Archive for May 2011
When I was a kid, (and I’m talking many years ago), I loved MAD magazine. The way they would rewrite the classics as a vehicle for satirizing politicians and other stuffed shirt types always gave me a laugh even though I didn’t completely understand the backstory. It wasn’t until many years later, I came to appreciate how deeply the MAD writers understood the classics they used in their satire; they really had to know the material inside and out in order to make the satire work. They really had to know all the rules in order to break them.
It’s pretty much the same way in the job market as it is in the humor market. You have to know the rules before you can bend (or break) them. The main difficulty with this approach, however, is the “rules” aren’t really rules at all; more a list of expected behaviors that, having been followed for as long as anyone can remember, have taken on the patina of Rules. An example of this type of “rule” is the one which states resumés should be accompanied by a cover letter, that both should be typed on good quality, white (or off-white) paper without fancy fonts or distracting graphics. All of this is true EXCEPT when the occasion calls for something a tad more “eye-catching”. Those of you who read my previous posts may recall this example from TheDailyBoss. The “rules” can be broken, but you have to do your homework. If you are targeting a specific job within a specific market, it’s perfectly acceptable to “break the rules” in order to accomplish your objective. Don’t break the rules simply to break them. Respect the process; have a damn good reason for breaking whatever rules apply to a given situation.
The other example of breaking the rules concerns behavior and dress during the interview. It is commonly accepted that, in order to convey the “proper” attitude during the interview process, you should dress in a conservative manner. This means guys should wear, at the very least, “business casual” attire; sports jacket, shirt (with collar, no tee shirts) in either white or blue (patterned shirts are okay if not too “loud”; no bright colors or distracting patterns), dress slacks and “real” shoes (no sneakers or cross-trainers). Ladies,too, should adhere to a similar mode of dress; skirt and blouse in conservative colors, pantyhose and low-heel shoes (or flats), or an appropriate “business” ensemble. (In either case, ladies, it’s advisable not to display too much cleavage. You are, after all, interviewing for a job, not a date). I advise people, when preparing for an interview, to dress “one level above” the one you’re interviewing for; applicants for “entry-level” positions should dress for a “supervisory” level position, supervisors should dress for middle management, etc. . . The reason for this is to demonstrate, in a subtle manner, your ambition to move up in the organization, not to fill an empty spot in the payroll. This brings me to the last and, perhaps, the most sensitive area of personal comportment: personal adornment.
In the past, body piercings and tattoos were seen as signs of rebellion and disdain for the “establishment”. This is not so today, at least not among the general population. Today “tats” and piercings have gained acceptance among the “twenty-somethings” and beyond as being “body enhancements”, means by which the wearer makes known certain aspects of their personality or philosophy of life. Body piercings, whether you and/or the interviewer like them, are distractions to the process and their display should be avoided or, at least, toned down; lip, tongue and eyebrow piercings should be removed for the interview, earrings, if you wear multiples, should be reduced to, at most, two. Tattoos, on the other hand, present a more difficult and sensitive matter (For an excellent post on tats, check out RedheadWriting; Erika Napoletano pretty much hits the nail on the head). Tattoos are seen, by the wearer and a large (and getting larger) segment of the population as expressions of the individual self; commemorations of events (both joyful and tragic) in a person’s life, expressions of personal philosophy, etc . . .and I don’t believe someone displaying tattoos should go to undue lengths to conceal them. That being said, I don’t think someone wearing tattoos should go to undue lengths to display them, either, especially during an interview. The decision should be a personal one, based on the idea of “reasonable display”. Don’t show them for the sake of showing them, but don’t hide them for the sake of hiding them. If you don’t get a job because the interviewer didn’t like the idea of your having tattoos, you’re very likely better off not getting the job.
What all this comes down to is really quite simple. If you feel you have to break “the Rules” in order to get your foot in the door, by all means break ’em. Just be sure you do your homework; know what you’re doing, and why, before you start.
