Is There Really a Fun-Forever Job? (Probably Not)

[Based on the Preface of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work]

Since my book, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job was published in April, I've received reviews and comments from readers who thought the title meant the book was going to inspire readers to find that elusive “fun-forever job.” Actually, the title was meant to be somewhat ironic.  

Why I Chose that Title
The title came from my daughter who, at age eight, wrote and illustrated a “book” called “When I Am Grownup.” I’m not sure most eight-year-olds would be concerned about professional choices or involved in much self-reflection, but she was the daughter of a career consultant and a psychoanalyst and could hardly avoid this type of thinking. It was genetically predetermined.

In her book, Hannah ruminated about her possibilities. She felt she’d want an “unushowoll” job “that I can do most anything I want in, something like the fun-forever job.” She worried such a job might not be available and considered other options (a headshrinker or a headhunter) but continued to feel concern about even those jobs working out.

The Wish
What was particularly striking to me was that so many of my clients and students have expressed a similar wish for a totally fulfilling career, as if they hoped to discover their perfect, passionate calling out there somewhere. 

The concept of a “fun-forever job” seems funny to me because everyone—including, perhaps, Hannah at age eight—knows it’s absurd. This does not appear to prevent people from wanting it anyway.

Of course there are a few lucky people who seem to have found that fun-forever job, but the number of such people is most likely very small. A job means work, meaning on a daily basis, on most days of the week. Seeking consistent passion puts a heavy emphasis on something that is rarely achieved and often leads to disappointment and discontent at work. 

The Reality
Of course, it’s possible to love a job or be passionate about a career, but forever? Every day? That’s like looking for a lifetime soul mate who’s great-looking, rich, witty, sexy, and sensitive—someone you’ll feel excited about all the time for the entire relationship. I know too many people who think that way about relationships. Definitely not a fun-forever situation, either.    

To some degree, the search for the fun-forever job has continued for Hannah, as it has for many of my clients, although they refer to it in different terms. Sometimes, it’ll be “something totally exciting,” and other times it’s as basic as “something I won’t dread every day.” 

What It Takes to Find a Job that Suits You
I believe career development should be a process that includes figuring out what works and doesn’t work, clarifying personal values, understanding personal style, and leveraging that knowledge moving forward. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime or permanent decision. 

Sometimes it may mean that your job only needs to be reasonably good if it supports you and provides you with a salary, security, and benefits, and you can gain the passion part from what you do outside your job. Or you might turn your full-time job into a part-time one and work on several different activities outside of your core job. 

There are many other permutations; the key is to not put the pressure of the Big Decision on yourself too early and to realize it may take some time to develop a career that suits you.

My own career path, as I explain early in the book, is a good example of the many twists and turns you may need to take to reach that point where you feel pretty good about your career choices. I’ve written about my own experience in the hope that others who find the career development process complicated or painful may understand better that it often involves a series of realizations and changes—sometimes even circling back to what you knew in the first place. 

New book coming soon
I’m pleased to announce I will be publishing a series of very short eBooks--Career Strategies That Work. Each one will address a single topic chosen from the ones I’m asked about most often. The first, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need will be available in mid-March. 

Explaining the Gaps

One of the tougher aspects of career transition is explaining any gaps in a work history. Some interviewers, or those on the other side of an informational meeting, will frequently get hung up on gaps in employment, as though you’ve committed some kind of criminal activity. Others will ask, because they simply don’t know how to interview very well, and are focusing on resume issues more than skills or experience. They need something – anything – to talk about. Some may want to find out of if there are any problems in the work history, occasionally a more logical reason for such questioning.  

These gap questions usually fall under the “Why are you looking?” category, and the other person might think that any gap is a problem – just because. Either way, you need to have good responses prepared for all the contingencies. Normally, I think that this is one of those issues that’s better dealt with on a one-on-one advising basis, but here are some general thoughts about possible explanations for gaps:  

Left a Job – Why?

If a potential employer, or anyone else involved in your transition, doesn’t understand today’s work climate well (or, for that matter, the past 30 years or so), they may think that anyone who changes jobs, or who has left a job either voluntarily or involuntarily, is tarnished goods. Unfortunately, there have been way too many bad pieces in the media about this false notion, even in well-reputed media outlets.  

The notion is ridiculous. The facts are that nearly everyone will have made changes in employment during their work lives, and frequently several. Not just career moves, but career changes, too. There is no need to feel defensive, even if you were terminated for poor performance or a bad fit. You’re now in marketing mode, and there’s no room for negatives. There’s always a substantive way to market yourself effectively. It’s important to understand that part of the cultural norm now is to make changes, whether or not the person sitting on the other side of the desk understands that.  

