Since 1978, I've spent more than 25,000 hours as a
career consultant listening
to people talk about their work. My clients have included CEOs,
law firm partners, professional athletes, engineers, factory workersyou
name it. They've shared their highs and lows, and their innermost
secrets. They've taught me the dos and dont's of corporate politics
and given me the keys to success. My sixteen years of career counseling
can be boiled down to a few short lessons:
- Achieving success usually involves sacrifice. If it were always
easy, everyone would drive a Porsche.
- Even if you work for a big company, you're essentially on your
own. Businesses offer career paths, training, and teambuilding,
and they want to be fair, but they're subject to impersonal market
conditions like mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, and international
competition; so anything can happen.
That's why your employer can't be responsible for your career.
You have to take charge of it yourself. Those who expect companies
to take care of them, or to "do the right thing" are
often disappointed. Chances are, no one will ever care more about
your career than you do.
- The workplace can be fun and challenging. It can also be difficult.
It rewards effort, planning, and training, but it punishes indifference
and lack of preparation. Those who don't take charge of their
own careerswho just let things happenoften end up in painful,
dead-end jobs, feeling trapped in unhappy lifestyles.
- People are very different. Certain people belong in certain
kinds of careers. You have special gifts that fit you for some
jobs and disqualify you from others. If you're in the right place,
you'll skyrocket. If not, you'll struggle. In order to learn where
you'll be happiest, get to know yourself.
Take time to assess your skills, temperament, aptitudes, likes,
dislikes, and natural gifts. Design your ideal worklife on paper,
then risk to create your dream. There's no reason you can't enjoy
your work. If you need help designing or implementing your plan,
seek the advice of a professional career counselor. (But never
pay large counseling fees in advance. Pay only by the hour.)
- Your career may be your biggest financial resourcemore valuable
than any stock you could own. For example, let's assume you're
earning $20,000 per year today. The average annual pay raise is
about 5%. If you earn 8% instead, you'll earn an extra $264,000
in 20 years. You may be paid what you're worth right now, but
investigate the market. Don't over- or under-price yourself.
- Jumping from job to jobfrom Salesman to Customer Service Representative,
then to Teacher, Staff Accountant, and Technical Writerisn't
a career. Beginning as an Accounts Payable Clerk, then progressing
to Junior Accountant, Accountant, Controller, Chief Financial
Officer, and Vice President of Finance is a career. A career builds
on itself over time.
In a growing and expanding industry like Environmental Science,
job changing isn't necessarily a problem, because there are always
too few experienced workers. But in a declining industry like
Oil & Gas, where established companies are systematically
downsizing and keeping only their top performers, moving from
employer to employer makes a candidate an unattractive hire. That's
more true the older you get and the higher your pay.
- Changing fields, industries, or functional specialties is difficult,
and the bigger the change, the more difficult it is. Hardwood
manufacturers may not want you if you've been in softwood. And
vice versa. Therefore, choose your direction carefully. Once you
leave a career path to try something new, it may be difficult
to re-enter. You'll look like a "traitor" to insiders,
and you'll be competing with those who've stayed.
- Today's engineering graduate is obsolete in less than five
years. You may be too. If you aren't learning something new today, you
may be out-of-date and unmarketable tomorrow. That's especially
true for those over 40. (If you're over 40, do you know Microsoft
Word? How about Excel?)
- Think of your career as a public relations campaign, much like
running for political office. Your goal is to get many people
to like you as quickly as possible. (And keep liking you.) Therefore,
every personmale, female, minority, old, youngis important.
Treat all others with kindness and respect. Make life a little
easier for those around you, and your career will benefit.
- "People skills" are just as important as "technical
skills," because even in highly technical jobs, you have
to work with others. Many outplacement candidates are technical
superstars who've been fired. They knew their jobs, but couldn't
collaborate or get along with others. Average performers with
strong people skills often last longer. It's better to be a "people
person" with average skills than to be an abrasive expert
who wins at the expense of others.
