it’s their opportunity to be helpful, which is better. Regarding the tissue, it’s better to ask for a fresh one than to pull your handkerchief or personal tissue out of your pocket.
  5. Take brief notes.   In order to remember a point or the second part of a two-point question.  Also, those notes can help with your thank you notes. . . .
  6. Answer the person who asked the question. You can look around the table as you answer, but it’s the questioner you must circle back to and ask if you answered his or her question.
  7. Do not, in this interview, try to be funny or tell a joke, figuratively join the group, nudge-nudge-wink-wink with a subset of the group or the group at large, state a personal opinion unless asked specifically to state a personal opinion (and even then, be careful), or provide confidential information about your present employer or anyone else in the industry.
  8. Dress as if you are making a formal presentation on a stage in front of an audience. This is one step up from a regular interview.  If the group interview is on the same day as a regular interview, it’s still a step up.
  9. Expect that the subject is going to change a lot and this whole experience may lack basic continuity. People often come to these interviews with only one question prepared, and they are going to ask it no matter what.  Even if you already answered it, answer it again, in a slightly different way.
  10. Be briefer than you normally would; your job is to let everyone have time for his or her participation. Your answers should be slightly shorter than you think they should be.  They sound longer to everyone who is waiting to ask their own question.  The most frequent feedback on a group interview feedback form is that the candidate rambled on. Even if they really didn’t.
  11. When the clock signals the time is up and the interview is over, it will be over even if you are in the middle of a sentence, even if you are the best candidate ever, and even if you have much much more to say. Group norms are more controlling than individual norms and at least one person in that room has somewhere they must be in about thirty seconds. Finish it up fast and thank everyone, by saying “Thank you everyone,” and looking around the room at each person if you don’t have time to shake all the hands.   If you do have a minute or two, shake and thank, using names if you know all of them.

If you are fortunate, someone in the group has been watching the clock and as the time starts to run out, will ask if you have any questions.  Know that the person who asked you that is probably one of the leaders of the group, and you can direct your question to that individual.  Do not throw a hardball.  Here are my nominations for a good general question in a group interview:

“What’s the best thing about working here?”

And that’s about it.

Send thank you notes to everyone who participated, and yes, handwritten notes are still the best.  If you are the one who emails (instead of writes with pen and ink) those niceties, you may lose by that slim a margin.  Yes, it is true.

Most organizations who conduct group interviews are trying to be inclusive in the selection process, while not consuming a misleading amount of an individual candidate’s time, energy, or enthusiasm.  My best advice is to manage your risk carefully–it’s usually not the best place to let it all hang out and to give the performance of a lifetime.  That said, a/the real decision-maker, heavy influencer, or organizational sage could be buried among a dozen participants in a group interview, so holding too much back can work against you, too.




Land the Plane

Is this you?

You have never felt quite comfortable in the job market, asking for help with your journey, or explaining to your networking connections what your next step is likely to be.  As regards your network, you don’t often ask for help.

You are okay when you are researching job postings, filling out online applications, or refining a resume that illustrates what you used to do, where you have been, and what you have done—but writing a cover letter authentically describing what you want to do, where you want to work, or how your past connects with your future, not so much.

You get interviews, but don’t like or warm up to  the interviewers or their questions.

You apply for jobs when the posting sounds interesting, even if you aren’t familiar with the job family, terminology, profession, or company.

The job often sounds interesting but the company culture or the fit is all wrong for you.

You want to make sure you have seen all your options before you make the leap to a less than perfect fit.

You are starting to imagine a different future than the one that you have been pursuing—maybe a complete turnaround, to something you haven’t considered until now.

You have turned down three or more interviews or jobs, including applications you have withdrawn before you were offered the job.

Here’s the thing.

It’s time to land the plane.  You are finding ways to avoid commitment.  You are actually not looking for the right job—or any job.

I don’t know how many ways this pattern of avoidance can go wrong from a mental health point of view.  But I do know these things:

Your destination is on the ground, not in the clouds.  You have to land the plane to get started on the work of the work, which is different from the job.  A job is a relationship with an organization, with others who are committed to getting something done, a service, a product, a plan.  The work is the activity or collection of activities that form a profession, a process, a role, or in general, a contribution to the whole.

There is no ideal job anymore—no one finds the perfect place, pay, people, or projects.  Everyone compromises on the ideal in order to be current and learning and economically stable.

Not all that long ago, Gallup did a study of best places to work, and determined that they are marked by this: their employees like the people they work with, trust the people they work for, and take pride in what they do.  You can choose to like, trust, and take pride in your work—it is, in fact, up to you to do so.