A brand, everyone knows, is a name so closely associated with a particular product as to be virtually synonymous with it. When you hear the name, Nike™, you think of sports shoes; when you hear New Balance™, you think running shoes. If you have a cold and you need a tissue to wipe your runny nose, chances are you’ll ask for a Kleenex™. We use these products again and again, by name, because we trust them, because they delivered what they promised time and time again, without fail (okay, I know “New Coke”™, but let’s not go there). Anyway, you know what I’m saying; branding has been a staple of corporate marketing plans since, well, the beginning. But in the mid-late nineties things began to change with the emergence of the Internet as a business venue. Here, there were no products you could touch or try on; there were pictures, sure, but you couldn’t “kick the tires”, so to speak, on pictures, you couldn’t test drive a picture. Eventually, the folks at Amazon.com found a way for customers to “sample” some of their book offerings, boosting sales but it didn’t happen overnight. The Internet was quickly filling with information as product. There were information sources everywhere. But could you trust it? It wasn’t always easy, or possible, to trust something when you didn’t know where it was coming from, if the “content provider” was “blowin’ smoke” of if there was some secret agenda behind it (as a matter of fact, you still can’t; political action committees are very adept at concealing the “who” behind the “what”).
All that changed in 1997 when Tom Peters started talking about personal branding. Personal branding, simply put, is your reputation in a business context. It doesn’t matter whether you work at a “brick & mortar” company or author an Internet blog. How you do your job, how you interact with co-workers, team members, customers, supervisors & managers; all of it contributes to your personal brand. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of the Internet entrepreneur.
The Internet abounds with every information source imaginable; information is passed back and forth between members of online communities, chat rooms and, of course, social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & LiveJournal. Many of these individuals and groups prefer anonymity, making branding de rigueur. It also put a heavy emphasis on branding as a means of boosting “market share”; website content became more sophisticated, more visual, more entertaining, more relevant and more useful. This led to a number of brands and their author(s) and contributors developing large followings, thereby increasing the relevance and influence of the brand. One example of the effective use of branding was TheHuffingtonPost.com. Launched in 2005, as a commentary outlet and alternative to other news websites, it quickly developed into an influential news outlet providing its readers with timely, entertaining and relevant content and often “scooping” other sources. Co-founder and chief content manager (publisher), Arianna Huffington’s personal brand became so influential she was often asked to provide expert commentary to various “legitimate” news outlets, further expanding her site’s brand as well as her own. (The Huffington Post was acquired by AOL in February, 2011 for $315 million). It is unlikely The Huffington Post would have commanded such a price without the benefit of being an influential news brand. With so much money to be made in such a (relatively) short space of time, it’s no wonder Internet brand builders seek to expand their bases and influence by using the burgeoning social media sector of the Internet. With membership in social media networks in the neighborhood of 6 billion users, sites like Facebook offer verdant territory for already established brands to expand their influence (and for new enterprises to build theirs.) I’ll have more to say about social media in future posts. For now, I’ll say, “May your personal brand (and mine) develop as you wish and my your followers (and mine) increase tenfold.”
Success. What is it? When will you know you’ve achieved it? Two tough questions you should be asking yourself after you decide which career path you’re going to embark upon. The first question is likely the more difficult of the two. We all have our own definitions of success, whether it’s having all the perks that go with the new gig; company car, expense account, a corner office and beautiful secretary. Perhaps your idea of success is accumulating all the “toys” that result from a successful career; flashy car, big-ass plasma TV, nice house and a vacation home in Vail or Palm Springs. Or maybe you define success as having some influential-type person (agent, producer, corporate vice-president, etc.) answer your phone calls. Maybe success is having someone send a limo to pick you up for an important business meeting; hell, maybe being called to an important business meeting is your indicator of having become successful. Whatever your definition of “success”, you should know what it is before going in search of it. It’s a lot like deciding on which career path to follow; if you don’t know what it is, how are you going to know when you get there? So think about what you consider success. But don’t be misled by people who will tell you what success is. They don’t know. They don’t know because they don’t know what success is to you.
Once you’ve attained success, what are you going to do with it? Will you take your success at one career and roll it over into continued (hopefully greater) success in another? Will you decide to take your success and try to make a go of it on your own, in your own company? Become an entrepreneur? Once you’ve become successful, what will you do with your success? I know, at the outset of your career, you may not have all the answers to these questions. After all, your goals may change; success could very well (and often does) mean different things at different times in your life and career. It’s not mandatory that you know all the answers now, but it’s good to have some idea of what being successful means to you.
