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Pivot: Start with Self-Talk

You are a teacher who wants to be a lawyer. Or maybe you’re an airline pilot who wants to be a teacher. A stay at home parent planning a second or third career. Or maybe you are a for-profit executive, sure that it’s time to do what you have always wanted to do: bring your skills to a nonprofit organization and make the world a better place.

You might even have embarked on the higher education you need to realize your dream. Whatever the career you want, chances are good that you have some gaps to fill and you may need specialized education or training to make it happen.

Once you have a profession or job title fixed in your mind, started on the required or desired education to qualify yourself, and begun to acknowledge to yourself that your dream has become a goal, what do you do to ensure that the investment in time, money, and emotional commitment pays off?

Career-changing is more complex than changing jobs. Especially if you are successful in your first career, your identity–and maybe your social life, network of friends, lifestyle, and family–is entangled with the contours and features of the career you will have to depart in order to have the one you want. That means you have to begin to see yourself in a new light, and to help other people see you in that light.

People who haven’t quite got this mastered introduce themselves like this: “I’m a pilot and I’m working on a Master’s in Education.”

Or, “I’m a teacher but I’m going to law school part-time.”

Transition-wise, this is equivocal. If you are like these folks, you’re squarely in your former self. The current You is in transition, so at least find a patch of neutral ground:

“I’m working on becoming a teacher.” “I’m in law school; my dream is to practice law.”

All talk is self-talk; we think in images, words, and emotions, and stringing them together amounts to bring our thoughts to life. What you say about yourself becomes truth, whether you intend that or not.

Whether change is unbidden or the product of your decision to make your dream come true, you have to articulate (words), imagine (image), and feel (emotions) confidence and fulfillment about the changes you are making in your life.

I’ve written about (and talked at length about) William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Bridges points out that there can’t be a new beginning without an end to something old. In between the two is The Neutral Zone. Even aggressive change-makers with heartfelt intentions and a rock-solid plan of action can burn a lot of tread taking a sharp curve too fast and too suddenly.

Your best bet is to build a truthful, sensible narrative for your journey through The Neutral Zone. Revisit it frequently to test your progress. Change it when you reach a benchmark or milestone. Acknowledge both path and eventual destination.

And speak the words, imagine the new beginning, and feel your confidence and pride often. Sometimes, the journey is so head-down, plow-through, get-to-the-next-milepost that we don’t ever talk about where we’re going and how important that day we land in the new world will be.

It’s a mistake to minimize conversation about your plan, progress, and new beginning. Your narrative is almost everything in making a success of your undertaking. Even if your circumstances prevent sharing much of your new career progress with your old career support system, find a few or many new friends and an inner celebration circle to help take you safely onward through The Neutral Zone.

Five things you need

I sat in on a colleague’s presentation to a group of students a few days ago.  She is brilliant, and the subject was JD Careers.  You probably already know this, but not everyone who goes to law school is committed to practicing law.  There are lots of other things you can do with a Juris Doctor and the interests and talents that brought you to law school.

In the course of the hour, the students and Kam talked about a lot of things, and I came away with a sense that many of the folks in that room will indeed decide to take a bar exam and practice law, and some will take another path.  A few days later, I’ve got it in my head that there are some fundamental things we should all learn how to do before we get too far down whatever career road we decide on.

These are things that will give you a supply of confidence, a reasonable set of options, a distinctive advantage over your competition for a job, a gig, or a client, and a degree of resilience that is hard to come by when you may need it most.  Whatever career you choose, work on these early and whenever you can.

  1. Learn how to raise money, or at least how to ask for things for yourself and others.  I am assuming, of course, that there are good causes in your life, and that your intended financially-driven goal isn’t your annual vacation.  Knowing how and when to ask for stuff is rarely innate, is a skill that can be polished and improved, and is a lifelong competency.  It includes knowing how and when to give, in response to another person’s request.
  2. Math.  Statistics.  Data.  All part of risk management.  If you don’t have a calculator app on your phone, it may be a sign that math is not part of your life.  I find that kind of odd and a bit dangerous.  You can work at this, and you can get better at it.  Spreadsheets and data management software are your friend.
  3. Create a strategy for your life.  Build a long view of who you want to be and who you are.  Your plans will not always work out, and the things you want may not at first come your way; it’s important to remember that each thing is not THE thing.  There is no key to happiness and fulfillment, unless it is good decision-making and a strategic plan.  A strategic plan is something you author and document; that helps to make it real, not fleeting, and exactly what you mean for it to be: self-guidance.
  4. Learn to project an attitude of warmth and kindness toward others at all times and in all things.  Generosity of spirit.  A reasonably open mind toward the “Why”.  This really shouldn’t require further explanation, but if you learn to bring calm and care to every interaction you won’t end up in someone’s video of a tantrum on the street or in the grocery store.
  5. Make your life an organization you want to be part of.  You are the leader of your life, your things, your activities, and your thoughts and choices.  In order to be an effective leader you have to be mindful of opportunity, organized in your thinking and intentional in organizing all that you can control.  And you have to know what is controllable and what isn’t. Random doesn’t work, and disorganization emerges in strange and unwelcome settings, like job interviews that head south,”blurtations” instead of whole thoughts, technical difficulties with communications devices and laptops, transportation mishaps, and things like that.  Disorganization always erodes confidence; you start to rely on luck and then start to think you are unlucky.  You aren’t.  You are disorganized and not yet willing to fix that.