- Be careful expressing strong emotions in business, especially
anger and disappointment. Communicate your feelings quietly and
tactfully. Understate your case. Anger is powerful, even when
expressed softly. Don't explode, threaten, or attack others publicly.
Don't tell opponents off, even if it would feel great.
Burning bridges damages your reputationnot only with the person
you dislikebut with the business community at large. Remember,
if you make an enemy today, it may take them ten years to "get
you." But chances are, they will.
- Spend time with people you admire. Success really does rub
off. There's no substitute for "knowing the right people,"
and for "being in the right place at the right time."
Take a risk to contact someone you'd like to meet.
- Whether you are an entry-level shipping clerk or a CEO, a
warm, enthusiastic, caring, and positive attitudeoutwardly expressed
to othersis your single biggest career asset.
- On any given day, your present job may end, even if you own
the company! Therefore, think short-term. Don't take your present
opportunity for granted. I define a consultant as "Someone
who wakes up every morning unemployed." You should feel the
same way. Get up every morning feeling unemployed, and constantly
fight to prove yourself. Appreciate your job, but figure out what
you're going to do next. It's always nice to have a "Plan B."
- Except in rare cases, don't sue your former employer if you're
fired or laid off. Take a good, hard look at yourself. Ask yourself
what, if anything, you could have done differently. Did you stay
on the leading edge of technology? Were you too political? Not
political enough? Were you giving it 110%? Did you get complacent?
Honestly determine your part in causing the problem. Then work
to create a better life for yourself, even if you think it was
the employer's fault. Don't dwell on the past. It's non-productive
and it prolongs your unhappiness.
- If you lose your job, 80% of your marketing for a new position
will already have been done. That's right. Your reputation, results,
accomplishments, people skills, contributions, and friendships
are all a matter of record. If you've been a contributor, if you've
been kind to others and easy-to-work-with, you'll be in demand.
If not, you won't. No career consultant in the world can create
close friendships and a good reputation for you if you haven't
laid the groundwork yourself.
- Your friendseven distant friendsare your best allies in
your life and in your career, especially in job hunting. No one
will help you more than those who already know you. So make an
extensive list of your business and personal contacts (essentially,
everyone you've met), and
stay in touch with them, even after
you've found a new job. I use CardScan to scan business cards, automatically enter names into my database, and store my contacts online. I can access my network from any Internet connection. Perfect for traveling. Nothing could be easier.
- Employers hire their friends first. Only when they run out
of familiar faces do they consider hiring strangers. When companies
recruit from a group of outsiders, they interview, test and screen
heavily. Your best career strategybesides keeping your skills
up-to-date and achieving a lotis to cultivate deep, long lasting
- Your accomplishments are your calling card for the future.
They will help to determine your marketability. In selling yourself,
it's results that count. A baseball player who gets a hit every
time at bat is easier to market than one who doesn't. It's that
simple. Try to contribute something substantial and measurable
every single day. And make sure you keep a written record of your results
in something like a
- Don't let yourself be unemployed, even for a day. Volunteer
a few hours, work part-time for a temporary agency, help a friend
in his or her company. Do something to get yourself out of the
house. We live in a fast-changing world. Look carefully. There
are people all around you who need your help.
- Love, happiness, friendship, and time for oneself are just
as important as making it big in the world. If your career is
your whole life, you're vulnerable to disappointment and burnout;
and burned out people are often less marketable.
- Too much success can kill you. Learn when enough is enough.
If you think you're burning out, you may be right. Highly successful
people are the most subject to burnout. They demand too much from
themselvesand from everyone around them. Seek balance. Remember
The Golden Mean: "All things in moderation."
- Don't stay in a job you hate. Hating your daily routine can
ruin your health; and it can make everyone around you, including
your spouse and family, miserable. Take a risk! Take action! Change things!
- Don't make excuses when things go wrong. I have collected a
list of "101 Handy Excuses,"
and few of them are valid.
When facing challenges, tell yourself this: "I'm in control
of my own future. No one can deny me a happy life if I decide
to plan it and work for it. Ultimately, no one can stop me from
becoming successful but myself."
- Whatever your expertise, give some of it away.
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