In 1982, the British punk / alternative rock band The Clash released their album “Combat Rock” to mixed reviews, although a number of the songs, notably “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” did experience some critical success. It’s not my typical listening fare, but one of the cuts from this album raises an excellent question for the careerist: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I know The Clash isn’t talking about employment, but the question is a fair one. As you consider vocational options for your next employment “gig,” one of the pressing alternatives is: 1) to stay in your present field, or 2) try something new.  I’d like to suggest that there are actually three potential choices in this vocational quandary:

  • Stay – Stay
  • Stay – GrowExit signs
  • Go – Grow

Let’s take some time to review these in greater detail to get a sense of your alternatives.

Stay – Stay

This choice implies seeking a lateral move, a status quo / more-of-the-same decision that allows you to bring your experience and expertise to a new organization where you will be doing much the same type of thing as you did at your most recent employer. No significant changes exist here. Your commute will be different and your job title may be new, but by and large what you will be doing is what you have been doing.

There is nothing wrong with this option, particularly if you found significant satisfaction in your previous work. This is likely one of the easier directions to investigate. A standard resume format will work (listing your titles and experience in reverse chronological order). Responding to the interview question “Why are you interested in this position?” is rather straightforward, since you’ve done this type of work before and want to do it again.

Where this direction may come up short for you, however, is if you are uninspired in your present work. I have called this, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” If this applies, you may want to consider one of the other options.

Stay – Grow

This direction focuses on using your work and life experiences to take your employment adventures “to the next level” (sorry for the cliché), beyond what you have done to new challenges, experiences, projects, etc. As in the Stay – Stay model, you are continuing your focus along the lines of your present experience (e.g., supervision in a manufacturing setting), but are challenging yourself to find a situation that will require and allow you to build on your previous experience to move up and on in your career development.

How this may affect your search is that you will want to make the case that you are an “up and comer,” someone with demonstrated successes who is seeking new challenges and areas of responsibility. You will want to make the point (in your resume, interviews, networking, etc.) that you are a force to be reckoned with, seeking new horizons and opportunities to add value to your new organization as well as continuing to develop yourself personally and professionally.

The Stay – Grow option could be problematic if you are disenchanted with your present career path and are hoping that more responsibility or a higher level of accountability will reinvigorate your flagging career attitude. It may, or it may just satisfy you for a short amount of time until you realize that all you’ve done is change your space in the parking lot of a career that no longer excites you. If this is the case, you may want to consider the option behind “Door Number 3” -

Go – Grow

This final option says it’s time for something new. You don’t want more of the same anymore (Stay – Stay), and moving up in the same field will only postpone your inevitable employment ennui (Stay – Grow), so it’s time for a change. This could be seeking to bring your experience into a new industry or business (from banking to hospitality, for example), or it may mean making a radical change into a dramatically new and different field.

This kind of change is exciting but also quite challenging. In her excellent book Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra says that our earlier work experience can bind us and blind us to new alternatives. If you choose to move in this direction, be sure to invest time in learning more about I call “your best stuff” (key interests, values and skills) and how they may be met in work and life settings. You will need to create a skill-based resume to focus on what you bring to the game more than where you have been employed, and your networking will be more dynamic, seeking insights and alternatives beyond where you have been and what you have done. The best answers to these questions are out in the world. Get out there and start asking!

Well there you are – Should you stay or should you go? It’s your call. Considering seeking out the advice of a Career Coach as you work  through your options.

ImageThe best path is always the positive one. I owe the following parable to my dear Grandma Lucy Matilda Rhoads Davis. She’s in Heaven now, but thoughts of her always bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Here it is…

Old Saidie, an aged widow in a sleepy little town, always had a nice thing to say about everyone she met. She didn’t seem to have a negative bone in her body, and was consistently able to point out the good side of people.

Well, the town drunk died. This ne’er do well had never held a job in his life. His entire existence consisted of scaring toddlers, taking advantage of others or bumming money for cigarettes and alcohol. As he had finally passed away, the entire town showed up at the funeral, if only to find out what Saidie would have to say about a man who seemed to be totally lacking any good qualities in his entire life.

As Saidie shuffled up to the casket, one brave soul called out, “Hey, Saidie! What did you think of Mr. Johnson?!

Without missing a beat, Saidie smiled and exclaimed, “Oh, couldn’t he whistle?!”

Let’s be more like Saidie, finding and celebrating the Best that’s around us. We just have to pay attention to find it!

Thanks, Grandma Lucy!

With the start of the NHL season this evening, I wanted to revisit an earlier blog that emphasized a significant statistic quoted during these matches: “SHOTS ON GOAL.”

It’s not hard to figure out why this is a critical measure of success. IF YOU DON’T SHOOT, YOU’LL NEVER SCORE! To be sure, you want to develop some skill in executing these shots, but waiting for the perfect line for that SportsCenter slap shot will likely keep you from ever scoring!

In the same way, if you choose to take limited action in advancing your search, your career explorations, your professional and personal  growth, etc., you’ll likely end up with exactly what you put into it: BUPKISS  (nothing, or precious little of value)! To quote the Great One, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”

So, exactly what is your “shots on goal” statistic for your career development?

telephone“One ringy-dingy! Two ringy-dingys!” (with apologies to Lily Tomlin).

