Career Path

Career Path

You Made a Difference

Coming home recently after spending time with some amazing people in my network, I felt particularly blessed. Somehow, I find myself at this point in my career surrounded by people I admire, respect and value. They have all contributed to my success and my happiness in different ways.  I want to acknowledge just a few of them, though anonomously for their privacy. They will know who they are.

One of the first, most important of these, is the first manager of my professional career. She believed in me when I didn’t have any experience in the field of HR. All I had was a bit of  education and part-time experience in the legal industry. She saw something in me, and took pride in bringing it out. Thanks to her, I learned a LOT, and gained confidence in my abilities. I also got promoted, based in part on her recommendation.  Working with her was the springboard for my career.

Second were my leaders at SunTrust. Without fail, they were leaders of the highest quality. Ethical, encouraging and always pushing me beyond my comfort zone, to my benefit.  Though they were my managers, they were also my mentors.

Another is a woman with whom I’ve crossed paths many times in many ways, first as a graduate student, then as a trusted network contact and confidante, then as a colleague and leader, and as a mentor.  She taught me the true nature of networking and allowed me to get my feet wet in business development. Her spirit and competitive zeal motivate me.

I am also thankful for those current and former colleagues who referred business to me as I was just getting started in my consulting practice.  All of my business has come from referrals, so what they did for me cannot be overstated.

Last but not least, my students who I taught or coached. It’s a joy to be involved in your journey. I am inspired by all of you.

Thank you again to all those named and not named who touched my career. You made a difference!

Now, who do you need to acknowledge and thank in your career?

 

Going Back to School?

Recently, while traveling for business, I happened to sit next to a young professional on my flight, and we fell into a discussion. The crux of it was this: both he and his wife wanted to go back to school to get their graduate degrees but they couldn’t go at the same time.  They were trying to decide which one of them should go first.

While I didn’t presume to know what was best for he and his wife, I asked him some questions that, later, he said were quite helpful and put his mind at ease about the direction he now felt was the right one. If you’re considering graduate school, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • What do you want to do once you get the degree?  If you don’t really know, then how do you know what degree to obtain?  Graduate degrees are generally more specialized than undergraduate and if the degree you obtain doesn’t end up matching the path you want to go down, it may not actually help you much. If you don’t know what you’d like to do next, do your research. Don’t sit around waiting for the answer to come to you.  Talk to people, research careers and career paths.  A great resource is: O*NET (onetonline.org.)
  • If you do know what you’d like to do down the road, do the people who do what you’d like to do have graduate degrees? What degrees? Do the majority have them or is it uncommon?  If the majority have them, it may be the price of admission you’ll have to pay to even get your foot in the door.  If only a few have them, do you really need one?  It very well could provide you a competitive advantage to have one, but it is not a guarantee of employment, so you need to weigh this carefully. If you don’t know the answer to this question, use LinkedIn, and talk to people.  Find out.
  • Are you ready to start job searching and are you open to relocation? Graduate degrees are quite often successful in providing a springboard for one’s career, but the window of opportunity is generally most open in the year before and the months after graduation.  You need to be ready to strike while the iron’s hot.  Students who don’t look to make a move until two, three or even five or more years after they obtain a graduate, often have a difficult time.  Why? Because they are competing with others who took more initiative and showed more commitment in getting into that field while they were in school.  Who would you choose if you were a recruiter?

To be sure, graduate degrees can be rewarding in many ways, from the joy of studying a field you have a particular interest in, to building new relationships with others who share your interests and may be able to help you professionally, to the advantages it may provide in your career. Just make sure that you are going back to school at the right time for the right reasons.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” ~Lewis Carroll (from Alice in Wonderland)

Fall is a time of renewal

There are seasons.  There are tides.  There is a natural ebb and flow to life, and we often think of Spring as the time when everything begins anew.  But for as long as I can remember, Fall – not Spring – has felt like a time of renewal to me.  Maybe because Fall is when school starts, and that means so many new things – new classes, new teachers, new school supplies and sometimes new friends.

As much as I love Summer, and the respite it (sometimes) brings, or New Year’s with all the celebration, the Fall is when I feel energized to re-evaluate my goals and adjust my compass.  How about you?

Where are you going?  If you don’t know, carve out time for a meeting with yourself, maybe in a cozy spot on the back porch with a nice cup of something, and give yourself permission to really ponder.  It’s like Fall cleaning for the brain.

If you do know where you want to go, look back: have you been on the right path this year, or have you veered off?  What adjustments can you make?  Even the smallest adjustments can make a big difference in the long run.

Take advantage of this new season, as a time of renewal.  I’ll be doing the same.

