A Career Lesson for 2012: Learn From Others’ Mistakes

Reading the article, "Six Tips from Your Future Self," started me thinking about the career lessons I've learned over the years. As a career coach, I now understand how experience is a teacher, but may also be a curse. Sometimes we become so rooted in our ways based on past experience that we fear taking the risk to go after something better or something more. Questions arise such as: What if I fail? What if I lose? What if I don't like "it" after I achieve it?

Let me share some of my personal career lessons so you may by-pass anything similar for your own career: Oops

Pain is too comfortable. It took me several years to learn this lesson. While one may hate their job, it is familiar, and therefore, offers comfort. Such a convoluted feeling! After falling into my first career (a career by default, not choice), I spent over five years trying to figure out how to get out of it. How I wish I'd had access to a career coach back then! The solution to my pain? Change jobs, but stay in the same field. I thought it was the employer I hated, but it was really the work I that I did. My first job in this career lasted nine years. Then I changed jobs twice inside of three years trying to find job satisfaction. Needless to say, this approach didn't work at all. With serious introspection and reflection, I finally began to plot my next move to go where I wanted to be, a process that took a couple of steps before I landed a solid job in my chosen career field.

Beware of blurting out what's on your mind. Oh, the innocence of youth! Yes, I learned to contribute ideas and such in teamwork situations, but inside the context of helping the project or mission succeed – never trashing the idea behind it. Unless you're the CEO, your vision for the company is just your opinion. If you're smart, you will be on the same page as your manager. If you operate from your own agenda instead of your company's, you will quickly get labeled a troublemaker and end up on the short list when it comes time for layoffs.

Respect for your boss is expected; he/she doesn't have to earn it. I'll never forget the day when I told the company president not to call me a girl. A "mature" 25-year-old, I was hung up on the stereotype between men and girls. I wanted to be treated as a woman, not a girl. The president hadn't said anything resembling gender harassment, but stupid me still had to point out that when he called the administrative pool "girls" he was being demeaning. Surprisingly, I held onto my job after that. I even got promoted. I realize now what a good leader he really was.

"Friends" at work are different from friends outside of work. No matter how close you feel to someone you work with, you can never completely trust them when it comes to your career. Maybe that's a bit cynical, but wherever competition is involved, I've learned that each person looks out for Number One first. I guess the true scoop here is that those with whom you work are never your family. The workplace is for improving your company's bottom line, not for building a safe haven for you. And what about dating someone with whom you work? Do so at your own peril!

Your career needs a plan to follow, similar to a business plan. Without a plan, you'll continue to leap at whatever presents itself as new and shiny – not necessarily smart and wholesome. Not too many people know which career position they want three years from now. But imagine if you did! Now you could be developing the necessary skills for that move; acquiring the knowledge you need to succeed in that role; networking with the right people to help you make a smooth transition.

I look back on my career and see it as choppy, at best. I know that making a move for money was not always the best strategy. While I learned a lot about life and work over the years, the only career move I truly made as a planned choice was the one to start my own business. It took me six months of research to confirm that my goal was achievable and good for me. Thirteen years later, I know it was the right move, too. Can you say the same about your current position?

If you're in your '20s, heed what I say here as you begin to design your career. If you're in your '30s or '40s, it's still not too late to shift career course. If you're in your '50s or '60s, you can still find that right career for you – many of us will be working into our '70s, or longer.

Wishing you career success in 2012! Happy New Year!

Meg

Employer Curiosity vs. Personal Privacy – Who Wins?

OK, folks, it's time for me to rant again. Sometimes a bubble rises to the top and just has to burst! I'd love your comments on this topic that I'm raising today.

In order to get a job, should you have to surrender your personal privacy? Where is the line drawn between what a potential employer wants to know and what you, the candidate, must tell them?

Certain rights are protected (supposedly) under current equal employment laws – such as those related to race, sex, marital status, and disability. However, we all know of the exceptions when those "rights" weren't respected. For example, the young woman wearing a wedding ring being drawn into a conversation about childcare. Or the man with a limp asked to explain the reasons why he left his last employer so long ago – due to a workman's compensation injury.

Most recently, unemployment status and personal credit checks have been exposed as common barriers to new employment. Help wanted postings have been seen blatantly stating, "Unemployed need not apply," while candidates lucky enough to get job offers must agree to credit checks before starting work. Of course, credit problems due to no job/no money situations have had adverse effects on credit reports that can lower the axe on job offers.

An article I read today ("Officer forced to reveal Facebook page") really takes the cake! As part of the jobFacebook_favicon_large_2_bigger application process, an individual was asked to provide his Facebook page along with login and password! Are you kidding me? Why not ask for all his emails, text messages, and birthday cards from grandma? What this tells me is that employers who do this are unwilling to assume any risk in hiring employees. They want ironclad guarantees that they have control over the actions of those who work for them. If this doesn't tell workers that there is no loyalty left from employers, I don't know what will. (In the interest of full disclosure, this employer did back down on its request.)

Sure, not all employers have gone this far, but actions like these fuel the feelings of workers who are ready to jump ship as soon as the economy shapes up. But why wait? If you are a skilled and talented worker with a solid career history, there are employers who want you now. I urge you to take charge of your own career and not wait on the economy; and especially, don't wait for any employer to make your decision for you.

Wishing you career success in 2011! (And continue your vigilance over digital dirt!)

Meg

How Far Would You Go to Be Happy at Work?