How long are you prepared to devote to the pursuit of success? Are you willing to stay in your chosen field five years? Ten years? Twenty years? If you haven’t chosen a “professional” career — law or medicine — that requires a lifetime of study and practice to achieve success, how long are you willing to devote to its pursuit? If, after the allotted time, will you continue to strive in your chosen field? Or will you simply give up the pursuit, hunker down and work at whatever it is you’ve decided to do until it’s time to retire?
There’s one last question I think it’s important to ask yourself in regards to the pursuit of “success”. What are you willing to do to achieve success? Think about that one for a while before you answer. What are you willing to do to achieve success? The easy answer is, “Anything. Anything at all.” But are you, really? Unless you’re completely amoral and unethical, which I don’t believe you are at this point, (you could very well be amoral and unethical, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, so work with me, please) there are some things you simply won’t do. I suggest you make a note of them. The situations may never come up, but you never know.
These are some of the things you should be considering when you think about what success means to you. You are the only one who can answer any of these questions, the only one who should be answering them.
There are some rules that should be followed when you first set foot on the path to a new career. These rules apply equally to the novice career “cruiser” and the experienced career “changer” alike. These rules, these dos and don’ts, should be adhered to without deviation (at least not too much deviation). The first do is decide what it is you want to do, what kind of career you want. And don’t choose a career based on what someone else thinks you should do, no matter if it’s parent, spouse or “significant other”. You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect (or want) you to. You shouldn’t be too specific, nor should you be too vague. Don’t start the quest in search of “something” in such-and-such a field. Don’t “waffle”. Say you want to be a lawyer; what kind of law do you want to practice? Corporate, criminal (these two paths could intersect down the road. Just ask the guys at Enron and Goldman-Sachs); maybe you’re interested in civil law or family law or probate law. The same things hold true for any number of careers, from medicine to mechanics; nearly every career path has a variety of side paths along which you can wander if you so desire. Whichever way you decide to go, whatever career path you decide to explore, and it is and will be an exploration, don’t make any decision based solely on how much money you can acquire. If there isn’t the possibility of a large degree of personal satisfaction attached to your career choice, you’re not likely to find a great deal of success, no matter how much money you make.
Once you’ve decided on a career path, develop a plan designed to keep you on that path. It cannot be overstated, “You can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going.” And, even if you know where you’re going, you’ll likely need some kind of map to make sure you’re, at least, moving in the right direction. For those who desire a “professional” career path, this kind of planning should, ideally, begin in school, around the time you declare you “major”. The last thing you want to have happen is to leave school, degree in hand and find yourself saying, “Okay, now what?” So develop a plan and stick to it, but not too closely. Plans are really good to have, but success comes from flexibility, being able to adjust to changing circumstances and environments. And this holds true for those of you who, for one reason or another, can’t (or choose not to) go to college. Just because you graduated from VO-TECH doesn’t mean you have to take “just any old job”. The paths leading to careers in mechanics, carpentry, electrical trades, food service, plumbing should all be planned with flexibility. You may snicker and think I’m being patronizing but I’m not. You never know when the lawyer or doctor or stockbroker may need a mechanic who specializes in imported cars like his Bentley, or when the next dot.com millionaire wants to restore that Georgian mansion he just bought out of foreclosure. Opportunities abound for grad and non-grad alike. so when you’re developing that career plan, be sure to build in a little flexibility. A word of caution. You may not find yourself securely set on the path to your career goals right away. No one ever said it was going to be easy and the truth of the matter is, sometimes it’s damned hard. You may be tempted to “take a break”, to find “something” now; pick up the career “thing” later . Don’t give up; not until you’ve exhausted every resource you have or can find or finagle. Never settle. Never, ever. The temptation will be strong. People will say things like, “Maybe it just wasn’t in the cards.” Don’t give in! When you settle, for third or even second-best, you become comfortable and you realize, often too late, “later” never seems to arrive.