When you are planning your career, you have the opportunity to examine the choices in front of you.  Whether it’s law school or undergraduate school, or another professional school, or a second career, or a new start, this is also a time for self-examination.  Be fearless, clear, and then go easy on yourself.  You will find yourself easier to live with if you allow for rough drafts and edits in the process.

Doing Nothing is Doing Something

Doing Nothing is Doing Something

Patience is a strategy, though not always an effective one.  While you are patiently passive, watchful, or waiting, the world moves forward, and sometimes it means that opportunities are lost.  A sense of urgency is an important asset in a job and career.

On the other hand, patience can be an effective strategy, because the world moves forward—opportunities are created, shifts in politics, trends, and people make way for you and your ideas.  Willingness to pause and reflect, and willingness to give others space and time for their benefit and your own are both important.

But there are guidelines for time.  Here are a few:

  1. Deadlines are someone’s time management tool and they are real.  Meet deadlines.  If you fail to meet a deadline set by someone else, you are sending a message.  If you fail to meet your own deadline, you are reprioritizing, which is your right and obligation.  If you set a deadline, make it reasonable; it is never okay to rush everyone else and then take your time with your end of the transaction. And, setting an artificial deadline is negotiating against yourself.
  2. It’s good to be patient, but bad to ignore problems, trouble, or situations that require feedback. Your failure to communicate may be experienced by someone else as tacit acceptance, agreement, or utter lack of caring.  There’s a price tag on that, and the price is higher the longer you hold back.
  3. Timeliness is the quality you are searching for. Timeliness is akin to harmony—the action comes when the reaction you want is ready, not too early and not too late.  It’s no coincidence; it’s often thoughtfulness—you scan the universe for the right interval and there it is.
  4. Feedback is most useful to someone as close as possible to the event the feedback is intended to address. Don’t wait to give feedback if change is what you want—immediate is best, and the value of feedback decreases as the moment recedes into the past.  A thank you, for example, is immediate.  Meaningless when long-delayed.  Truly meaningless and offensive:  apologies for a very late thank-you.  The thank you all by itself is better, with no excuses.
  5. Strike while the iron is hot. Act on opportunity if you think the opportunity is for you.  That doesn’t mean consuming the opportunity whole; it does mean being ready for opportunity to the degree possible.  If you are a job seeker; have a basic resume handy.  But take the time to add important elements, add a brief cover letter, and say a thank you.  Letting the iron go cold is when you don’t have a resume at all and you try to drop everything else to craft the perfect resume and cover letter for the dwindling opportunity.
  6. Pacing is important; spurts of energy and activity just confuse everyone. On the other hand, you can get a lot done if you work until you finish.  But is it good work if you did it all in one sitting? A combo of patience and urgency looks just right to me.
  7. Seasons are there for a reason; pay attention. When the season is over, it’s over.  Take the tree down even if you love the lights.
  8. Just be on time.Don’t keep people waiting.  As the oldest child of parents with different internal clocks, I can tell you that clocks are for managing expectations and getting on the same page.  The time of day is a fact, not a problem.

If you do nothing, the world will still click along.  Just keep an eye on it and jump in where you can and where you must.

How to decline alcohol at an event

It’s hard for me to believe that anyone makes it difficult for anyone else to just say “no, thanks,” but I was surprised recently when someone pushed back after I declined a glass of wine.

It is really rude to do that, just so you know.  Here’s what a push-back (often from your own friends) looks like after you simply say, “no, thanks”:

“Oh, come on.”

“Oh, come on, don’t be a party pooper.”

“Oh, c’mon.  Don’t make me drink alone.”

“Just one.”

“Why aren’t you drinking?”

“Do you ever drink, or is this just tonight?”

“So why did you even come out with us tonight if you weren’t going to drink with us?”

“Can’t handle it?”

“What’s wrong?”

“So you’re an alcoholic?”

And the list goes on.