The key is to never be negative about the former employer. By saying that, for instance, the organization was badly run, or that your boss was insane or just garden-variety narcissistic (unfortunately, very common), or that the organization had terrible financial difficulties, the takeaway for the other person, somehow, is that YOU are the negative one, that you are the one who is associated with the negative connotation. That’s not the brand you want.  

You didn’t leave the job for a new challenge; that’s like announcing you’ll leave the next one for the same reason. You didn’t leave for more money or better work conditions (although these may be true). You left for better reasons.  

Your reason for leaving statement should be something along the lines of your having left due to your wanting to more fully utilize what you have learned over the course of your career, and that the opportunity didn’t exist with your former employer. Again, this is something that needs to be crafted on a more personal basis, but I wanted to give just an idea here. There are many variations on this theme.  What you want to accomplish is a positive, logical reason for wanting to make a change. Whether it was your choice or not. You want that reason to make you look good.  

Of course, if an entire division was laid off or there was a restructuring of some sort, or if you worked at Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers in 2008, then just say it. But also say that it was a huge disappointment because you liked your job a lot, liked the organization, and had the opportunity to . . . (and here’s where you get to pivot into a couple of quick accomplishments).  

Period of Unemployment

“You seem to have been out of work for several months. What’s the problem?”  

Yup, that one gets asked frequently. I don’t think it’s a particularly useful interview question, that it’s designed to put the interviewee on the spot, which is never a great way to conduct an interview, but - it does get asked. Way too often.  

Seriously, is a long period of unemployment indicative of anything other than either a difficult or, even, a bad search? Being bad at search, or being unlucky, or being discouraged, or somewhat stuck in a contracting industry – all of these may be the real reasons. Do these disqualify you from great opportunities? I don’t think so.  

But, since we’re in self-marketing mode, we need to explain this more positively.  How about making it appear that the too-long period of search was somewhat by design? Why not “I am working hard on a daily basis to make sure that I make an intelligent decision for my next move. A great fit is critical to me, and if it takes time, so be it.” That makes you look good, that you’re serious and deliberate about your career plans, and hey, it may even be somewhat true, too.

One more thing – it is NOT a stigma to be unemployed. It’s just part of the work process, and has been so for a long time now. Get over it. Don’t let it effect how people perceive you.  

Consulting

Maybe you’ve been consulting, either by design or as a stop gap during your period of unemployment. While some will say “I’ve been consulting” is somewhat of a cliché, be prepared to back it up with evidence of your building skills during this period.  

If you’ve actually chosen to consult, maybe for years, prospective employers will be suspicious of your wanting to return to a more traditional job.  They may be concerned that you’ve hit a rough time, and are only planning to return to the “job job” for a limited period, just to get back on your feet – and then leave to consult again.

So when you’re asked about why you don’t want to consult anymore, you can state that you’ve had a great experience, had the opportunity to . . . (and here’s yet another opportunity to talk about gained skills and experience). But, you miss the ability to work on a larger team, brainstorm, and have a wider array of resources to be able to do larger scale work. As a consultant, you feel sometimes isolated, and sometimes an outsider, and you miss being part of an ongoing group that sees a strategy through to completion.  

Family Medical/Childcare/Personal/Personal Medical

If you’ve had a family medical situation and needed to take an extended time off, or a personal or medical situation, or took off time to help raise children, none of these should be problems to explain. The only problem is when you feel defensive about it, or are uncomfortable explaining. Have a response prepared, and make sure it’s confident and assertive. You’re in charge of your situation.  

With medical situations, state that there was a personal/medical situation that you needed to deal with, that it’s over and resolved, and that you’re ready to return to work. Period. No details, no emotion, matter of fact.  

The children issue is sometimes trickier. While it’s illegal in the US to ask questions about having children, it does become important to explain a large gap in the work history by discussing having had children. It’s important to pre-empt the possible questions about childcare by offering your plan for childcare, that it’s several layers deep (babysitter/nanny/mother-in-law/sister/husband/cousin) and that there will never be issues about coverage, and will not affect your work in the least. You’re confident about this and you state this with no reservation. Don’t wait for it to be asked.  

Clearly, the gap questions will need to be tailored to each job seeker’s particular story. What I wanted to show here is that they can be addressed. I’ve rarely encountered situations that couldn’t be dealt with effectively.  

To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work

Salary Negotiations, Performance Reviews, Self-Marketing - Is There a Gender Difference?

A Case

Nicole was a superstar marketer in media. She had it all. Social media, the quantitative/research background/great work history/product knowledge/branding, you name it. You just couldn’t be any more qualified for the position for which she was interviewing. That became obvious to me after about ten minutes of our first meeting.  

She did extremely well on the interviews for a job as Chief Marketing Officer of a major well-known organization, one of the leaders in its field. It sounded to both of us like a job that would make her career. 