We’re asking the wrong question

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Early career planning

Did anyone ever ask you that?  Certainly, when you were a child.  Maybe even last week.  The problem is, when we ask the question that way — “what do you want to be?”– we are forcing a choice defined by title only.

As children and adults alike, we are generally very limited in our knowledge of all the roles available to us.  So, we pick from those of which we are already aware: teacher, computer programmer, accountant, firefighter.  Our interest in them is generally based on what we can see from the outside.  The superficial.  Perceived status, financial reward, glamour and more.  Unfortunately, these things do not guarantee happiness in our work.

When we work, we are in the act of doing.  When we are doing something we enjoy, it can be quite delightful.  When we do something we are good at and we enjoy?  That’s a recipe for success.  On the other hand, I know plenty of attorneys who invested a lot years and a lot of dollars preparing for a career with a certain title, only to find that they don’t enjoy actually doing the work.  What would they be doing now and how satisfied would they be if they had instead focused on what they liked to do?

Titles come and go.  Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a Search Engine Optimization Specialist.  But there were plenty of Secretaries.  By tying ourselves too closely to one title, we can spend years preparing ourselves for a role that is becoming obsolete, or entirely miss another role that could have been a perfect fit.

By focusing on what we like to do, it leads to exposure to other things we’ll like too, and if we are constantly pushing forward, we can end up with quite a portfolio of skills and knowledge which enable us to make a living doing what we enjoy.

So, the next time you’re talking to a child about their career interests, don’t ask them “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Ask them, “what do you like to do?” And, as you’re thinking about your next career step, ask yourself the same question.

Creative career spotlight: Peter Gordon

I am pleased to kick off my series of interviews on creative careers, beginning with Peter Gordon.  Peter has enjoyed a career of over twenty-five years in creative work, including television, theater, journalism and creative writing.  He is currently an executive with a media production company and blogs about creativity at www.myprogramidea.blogspot.com. Thank you, Peter, for talking with us!

CM: What is your title (formal or informal)?

PG: I am currently Vice President and Executive Producer for Armada Sports & Entertainment.

What kind of creative work do you do?

I’m a television producer and in the past headed programming for networks, local stations, and production companies.  I’m also a published journalist and poet.

How long have you been doing this kind of work?

I’ve been involved in arts all my life.  I received an MFA in theatre directing from Carnegie-Mellon and directed in New York and regional theatre before working in television.

Why did you decide to leave that [theatre] career? 

I wanted a creative career with more regular hours where my work was able to reach more people.

What or who has been your inspiration in your creative work?

I’m inspired by everything — you have to bring life into your work.  

What did you do to prepare yourself for this type of creative work? 

I enjoyed reading, going to theatre, and watching movies since I was young.  I was lucky to grow up in New York City and have access to great live theatre.  I admired the work I saw and hoped to be able to create it one day.

The best preparation for a creative career is to create things.  You’ll make a lot of mistakes, but eventually you’ll learn how to do it.

What was your first job in the business you are in now? 

My first job in television was as a legal secretary for NBC.

Do you indulge in other types of creative work or play?

My poems have been published in some publications.  I am also a member of two writers groups.  I play guitar and harmonica for fun, and when I want people to leave me alone.

Did you know what your “career path” would look like in this creative arena?  If not, how did you figure it out?

I didn’t know what the career path would be when I started.  I learned by watching and speaking with people in the business that I admire and seeing how they got where they are.

Was there someone who showed you the ropes in this line of work?

There were many generous people who mentored me througout my career.  I would say that my biggest influence was my boss at the Golf Channel, Bob Greenway.

People often think creative careers are unstable.  What has your experience been?

I was fortunate to work at one network, Golf Channel, for almost 15 years.  But that is the exception.  Even at the network level, most creative producers move around.  The creative life is inherently unstable, but then, so are many other lines of work these days.  As one of my actor friends put it, “you can get laid off by a bank or GM as easily as a theatre.  Where do you want to work?”

Was there a turning point or an “aha” moment when you realized you could make it in this line of work?

It was when I got hired as the Assistant Manager of Programming for Cinemax.  Over 100 people applied for the job and they picked me.

What is the downside, if any, to this career choice?

The hours aren’t regular.  Sports programming in particular is a weekend job, and requires a lot of travel.  It’s very difficult to put the work aside and just relax — you’re always thinking about your projects, even when you’re sleeping.

What do you love most about your work?

It’s very difficult to put the work aside and just relax — you’re always thinking about your projects, even when you’re sleeping.  And when you’re done, you’ve created something that hadn’t existed until then.

What advice would you give someone who would like to do what you do?

