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.