And she was terrified about dealing with the impending offer. Her inclination was to accept whatever was offered, because she was convinced that the CEO would renege if she even questioned any aspect of the offer.

We went through the basics (outlined in much more detail in the chapter of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work that deals with salary negotiations).  

  • First, she deferred conversation about money as long as she could, thereby building her value more than she could have if she had talked about it up front.
  • Second, she did not negotiate at the point of offer, because she needed to develop a negotiating strategy based on hearing the details of the offer.
  • Third, she developed a step-by-step strategy for a collegial face-to-face negotiation with the CEO and the head of human resources. Every issue she had questions about was incorporated into her list. She pushed back mostly on bonus issues, because the word “discretionary” was used, and that’s almost always a red flag; she was seeking a clearer definition of what that meant.  She did get that clarification, which was a major part of the negotiation in her case.

She did very well in the overall process, and, frankly, was astonished that the CEO and human resources people did not even flinch when she pushed back. They, as I had predicted, had expected it. 

Almost invariably, those who extend offers do expect some pushback, some negotiation. Actually, they are surprised if the offer is accepted on the spot.  

Nicole did not need for them to be her friends; this was a business transaction where she was trying to be compensated for her significant potential value to the organization.  

By the way, she’s now in line for the CEO position. The company is obviously thrilled with her.

If she had not negotiated assertively, she would have ended up unhappy in the position when she found out she was underpaid-–and she wouldn’t have clarified the bonus issue.  There were several other issues, too, that were clarified in the final phase of the process, as the result of a well thought-out strategy.   

I can’t wait to work with her on the next negotiation.  

Is There a Gender Difference?

For many years, I’ve been thinking about the issue of women and negotiating--or, as I like to call it, “making the ask.” While it’s important to be careful about stereotyping and generalizations, this seems to be one of those issues that appears and re-appears with my women clients and students, and hasn’t seemed to change much in the 30+ years I’ve been working in career advisement.  

In general, most of the women I’ve worked with have had difficulty in salary negotiations, performance reviews, and marketing themselves assertively.

I have tried hard to figure out why. I’ve found this to be true even with fulltime female MBA students in elite business schools, a population which you would expect to be more assertive and confident than most. Think about it – 26-year-old women (who grew up in an era where women can reasonably expect to do well in nearly any profession, including those on Wall Street) who have excelled in top colleges, done very well in their first jobs, and been admitted to extremely selective graduate schools, where the competition is fierce.  

Yet, when I teach classes on salary negotiations, I find that the women in the class almost uniformly will say this subject is difficult for them. Most of the men won’t. (Of course, there are exceptions to each side.)

Why does this problem exist? I’ve been trying to figure it out for a long time. Historically, culturally, psychologically, any way one could look at it. Is it because most women tend to be more relationship oriented and, therefore, more invested in caring that others like them? Maybe.  

I’ve often noticed that my women clients are usually better at building long-term networking relationships–-but when it comes to direct self-marketing, there’s still a problem. They’re frequently more comfortable joining groups in the career transition process, too. But still, taking credit and expressing confidence about accomplishments is often difficult. So I work with them on getting past worrying about whether the other person in the transaction is going to like them, or might withdraw the offer if they push back.  

Hey, it’s business! If you’re logical and present your material in a sequential, organized, factual way, that’s what will count.  

I’m convinced it’s some kind of hard-wiring , maybe cultural, maybe biological, maybe both, but that’s not my area of expertise. (Far from it.)  

If There IS a Difference, What Are Some Coping Strategies?

What many clients have asked is-–how can they overcome these feelings of discomfort in self-marketing and/or negotiating?  

I do have a fairly simple way of at least beginning this process.  

Prepare, Practice, Perform

I think this issue is similar to the problem of anxiety about interviewing. And, as with interviewing, it doesn’t matter how you feel; it matters what you say and what you look like when you say it. In other words, performance. Acting. You don’t have to solve the anxiety problem. You have to create stronger perceptions. That requires some performance practice.  

When talking about yourself, either in an interview, or a performance review, a meeting, or a salary negotiation, instead of getting anxious about whether you’re really worth it, why not prepare for these situations by outlining what you want to say and rehearsing it (back to the acting again)? If it doesn’t come naturally, do what I tell many introverted clients to do on a search-–prepare. Outline. And then prepare again. Don’t wing it. Don’t think you have to overcome whatever that hard-wiring is all at one time. Figure out what you want to say, how to say it, and practice it.

The first major step is believing that you have significant accomplishments, that you are worth the money and/or the job and/or the promotion, and write down all the reasons. Review your resume. You probably already spent too much time on it anyway, so put it to some good use. Yes, you did that. Yes, you helped the organization achieve that. Yes, you have this skill and that skill.  

