Martin Luther King is a great model for anyone who wants to change careers. King was a minister and could have stayed in his church. He would have done good work and helped many people. However, he had a higher calling. The minister became a champion for civil rights, and he changed history.
King's own words are invaluable for anyone looking to change careers or make any major change in life: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
I changed careers when I turned 40. That was 14 years ago. There were plenty of starts and stops, interviews that felt like a waste of time. Finally I found a place to start my new career. Several of my clients have had similar experiences. As Dr. King said, "faith" is the key. If we believe in ourselves, we'll see the "whole staircase" and find our new path.
I often direct readers to Seth Godin’s blog. Godin has that rare skill of capturing complex ideas in clear, concise language. Recently, he hit another home run. Rather than think of our careers as a single calling, we should talk about “caring.” Godin says we care about many things, and those forces should drive how we work. I agree. Moreover, caring lets us balance our work and our non-work lives. If a person’s work keeps her from other things she cares about, she probably should look for a new job. A good salary and the recognition from co-workers or clients are great things. But if that’s all someone has, life is, that person's life is – literally – all work and no play.
“High expectations are everything.”
My most successful clients have been those who believe in themselves. These people are always looking to take the next step in their career. They are not afraid of failing. They don’t let unfair criticism from a boss or co-worker doubt their ability. The first step to being successful is believing in yourself.
I recently saw Jon Favreau’s movie Chef, which I really enjoyed. The movie tells the story of Carl Palmer, a talented chef who works in a restaurant where he is forced to cook the same menu night after night. When Carl receives a negative review from a prominent food blogger, he engages in a Twitter war and then a face to face confrontation that becomes a viral video.
Becoming a laughing stock and losing his job is really a gift to Carl. He is forced to decide what he wants to do, which is to cook his way. He opens a food truck that is wildly successful. In the process he also bonds with his young son. They come to know each other by working together, through the father teaching his son a craft and how to respect work.
So what is the career lesson from this movie? Follow your passion? Not exactly. I don’t like that phrasing because its too broad. It’s hard to understand or describe our passion. Instead, I like to focus on skills – what do you like to do? Carl finds happiness when he is able to use the skill he loves: cooking. That’s the ticket to career happiness: Know what you want to do and find a place where you can do it with a sense of freedom and respect.
The media is often overly negative in talking about the job market. Sometimes I fall into the same trap. Yesterday I talked about jobs being lost to automation, which is a big problem. However, there is another side to the story. In just this week, I have worked with clients whose jobs were created by new technology. One person was a social media community manager. The other worked on Cloud technology and software that is not stored on our computers. While it is important to criticize problems caused by technology, we also need to recognize that some jobs will be created by advances in technical systems. One way to win the job game is to find a way to take advantage of those changes
Today I was working with a recent college graduate who wants to break into the fashion industry. Her current way of looking for work is to check job board websites every few days. I suggested an alternative: Become an expert about your profession. I recommended that she learn everything she can about companies in Chicago that deal with fashion (She does not want to relocate). Her next step would be to look for any open jobs at these companies that fit her skills. Beyond that she should try to build network relations that will let her meet potential employers. It’s fine to check job boards. But when you work in a specialized industry, the only good way to manage your career is to know it inside and out. It is necessary to build a network and track changes in the industry. Think of this exercise as creating a map that will let you plan and navigate your career.
Today is America’s shopping holiday, Black Friday. Bargain hunters scour print ads and websites to find the lowest prices and best values. They make lists and plan routes to go from store to store. We need to follow a similar method in managing our careers and looking for work.
1. Write down your professional goals for the next year and next five years. Start with salary. Then dig into how you want to work and what kind of responsibilities you want to have.
2. The next step is strategy and planning: How can I achieve my goal? Use your list to develop a strategic plan. For example, is it logical to achieve my salary goal in my current position with my current employer, or do I need to change jobs and possibly take on more responsibility? Do I need to go back to school or get a certificate? Who can help me achieve my goals (networking)? What resources do I need (LinkedIn, career websites, professional associations, alumni groups)?
