Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is Buying a Home Good for Your Career?

Many new graduates I talk with are saddled with huge student loans and wonder about when they can afford a home, or even a car, of their own. So many are renting, sharing space with roommates, and riding Metro (here in DC). It's understandable that they would want to settle down some day in their own homes, with no landlord to worry about.

The more I read about our economic recovery, however, the more I wonder if the American dream of owning a home is bad for our careers. Time magazine reports that the outlook for economic recovery and job growth may turn out to be very dependent on where you live. According to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, New York City may see a good job market in two years, but L.A. may not see a good one for seven. Of course, results like these are in the mayors' best interest, and I try to take these things with a grain of salt.

Still, I'm starting to think I may need to start asking career counseling clients if they intend to own their homes in the next decade or if they will rent. It may make all the difference to their career decisions. If your dream job is available across the country but not locally, can you afford to move? And if you can't afford to buy, maybe that's good news, in a way. You're free to move to that job in NYC.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Being Vulnerable

Photo by Nate Brelsford, via stock.xchng
Recently on I came across researcher/storyteller Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection. In her talk (I watched it here), she asserts that perfectionism blocks our paths to happiness. I fall victim to this all the time. I'm sure that's why I haven't posted on my blog recently. With a newborn, I'm never rested enough, never reading enough, never prepared enough to post. But I need to get over that, and so do job seekers.
Time and again I see a client's perfectionism get in the way of sending out a resume on time. So often I see people waiting for the perfect moment to change careers. The economy is never good enough, their portfolio is never creative enough.
But the perfect time will never come. We will never be the perfect candidate, because being human is by definition an imperfect enterprise. At some point we have to take a deep breath and send the email. We have to be ourselves. We have to, as author Seth Godin writes, get used to "shipping" the product.
We need to find a way to act like ourselves, despite the fear that we're not good enough. Brown says this is, very simply, what happy people do. They put their real selves out there and make connections. They make themselves vulnerable, despite the fear. If that's difficult for you right now in your job search, her talk might inspire you to hit send. What's the worst that could happen?


My career counseling practice is still temporarily on hold, although I am taking time for a few resume critiques by email and phone. Contact me at for more information. I'll be sure to tell you when I'm fully up and running again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Maternity Leave and Robots

Photo by Sasan Saidi
Okay, so those things are not related. Two separate ideas here in this little post.

First things first: I'm on maternity leave. My second child was born a couple weeks ago, and although I thought I'd keep posting through the rest of April, it didn't work out that way. Which is probably for the best, given how much sleep I'm getting. I expect I'll be taking at least three months break from my career counseling practice, but I'll keep you posted if it's less than that.

In the meantime... robots! is soliciting opinions about a topic I find interesting: Will robots steal our jobs? Automation is a force that we all will have to deal with sometime, I believe. And when considering a future career, it's a topic we all must consider. Even my job seems just as risky these days. Just how replaceable are humans to a certain job? Slate will be writing about it in the near future, and if you want to weigh in on the topic, visit here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Attracting Attention to Yourself (the Good Kind)

Photo by Joana Croft, 
Job searches are all about getting attention, and a lot of the advice out there is what I think of as cosmetic: what to wear, what to say, how to manage your body language in an interview, that sort of thing.

A lot of clients I work with start to get a look on their face when I talk about it... like I'm asking them to take out someone else's garbage. A lot of job searching seems false to them, they say. They hate to "network" just for personal gain, and they hate that it all sounds like gaming the system.

I agree with them. Job hunting needs to be about more than looking good, or sounding good for an hour and a half interview. It's about capturing someone else's attention and keeping it, intriguing them, and I've come to believe that the only way to be that interesting is to find out what you're interested in, and then obsess about it, dig in, find the biggest problems and start to think about solutions.

A Harvard Business Review blog spells out some steps on capturing attention. Apply them to job hunting and you'll avoid the falseness that many feel when they're writing cover letters or sending out resumes.

Take the first step, for instance: "Embrace Mystery." We're so tempted, during a job search, to look like we know all the answers, but what if we start asking questions? What problem are you attracted to in your industry? How do you see that problem, and what do you think is being overlooked? How could you intelligently talk about that problem in an interview or cover letter? Could you find companies that are trying to address that problem, too?

Read industry journals, general interest magazines, anything you can get your hands on, if you don't have a problem in mind. Turn your job hunt into a quest.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Fools! Or Not...

I love a good prank... on television. I have long admired the stapler in the jello from The Office. In real life, not so much. My personality just isn't built for it. I'm an introvert, and pranks are a public display. I like to watch from a safe distance, and television is the perfect distance.