Start doing it immediately.  Get a liberal arts degree so you learn how to learn and explore all different kinds of media.  Get an entry level job doing anything on a production or at a network, ask questions, and learn.  Even before you get a powerful position in the business, keep a notebook or file with stories you want to tell. 

Remember that today, there are no gatekeepers.  If you believe in your story, you can take it directly to the people via the internet.

*       *       *

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from Peter as much as I have.  His last point in particular really resonated with me, as we (and many others) are illustrating this through our blogs, Twitter, YouTube and other social media.  Hear more from Peter on:

Peter’s blog: www.myprogramidea.blogspot.com.

Twitter: @PeterMGordon

Considering creative careers: a new series

Creative Director (CCA)

A lot of people have been re-thinking their careers over the past few years.  Some by choice, some not.  Here are a few examples:

  • the civil engineer whose construction firm slowly withered on the vine as the commercial real estate industry dried up
  • the sales manager who, after years of meeting progressively more challenging production goals, traveling extensively and hardly spending time with family, finds her job eliminated
  • the coordinator whose role has become impossible because she’s been asked to take on the work of every other person who left the department and wasn’t replaced
  • the baby boomer who was planning to work for 3 or 4 more years before retiring but who was laid off when the job was outsourced
  • the young college graduate who cannot find a suitable job in his or her chosen field

In some cases, these people are stopping for a moment to ask themselves what do I really want? Sometimes they just want to find an alternate way to pay their rent or support their family.  But often, they are looking for more meaning in their work. Or more flexibility. Or to feel like they have more control over their own destiny. Many are turning to creative pursuits as a result.

If this resonates for you, I have good news: According to an article in the Atlantic, “The growth in creative class jobs is a bright spot on the employment horizon. And the growth in these jobs in smaller metros…is especially good news.”

http://m.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/03/where-creative-class-jobs-will-be/1258/

The definition of creative class is quite broad and includes science, technology, and engineering; as well as those types of work we traditionally think of such as arts, culture, media, and entertainment. It may also include skilled trades such as wood working or producing custom-made bicycles, as highlighted in this great article in the Orlando Sentinel:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/sc-fam-0809-skilled-trade-20110810,0,3848199.story

Though you may be interested in a creative career, you may also have a lot of questions or even misconceptions about the creative career path.  So, I’m beginning a new series.  I’ll be bringing you interviews with folks who have embarked recently or many years ago on creative career paths.  I hope you’ll enjoy their perspectives and perhaps find inspiration.

What is a goal without a dream?

At this time of year, we are usually bombarded with well-meaning advice on how to improve our lives.  Usually this advice is along the line of sticking to our resolutions, making very tangible goals that can be measured and so on.  This kind of practical activity has its place in creating a better future for ourselves and I wholly endorse it. There’s just one drawback, and it’s a big one: often these goals are build upon foundations of “shoulds”.  Not what we want, but what society or our friends or our family tell us we ought to want.  And when we build our goals on foundations of shoulds, we have a mighty hard time sticking to them.  Our plans look like oceans before us and we have no wind in our sails.  We find ourselves in the same place the next year, declaring the same resolutions all over again.

Today, let me humbly suggest that you forget tangible goals just for a little while.  Instead: dream.  What does your gut say you would love, love, to do or achieve?  Maybe this year.  Maybe next year.  Maybe twenty years down the road.

Finish these sentences:

  • I’ve always wanted to: ______________________________________.
  • I wish I could:_____________________________________________.
  • Someday, what I’d really love to do is: __________________________.
  • The person whose job I really covet is: __________________________.

If your stomach doesn’t clench, you aren’t digging deep enough or thinking big enough.  Keep going until you hit that spot.  What I’m talking about here is in the context of work, but this can really apply to any area of your life.

Many of the big dreams I’ve had for myself professionally have come true in the past year or two.  And, although there are certainly small steps which I’ve taken along the way, without recognizing and honoring my dreams, I would never have taken these steps.  I would have stayed on another path.

Soon enough, you can create a solid plan with timelines and milestones and checkmarks.  But for now, dream.

It’s a new year! What is waiting for you?

I’ve got a friend who decided to turn the phrase What are you waiting for? on its head.  Now she says:

What is waiting for you?

By changing the words around, she changed the whole meaning.  I absolutely love this mantra so I’m adopting it as my own for the year.

Think about it – what is waiting for you in 2012?  And what are you going to do to go out and get it?  Think of the possibilities, and then take action!

Here’s to a great year!

From Entrepreneur to Corporate Life

A number of people recently have sought my advice on their intended transition into the corporate world.  They are entrepreneurs who, for a variety of reasons, have decided that now is the right time to leave that path. Some are in businesses that have slowed down or have become too difficult for other reasons.  Some are in business school, which they entered intentionally to use as a lever for finding a role in corporate America.