Just in case I haven’t stressed the importance of asserting yourself (and “pushing back”) in the situations mentioned, here’s one more reason for negotiating. It sets the tone for your employment, should the deal be completed. You will make it known that, for salary reviews, promotions, etc., you will be a force to be dealt with.You will not be the nice person who will roll over and watch the more assertive co-workers get the promotion or get more bonus compensation, or new responsibilities.  Management will know that you will push back to get what you’re entitled to.  
Stand in front of the mirror and watch your body language when you’re saying your planned responses. Shoulders back, smiling, great eye contact, confidence (even if you don’t feel it).  

I realize that the above is basic, that many will still want to overcome the inner anxiety, or the need to please. In the meantime, while you’re trying to solve all that, why not focus on the performance and the content?  

New Year's Resolution Special - eBook only $0.99 for two weeks

Look at the list of the 10 most popular New Year’s resolutions and “Get a better job” usually falls in the top five. Sometimes it’s there under “Spend more time with friends and family.” Or “Enjoy life more.” Or even “Save more money.” And of course there’s “Be less stressed.”

I hear you. That’s why I wanted to offer In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work for only 99 cents the first two weeks of 2014.

January is a great time to start reassessing your career. Whether you’re in a job now or are already looking, this is a good month to take stock. 
Have you found a career that suits you? Are you working in an organization where you feel you can contribute and succeed? Is there still something missing in your resume that’s keeping you from getting the kind of job you really want? Have you always taken the easy way out and answered ads rather than build networks?

In Search of the Fun-Forever Job covers it all. As one reviewer put it: “For anyone who desires a better job or who is currently unemployed, this is the book you don't want to pass up.”

Happy New Year and good luck with your search.

Ellis

Changing Jobs - Too frequently or not often enough?

I get asked about this issue as much as any other--and the questions come from both sides. Do I have a problem if I’ve moved around every other year or so? OR . . . Do I have a problem if I’ve stayed in the same place for ten years?

Hoppers
Usually, people in career transition are more concerned about the perceived problem of changing jobs every year or two.  

Since the 1980s or thereabouts, the paradigm of lifetime employment has pretty much disappeared, for a wide variety of economic reasons. That’s why we hear more about the job hoppers than those who stay for long periods in one organization. Current research shows that the average job lasts around 3-3.5 years, and an expected career will consist of 12 jobs and three separate careers. If that is understood by both employer and employee, then the “jumping” issue won’t come up as much.

But what about those who, for various reasons, have had to change maybe twice in three years? Maybe there was an acquisition. Maybe bad chemistry. Or maybe it was the wrong job from the start. 

The key for job seekers is to be able to present the reasons for leaving jobs in the best possible light, and to never cast aspersions on the former employer, no matter what.  They need to focus on the skills attained, even if the job lasted less than a year. There has to be a compelling reason for the change, one that makes the candidate look good--and never defensive. It’s never for “more challenge;” it’s about the opportunity to more fully utilize skills and experience and find the right fit (one of my favorite expressions in transition language).    

There will be employers who will look at a resume, see multiple changes, and immediately disqualify the candidate. To me, that usually suggests an employer who doesn’t get the work culture changes over the past several years. So, it’s up to the candidate to present a resume that may group various employees in a framework that may suggest consulting, with a focus on skills attained. Or maybe even functionalize the resume somewhat, to focus on the skills, rather than the specific jobs. While many discourage that format, it’s often better than listing multiple jobs over a short period of time.  

But, since I strongly urge clients to not lead with resumes, the verbal response will clearly be more well-crafted than any resume can be--and the applicant can address and tailor responses accordingly.  A resume can’t do that as well.  

Essentially, the job hopper should be able to position the moves as positive, skill- building experiences. There should never be any acquiescence to the concept that this is a liability or weakness. That’s the interviewer’s issue. 

Even with all that preparation for dealing with the hopping issues, job seekers need to realize that creating multiple options and targets increases their chances of finding prospective employers who will be able to see past the multiple changes.  In other words, high numbers create a higher probability of success, and the opportunities to connect with employers who will recognize the skill set and be able to get past the history.

Dinosaurs
On the other side are the “dinosaurs,” as I like to call them. Dinosaurs, because the long-term or lifetime employment paradigm is becoming extinct, unless there is self-employment. (And even then, many will change back to organizational structures or switch back and forth between the two work styles.) Those job seekers are always worried that prospective employers are going to see them as limited in skills and experience, having worked at one organization for so long.

Sounds like you can’t win, right?

Almost right. There will be employers who don’t like long employment, those who don’t like short terms of employment, and finding what’s “just right” is sometimes elusive.  