In this crazy world of global economies and national searches, the phone interview is becoming a preferred method for starting the candidate-selection process. After all, if you can call someone up and interview that person for the cost of a long-distance phone conversation, you’ve saved considerable time and expense over flying someone in for a face-to-face meeting. They are often used even for local candidates as early step in the hiring process.

So, enter the Telephone Interview. An arranged time for a phone call can allow a company to screen you at a deeper level as a candidate (your resume probably got you the phone appointment) to see if they really want to make eye contact with you. If you’re like me, you may prefer speaking face to face, but you should probably hone your phone skills, since you’ll likely have a phone interview sometime soon.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions for getting your message across through the wires:

  • If the call comes unexpectedly and you are not prepared as I suggest below, ask to reschedule. It’s not unreasonable to let your potential employer know that you don’t have the time to talk at this time and wish to make arrangements at a later date.
  • Use a land line or quality cell phone if you can. Don’t trust bargain cell phones. Also, use the handset, not the speakerphone; the technology just isn’t there yet (I’ve found it sounds like you’re calling from the Holland Tunnel!). If you don’t have a quality wireless phone where you’ll receive the call, use a standard phone. Sound quality can be a significant problem if your equipment isn’t up to the task.
  • Make arrangements for your phone line to be free, whether you are calling or being called. If you think other people might try to reach you, advise them in advance that you won’t be available and that you need the phone line to remain open. If you get a call while in conversation, let your voice mail handle it.
  • Gather all of the information you can on the company in advance. Have a copy of your resume and work background, key information you want to share, etc., spread out before you. This is an “open book test,” so be prepared. There is NO REASON not you have all of your “interview ammunition” in front of you for the call!
  • Make sure your interview location is quiet when the conversation takes place. If the call comes when others are around, be sure to make plans for some silence. Interviewing over the cacophony of a barking dog or a blaring rerun of “Sponge Bob Squarepants” is not likely to impress a potential employer.
  • Review what you know of the position and company and prepare short “experience stories” to demonstrate how you fit the company’s needs. Since you know when the interview is going to take place and have the ability to keep your critical information within reach, there’s no reason not to take full advantage of the situation.
  • Believe it or not, I recommend DRESSING UP for the phone interview. What you wear is often reflected in your voice. If you’re dressed professionally you’ll sound much better than if you’re in a bathrobe and bunny slippers. (Go ahead and laugh, but it’s true!)
  • Sit in a chair that requires you to maintain good posture. Once again, little steps like this will improve your delivery. Voices can slouch just like bodies do. Some people find interviewing while standing up works as well.
  • Use your voice to demonstrate interest and enthusiasm. Speak clearly with good diction, varying your voice to make points. Consider keeping a glass of water nearby, perhaps some lozenges, etc., just in case you need them.
  • You may find that interviewing in front of a mirror is useful, providing some visual cues and feedback which you cannot get from the other end of the phone line. This technique will also give you some feedback on your posture, energy level and related variables.
  • Have all of the questions you want the company to answer ready in advance. Be aware that the phone interview is likely to happen early in the hiring process, so bringing up issues like salary and benefits is probably not a good idea.
  • Near the end of the interview, consider asking (in your own words), “As I learn more about this position in relation to my skills and experience, I frankly see an excellent fit and am quite excited about the opportunity to join your company. Are there any areas of concern regarding my candidacy that we should discuss in greater detail?” A strong question like this near the end of the interview may help you clarify any areas where the company may be unsure of you as a candidate. (And, it’s an excellent question, even if they don’t voice any concerns.)
  • Finally, never close the interview without the final question: “What’s the next step in the process?” or “When can I anticipate hearing from you?” Be sure that you have accurate information on the name, title and address of the individual(s) you are speaking with so that you can send thank-you correspondence.

Phone Interviews:  Be all you can be when that call comes in!

As the fall marathon season is upon us, I wanted to share some thoughts on running (at any distance) and career development.

As any of you who have been involved in a job search, career development (or LIFE, if you’re really paying attention) know, the experience is more like a long distance race than a sprint! My chosen fitness pastime, running, has borne out this fact for over 35 of my years. I can still recall my first marathon experience: the gun went off, we all bolted out of the gate, and I took off like my singlet was on fire. I vividly remember bragging to my cohorts along the course, even as far along as the 15th mile of the 26.2, “this race is MINE!”

Then I met, for my first time, my now bosom buddy The Wall. Somewhere around mile 18-22, most runners reach a point where the body wants to be done but the finish line still beckons. For my first marathon, this meant that last 6.2 miles would be excruciatingly slow. I had not learned the cardinal rule of distance running: PACING. My credo now for marathons is one I borrowed from a T-shirt I read on one of my many 26.2 mile adventures – “Start out slow, then taper off.”

