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.