That’s why it’s so important to create multiple options and targets, as mentioned above.

But what about those dinosaurs? How do they deal with the perception that they haven’t learned much in their long stints?

Easy. They should focus on changes within their employment, even if official job titles haven’t changed. They need to prepare explanations of how the job evolved from one skill set to another, and to be conscientious about providing examples to explain. 

Both situations can be addressed, but creating a winning numbers game will be the best solution.  

To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work

Holiday Job Search - Why it's a great time to be looking

Now that the holidays are here, many job-seekers take a step back from their hunt, thinking hiring takes a back-seat during the holidays. I’ve heard from clients and students over the years that, “No one’s doing anything between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, so I’m going to take the time off and get revved up in January.”  

Wrong. Not only wrong, but also frequently just another excuse to avoid the search.  

Here are some compelling reasons for doing the exact opposite of sitting out the season:

1) Your competition is disappearing 

Because other people believe this myth of inactivity during the holiday season, you’re competing against a smaller group of candidates. So the odds your phone call, email, or social network outreach get attention are that much greater.

2) There's no time like the holidays to build relationships 

In general, people are less focused on their own work. More time on their hands means chatting with someone else about their career or meeting a new face might be a welcome distraction. It’s called “networking.”  

In addition, you can find creative ways to reconnect with people. Use a holiday card to remind old friends and business acquaintances about you. Then follow-up later on when that seed has been planted. But . . . don't use those cards to discuss your career or job search. Tacky. Not as bad as those impersonal broadcast communications some people send out--filled with vivid, detailed descriptions of everything they've done in the past year--but still not a particularly good search technique.  

3) Party . . . with care 

Accept the holiday party invitations. But remember, parties and other social events (professional associations and the like) are not the time to corner people, give them a long pitch, and try to get information and possible leads. Your sole purpose at any social function, where the attendees are definitely not there to be hit on by job seekers, is to build a bit of a social acquaintance, and collect business cards--for future meetings.

4) January is usually NOT a good statistical hiring month 

And usually not a time when many feel like building new relationships. Think about it: when you get back from the holidays, do you feel like doing much of anything at all? This is another reason why there should be strong emphasis on a December all-out self-marketing. January shouldn’t be the start; it should be a continuation of what was built in December.  

Good luck!

Is it time to leave?

Malaise at Work 
Having a bad week at work is usually transitory. Everyone goes through that. When the bad week extends into several and becomes chronic, or what I call "the feeling sick on Sunday night syndrome," it may mean it’s time for some sort of change.  

It takes, however, some careful thinking to separate out a bad career decision from a bad work environment. Too often I've seen clients and students insist on making a change, either within a field or maybe something more radical. But with a little time and perspective, they realize that the problem may be the work setting, not the career choice.

Write it down
One way to figure out the difference is simply to draw up a list of personal values, i.e., what's important to you at work, and then match it with the attributes of the current job. Is there a strong correlation? That should help you understand whether it's the place or the profession. Or both. What would the change actually look like? Writing it down often provides some perspective and clarity.  

Escape from reality is not a career path
Do you frequently think about another specific profession? That, too, can be a clue. (Please note I’m not talking about your dream of opening a B&B in New Hampshire or a bait and tackle shop in Tahiti. Those are called “escapes.” Often from reality. The truth is that kind of work is TOUGH, and not nearly the idyll that most people fantasize.)  

Get another perspective
You may need some help figuring out this conundrum. It may take some personal assessment, perhaps some formal assessment tools, or some conversations with a trusted friend or colleague. Maybe a professional career advisor can help you get a better perspective.  

When should I think about leaving?
Here are some signs that it may be time to move:

  • If you feel completely stuck, it is probably time to consider either an internal move or a move out.

Of course, there are some who enjoy certainty and repetition and are comfortable with that. For most, though, "stuck" is not a good place to be. Unfortunately, it can also lead to inertia--you start to feel paralyzed. If that happens, then you definitely need to at least take a look at some other options. This doesn't mean a commitment; it just means an exploration.   

  • Constant complaining about work may mean it’s time to consider alternatives. It could also be a personality trait--you’ll have to be honest with yourself here.   
  • A difficult relationship with a boss may signal the need to move. Unless it reflects your own issues, too.  

It's important to understand that work environments almost always have some kind of significance in terms of family background. Early childhood patterns tend to repeat throughout life. You're always playing out parts of childhood at work and in other life arenas, whether it's a sibling issue (competitiveness?), parental (problems with authority figures?), or parenting (difficulty with subordinates?). 

On the other hand, it can be purely about a difficult boss. For example, a narcissistic boss can be extremely difficult to work with, because, characteristic of that disorder, the narcissist is almost never satisfied. He/she requires inordinate amounts of attention to prop up a fragile personality. That's a tough work situation, and probably a motivation to make a change.  