I have also gleaned one other pearl of wisdom, the title of this blog: Run through the finishing line. As the picture demonstrates, my weary figure has managed to finish ahead of a number of individuals, but NOT because I found another gear, my carbo-loading kicked in, or I reached down deep to burst past my fellow runners in a blaze of glory. I finished ahead of them simply because they slowed down. They saw the finish line and started to back off, since they were almost there. I simply determined to keep my pace, not slowing down until the finish line was behind me.

I think you see my metaphor. As you move ahead in your job search, your career development, or your life, there is no way to know if the present opportunity before you is the finishing line, or if the real result is around the next bend. My years of running have taught me that, whenever I slow down to jog through the finish line, I am almost always passed by someone who has not done so. To be sure, there have been times when my technique has still caused me to be passed by someone with more talent than me (there are a lot of them out there!), but at least by maintaining my pace I create the opportunity for the best results.

The moral of this blog: if you think you will get your dream opportunity by Friday, don’t stop looking ahead on Wednesday.  In some ways, there really is no Finish Line. Never stop learning and growing!

I recall a conversation with a young lady near completion of her undergraduate degree in a general business subject. I asked her what her next steps were. “Graduate school,” was her prompt reply. “What will you major in?” – I inquired. “I don’t know,” was her immediate response.

Perhaps as a parent myself, my head was spinning as I thought of the time, money and energy that had been expended to reach the response “I don’t know.” The cost of education continues to spiral upward and the number of career options before our young ones is growing exponentially.

What is a parent, grandparent, guardian, mentor, etc. to do? Education should be an investment in one’s future, not a repository for disposable income (if indeed any of us have it anymore!).

Here are some suggestions as to how to help those under your charge to consider what they want to be “when they grow up.”

Pay attention

Even at the earliest ages there are often hints as to natural gifts and talents. I have a son who, at an early age, was constantly taking things apart (and sometimes putting them back together). A non-traditional student, he ended up with a successful career as an automobile technician, learning and doing things that are well beyond my meager mechanical skills. Those “hints” were so present at a young age that my father used to call him “Fingers.” Watch what fascinates and engages your young ones, looking for clues as to their natural aptitudes, fascinations and skills. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra, “You can see a lot by just looking.”

Expose them

All of us are constantly surrounded by people doing a litany of occupations, from delivery drivers and store clerks to banking professionals and business owners. Reading books, watching television, enjoying popcorn at the movies, browsing on the Internet, etc., all provide opportunities to identify and discuss potential careers. When Henry Ford built his first automobile, you could choose only one color: black. Careers in the new millennium are a virtual rainbow of opportunities. Do your best to introduce them to the vibrant colors that make up the new vocational landscape.

Consider Expert Guidance

Although there is no assessment instrument out there to tell any of us what we should be “when we grow up,” the judicious, professional use of sound assessments can provide excellent insights regarding your child’s interests, skill confidences and values and how they relate to occupations and careers. This information is best used to investigate alternatives using my next suggestion: “Get Feedback from the Street.”

Get Feedback from the Street

I am constantly amazed how people spend so much time and energy in “due diligence” as they shop for cars, homes, technology, etc., yet they decide to become accountants simply because they are good at math (no disrespect meant to accountants, by the way, I need them desperately)! Use your network of contacts to find people in fields of interest to your kids and let them “shadow” them for the day (if possible), ask questions (I have an excellent list I can share with you), learn what it’s really like to be a _____________. No one knows better than someone who has been there.

Keep Options Open

Even as your young one moves ahead in their career decisions and vocational tracks, be sure to help them keep an eye on the shifting landscape that is part of the new career model. I am now reading that, rather than changing jobs 3-5 times in a lifetime, our kids may be changing careers as many times. This presents an excellent argument for helping them understand themselves and how what I like to call their “best stuff” relates to the vocational opportunities before them.

By the way, this works for “grownups” as well!

What’s that? You say your Latin is a bit rusty? This extraordinary phrase comes from two of my Saturday morning heroes – Tom and Ray Magliozzi (a.k.a. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” from Car Talk). If this does not connect with any of you, I urge you to tune in a PBS radio station in your area at 10 AM on the afore-mentioned day for their car advice (AND raucous Cambridge laughter). An absolute delight, they even include good automotive information at times!

This Latin phrase is one of their deeply held credos. When asked how they are able to respond to call-in gty_car_talk_Tom_and_Ray_Magliozzi_jt_120609_wgquestions as quickly as they do, their response (translated into Latin for the more erudite among us) was “We’re ‘unencumbered by the thought process.’”

I’ve shamelessly adopted this as one of my mantras, to the point of once having it emblazoned over the door to my office (to challenge myself as well as my clients. I even donated to my local PBS station to score the coffee mug!). Why? One of MY deeply held credos is as follows: “We should think less and act more.” In Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, the author Guy Claxon notes how “thinking less can make you more intelligent.” We often spend so much time thinking through options and potential outcomes that action never ensues. This impacts opportunities for all, since failure to act on something virtually guarantees failure to achieve much of anything.

To be sure, we need to engage what Hercule Poirot called “the little grey cells” as we move ahead in our work and lives, but I would humbly suggest that you include this Latin phrase in your “career toolbox” as well.

Don’t be so encumbered by the thought process! Think a little less and act more!