Monday, December 23, 2013

How Not to Reflect on Your Career

At the end of the year, we naturally reflect on our lives, which is a wonderful impulse, but when the sun goes down so early and stress levels are high, it can be tough to think clearly.

A few tips:

Don't do it alone. Reflection can be a conversation. Talk it out with your spouse, your best friend, your dog. Someone you can trust who gets you talking out loud (which is different than ruminating alone, spinning your wheels). Choose someone who has a different view of the world than you. Or a different flavor of personality. Just make sure that person won't criticize you into the ground.

Don't do it online. Take a break from media, from the phone and tablet and laptop. Go low tech on this one. Grab a pencil and paper and write your thoughts out. Or try meditation to calm the nerves.

Don't be too harsh. I hear so many people berate themselves for not starting sooner, or not achieving X, Y, Z by a certain point. The end of the year doesn't have to be about tallying achievements. Go deeper.

Identify how you solve problems. Warning: it involves emotions. What emotion are you feeling? When have you felt like this before? Was it when you were trying to find that first job? Were you trying to figure out your major in college? How did you figure it out? What strengths did you naturally tap into?

I've been trained as a writer, so I can journal my way out of a lot of problems, but maybe you're visual. Can you Pinterest your way out of the problem (okay, I know I said to stay offline, but this could be an exception)? Can you cobble together a picture of what you want instead of your current career life? 

Don't think big moves, think lateral, or organic. You're in a job and you feel stuck. Don't abandon the whole career. How can you make a lateral move in the company? How can you acquire new skills on the company dime? What can this job evolve into?

How can you get more autonomy and feel more skilled in your career? Research shows those two things can make a worker feel satisfied. Can you take a class, ask for a month off for a rewarding trip, gather a pile of books that will take you in a new direction?

Just some questions for the end of the year. Happy holidays, and here's to a wonderful 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Jobs I Covet

I love my job, I really do. But sometimes the eye wanders, you know? Here are some jobs I'd apply to this week if I weren't a career coach:

I've always wanted to try being a window dresser, especially at this time of year...

Never wanted to be in marketing, but I think I could do unmarketing.

If I owned an RV, I would try this.

Why, yes, I do want to be a hero. How kind of you to ask.

If I were slightly more insane, I'd totally do this. And usually I have a policy of getting advanced degrees only if you need them, but I'd definitely get the snow science degree to do it.

Hope you have a good week!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Required Reading before Grad School

Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle against graduate school marketing departments. The brochures, the photos of smiling grads tossing things, people in suits going off to work that they've secured because of their amazing degrees.

But graduate degrees are expensive, especially if you aren't sure what you want to do. And it turns out they may be a bad move if you do know what you want to do.

If you're looking to change the world, for instance, public policy programs may not be the place for you, according to yesterday's Washington Post. Public policy school graduates aren't making a dent in the world problems, and worse, and no one in positions of power is reading their research,
according to the piece. Definitely an article worth reading if you're considering a policy degree.

Graduate schools increasingly are producing dissatisfied customers, especially in the humanities. A NY Times piece last month details the process of repackaging a PhD, and clues us in on how some graduate schools are trying to make their students more marketable outside of the Ivory Tower, since tenure track has become so unlikely for so many humanities PhDs. Another must-read for potential graduate students.

An attorney is even offering $1,000 to whomever comes up with the best reason not to attend law school, because times are so tough for many law school grads. Eesh. Got an ulcer yet?

The answer may be to get excited about STEM careers, the science and math-track positions that may go unfilled if we don't increase numbers of students heading in that career direction. 

But I majored in religion in college, and I'm not ready to give up on the humanities. I like this solution: make the humanities majors who don't write the next Harry Potter blockbuster series into superstar public school teachers. And fund the arts like we do football stadiums, so there are actual jobs for musicians and artists, not just a cuthroat race to the top (and nothing for those in the middle of the talent heap). Yes!

Bottom line, think hard before you apply to graduate school, and be prepared for the tough job hunt if you go.

Monday, December 2, 2013

On Gifts for Job Seekers

This is the time of year when career coaches list gifts for job seekers, things like nice pen sets for the interview, a Metro card for heading to interviews, or even one month's payment of their electric bill. It's a nice gesture, but sometimes I think it's like getting someone on a diet rice cakes and nonfat, sugar free coffee creamer. Who wants to be reminded of their jobless status again and again?

Of course, if someone you know is really hurting, then an offer of help is appropriate, and you know your friends better than me. This is just my approach, but I usually get the person the gift I'd give them if they were employed. A book about their favorite hobby, a necklace they've admired. All gift-giving approaches stay the same.

What I also try to give them:

My complete confidence in them. I've seen it time and again. Family members or friends worry aloud in the job seeker's presence about the economy, or the job seeker's industry, or the job seeker's own background as it relates to the job their targeting. Or friends might not say anything, but they get a pitying look in their eyes. When I work with people struggling with their career, many get stuck under the sheer weight of other people's anxiety. It can be hard enough searching for work or trying to make a change in your career while burdened with everyone's worry.  I don't bypass their situation. I just say something like, "I heard you were looking. I'm sure someone with your skills will be snapped up soon. If there's anything I can do..." Yeah, it could come off as condescending, but I hope not. I just say it and move on with the conversation.

"How 'bout those Steelers?" I divert conversation should too much focus suddenly fall to the job seeker. Then I get them their favorite beverage.

I'm on LinkedIn. Sounds like a selfish thing, but it's an easy, discrete way for all of us to offer up our contacts to someone without the person having to ask us. So, I ask the job seeker if I can link to them, and then let them take it from there. They can include my network in searches for companies they're targeting, and then if they want an introduction they can request one by email.

If you're the job seeker, well, I'm sure someone with your skills will be snatched up soon! Some things I've done in your position:

I've dragged myself to more parties than I wanted to. I'm an introvert, so my tendency is to hunker down at home and read a good job-related book and tell myself I'm furthering my career. This is my fallback position and I know it, so I try to stretch myselfbeyond this. This had a few benefits. One, I dress in something other than sweats, my unemployed uniform of choice, always good for the self-esteem. Two, I get out and let people know I'm interested in a certain position, and did they know anyone with an opening?

I didn't worry about gifts that year. Instead, I got my closest family members something small and personal and then let the rest go.

I kept job hunting through the holiday. There's no reason to stop, and sometimes you can get your resume in front of people when they have down time at work. Why not go for it?

I read through professional kudos. One thing I try to do at any job is save a file of thank you notes and other proof that other people think I did a good job. Then when I go through a rough patch, I pull up that folder. Sometimes it's the smallest things that give me a lift. A friend did a spoof front page of a publication I used to edit on my last day of work. I have it framed by my desk, and it always makes smile. If you don't do this, start! Even if it's just a thank you note for some gesture you did that's not career-related. Likewise, send other people those notes. Write your stylist a thank you card for Christmas and get specific about how their work affected your life. Create good career karma!

Just a few suggestions. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and Hanukkah!