  • ·The prospects for advancement in your field look grim.

If you do make a decision based on this, you need to be careful before coming to conclusions about industries in decline. 

Sometimes it's cyclical (real estate), and sometimes it's a radical change in direction (publishing, music). Be sure to do considerable research to make that determination and be careful about naysayers, who will offer negatives about any profession at any time.  

I remember clients hearing negatives (no jobs out there anymore!) about technology during the dotcom boom of the late '90's, which was ridiculous. Of course, those negatives did become real in the early 2000's--but turned out to be part of another, newer, cycle.  

  •   The balance between work and life is way off.  

If you value your time off, and you find you're working regularly on weekends, maybe it's time to think about a change. Is it part of the industry culture (investment banking and law)? Or is it cyclical (accounting)? Be sure to research whether it's industry-wide, or whether it's just your organization.

What does a change entail?
Now that you know it’s time to leave, you need to know that a career change should involve a heavy due diligence before implementing a search. This turns the common sequence around a bit. Instead of making an arbitrary decision because something sounds interesting, as most people do at the beginning of their careers, I strongly urge research and informational networking in perhaps two or three different targets.  

This will help to determine whether or not you 
(1) like what you find out, 
(2) find that there is an actual market out there, and 
(3) determine whether your skills and experience are appropriate for the target.  

What you want is a critical mass of opinion--meaning more than one or two people-- so that you can make your decision, and then begin the mechanics of a search. By mechanics, I mean the development of marketing materials (resume, pitch, written communications) and then building relationships which will get you to decision makers.  

Please note that I'm not emphasizing ads or recruiters here, which, while sometimes useful, are low-odds resources for most job seekers.  

Making the final decision
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make blanket generalizations about entire fields, in terms of what's hot at the moment. For example, current consensus says that healthcare is a growing market segment for now and for the future. This is generally true, but does that refer to doctors or nurses or physical therapists or pharmacists or all the other healthcare professions? Obviously, one statement can’t cover them all.  

Finding out what it means requires the due diligence mentioned above, plus research and reading about the industries you're interested in. Intelligent career transition requires a great deal of preparation, not just a quick, sometimes arbitrary decision.

I feel strongly that any career decision should involve the notion that the career should fit you--and not the other way around. It's important to understand your own personal style and values, and figure out whether any career decision suits who you are. Too many decisions are made out of expediency or as the result of not enough reflection. It’s never easy, but isn't it worth the effort to do it right?  

To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work

Why Veterans as Job Candidates Continue to Earn My Deepest Respect

With Veterans Day coming up, I wanted to write about one of my favorite topics - veterans. Trying to collect my thoughts, I realized I’d probably written about this topic on Memorial Day. I checked back in the archives and saw that indeed I had--my feelings are, if anything, stronger now. 

The reason veterans are so important to me is that I’ve learned so much over the past 12 years at Columbia Business School working with many incredible students who served in the various armed forces. This was a new experience for someone who'd had limited contact, over a lifetime, with military people-- except to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. For those of us who were draft age in the ’60s, attitudes were considerably different then.  

This holiday is a good time for me to mention, again, why veterans are among my favorite clients--and have been for years. I’ve seen how well they do at Columbia Business School. They’re disciplined, tenacious, resourceful and financial services organizations (among others) love to hire them. The success rate is unusually high. Is this a surprise? Not to me.  

Many of the officers I work with have come from tough backgrounds and have fought hard to make it. While they value individual strength, they also understand the value of team work. That’s just one of the reasons why they do so well in the job market.  

I've had clients who have done several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but have never held a job outside of the military. I’ve seen them start from scratch, build networks, pick up the skills they’ll need for success in civilian life. It's great to watch. One of our current students, a West Point graduate and veteran of THREE one-year tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was still in the military when we met, and during his first semester, found his first job outside the military--through his remarkable West Point network. He’s already working on his next options. This is one determined guy.  

But the sequester is taking a bite out of tuition remission, along with a lot of other services for veterans, making it harder for veterans to get the education they need. It's outrageous that they have to even partially pay for an expensive education after what they’ve been through.  

No one’s ever accused me of being a super patriot, but maybe Veterans Day is a good reminder that the rest of us need to pay special attention. Not just for today, but every day. 

What to Expect in a Career Transition

Okay. Let's get something straight. Career transition is NOT fun. It's NOT a spiritual quest.

Every time I read something--anything--that talks about a job search in terms like “journey of self-discovery” or some such drivel, it makes me feel ill. Aside from personal taste, I find this kind of commentary misleading.  

