Posted: August 16, 2015
By: Clay Cerny

Few people changed American popular culture more than Walt Disney.  From Mickey Mouse to his theme parks, Disney could be said to be as creative in his field as Steve Jobs was in his.  What was the secret to his success?  Disney himself might have captured it best in these words:

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."

Disney's words should be taken seriously by anyone looking for a new job or trying to change careers.  It's important to make plans before we act.  However, too often making plans becomes a substitution for doing something.  If you want to make a change, follow Disney's advice -- "begin doing."

Posted: December 31, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


One of my clients (We'll call her Mary) is applying for an internal promotion.  To complete the application, Mary needed to put together a portfolio that included her resume and a letter of intent.  Before sending the package, Mary called me and asked if she needed a cover letter.  At first, I said no.  Then Mary explained her reasoning.  She wanted to included a cover page that broke out what she was sending and a small expression of enthusiasm.  Then it hit me:  Mary wanted to take the extra step to stand out from her co-workers who are applying.  I loved the idea. She is showing that she wants the job.  There was no downside to doing this.  Either the person receiving the packet will be impressed or they will ignore the sheet.  If it makes an impression, a few minutes writing a cover sheet could make Mary stand out.  Whenever you can take such a step in a job search or any other type of communication, do it.  Show that you care.

Posted: May 27, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

One of my favorite blogs Big Think recently featured one of my favorite writers, Daniel Pink, who was talking about how to influence others by asking the right kind of questions. As he did in his book Drive, Pink explores how we can motivate others by appealing to their interests instead to arguing for what is right (what we want). In this video, he models how to ask questions and follow up in a way that encourages self-motivated actions. This is a very interesting model for influencing others, including prospective employers, current bosses, and networking partners. Try to put Pink’s advice into practice the next time you have to influence someone who is reluctant to do what you want.

Posted: March 7, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

In the April issue of Psychology Today, Joann Ellison Rodgers reports on new psychological research on anger.  Traditionally anger has been seen as a negative emotion that hurts both mental and physical health.  Rodgers cites several experts who have found another side of anger.  They argue that anger can lead people to make changes. People who are upset are more like to try to change something.

This article made me think about many of the clients I’ve encountered over the last ten years.  Of those who were currently employed, most had some grievance against their company or boss.  Since the Crash of 2008, many clients have made me share their anger by telling stories of increased workloads that are reward by salary freezes or cuts.  One of my recent clients is a production manager who also has a sales function.  Last year he put in extra hours to help the company where he has worked for more than 10 years.  While maintaining all of his production duties, he also doubled his sales numbers.  He expected to receive a bonus at his annual review in December.  Instead, the owner told him “times are tough” and cut his pay by 10%.  That made him angry enough to look for a new job.

His story makes me angry as well, which is why I’m telling it.  Too many people are working too hard and not being properly rewarded.  That’s why many workers in the U.S. are very, very angry.  Hopefully, they will come together and change things to make their lives better.

Posted: February 2, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning suffered a serious neck injury a few years ago.  The experts said his career was probably over.  Manning believed in himself, worked hard in rehab, and has had two great years playing in Denver.

The experts said Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson was too short.  His arm wasn't strong enough.  Wilson believed in himself, and he has turned his team into a consistent winner.

Believe in yourself.

Posted: December 19, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve lived in Chicago for over 20 years.  In that time, I’ve become a fan of the Loyola University men’s basketball team.  Yesterday, I attended a game between Loyola’s Ramblers and the Northern Illinois University Huskies.  The first half was ugly, but it went well for the Ramblers who were up 28-14.  The Huskies of NIU seemed lost and defeated.

Then the second half happened.  I noticed that NIU head coach Mark Montgomery took off his jacket.  He paced the sidelines and was animated in directing his players on the court.  Their teammates jumped off the bench every time NIU scored or made a great defensive play.  A small group of NIU fans grew louder and louder.  The tables had turned.  Now Loyola was feckless and fumbling.  The game ended as a 55-49 victory for the Huskies.

What does this have to do with career management?  Everything.  Coach Montgomery willed his team to victory.  He inspired them to play and believe that they could win.  Anyone who has to find a new job or make a career change needs to have the same psychological resources.  Almost every job search is filled with moments when we feel like the Huskies did in the first half: lost and defeated.  However, if we dig deep and kindle the power of emotion, miracles can happen.  If we rise above any kind of excuses or self-pity, we will move forward and take the action needed to find a good job or a new career.  Losing the first half means nothing if we find a way to win the game.

Posted: July 17, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients recently went through three interviews with a company.  He was confident that they were going to hire him.  Every signal was positive.  Then he did not hear from the company for more than two weeks.  When he followed up, he learned that they had hired another candidate.

He called to tell me the bad news, and he added that he couldn’t find any good jobs online.  I asked him about networking.  Again, he gave a negative answers.  We talked for about five minutes, and everything he said circled back to the job he did not get.  He was grieving a loss of something he didn’t have, a fantasy.  We all do this at times. But doing so is deadly to a job search, especially in the current job market where jobs are harder to get and it takes longer to get them.