Know this:  whoever is saying whatever they are saying is not actually interested in your reasons, your life, or your evening–this behavior is driven by self-interest, and nothing you say is going to change that.  Whatever your reason, you should not be intimidated or moved by the fact that someone (anyone, even your best friend, or date, or fiancé, or spouse) has an agenda that is different from yours.

I don’t drink alcohol, but I do drink non-alcoholic beverages at parties.  It gives me something to hold, and hydrates me.  My job requires me to go to a lot of events, and over the years I’ve given lots of different answers to the offer of a trip to the bar on my behalf, the question of red or white, whether I’d like something to drink, or what I’m drinking.

My favorite recollection of being asked for my participation in an event where alcohol was important is this one:

I had just been hired into a position on a team of senior divisional executives, all men, all  about my own age, and all assertive, socially capable, and educated.  Apparently, this team had norms that involved the leader’s love of fine wine and knowledge about it, and they were in the habit of enjoying food and wine together, often.  This particular occasion was my inaugural dinner with the team, and it was at a beautiful restaurant with a long and expensive wine list.  Here came the test:

The president of the division, with what amounted to a drum roll, said, “I think we should let our newest member choose the wine this evening.” As he turned to me with a huge smile.  The other seven executives at the table turned to me, and if I’m being honest, I remember a few smirks–I’m pretty sure no one thought I was up to the task, and everyone saw a showdown coming.  If I was good at it, I was in trouble, and if I was bad at it I was in trouble.  It was the wine aficionado version of “customer golf,”  where you play to keep up, not win.

But no one was expecting my play.  I looked around the table and said, “Well, okay, if you want me to. But I think you should know before I pick something that I don’t drink.”

I thought the fellow who handed me the wine list was going to fall out of his chair.  I saw one or two of the others look at me enviously, as they (and I) now knew that I would never be subject to interminable late nights and ethanol-fueled behavior no one, let alone an HR executive, wants to be anywhere near. I estimated how long it might take for me to be promoted out of the division or cast out of the organization, because to that point no one had mentioned some of these drinking traditions.  I’d only been there a week or so.  And the truth is that I could have handled the wine list, fairly easily.  But I don’t drink.

“You don’t drink. . . at all?”

“I do not.  Is that a problem?” (Said with an even tone and an unwavering voice, tinged with amusement.)

He looked straight at me, and with all of the grace that he could gather, and with visible, unfiltered determination to win the match, he said, “Nope.  We’ve been looking for a designated driver for years.  Welcome aboard.”

And I actually never had to drive anyone anywhere.  But I got the issue completely and forever out of the way without fumbling around, and no one there ever asked me another question about alcohol.  I was reliably present (and drinking nonalcoholic beverages) at all the events that involved drinking, and I never evaluated, frowned on, or commented on anyone else’s choices (outside of my role as the HR leader, if ever called upon to do so).  Then and now, I serve(d) alcohol in my home, just not to myself.

You may someday find yourself at a social gathering that is also a test of your fit with an organization’s culture, and someday you may encounter a challenge involving your choice to decline to drink alcohol, just for that evening, or ever.  It might be that you have a one drink limit and you already had the one drink, or you just think you should ensure that all your faculties are intact.  You might have a long drive home and a hard next day ahead.  You might have an important call to make to the west coast later that night.  You might be pregnant and not want to reveal that just yet.  You might be newly sober.  You might be just not in the mood to drink.  You might be like Michelle Pfieffer’s character in the movie Blind Date, who reliably behaves atrociously when she gets a whiff of the grape.  You might have no reason at all.  You don’t actually need one.

So someone says to you, “Let me get you drink; what are you having?”  And you don’t want one.  What do you say or do?

I don’t know who the someone is, but I have an aversion to almost anyone other than my husband or the bartender supplying me with a drink.  I’ve had more than one encounter with a joker who adds a shot of rum to my diet coke to see if I will notice it.  Once, my own father’s new wife poured creme d’menthe all over my vanilla ice cream just to see what I would do.  So my answer would be, if the bar is the destination, “Thanks.  I’ll walk over there with you.”  When the bartender looks at me, I say, “Diet Coke.”  Or water, or cranberry juice, or grapefruit juice mixed with cranberry juice.

If I don’t want to walk over there, I say, “No thanks, I’m going to run over there myself in a minute.”

If it’s a table and the wait staff asks, I order what I want.  If I’m in someone’s home, I ask for water, or I bring my own beverage.  I don’t discuss that with the host in advance if I don’t want to.  If anyone challenges me, here are my choices:

“I don’t drink.”

“I’m not drinking tonight.”

“I have a big day tomorrow.”

“I have a stack of work waiting for me at home.”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Thanks, I’m good.”