If you’re in transition, you need to realize, up front, that it’s a part of life that compares in many negative ways to dating. You’re being judged, frequently in arbitrary ways, and sometimes the judgment is made after five minutes. There is rejection, bad behavior, immaturity, and random decision-making. 

In dating, it’s tough to deal with. That’s why few will say they enjoy the overall experience. (Unless they see it as a spiritual quest.)  

In career transition, it might even be worse. Add in that your livelihood is on the line, and somehow that provides an extra, toxic edge.

I won’t carry the metaphor further. There are so many other directions in which this can go.  

One of the best-selling books, ever, on the subject of careers, is almost a religious tract. Not only is the book unreadable, I think it’s also destructive in some ways. After so many years of experience in corporations, outplacement firms, private practice, and universities, I have rarely seen anyone actually enjoy a transition.  Sure, the payoff is sometimes terrific and exciting, sometimes anticlimactic, and even sometimes a letdown, but the process itself is, well . . . awful. Thinking it should be something other than that is simply not true for most.  

I heard the author of the above-mentioned book speak at a professional conference several years ago, and he, indeed, ended up talking about religious precepts. I walked out, not only because he was shoving his religion in my face, but also because he was wasting my time--the topic was supposed to be career management. I wasn’t alone in leaving the room.  The conference was not supposed to be about religion. 

My main point here is it’s critical to understand that if you’re going into a transition there will be several aspects which will be discouraging, sometimes painfully so. Someone not returning a call. An organization saying you are the first choice to fill the position, and then never calling, despite your consistent follow-ups. Reading tea leaves is a big part of it, i.e., why didn’t they call? Why didn’t I get a response to that great email? Why am I not getting any traction?

Of course, there are good parts--when you have a terrific, encouraging meeting, maybe several in a row. But, then the great meetings may lead to nothing, not even a good contact. And so the roller coaster continues, until the serial “no’s” turn into “yes.”  

I think understanding, up front, that this experience involves a great deal of rejection, and major ups and downs, will emotionally prepare you to handle it intellectually. This preparation, plus the necessary discipline and consistency you bring to your search, will make you more effective and will result in better and quicker outcomes.  

Vacations - imperative! Don't even ask.

I'm always astonished by clients who ask whether they should take some vacation time. Sometimes, they feel guilty about leaving work behind. Sometimes, they feel pressure--real or imagined--from management, especially in cultures that don't think vacations show commitment to the job. Other times, they’re just reflecting the overall culture (Wall Street--do you hear me?  Giant law firms--same?). In those cultures, workers brag about how many hours they work--and how little vacation time they take.

Of course, there are times when it isn't a great idea to take off. In my role as consultant at Columbia Business School, I know there are three different two-month periods during the year when it's just not possible to get away. I also understand that some bankers and attorneys, for instance, cannot walk out in the middle of a deal. 

But to not take vacation, and then brag about it, is a whole other thing.  

It's what I call "leaving money on the table." Vacation is part of compensation. Why would you not take money that is being handed to you or you negotiated for? When I teach a course in Salary Negotiations, I love to joke that on my ultimate negotiating list, number one is vacation time--and the financial stuff is further down the list. (I'm only half joking.)  

More important, it's critical that you have time, at various points in the year, to regenerate. You do need to get away from it all. I had a client, years ago, an investment banker who actually asked me if I thought it would be okay for him to check emails a few times a day while on vacation-- on his honeymoon!   

The answer is yes, there are certain jobs where you do have to check, but it needs to be kept to a minimum. Like maybe once a day for a few minutes. The purpose of the vacation is defeated if you're answering emails all day. It's tough to compartmentalize into vacation and non-vacation, while you're actually trying to BE on vacation.

All this is on my mind now as I reach the end of a long vacation. (It's been great.) Because there are some emergencies in my work, I do check email once a day, and try to answer only critical issues. But I realize when I do more than that, it wipes out the feeling of being away. A definite downside to this age of connectedness. It's getting harder to say you won't have email access in your vacation auto response, because there aren't that many places left where you can’t get any access!  

So I keep away from the computer, iPad, and mobile phone as much as possible. They sit there calling out to me, but I resist. The vacation is more important. 

photo credit: Carola Chase 
 

What to Do About that Inevitable "Reason for Leaving?" Question

A young client of mine contacted me because he had just lost his first job out of college--after only eight months.  

He had broken into a very difficult field by building strong networks and working LinkedIn. His search was impressive, especially because he had never done one before. Unfortunately, the culture of his new/first employer was, by all descriptions, toxic and dysfunctional. The office was a heavy-drinking one (during and after office hours), and he soon found his position description shifting due to rapid personnel changes. Many employees were terminated, while several left of their own volition. Initially, he was excited by what he was learning--exactly what he had been promised when hired. But, due to the staffing changes, management started to transfer a heavy amount of administrative/office management duties onto him.  