Knowing my personality, though, has not simplified my career decisions. In some ways it has complicated it. Some people take personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and run with it, deciding that they need an introvert's job, some quiet nook to while away their days. But what if you're an introvert who gets a jolt of energy from exchanging ideas with others for a while? Or what if you're an extrovert who loves the theory of relativity so much that you will forsake your party-going ways to concentrate on that idea.

Our personalities are worth exploring in depth, and it can be fun reading. A great resource found in most libraries for free, or here, is Do What You Are, by Paul and Barbara Barron-Tieger. An old standby in the world of career books, this text guides you through some self-assessment exercises and offers you profiles of people with a similar background, so you can compare how you see the working world.

Even if you aren't in the market for a career change, reading up on your personality can help with day-to-day work life. Like how far away you want to be when your coworker's desk collapses. Sometimes a subtle adjustment can make all the difference in your work day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Welcoming Uncertainty

I think career progress is overrated. Many bad decisions are committed in the name of "advancement." When I moved up to an editor position after being a writer for years, I was initially thrilled. I earned enough to afford my own apartment, finally. I bought my first piece of new furniture, a red couch with no stains, no weird patterns. Living the life! But soon reality set in. I was desk-bound, and I managed people, two things that I don't really like all that much, it turns out. And those roommates? They were kind of great, actually, and I missed them and their smelly leftovers.

So here's the deal: What if we give ourselves permission to stagnate, to regress even? Take Shalini Sharan, for instance, She wrote yesterday (in one of my favorite series the Wall Street Journal does on job hunting) about her decision to search for an internship if she doesn't get a dream job she has her eye on.  She admits that "it may seem like I am regressing in terms of professional growth...for now I feel confident in my decision. My parents, on the other hand, are not too thrilled about the uncertainty that I have invited into my life."

I love that phrase: inviting uncertaintly. How many of us can still do that? How many of us have the guts in this economy to do something that appears to be a setback to others, even if it makes us happy. And are we willing to stand up for our decision, to defend our lack of progress in an ambitious world?

Maybe we can just start by sending out one small invitation. Sometimes, I think that means just giving ourselves permission to imagine life without relentless progress, where we take a detour that looks like failure but feels like success in some intangible way. And with it, I think we have to take the time to start assessing what success means to us... not just what it's called... the job title or the award, but what it tastes like, what it feels like. Will we know it when we see it?

I remember the moment I knew I had succeeded in career change. I had left an editing job where I sat at a desk every day, one of those drab gray plastic-like desks attached to a gray cubicle maze, and that desk was literally bent under the weight of all the reading and edits I had to do. One day I sat down, put my coffee down, and it started to slide ever so slightly toward the middle. That was the last straw. I needed a less flimsy life, one where my coffee didn't slide away from me.

After I left journalism, went to grad school for counseling, I remember finally sitting down for my first job career counseling at Georgetown. And bless that Jesuit, historic institution... they had real wood desks! I could pile all the work I wanted onto it, and it wouldn't cave. It was seriously three inches thick, my desk. And the beauty was, I didn't have piles of paperwork. I could manage to keep it clear for students, who dropped their heavy loads of books on it when they came in for advice. And maybe I was imagining it, but they looked relieved to see that solid desk too.

So, I've added solid desks to my definition of success, and I'm continuing to build on my own personal definition. Maybe this is the week you look for a few things to add to your definition to success.

And don't forget to send out that invitation to uncertainty.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Doing Their Jobs

I don't have much on my mind this week, career-wise, except the workers in Japan who are racing to contain radiation at the nuclear reactors in Japan. I can't say how much I admire the 50 who stayed, their dedication to their jobs and their country. I hope this is all over quickly, and they are recognized as the heroes that they are.

Read about them here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Top Reasons You Should Write Your Own Resume

As a career counselor, I get a lot of requests for resume help, and sometimes I'm asked to write a resume from scratch. I always tell people the same thing: I only critique them. I think there is a lot of good help out there from experts, but in the end, I believe job seekers need to write their own resumes, then seek help for editing and get opinions on the document afterwards. Why?

1. Resumes are not a one-shot deal. You should be tweaking your resume for each job opportunity. And you definitely should be writing a new cover letter for every opportunity. Yes, it's time consuming, and yes, it's a pain, but if you want the job in this kind of economy, you need to look like you're perfect for it. Like a good fit in a suit, you need to tailor, tailor, tailor. Think of Tim Gunn's discerning eye. Be selective, persnickety even. It's worth the time.