3. Here’s the most important lesson from Black Friday shoppers: Go for it. We’ve all heard stories of mobs, fist fights, and arrests. None of this is good. However, behind all the negative news lies something very positive. Tens of thousands of people are going after what they want as consumers. What if they did the same thing in their professional lives? A motivated person is more likely to succeed. When looking for a new job or changing your career, take a lesson from the people packing the malls today: Have a goal, make a plan, and go for it.
Is your job search stuck in park or, worse still, moving in reverse? Over the last 8 years, I’ve worked with clients who are unhappy with the progress of their search. Often the biggest problem isn’t that a job seeker isn’t putting forth a good effort. The problem is more often preparing for a focused job search.
Before you write your resume or apply to a job, the first step is to do some homework. Start by collecting 5-10 job posts that would be ideal positions for you. Review the job requirements and note how you are a good match for this kind of position. Next, consider how you might have transferable skills and experience that an employer would value. Finally, note the little things such as computer skills, certification, and compliance. These details are very basic and they are also easy to use as a way to scan a resume.
Note all of your selling points and put together a resume that will speak to the employer’s needs. Don’t get caught up in a situation where you have to check off every job requirement bullet. Few if any applicants will be able to do this. Use the gut check test: If you think you can do a job, apply for it. However, be sure to do your homework. That will the first step in making the phone ring.
Several of my clients work in marketing. Once upon a time, not that long ago, marketing jobs were easy to understand. A person worked for a company or an agency. Specialty forms of marketing were public relations, advertising, event marketing, or internal communications. Writers and graphic designers often worked on marketing teams as specialty players. (Think kickers and punters in football.) More recently, new terms have entered the field: branding, digital/mobile, and social media.
Anyone entering a career in marketing needs to think about what aspects of the field they want to focus on. While there are a few “generalist” jobs that ask for a Swiss army knife, most employers want a specific skill set. Some of my clients have moved from one area or specialty to another, but it’s often difficult. Employers recruit the employee who knows branding or social media. The challenge for senior managers and directors is to know how to manage special skills they do not know. This is one reason why it is important to work on teams and learn other skills through collaboration.
When someone says they are in marketing, probe a little. In most cases, you’ll see that they are specialists. And in an ever more complex world of communication, that is a good and necessary development.
This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing 42, the new film about Jackie Robinson. I love baseball and have read much about Robinson, the first African American to play in the major leagues. The film also had some interesting things to say about work and career.
1. Listen to the boss
To be successful, Robinson had to follow Branch Rickey’s strategy of not fighting back. In turn, Rickey had to understand Robinson’s situation and keep him motivated in standing against racist taunts and physical abuse. The films also shows two other great examples of bosses in control. Rickey tells Robinson’s first manager to treat his new player as he would white players. He then warns the manager that he will be fired if he doesn’t do so. Later in the film, Phillies manager Ben Chapman rained vulgar slurs at Robinson. His team’s executive orders the racist Chapman to pose for a picture with Robinson. Wanting to keep his job, the bigoted manager posed with Jackie Robinson. Moral of the story: want to keep the job? Listen to the boss – or find a new job with a better boss.
2. Be willing to take risks
Both Rickey and Robinson took great risks in going against the long established color code. Rickey bucked the system. Robinson literally put his life on the line. In the end, their risks changed the game and did much to open the eyes of a country. There is still racism in America, but men like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey changed the game because they were willing to challenge accept wisdom and customs. To achieve our professional goals, we need to be ready to take risks and face our inner fears.
3. Be willing to change
A few of Robinson’s teammates welcomed him. Most did not. However, the film shows them learning to accept him and, more importantly, respect him. From what I’ve read, the transition wasn’t as fast or smooth as the film depicts. But, as Robinson endured, his teammates accepted him. In many work experiences, accepting change is the first step to being successful.
4. Don’t quit
If I were only given one word to describe Jackie Robinson, it would be strength. He faced hate from all angles. His life was threatened. Still, he did not quit. Robinson knew what kind of treatment he would face, and his determination opened the door for other African American players. It made baseball a better game and America a more equal nation. In the end, Robinson’s fame is as much a matter of his mental strength as it is his great accomplishments on the field. Again, he is a role model for any worker who faces obstacles and still achieves a goal.
I don’t mean to make 42 into a simplistic story. It’s not. I strongly recommend the movie as a great biography and as source of inspiration.
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