As he'd be the first to admit, admin is just not his strength. He's adequate, but not much more. The creative part of his job disappeared gradually, as this clerical aspect grew. He was miserable. Disliked the job, disliked the people in the organization.  

My advice was to stick it out as long as possible, hoping the organization would stabilize, and simultaneously to begin building networks outside, in case things didn't change.

Like many before him in this organization, he was terminated. The management wasn't happy with his administrative work, something for which they had not hired him. First job! 

I told him that while it felt terrible, he'd probably be way happier in a new position, and if the current statistics held, it would probably happen to him again at least twice more in his career. In other words, not as big a deal as he was feeling at the moment. Also, losing one job is not the end of the world--it’s part of how things have worked in the last 30 years, at least.  

On one level, he was relieved he no longer had to continue working in a job he hated. At the same time, he was stressed about needing to go back onto the job market again.  

He immediately began to worry about how he was going to explain himself, and developed a strategy to tell everyone he met on the search what had happened--that it hadn't been his fault, that it had been a bad circumstance.  

No! Not good at all. When a job seeker announces a reason for leaving, it's offering a basic defensiveness, an implication he has done something wrong. Sometimes that might be true, but you certainly never would want a prospective employer to learn about your possible negatives before hearing all about what you have to offer. As I love to say, you focus on the sunshine, light, and success.  

Here's what you need to say (in language that makes you comfortable) - IF ASKED, and only if asked. That may come in the form of "So why are you looking for a job?" or "Are you still with your former employer?" or something along those lines. Remember, no pre-emption on this topic or you’ll look like you're trying to hide something.  

"I had a great experience at XYZ. I was able to learn _____________.  The job started to change a few months ago when several people were let go. They needed more administrative help in the office, and, unfortunately, a lot of that fell to me. While I'm relatively competent at that sort of thing, it's not my major strength. The work I was doing before that was! The admin aspect escalated, and I realized I was going seriously off-track on a career path I had grown to love--and excel in. I also realized looking for a job while putting in long hours there was not feasible, so I decided to leave and devote my time to a serious search. We worked out an amicable separation."  

Some HR professionals (and I hope you get to avoid them at the beginning of a process of interviewing, and only see them at the end) may immediately say "Why would you leave a job before having another?" I think this shows a lack of understanding of current job markets, but it still is asked frequently.  

Your answer is that there was no way you would be able to find enough time to do a smart search while working long hours. As it was, you already had put out some feelers, and found it very difficult to make time to even go to first-round interviews. That's when you realized you were going to have spend more time to do it right.

If you’re asked whether it’s okay to contact your previous boss, you can say that after all the terminations and resignations, he/she was not happy about your leaving--and you're not comfortable using that person as a reference. HOWEVER, you do have someone who knows your work well . . . 

Of course there are a lot of variables in dealing with this situation, and it will change significantly from person to person and organization to organization. The key is--you do not need to "fess up." What you need to do is answer only when asked, and then position it in a way that reflects well on you.

Labor Day Thoughts - A Good Time to Restart

To most of the US, Labor Day is supposed to be a celebration of labor.  

To those in career transition, it's something entirely different. It can involve several thoughts, including: "Uh oh, time to get re-booted on the search," or "I can't believe I fell into the trap of stopping my efforts for the summer” or "Now I can REALLY get serious, because it's September and that's when things get going again."

I don't want to spend space here admonishing those who fell into the trap of thinking summer or holiday times aren't good times to look for employment. It's quite the opposite, because those times are actually great networking times.

But enough of looking backward (although we will keep this in mind when the November/December holidays approach).  

How to move forward? Statistics show that October/November/December (yes, December) are great hiring months.

For those who think they're going to go gangbusters into a post-Labor Day hiring frenzy, think again. Lots of people are returning from vacation; what are the odds they all would want to be approached immediately? I think September is a great time for researching, building networks, and preparing for a full-out campaign in the last quarter. (January is the same kind of month as September.)

Of course, these are all generalizations, and there are plenty of exceptions. But, my main recommendation is to take your time building those high-touch relationships in September, and don’t expect a flood of immediate positive results. This process is a slow-building one, and if you did indeed take off a lot of time in the summer, consider September as a gradual restart.  

After that, don't let up, ever, for the holiday periods. Losing momentum is hard, and it's even harder to regain it. Discipline and consistency are key components for successful search.  

To make your restart a little easier, the ebook edition of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is on sale through September 2nd.

You can find it on AmazonSmashwordsApple*, Kobo*, Nook*, and Diesel*.

The paperback edition is also being offered at 25% off.

*If the sale price is not yet reflected on these channels, please purchase through Amazon orSmashwords.

Happy Labor Day!

And good luck with your search.