"If You Could Find Job Security in Today's Tough Work Environment, Even Change Your Career to Do Something You'd Really Enjoy — How Far Would You Go to Make It Happen?" This was the title of a newsletter article I wrote two years ago. In reading it again, I feel the content is more relevant than ever for the careerist. As always, your comments on this post are greatly appreciated!

Too many people today are working from a place of fear instead of fun – from a place of panic instead of peace. If this sounds like you, please know that you're not alone. But also know that you CAN do something about it.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It triggers the "fight" or "flight" natural reflex in each of us. What's difficult is Fear when fear gets attached to our jobs. How do you "fight" to keep your job when it falls into jeopardy? How do you "flee" when you can't tolerate a job or job situation any longer – but still need the income to support family and self?

Physical reactions set in when we feel powerless to control job changes. Weak knees, twitching eyes, sweaty palms, stuttering – all are visible signs that you are overly stressed and have lost control of the situation.
 
Temporary relief may come with the drive home from work knowing you have 10-12 hours before having to face it all again. Better yet, Friday evening can allow complete mind block for 48 hours – but on Sunday evening it all starts up for a new week. Anticipating the dreaded job situation can often be worse than the situation itself.
 
The only way to break free from this cycle of fear is to know what your real career options are. This process starts with an evaluation of your career situation. Determine how close the layoff ax is to you. Assess what skills and abilities you have that are in demand in the current work world. Know what values you must have met so you can align with a company's culture. Figure out what makes you go to work with a smile on your face instead of a knot in your stomach.
 
When you have all of your answers, you will be on track toward your next career move. It may mean changing jobs, employers, industries, or even geographic locations. But whatever you decide, you'll know it is YOUR decision – even if it is just choosing to stay where you are.
 
While this is a process that you can do by yourself, you will find clarity quicker and easier when you workLittlehelp with a Career Coach. When processing alone, circular thinking can block answers. To borrow a phrase from an AT&T commercial, maybe it's time to "rethink possible" with a little help from your coach.

Wishing you career success in 2011!

Meg

Career Success CAN Be Yours in 2011!

As we leave 2010 and enter 2011, take some time to choose what you want for your career next year. When you have a plan, you're more likely to get what you want.

"Fortune favors the bold." This quote from Virgil, a wise man of long, long ago, was never more true than it is today in our workplace. "The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving." Was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., referring to the way we manage our careers? "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Will Rogers sums it up: we have to take action to make it happen!

Are you getting the picture? Take charge of your own career success! Remember the bestselling book of a few Who.moved.cheese years ago, "Who Moved My Cheese?"  Its author, Spencer Johnson, M.D., uses a short and simple parable to prove how we need to embrace change as a way of life to succeed in today's workplace. He develops the plights of four characters, two mice and two "little people," as they seek crucial nourishment by wandering through a maze, forced to deal with unexpected change along the way. Taking less than a hour to read, this amusing story could impact your life forever and help you process the idea of "change."

Continue to explore your career options, even after you achieve your "dream" job. Don't get stuck in a career rut. Your job security must come from within YOU. Research your career interests. Talk to people in different fields. Develop your networks and get involved. Keep looking for ways to improve your skills and increase your knowledge. Gather your data, make some decisions, then begin plotting your course to a new career success.

Hire a career coach to help you focus on your goals and create an action plan to attain them. When you partner Perfectjob_12 with a professional coach, you have someone who will support you in your goals and keep you motivated to achieve them.

Never, ever, ignore the proverbial handwriting on the employer's wall. Always be ready for the next change, whether you want it or not. You can make it happen! You can make it the best thing that ever happened to you!

Wishing you career success in 2011!

Meg

Are College Grads Prepared for Careers, Jobs, or Even Life?

My stepdaughter, like most college seniors, is looking forward to graduation as she starts the new school year. With the employment of recent college graduates at an all time low, many are choosing to stay in school and get their master degrees. But are these young 20-somethings selecting their master programs wisely? I'm the first in line promoting finding a career that lets you work your passion, BUT, employability and earning potential must be figured into the choice.

In my stepdaughter's situation, I almost bounced off the wall when she announced that she wanted to pursue a master in student activities. WHAT can you do with that? was my initial verbal reaction that I wish now I could retrieve and re-word. The most enjoyable part of her undergrad experience has been serving on the student activities board every year, so the choice seems logical to her. However, my concern is two-fold: First, will she be able to find a job in that field? AND Second, will that job pay enough so that she'll be able to pay off her student loans sometime before she retires?

I can't help but wonder if other parents are going through similar conversations with their college-age sons and daughters. In a previous life, I worked 12 years in student "activities" in post-secondary educational institutions – and I eventually got my bachelor degree in sociology. Are colleges and universities really looking for a master in student activities before hiring a student housing dean? Sorry, I'm still in a flabbergasted state over this. Like most parents (and stepparents) I want what's best for my girl – I really want her to be happy, healthy and self-sufficient. Not too sure a master degree in student activities will be what she needs to make this all happen.

From the blog, CollegeAftermath.com, comes the advice, "Whatever situation you find yourself in, the important thing is to be willing and able to step back and take a good look at the big picture." This advice is sound. Nothing is ever permanent, a concept 50-somethings have learned the hard way but that the younger generation has not truly experienced. But one thing is for sure – it's always nice to minimize financial loss whenever possible.

My advice to college students is to not assume that their bachelor degree is worthless so they feel forced into pursuing a master's program as the only solution. But if a master degree is what they really want, I plead with them to choose wisely. Do research to make sure this path will help you along your career journey. Make sure this degree will contribute to your life's purpose – oh, you don't know what that is? Find out before enrolling in any more courses!

Wishing you career success in 2010!

Meg