Entreprenuers have amazing skills and a lot they can bring to the table within a larger corporate setting.  However, their self-employment history can also be of concern to recruiters and hiring managers.  Why?  Well, here’s a look inside their heads:

Does this gal really want an internal role?

The number one concern is the motivation for applying to a corporate role.  Does the applicant truly want to be a part of, not in charge of, the business?  Or, are they just doing this because times are tough right now, and as soon as the market defrosts, or they simply get the itch, they’ll jump ship?

Can this guy really take orders or will he buck the system?

This is closely related to the question above.  They wonder, Can this person fit within our system?  The larger the organization, typically the more processes and policies in place and the less likely one individual is to influence them.  Ever heard the phrase My way or the highway?  If we’re being brutally honest with each other, we must admit this is often the way it works in large organizations.  In very large companies it’s common to not even have contact with the person who chose the highway.  People who ask too many questions or do things their own way are considered difficult.   Understandably, managers don’t want to hire someone, only to have to fire them later because they don’t “fit”.

Is she really as good as she says she is?

Recruiters and hiring managers may wonder if all the achievements listed on the entrepreneur’s resume are 100% accurate.  They generally don’t have any way to verify the information.  An issue related to this one is salary or overall compensation.

These are just a few issues, but they’re big ones.  If you are moving from entrepreneurship to corporate life, you need to figure out how to counterbalance these concerns. How?

1.   Be ready to talk about why you want a corporate role, not why you don’t want to own your own business anymore.  If you just tried the entrepreneurial thing for a while, it’s okay to say “it wasn’t for me” but if you owned your own business for a long time or are a serial entrepreneur, that won’t cut it.  If you were in a corporate role before and enjoyed it, say so.   Do you enjoy structure?  Being part of a larger team?  Be prepared with a message that will make them comfortable that you understand what you would be getting yourself into and that you truly want it.

2.  Make sure that when you talk about your experience or achievements, you illustrate how you’ve successfully worked with or within larger structures.  That you can follow the rules.  For example, were you a vendor to a large company with strict purchasing guidelines and a rigid RFP process?  Were you a franchise owner who had to work within very closely defined operating standards?

3.  You aren’t obligated to open up all your financial records to any potential employer (unless you’re going into politics, the FBI or something like that), but the more specific details you can share in an interview the better.  Quantify your achievements.  Sometimes non-financial details illustrate this better than dollar figures, i.e. “I won the contract renewal with Large Co., Inc., three times due to our excellent customer service and product quality”.

4.  Of course, always be prepared to highlight what you bring to the table that non-entrepreneur types may not.  For instance, a profitability mindset.  A broader understanding of the business.  A humbleness that comes from knowing how hard it really is to herd cats.

People make this transition successfully all the time, though it is certainly more challenging now due to the competition in the market.  If this is your plan, do your homework now so you can make it easy for a potential employer to say yes.

Career resolutions 2011

As promised, I am making some career resolutions this year.  To be honest, I reassess and make new goals throughout each year, and usually ignore the January 1 milestone.  This year, though, it provides a needed opportunity to reflect and plan.  So, here are my resolutions for 2011:

  • To consciously connect – it’s essential in my work to stay connected with a wide variety of people, from business leaders to job seekers to thought partners and mentors; I will consciously guide my outreach during the year to ensure I connect with those that I should
  • To write more – because it’s something I love, a skill I want to keep building, and it allows me to connect with people more, which, besides providing enjoyment, provides more work opportunity
  • To give myself a pay raise – yes, that’s right, only not in the way you think.  I’m not on salary, but I can influence my pay in a number of ways.  Though I will work to increase my overall revenue this year, my primary focus here is on what I make per unit of time.  So, I can do a number of things including: raise my rates, schedule more efficiently so that I have less “downtime” in between paid work, work faster on fee-based projects, and focus on higher rate work.  I will actually employ all of these to some degree
  • To maintain balance – I know, “balance” has almost become a dirty word it’s so cliche’, but one of the reasons I love what I do is that it provides an opportunity for balance that was almost impossible in my former life.  Looking back over last year, I did pretty well.  I need to keep it on my radar and I know I can do it again this year.  My key tools are: aggressive prioritization and the willingness to say “no” at the right times

Sounds like a pretty heavy load, huh?  Not really.  All these are essential to my continued career and personal well-being, so I need to be doing them anyway. 

Now, to be really effective, resolutions must have some detail or they lose their bite.  Though I haven’t laid out the details here, I am doing this for myself.  I hope you are too, and I wish you the very best in achieving all that you resolve to this year!