Career-changers, on the other hand, face a different situation than novice career-planners. They have considerably more experience in their chosen field(s); not to mention their life experience. By dint of their years in the marketplace, they have more resources from which to draw to aid in their search for new worlds to conquer. But they also have one obstacle to deal with that other don’t. Career-changers, especially older workers, are often viewed as “too old”, “burned out” or they’re considered “dinosaurs”, not easily able to adapt to the new marketplace or work environment. One response to this, one becoming more and more commonplace, is the tendency for older workers to turn their eye to entrepreneurial pursuits. The Internet has provided fertile ground for the growth in entrepreneurship and there appears to be no end to its continued growth in sight. Colleagues may smile indulgently, spouses may roll their eyes in mock horror and former employers may tell you you’re bound to fail. Faced with the effects of these nay-sayers and prophets of financial doom, you may want to recall and old, old saying, attributed to a number of very successful men and women. “Never interrupt someone who is doing what you said can’t be done.” The truth of the matter is, everyday former corporate executives and middle managers are finding themselves being sought out as consultants and mentors in nearly every business arena thanks to the power of the Internet.
So whether you’re new to career searching, or a dinosaur fighting extinction, there are still worlds to be conquered, passions to be unleashed and fortunes to be made. Just remember these dos and don’ts. Do decide on what you want to do, specifically. Do develop a plan to guide you in the achievement of that goal. And last, but certainly not least, Don’t quit. Never, ever settle . . .
What do you do once you’ve discovered your “one true thing”, the thing which gives purpose to your life; your passion? What now? Do you chuck everything, rush off into the great unknown armed only with this beautiful, fragile thing, yelling at the world, “This is what I was meant to do. Nothing else matters, only this!” I would advise against such action, at least in the beginning. There is a time to do just that, but now may not be that time.
If you are fortunate enough to find your “one true thing” early in life, it may well be best if you devote yourself wholeheartedly to its pursuit. You have not invested any (or not much, anyway) time in any other pursuit(s), so now may be the perfect time to do just that. On the other hand, if like me, you’ve spent a number of years vainly searching for that “one true thing” only to be disappointed, time and again, until you’ve just about given up hope of ever finding it, then, perhaps, it’s best to nurture your passion quietly, without giving full vent to the emotional impact of its discovery. There’s a reason, a very good reason, why this could be the best move initially.
Most people simply aren’t going to understand. At first, they may look at you uncomfortably, nodding their heads and smiling. They may even be encouraging, “Yeah, right, Steve. Well, good luck with THAT”, in a backhand kind of way. But then will come resentment, fear; maybe even downright hostility. “What the hell makes you so special? What makes you think you can make that (whatever it is) happen?” This can be toxic to passion, or at least your belief in your passion and, sadly, even your belief in yourself. It is especially toxic to those things we have not sufficiently nurtured (within ourselves) to be able to withstand such criticism.
When I was younger, I wanted very much to be a writer. I was passionate about it and spent countless hours struggling to string the words, sentences and paragraphs together so I could point with pride to my finished manuscript and say, “I did this!” At first, when asked what it was I did, I said, “I’m a writer.” Inevitably, the question came back, “What have you written?” I would say I’d done a few op-ed pieces for the local paper, some theater reviews, and the like. I was proud of my accomplishment and wanted people to know (I was never one to “hide my light under a bushel”). “Make any money at this writing “thing”? I had to admit I hadn’t. Most of the work was done for the exposure, to build some credits to attack the bigger markets. “How long you been at this writing “thing”? I’d been a “struggling writer” for a couple of years and not collecting a whole lot except a small stack of “contributors” copies and a large stack of rejection slips. “When are you going to get a “real job”? The question eventually killed, for the time being, my passion for writing. It wasn’t because I didn’t think it wasn’t work, or a “real job”. I knew in my heart it was. But I began to doubt, to second guess myself. I had spent quite a lot of money on my writing; classes, paper, ribbon for, at first the typewriter, then the word processor and, eventually, a computer, postage. None of the expenditures were overly lavish, but we couldn’t easily afford them. And I hadn’t published anything of note for quite a while. Maybe I was being selfish, spending money and time away from my wife, not really working at the relationship. Self-doubt reared its ugly head and bit me right in the resolve. I put the writing away and got a “real job”. I wasn’t that good, anyway, I told myself. Maybe I would’ve been but now I’ll never know. And neither will you if you expose your passion to a similar environment too soon.