2. I don't know what you're proud of, you do. Resumes aren't about job titles and duties anymore, they're all about accomplishments. What have you done for the world lately? Why should we care? When I critique, I like to ask a lot of questions about this, because so often I get a list of typical duties in resumes. Typical is just not good enough. You need to go beyond what is expected of you. I also hear so many people give up on this because they can't write a sentence like:  "Saved Corp X $750,000 annually by doing blah blah." It doesn't need to always be about money.

3. It's cheaper, and you really can DIY. I'm always amazed that people will spend weeks watching home improvement shows, shopping at Home Depot, and laying hardwood floors themselves, but they won't read a basic overview about resume style and then take a stab at it themselves. Just get started and then ask for someone you trust to read it and share their thoughts. 

3. It won't sound like you. I'm a firm believer in Plain English, in telling it like it is, and sometimes a professional resume sounds, well, too professional. Know what I mean? Are you really a "self-starter?" If you've worked for more than a year in your field, you probably know the industry lingo better than a resume writer anyway. Write with confidence, because you know your audience. 

Need some overviews on resumes and job hunting? The Knock 'em Dead series is good and should be available for free in your public library. Give it a try, and then get another set of eyeballs on the document. 

Good luck out there!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Streamlining Your Online Job Hunting

Thfffffpppt.... Hear that? That's the sound of hours of your life sucked into the void of the Internet, never to return. It's so easy to sit down at the computer, focused, ready to find your dream job, and then look up hours later to wonder, what have I accomplished?

How to avoid that feeling? Get specific about what you want and then go to a specific web site for it. Associations are a great place to start. While living in the D.C. area, I've learned that there are associations for every line of work. There's even an association for associations. One of my past gigs was editing a newsletter for wastewater treatment plant managers (a great bunch of folks, by the way--great senses of humor). Googling your profession of choice and "association" usually turns something up, and if you're not a member already, consider joining, or at least visiting their site regularly. Many have great job boards.

Also, go to the sites that job seekers recommend for your particular profession. The U.S. Department of Labor surveyed job seekers a year ago on their favorite online job sites, then compiled an extensive list. your favorite? Many others rank higher with job seekers, according to the Department of Labor lists for general job sites.

Shopping for a job site should take a little work. Some people spend more time shopping for a refrigerator than the resources they will use to guide them in their life's work. Save yourself some frustration and create a list of sites that works for you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Matching Your Skills with Jobs

Sometimes when clients are stuck, I like to recommend looking at their skills instead of interests or dreams. People often have already realized that their interests alone won't lead them to careers that can put food on the table, but they don't know where to go from there.

The state of Minnesota has a fantastic, free, 5-10 minute assessment that lets you check off your skills and match them with jobs. It can be great for brainstorming. So many people have skills they don't give themselves credit for, like complex problem-solving, and they don't see how it would lead to another career. Or they know vaguely that they're a people-person, but they're not sure how to describe that talent. This type of quiz gives you the vocabulary to define your skill set.

Have you looked at skills assessments and still feel stuck? Enlist friends and family for help. Ask them what you're good at. Better yet, find someone who's not close to you but works with you. See what they have to say. Dig up old work evaluations if you keep them, or ask your boss for some. Do some research on yourself, and you'd be surprised what comes up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Roadblocks to Matching an Interest with a Career

The classic way of going about career decisions is to take your top interest and match it to a career that involves that topic. Sounds simple, right? And I think maybe decades ago it might have been easier. Today, we're trained to have many interests, sample many extracurricular activities, and be "well-rounded"as we travel through middle school and high school.

The down side of expanding your interests for most of your youth, though, is once you have made it to college, you have to choose one or two, and the decision is surprisingly tough for some.

Why? Dr. Dan Ariely's research shows that we irrationally like to keep our options open, even if we're positive that we know the right choice for us. Read about the professor's work here.

For our career decisions, then, we may want to keep our options open, even when we know that doing so will block our progress toward success in a given field. So keep an eye out for this inclination when you're considering your own options. Are you holding on to options just for the sake of having options? Is that the best move?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Talking Values

What do you value most, and where does your career fit into the picture? How will it evolve over time? The answers to these questions can influence your next career move.

This 10-minute values inventory may help you clarify what is important to you. It's funny, one thing I discovered while taking it recently is  personal health is at the bottom for me right now, far below family, career, hobbies or other interests, and I've got to change that. Honestly, I don't know how it sunk to the bottom. Combine this with a quick journaling exercise: Sit down and free-write for 10 minutes about the value that moved and why. What's changed for you? How do you feel about it? What can you do?