You should not respond to an online posting if you do not know a lot about the company, the work, and (not or) the upside and the downside implications of that job forevermore appearing as the next job on your resume.  Think about that.  Upside and downside.  Where do you do after that job?  Why?

Whatever you are doing behind that computer screen, stop it and go to places where there are stimulating working people who make you laugh and think.

When you interview or network, force yourself to find the very best things about the people who cared enough and had enough interest in you to invite you to learn more about them.  Just decide you like them and think of them as good, kind, and helpful.  Do not test them.  Do not find them imperfect.  Do not imagine them being their worst selves.  Imagine you can depend on them, see them daily, and learn to like them very much.  They have moms, dads, siblings, and pets—just like you.  Good days and bad days,

I used to tell job candidates who were not sure about the leap to imagine what it’s like when they bring all of their skills to the party—not what is it like now, but what would it be like if you taught us everything you know and showed us your personal leadership in the thing you are good at.  Think about that—how can you make it better?

At the end of the day, there is very little that “feels” right about a new place, new job, new friends, and new work to do every day.  It’s a commitment to make it all less new and more familiar.  You cannot stay up in the air.

Land the plane.

Change is Inevitable

John Maxwell said “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.”  Tony Robbins’ version is “Change is inevitable; progress is optional.”   Either way, the world and the economic environment are changing more rapidly, more suddenly, and more dramatically than ever before.

If you are choosing a career, how then do you consider the question of sustainability?  You love what you do, or what you think you want to do, but what about the future of whatever career or careers that might represent?

I don’t know the answer, and the horizon on answers about the future is shorter than it used to be.  Five-year plans are probably really three-year plans, and in some cases they become obsolete faster than that, depending on the industry and region of the world.

Drama aside, you still have to make decisions.  Here are some things to think about.

  1.  What is it that you really like about work itself?  Identify the elements and contours of the attractors inherent in the career or job you sought or are seeking.   Are they sustainable into the future of the job you declared for?  Or are they obsolescence-bound?  For example, face to face contact has succumbed to FaceTime and Skype, travel as a job feature is fast coming off the table, and as well we know, news reporting is more entertainment than journalism, no matter the medium.
  2. What is your risk/reward tolerance?  Jobs with substantial paychecks most often involve higher risk:  sales, scarcity of resources, specialization, geographic undesirability, start-ups, long and painful hours, immense emotional burden.  Jobs with less risk pay less and will likely continue to throughout your career.  You can budget risk; many people choose high risk situations early in a career, where the risk of failure is presumable more tolerable, and where high rewards can lead to a broader range of future choices.  Choosing wisely early can be a hedge against future change.
  3. Are you able to stay current in your field?  Often, change sneaks up on you, and there you are, using language suitable for the last millennium and talking about irrelevant matters in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yes, people notice when you haven’t kept up with the times and your own professional development.
  4. Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist?  The current career popularity contest is producing STEM winners, so anything science, technology, engineering and math is open for business.  A word of caution:  shortages lead to overabundance, and it doesn’t take that long.  So if you heard that a specific job (ceramic widgets engineer level three, for example) is making megazillions, know that that job has a boss who supervises lots of cweL3’s and has a PhD in management.  Generalizing may lead to the more sustainable path in the end.  But you don’t really know.
  5. Do you have the genes of an Entrepreneur?   If you do, you may have the most choices (but we are back to that risk/reward thing).   It’s hard to know until you leap into the volcano if volcano-leaping is for you.  starting and managing your own business can be satisfying or it can be lonely or it can be both.  Depending on the business itself, it may be either sustainable (at the right scale) or salable enough to allow you a handful of future choices.
  6. Are you considering a profession that requires extensive education and a license at the end of the education road?  Doctors, Lawyers, Architects, Pharmacists, Ministers, Teachers, Veterinarians are pretty sustainable careers, but the compensation is all over the map and rises and falls with the tides.  You can almost always work, but you may not always be able to bank.  Teachers and Veterinarians will tell you that you really have to love the work itself; it’s a lifestyle as much as a career.  And–very important–before you invest in the very expensive education you are contemplating, know where pay in the profession is heading
  7. What does the world really need?  To the 3 circle diagram my husband loves (what do love to do, what are you good at, and what will people pay you for), I always add:  think about what the world needs, or at least what your corner of it needs more of.

I am crazy about Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, Parts Unknown.  One of his dinner companions–I think it was in Shanghai–pointed out that with a world population of more than 7 billion (and of course those are not all people of working age wherever they are)  it is conceivable that economically speaking, for purposes of production, we do not need as many people working as we have in the past.  One of our human challenges of the future will be to develop a solution to the puzzle of productivity–that as we become more efficient as a society, we eliminate jobs, careers, and economic platforms.

Change, meanwhile, marches on.










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.