Passion, as Sir Ken Robinson says, can change everything; the change, though, isn’t always for the better.
In my last post, (actually it was my first post but I’m not about to quibble), I wrote about fashioning a career from your passion. That may have been a tad misleading. Passion, while easy (sometimes) to identify, can be difficult to find. I know it sounds contradictory but it’s true. Finding your passion is sort of like walking a cat. You may start out searching in one direction, thinking it’s the logical way to go and then, just when you think things are going smoothly, you catch a whiff of something, the scent of a new idea, a new direction and before you know it you’re somewhere you never expected to be, maybe even resisted going there in the first place but, however it happened, there you are. See what I mean? Like walking a cat. (Hence, the title of this blog) There’s one other thing about your passion you may not want to acknowledge — it’s not about money. Yeah, I know. I’m talking about building career around your passion in one breath; in the next I’m telling you, “It’s not about the money.” WTF! How am I expected to build a career from my passion if there’s no money involved?
Careers, and by “careers” I mean Work, are all about money; money for mortgages, credit cards, summer vacations, the computer camp your kids what to attend or their college education (or their orthodontia), or a new car, whatever. “He who has the most toys at the end, wins” (an outdated 80s mantra that many people still subscribe to). That’s a lot of pressure! Not to mention all those years of study to gain the degree that certified you were qualified for the job in the first place. More pressure! And what about the expectations of your parents, family, friends and business associates? Even more pressure! Passion is a totally different animal. It exerts no pressure. It doesn’t demand you make money, or move up the ranks to the executive boardroom. The only thing passion expects of us is to be fed. That’s it. Passion has to be fed, to be nurtured if we are to derive full satisfaction from its pursuit. And therein lies the surest way to find your passion, the thing that brings you alive with the doing of it, that gives you the satisfaction of accomplishment for no ulterior motive, only the satisfaction gained from the doing.
There’s an old, old saying that goes, “Do what you love, the money will follow.” What is explicit in this statement is, you can make money doing what you love. I’m sure each of us can cite at least a half-dozen examples. What isn’t stated is how long it will take “. . .the money (to) follow.” Many, many people (myself included) have subscribed to that old bromide and marched off into the future, armed with little more than a passion and a dream, only to divest themselves of the passion and abandon dream. Why? Because their (and, at one time, my) only real goal was the money and it wasn’t following, at least not nearly fast enough. If you truly, honestly wish to find your passion, (and profit from it), don’t think about money. It will only result in undue pressure and suck every bit of enjoyment out of the process.
Passion also gives us the opportunity to experiment; by which I mean it gives us the opportunity to fail, to be wrong. It’s one of the greatest benefits of doing something for the simple pleasure of doing it as opposed to doing something with the expectation of making a profit. There is no downside to being wrong in the pursuit of passion. So what if you’re wrong? The boss isn’t going to rake you over the coals. The water cooler gang isn’t going to make snide comments like, “Boy, you really blew that deal, Fred!” You’re not going to be burned in effigy at the next stockholders’ meeting. Nothing bad is going to happen. What is going to happen is you’re going to correct whatever mistake you made and go from there. Maybe you didn’t feed your passion right; you tried to do too much, too fast (the most common passion feeding error — you can’t “force-feed” passion). Or, perhaps, you just weren’t as passionate about this particular thing as you thought. It’s all good! No harm, no foul. If this didn’t work, something else will. What would you give if you could do the job you do now with that attitude?
So, where do we find passion? We find it in those things we do for the sheer joy of doing them. We all have them, passions. Writing (maybe take a shot at writing that novel you’ve always talked about), fly-fishing (could be now’s the time to try marketing all those flies you’ve tying for years in the garage), cars (you’ve been restoring that old Packard for years. Maybe it’s time to join an antique car club and see what happens), crafts, painting, making furniture. Every one of the aforementioned passions has led someone to a career; one that is satisfying, fulfilling and fun and, most importantly, doesn’t seem like work. So what the hell are you waiting for?