When you're done visiting this assessment, you can use this section of the federal O-Net Online site to see how some work values match occupations. I always think it's interesting to check your current career to see what values are highlighted. Are you still a good match? Has something shifted in your life that makes your career rub you the wrong way?

Just some food for thought. Happy surfing!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Career Happiness Q and A

I'd like to present the first in a series of question and answer sessions with people I see who are happy with their work. I'm starting with a friend of mine, Pam Ehrenberg, who is the author of two novels for young readers: Tillmon County Fire and Ethan, Suspended. She also has two other novels in the works. She's been an inspiration to me and many people I know.

In addition to her writing, Pamela Ehrenberg is a consultant for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and for Getting College Right, as well as a workshop leader (in-person and online) through the Writer's Center of Bethesda, Maryland.  She visits schools, libraries, writer's groups, and others in person and via Skype. 


What has been your best career decision to date?

To take my fiction-writing seriously enough that I might someday be able to mention "writing" in the same sentence as "career."  I had always known that writing was where my heart was, but I had compartmentalized it into being just a hobby, so I spent a fair amount of time trying to find a different area I could love just as much but that would sound more "career-like," whatever that means.  The best decision was reframing my thinking to make writing more central to my work-life and to life in general.

How did you go about making that decision?

The decision came after I spent a year teaching seventh- and eighth-grade English at a Washington, DC junior high school.  I had no idea what an all-consuming venture it would be just to survive in the classroom, let alone what it would have taken to develop the kind of teaching career I could feel passionate about.  

After that year, I had an opportunity to work a "regular," 9-5:30 job at a nonprofit organization.  I decided that if I took the job, I was going to make sure that the "extra" hours in my day, and the extra brainpower that came from no longer being an exhausted teacher of 13-year-olds, fed directly into writing: finishing projects that I started and really giving a fair chance to see where I could take this novel-writing thing.  

So I wrote at lunchtime, in the evenings, on weekends; for a while I came into the office early so I could spread out at a conference table and revise my novel.  I started the first draft of Ethan, Suspended a few weeks after I started that job; five years later, I had a book contract.  Also a new baby--but that was another set of career decisions.

What things do you do that contribute to being happy in your work?

Seek out connections.  In general, I'm pretty well-suited to working independently--but now that I don't have the "default" social scene of being in an office every day, I find that I treasure more the connections I have with other writers, librarians, teachers, and "book people"--as well as people who are kind of independent spirits in other fields.

What are some things you see others do that contribute to their career happiness?

Now and then I run across someone and think, "Wow, that person is 100% in absolutely the right job for them.  One example is the head of the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington; another is my daughter's most recent preschool teacher.  And my friend Annie, the interior designer; and Mike the museum curator might come close.  Oh, and my friend Chad, who left his job on Wall Street for divinity school.  These are people who, when you listen to them talk about their jobs, you forget that what they're talking about is their *job.*  That's huge: imagine if your spouse/partner/mother/whomever came home from work and spoke with such passion that you forgot they were talking about work.

What do I see these people doing?  Finding--or creating--the right job and pouring their heart into it.  I think heart is a big thing, and it's much easier to pour your heart in if you're in the perfect job for you.  If your job situation is less than perfect, as most people's are even in happier economic times, I think you can still pour your heart into some aspect of it, even if that aspect is only a few hours out of your work week--and/or put your heart into figuring out a pathway from where you are now to the job you were born to have.

Advice to others? 

Yeah, it's the "heart" thing again. 

For more information, please visit her website.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On Chaos

This week, after a few inches of snow in the D.C. area, we lost power. No lights, no heat and icy roads make an interesting combination when you're trying to figure out your next move. It's gotten me thinking about how our careers--all of our careers--are looking these days. It's hard not to feel like you're just trying to jump start your career with the same old tricks, and getting nothing in return. Like flipping on and off a light switch when the power is out. You just get more of the same ole darkness.

So, new tricks? John D. Krumboltz, a longtime professor at Stanford University, proposes in his handy career book, that we adapt by taking advantage of lucky breaks coming our way. But you have no luck, you think. You're in fact the most unlucky person you know when it comes to careers. Krumboltz asserts you can generate your own luck if you start to take action on your own behalf, if you get out there and talk with people who are doing what you want to do. Then, the real trick is, when you see a lucky break, you make your move quickly, before your chance disappears.

But wait, you don't know what you want to do, you say. You can't make a move until you have a Goal, capital G. You need to know your true calling. I work with so many people who feel like they need the perfect plan before they take action. The truth is, you just need to know what you want to try next, what sounds vaguely good, and then make a move, start getting out there, and let chaos start working for you.