“I’m a designated driver.”

“It’s Lent.”

“You are so kind to be concerned, I’m fine, thank you.”

I’m sure you can think of others that 1.) are one sentence, 2.) are final sentences on the subject, 3.) are not as rude as the pushback you got, but express no interest in any further discussion, 4.) haven’t got a cringy waffly apologetic sound (or look) to the delivery of the message, 5.)  do not contemplate anyone else’s opinion or belief system, 6.) do give the aggressor a branch to climb down on.

Personally, I don’t like to make others feel like they did anything that disturbed me or that gave me reason to judge them harshly.  That doesn’t mean I’m impervious to mean or bad behavior directed at me; it means I may be open to inquiry, just not right now.  I have had other women call me or ask me to help them form a strategy for not drinking in some or all situations, who feel helpless or unable to think of ways to explain themselves, or who don’t realize they can say no and still look appealing, cool, and interesting.  Thus, I’m not willing to put down someone who may have picked the wrong time or venue or method to open that conversation.

In general, since this is after all, career advice, it’s a lot easier for me to not drink at all than to try to manage myself or each situation according to a set of per-event and individual norms, conventions, rules, or people.  So my strategy is very simple–I don’t drink, and I don’t defend that.  Sometimes I don’t bother to explain it, because it isn’t, or shouldn’t be important to anyone else.

Simply:  don’t drink (or eat your stepmother’s embellished dessert) if you don’t want to. All that is required is that you decline politely, once, and then ignore further encouragement or inquisition by changing the subject.


What’s a Resume Builder?

I heard it again at a conference–a volunteer position, probably a board seat, identified as a resume builder.  I’m guessing, based on the context that the speaker meant it looked really good on the listener’s resume–prestigious, visible, and eye-catching to the discerning reader.

We tell people to be on the lookout for those ticket-punching, career-validating, and sought after slots, whether they are volunteer roles, paid positions, appointments or elected offices.  As long as other people want them and they are competitively sought, you can call them resume builders all day long.

Unless you don’t do the work, don’t show up for the meetings, don’t read the briefing materials, treat the staff badly, show up in your beachwear, or fail to represent (or even understand) the mission and purpose of the organization or agency.

Then you have a career-killer, not a resume-builder, on your hands.

When someone offers you a unique opportunity that might be resume material, here are the things you should ask yourself:

  1.  Is this in my wheelhouse?  Does it fit my personal priorities and aptitudes, whatever the mission, vision, or values?  Do I regard it as a chance to make a difference in a matter that I care about?  Will I be competent if challenged?  If not, know that you will stand out for the wrong reasons and have trouble sustaining your own interest.  You may be talked about for all the wrong reasons.
  2. Do I have enough time to truly dedicate enough of myself to the role?  If you are wedging this in among the million other obligations you added to your burden, denying your family, other work, hobbies, and personal wellness, it’s a mistake to take it on.
  3. If someone turns to Google to learn more about you, are they going to find you. . . a lot?  Meaning, have you signed up for multiple boards, committees, initiatives, and volunteer jobs?  Politely, are you a habitual joiner, saying yes to every invitation and inviter?  It’s one thing to write a check or add your name to the list of supporters, since obviously you care.  That is not the same as increasing your exposure to risk.  Often enough, things go south in non-profit and politics world in particular.  The more exposure you have, the more likely it will happen right in front of you.
  4. What will I learn and take away from this experience?  What actual personal development will I ultimately be able to add to my narrative?  What will this bring to my professional life, other than contacts and connections.  There is nothing wrong with joining up because you want to meet others who are involved in something; the collaboration and exchange of learning is a powerful motivation to spend your resources.  But if you have eyes for only the benefits of knowing the players, or adding them to your contacts, your intentions will be quickly apparent.
  5. Can I help?  This is for the experienced volunteer, with a respectable portfolio:  sometimes you are not the right resource.  Sometimes your name and participation are not the best alternative, but you are asked anyway (Example:  you are a turnaround maven and what is needed is a continuity player.  Another: you are a leader and they want a rubber stamper.) Always give other names, and bow out before you make a mistake and have to quit.

Think of your resume as a surrogate for you.  If you don’t have a resume, think of your LinkedIn profile, your executive bio, or a similar document that announces you, summarizes your stuff, or details what you are–or want to be–known for.  It’s you, not the document, that is changed for better or worse by the experience you gain, and you select the opportunity and devote your energy and capacity to that end.

Be selective.  Care.  Turn things down.

Be the one who is able to speak knowledgeably, comprehensively,  and often passionately about what it meant or means to be part of something so important that you give up your time and devote your energy and skill to participate with like-minded others.


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.