Keep in Touch

I apologize for not having a posting up over the last few weeks. It has been a crazy month for me with a new job, and helping many others find jobs as well. The break did inspire me to write on a very important topic: keeping in touch. You can find this latest post on The Talent Buzz Blog. The title is Keep in Touch. I submitted there for a contest, so be sure to visit and tell me what you think!

I hope to do a better job keeping in touch–and hopefully part of that will be more regular postings again.

Readers feel free to send me questions, because my greatest motivation is helping others, and so if I am given a question I am likely to immediately respond!

Send questions to me here.

Rage Against the Machine

The PSFK blog recently posted a startling story about a phenomenon called “IT Rage.” Their source story from Pocket Lint reports that nearly three quarters of respondents had hurled an electronic gadget in a fit of rage. Though my wife might tell you that I have had issues with anger management, I can never remember harming anything–including my computer or other gadgets. It is amusing though that my fellow blogger The Undercover Lawyer has been posting You Tube content of people going crazy on their office equipment at work for his podcast on hostile workplaces.

The truth of the matter is that all of us find ourselves in stressful situations where our angry impulses can make us behave in unflattering ways. But aside from anger management, there is much to be said about how some good career advice or career development knowledge can help prevent such embarrassing blowups. The most abusive people in the workplace are also commonly the most miserable. If they were happy about their work, they would not have such anger to pass on to their subordinates or fellow workers (or computers).

If you perceive that you are constantly stressed out at work, you might ask yourself if there is an environment that would allow you to thrive. Why spend the majority of your life being miserable? Especially when that misery might be putting your fellow workers and office equipment at risk. If you do not know what it is that would make you happy–go find yourself a good career professional and begin a path toward greater joy and fulfillment.

Practicing What I Preach

I have been holding out on making an announcement, as I know it is only prudent not to count chickens before they are hatched. But next week, I will be leaving a most gratifying job, and moving on to a new challenge.

Though the title of this blog reflects my current job title as Career Counselor, as well as my master’s degree specialization, my new title will be Vocational Evaluator. I will still be offering what I feel I do best, which is to provide career counseling services, but I will also be using a lot more assessments as a main tool for evaluating people who need assistance reincorporating themselves back into the workforce. This was a difficult transition, as the job I am leaving has been spectacular. So why would I leave a job that I absolutely love?

Truthfully, I have never provided counseling service to people who love their jobs. People typically come to career counselors for assistance finding jobs or getting out of jobs that they do not like. Still, whenever I meet with people, it is not uncommon for me to tell them that their job search should never end. One of the biggest career development follies is that once people find something, they then allow themselves to get comfortable and wait until conditions are less than favorable before they make their next move. Though you may be one of the few that lands into something that exists and continues to be fulfilling throughout your career lifetime, most people should stay focused on their professional development and be ready to leave their positions at any given moment. Savvy professionals must vigilantly stay ahead of the curve by always looking for the next step–and always being ready for that matter. As John Wooden said (to my recollection): When opportunity strikes, it is already too late.

When was the last time you updated your resume? Do you maintain your network contacts and/or are building up new ones? Do you know what the present job market looks like? If the work in your industry dried up or got over saturated, would you know what you might transition to–and would you be prepared? These questions might frighten you, but I assure you they are much more frightening when the ground you are standing on gets pulled from under your feet.

I am actually glad I was prepared and decided to make my move. This move ended up being fortuitous indeed. One week after I gave my notice, my organization had its annual meeting. Our nonprofit fundraising had been impacted by the economy, and they are going to have to make major budget cuts, including possible layoffs. Though I think my position would have been secured if I stayed, it is nice knowing that I will not have to deal with that insecurity, and I will also escape the overall impact this will have on the organizational workload and morale.

I did not see that coming, but my proactivity prevented me from being blindsided, and now I will move to a position in an organization that is growing, and will geometrically increase my knowledge of career assessments, among other things.

If you love your job, do show that you are eager to stay. But, for your own sake always be ready to go. Are you ready?

Commuting for a Living

I bought a new car today–an extravagant practice my prudent self tries to avoid for at least 10 years. It’s fun, but let’s face it: it’s a horrible investment and most dealers are not very kind at all, and going through this process is especially challenging for a guile-free idealist like myself.

My old car was less than 6 years old and had just over 70K miles on it. It ran great, and made a fantastic family car. So why did I rush to the dealer to get rid of my vehicle? For the very same reason the masses of commuters are doing the same thing. It’s all about the price of gas.