Every job search is filled with frustration.  We hear “No” again and again.  How can you keep yourself motivated in such a negative process?  First, don’t look back except to look forward.  Take what is positive from the past and learn lessons, but don’t relive what you cannot change.  Second, recognize what you have achieved.  In getting three interviews, my client proved that he was a serious candidate, the kind of person another company will want to hire.  Finally, be aware of your moods and how they impact your actions.  If you feel down and unmotivated, get yourself restarted with something simple that will have a positive result.  For example, research two companies you might want to work.  Don’t send a resume yet.  Just learn more about those companies and how you might fit their staffing needs. Count that as a success, and prepare yourself for the next challenge.

It’s natural to experience frustration and disappointment during any job search.  The real problem occurs when these minor setbacks take over your mood and outlook on the future.  Find ways to keep yourself positive and motivated. If you are having trouble motivating yourself, find a friend or a career coach who will help you while holding you accountable.  Success in never easy.  It’s impossible if you give into defeat.

Postscript:  Tim Mushey of the blog “Sell, Lead, Succeed” has a great one day program to pick up your confidence.

Posted: December 12, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

I’m not a fan of Tim Tebow as a quarterback or a preacher.  However, the young man has some outstanding qualities that anyone looking for work would be wise to imitate.  First, Tebow doesn’t stop because things don’t go his way.  He has tremendous faith (I mean that word in a non-religious sense) that he will succeed.  Second, Tebow seems unaffected by some of the most vicious criticism I’ve heard in 35 years as a sports fan.  Finally, he is a winner – 7-1 since taking over as starter for the Broncos.

What can a job seeker take from this example?  Keep faith in yourself.  Don’t get down when other criticize you.  Win!  This all sounds simple when put in words.  Every job search is a struggle.  Having faith in yourself and standing up in the face of rejection is part of finding a new job.  We need to stay strong and stay focused on the win. 

Do I think Tim Tebow have a long career as a quarterback?  Probably not.  But his attitude will lead to success in some other field, probably coaching.  Whatever you think of his play and proselytizing, let his confidence and courage fire up your job search.

Posted: December 4, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks at intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]

Mis-judging a Book by Its Cover

A few years ago I was in a bookstore browsing titles in the career section when I first saw The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.  I found the title over the top, too cheeky.  To make matters worse, the book was designed as a graphic novel, a sure marketing gimmick.  I put the book back on the shelf and forgot about it. 

Later I read a great book about motivation, Drive by Daniel Pink.  Pink contrasts traditional theories of motivation which focused on extrinsic factors such as rewards with intrinsic motivation or what is more commonly called self-motivation.  Pink argued that great work could only come from a person who was willing to put in the time and sacrifice to do it.  I was so impressed by Drive that I looked up other titles by the author.  To my surprise, Daniel Pink wrote Johnny Bunko, which made me give the book a second chance.

Pink gives his readers great career advice.  He lays out six principles that everyone should follow (I won’t repeat them because you really should buy this book – or borrow it from a library.).  What made the book come alive for me was the narrative and the drawings, the very things I initially dismissed about it.  Pink creates real characters who make the same mistakes I have made in my career, the same mistakes many of my clients have made in their careers. 

Johnny like many people today, especially young professionals just out of college, is not happy in his career.  Through the help of a spirit named Diana, he discovers the secrets of career management.  His path is not easy.  Pink shows Johnny and his co-workers making mistakes and learning the wrong lessons.  Diana mentors them while dishing out funny bits of sarcasm.

Johnny Bunko is a great complement to the classic What Color is Your ParachuteBoth books are built around the premise that we can be happy at work if we make the effort to find the right kind of job, one that fits our strengths and gifts.  Parachute is more of a classic, how-to career guide.  It offers exercises and detailed explanations of its strategies.  Johnny Bunko takes a different approach.  It teaches by example and by making the reader laugh (though there is some humor in Parachute as well).  It holds up a mirror and lets us see ourselves in the characters. 

I made a mistake the first time I rejected this book.  Anyone who is looking for a new job or questioning his or her career path should read it. Don’t be put off by the title.  That was my mistake, judging a book by its cover.

Posted: June 23, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

I recently finished reading a great book, Drive.  The author, Daniel Pink, explores what motivation means in our post-industrial society.  Too often, business leaders, managers, teachers, coaches, and parents follow an outdated model of motivation based on extrinsic rewards, carrots and sticks.  The new model, which Pink calls Motivation 3.0, looks to intrinsic forces that drive performance.

Pink argues that we can learn to be better motivated and help others to do so.  One way to do this is to strive for mastery, behavior based on the belief that we can always get better.  The key to being better is practice.

Many professionals (doctors, lawyers, counselors) refer to their business as a practice.  They “practice” medicine or law.  If we look behind this word, we find a commitment to continuous learning, personal growth, and discipline.

Anyone in any field can follow this model in a way that will improve motivation and performance.  We need to know what our job requires, what it means to do the highest quality work, and commit ourselves to delivering better outcomes.  For someone who enters data, practice leads to fewer key punch errors.  For a cashier, it means counting change correctly and giving each customer outstanding service. For a landscaper, it means completing tasks quickly without cutting corners on quality.

Pink defines practice as focused repetition and constant feedback, which means we must commit to change and we need to listen to managers/teachers who act as coaches in helping us improve.

All of us can start by using one of the tools Pink offers at the end of his fine book.  Ask yourself this question, “Was I better today than yesterday?”  Look for ways to improve, and strive to be better, even if you work in a place where your efforts are not recognized or appreciated. 

Practice will rarely make us perfect (How many perfect games have been pitched?), but it will improve our performance and motivation.  Start your practice today.