What I love about Krumboltz is he acknowledges that you're going to take some heat for this. People are going to call you on it. They're going to say you're crazy to follow a hunch, take a chance, make a move without a 10-year plan. He recommends practicing ways to tell people confidently that you don't have a detailed plan, and you're moving on anyway. I love that about him.

So yes, my plans have been derailed this week. I had planned to do a totally different post on this blog, and I had so many other plans before the lights went out. It's not pleasant to be reminded of the chaos, but it's good for us, in the end. We can start to work with it instead of wasting time with detailed 10-year plans.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where Are the Jobs? A Dose of Optimism

Time Magazine is tackling the outlook for jobs this year in a series of reports. This month's Time kicked off the series with some optimism, and a few surprises.

Sure, job growth is expected in health care and education, industries that have weathered the recession better than most, and also tech workers will see continued demand for their skills. But according to the magazine's analysis, business services will outpace health and education, to the tune of about 120,000 jobs for workers with a bachelor's degree. The magazine defines this category as consulting firms like Deloitte, which is planning to hire a slew of workers, but also office cleaning firms and other services.

It's important to pay attention to your region of the country, as well as your general industry, if you're tracking the jobs, Time points out. Baltimore is featured as a city where the population and the city's main employer, Johns Hopkins University, are a mismatch. It may be time to check out that reverse commute up I-95.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Three Reasons Obituaries are Good for Your Career

As a former newspaper reporter, I have a soft spot for obituaries. I remember it being my first published assignment as a full-time reporter. But now that I help people with their careers, I like to recommend them as an antidote to the funk you can fall into during a seemingly endless job hunt.

Just check the New York Times or Washington Post obituaries. If you're obit is appearing there, you've arguable "made it" in your career. So many of those write-ups include lives that can inspire job hunter on a down day. In between emails and phone calls, why not check in with the dead?

Lessons I've learned this week:

1. Even those with little formal training can "make it." Ellen Stewart's obituary today in the New York Times tells the story of how a dress designer started a theater in  a New York City basement apartment. Al Pacino, Robert Dinero and Bette Midler were among the famous actors to eventually appear at her venue.

2. It's never too late to recover from failure. Dick King-Smith, author of 'Babe' and countless other published children's stories, described his first career as a farmer as a "disaster."His obituary in the Washington Post on Wednesday outlines his career changes: selling asbestos suits to firefighters, working in a shoe factory, and launching a career teaching elementary school at 53. He didn't begin writing full-time until age 60.

3. Sometimes you really aren't doomed. Bill Bower was part of a mission to bomb the Japanese in the months after Pearl Harbor. His obituary describes how he took off in a plane that he knew he couldn't return in: the ship was too small for him to land the bomber. He manage to parachute out of his plane after completing his mission, get help from Chinese villagers, and make his way back to the U.S. on domestic flights. He lived to see his kids play with the medals he was awarded. 

Week after week, the dead can inspire. And sometimes the next step in your career can seem less daunting. Honestly, if Bower can head into enemy territory, you can definitely make that call to see what happened to your resume, right? 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Where Should I Start?

Is it 2011 already? How did that happen? And here I have a resolution to keep by the end of the week. I've resolved to start a little blog to offer some guidance on researching careers and making career decisions. So many of the career counseling clients I work with come up against the same problem: information overload. They know what they want but don't know where to begin searching for it, or what resources are reliable. They have no time (or energy for that matter) to read book-length guides on each career they are considering. 

In the spirit of new beginnings, I'm starting 2011 with a pledge to try posting every week, beginning with an old standby, a veritable encyclopedia of work, the O-Net web site. I hope to hear back from readers, too. I'd love to know how these resources are working for you, and what doesn't work. 

So, without further ado, I present.....

What: O-Net,, a compilation of careers and their education requirements, salary information, etc. Compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Pros: Great at finding careers that match certain skills. Or finding duties and education requirements of a profession. Clear lists provide a lot of information for free, quickly. 

Cons: Information is presented in lists, and nuances of the career or job aren’t fleshed out. Sometimes the predictions of growth are suspect in my mind. For example, real estate agents are currently listed as a high-growth profession, but anyone thinking of going into that area during our mortgage crisis is going to encounter another reality.

Favorite use: Click on "Advanced Search" and “Skills Search” to locate careers according to what you can do best. Of course, I entered my own skill set and the number one rank was nuclear engineer (sometimes the list is broad), so take it with a grain of salt.

Overall, a good starting point, but should never be the last word on your career.