See, my old vehicle was a Jeep Grand Cherokee. A year ago, I could have sold it for over $10,000. Today, I was thankful I could trade it in for half that. Nobody is buying SUV’s anymore, unless they are wealthy enough to care less about it. The opposite trend is also apparent. Looking for a hybrid car? Expect to pay the same amount you would for a mid-level luxury vehicle if you are even able to find one at a dealership.

But here’s the sad truth, though my new car is not a hybrid, it still gets nearly twice the mileage of my Jeep, and where gas prices are now, most of my car payments will be contained by the amount I have saved in gas. If gas prices go up yet more (and everyone says they will), then I might have my entire payment covered by what I save, so I wasted no time to make this proactive move.

Aside from making the desperate move I made today, commuters are dealing with gas prices in a variety of ways. Take a look at Alexandra Levit’s Blog for some additional ways that my fellow commuters are getting by.

By the way, I have made progress dealing with car dealers, thanks to Edmunds.com. I was able to get my car at the price I wanted, and was hardly hassled in the process.

Burning Passion

My younger brother has been a Los Angeles City firefighter for over 10 years. Though he has always enjoyed adrenaline and the physical challenge of various sports, for the longest time, I would never have guessed that he would select firefighting as a career.

Why?

Well, let’s just say that when he was very little, the sight of flames terrified him. I remember our first family trip to Disneyland, going on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and him screaming in horror at the sight of fake burning logs as our little ship passed through the ride. This fear remained until he was nearly a teenager, at which point, it became more of a curious obsession. Of this, I remember him rushing out of the house whenever he’d hear sirens to get a good look at where they were headed, and to make sure that the flames they might be reporting to were nowhere near our house.

In his late teens and first adult years, he had little career ideation, but one major event helped him transform a fearful obsession into a lifetime passion. In the early 90’s, Los Angeles was beleaguered with fires, so much so, that firefighters everywhere called on community members for volunteer assistance. This random event (though fires have been common in the area), gave my brother the opportunity to face what he once feared, helping put out flames and saving horses and livestock.

The message here is that we all have the potential to transform. My brother has always had a fascination for fire, but the way he perceived it drastically changed. How can you change your perspective so that what you fear most becomes a welcome challenge that you can conquer and proceed further toward actualizing your dreams?

Nightmare Interviews

Career advisors often tell anecdotal stories of interviewing faux pas in order to help clients understand common mistakes that are made in interview situations. There are plenty of stories of interviewees that interviewed wearing white tube socks (or no socks at all), having some nervous twitch like head scratching throughout the interview, or the many tales of candidates just saying the darnedest things.

What I have not seen so much are the nightmarish stories from the interviewees perspective. Sometimes the interviewers themselves are lacking a sense of etiquette, creating an immediate turn-off for the potential candidate.

What made me think of this was a recent story I heard of a poor woman whose interviewer decided that the interview was a perfect opportunity to multi-task and ate her entire lunch during the interview. All people do need to eat, but wouldn’t it be more considerate to schedule a lunch interview so that the interviewee could eat too? I am familiar with a similar story where the interviewer checked, sorted, opened, and read her mail during a person’s interview. Both actions were potentially good psychological intimidation tests for the interviewees, but too blatantly rude and disrespectful for me to acknowledge as being appropriate or professional.

I am wondering if any readers have stories to share, and perhaps even somebody has the story what could be qualified as the worst job interview experience ever. If you think you have a story, please do tell!

A Whole New Opportunity

Of the many career writers I (try to) follow, Daniel Pink has become one of my favorites. I first became aware of Mr. Pink when he was the keynote speaker at a career conference I attended a few years ago. And once I read his book, A Whole New Mind, I was hooked.

I now follow his blog, and his Twitter. Mr. Pink is creative, resourceful, and witty. And he will forever hold the distinction of writing the first career book in MANGA.

Now we will all have a chance to explore the mind of Daniel Pink. On Friday June 6, at 9 AM (PST), he is going to host a teleconversation on Learn from My Life.

I will be hard at work at that time, but for the rest of you fortunate enough to have a free moment, register and enjoy!

Three Steps to Writing a Cover Letter for a Career Change

So you’ve spent years working in a less than satisfying field, and now you are looking to change into something that fits you better. Problem is, your background is in a different field or you feel you do not have the exact experience that they are asking for. Before you give up or become too anxious thinking that what you are applying for is too much of a dream or not the right fit, focus your mind on why you thought you should apply for the position in the first place. Even if it was from a friend goading you on to something they thought you would like, try to allow for the fact that if you or somebody else at some point thought you would be a good match, there is probably something in it that would convince the employer the same. Here are three helpful steps in devising your cover letter to give you some leverage in making a major leap:

1) Research the position extensively.
Perhaps the most convincing argument you can use to convince an employer that you would be an excellent match for a position is to express an understanding for the position that goes beyond what is merely stated in the job description. What would the position really be like? How would your background prepare you for potential challenges? What things are congruent in your history? With research, you have the opportunity to identify congruent items that are not defined in your resume, such as company culture. The more you are able to express an understanding for the company/position you are applying for, the more they might be willing to consider you despite your work history. Please appreciate how critical insider networking can be to establish this step, and do not be afraid to call upon your friends when doing this research.

2) Put your best foot forward first.
Once you have researched the position, you need to make sure that what you mention in the cover letter are your most persuasive points. The best way to do this is to take inventory of your greatest achievements in all of your history, and consider which of these would be of greatest value or interest to the potential employer. If you “wow” them with your achievements, they are more likely to see your potential, since rarely does any candidate perfectly match a description anyway. The idea is if you have a history of achievement in your former work, you are more likely to be the same in your new capacity.

3) Connect the dots.
This may be the third step, but it is no less important than the other two. These connections are what we call transferable skills. So you never used the main proprietary software that will be your main tool for the position you are targeting. But for your last two positions, you quickly adapted to their software tools. This can be a real challenge to come up with relevant experience, but you cannot rely on your potential employer to figure out how you fit.

Remember, for each opportunity, the competition ultimately dictates the outcome–and that is one variable that you have no control over. What you do have control over is whether or not you take a risk. The timing might just allow you to succeed in this stretch if you take the initiative of putting yourself out there first. You can never win or lose if you don’t try.

Nice Niche

Presently, I work for an organization whose primary mission is to promote higher education, including the value education has in creating career opportunity. I wholeheartedly share this vision, which is largely why I why I work there. But, there is something to be said for those who are able to identify a unique skill that they have or a need in the world that few, if any are addressing. And though an education can certainly help one accomplish this, there are some who are fortunate enough to find this niche without one.

My example originates with a problem sliding glass door. The wheels on this 50 year-old door were so worn away that I nearly separated my shoulder everytime I had to open it. After living with my door this way for over a year, I finally resolved to do something about it. Since the door was so very old, the dimensions were no longer manufactured. Buying a new door and having it installed would be too expensive. Maybe somebody could fix it.

With the Internet and yellow pages, I began calling glass vendors to see if any of them provided door repair service. I called at least 10 places, and got all negative responses. With each call, I asked for possible referrals–and nobody had any helpful leads.

Finally, one of the vendors knew of a man who did this service. Excitedly, I took down the unlisted number and called. The man who answered the phone did not go out of his way to sound customer-service friendly. I shared my problem, and he told me that it would be $260 to fix. $260?!!! I told him that I would go and buy a door instead. Confidently, he said I would spend at least $1000 that way, and told me to feel free to call back, but if I wanted service that day, I would need to call back soon. With a bit of resentment, I consented to have his service.

This man was amazingly efficient. With a small hammer and a wheel that he had to customize to make it fit under my door, he had my door fixed in less than fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! I handed the check over, but before he left, I asked him a few questions about his career. (Career Counselors can be notorious for this!) He apprenticed straight out of high school and had been fixing doors for over 20 years. With a quick glance at my door he could spout off the brand name, the years of manufacture, and some of my door’s uniquie attributes. He told me he averaged at least 10 jobs a day. I mumbled something about not even making a fraction of that money with my Master’s degree, and he had a very insightful response, and that was that door-fixing was the only thing he knew.

This man was the only sliding door fixer around. He had found a niche, and had a tremendously successful living as a result of it. He was passionate enough to be a true expert in an area where apparently no one else cared to be his competition.

What is special about you? What creative niches can you identify or develop which will bring special value to your work? Challenge yourself to find this. Soul search, work with a career counselor, and keep your creative mind vigilant for opportunity; and you too can identify something that is rare as it is valuable within yourself.

Follow the Freak

I know I mentioned Dave Rendall in a recent post, but he has been posting some amazing stuff in his Freak Factor blog, so by creating an entire posting on him, I hope to encourage everyone to follow regularly what Dave writes. His posting for today, (#101) titled The Puzzle Freak, is a wonderful and inspirational analysis of the life and success of NY Times puzzlemaker, Will Shortz. Check it out!