"The rest of your life is an eight o'clock class," a colleague of mine likes to say to the new graduates he counsels. It's a delightful metaphor, but I think that makes it sound too easy. It suggests that, in your professional future, just signing up and showing up will be enough.
As you've no doubt learned during the last four years, it's possible to take a course, pass it, even get a good grade in it, without being fully engaged. This behavior will not work for you in today's workplace. Anyone who takes a passive stance puts their job status at risk.
Back in the days when recruitment out of college led to a progressive career track with the same company (IBM, GE, AT&T, etc.) it was valid, but in the competitive, global marketplace you are entering today, it is not.
My husband and I were taking Amtrak to Virginia, and in Trenton, a stylishly dressed mature woman boarded the train and took the seat behind us. She dozed until Wilmington in an erect posture with her back against the window. Then she awoke and called her son.
I know this because it's impossible not to overhear a cell phone conversation on a train, and because her opening remark, intended to capture her son's full attention, also got mine.
"God invented cell phones," she said, "so that mothers could call their sons to see if they will be picking them up at the station or if they will be left on the curb like a discarded piece of luggage."
I immediately envisioned a middle-aged attorney or executive cringing in his office. Now I know this was speculation, but given the birthday gift bag on the seat beside her, and her highly organized manner, it was hard to believe that there had been no prior conversations about her arrival and the logistics connected with it. Yet the intensity of her tone made it clear she did not trust the arrangements would be carried out.
I was once invited to speak to a class of MBA students, and I started my presentation by asking them how much time they devoted to their jobs. The responses ranged between 40 and 50 hours a week. I asked how much time they gave to their studies, and they answered 10 to 20 hours a week. Then I asked how much time they spent managing their careers, and at first there was silence, then nervous laugher. Finally someone said, "Not much."
This was a group of busy, committed professionals who were adding graduate studies to already crowded schedules in the hope of advancing their careers. But they were not doing the spadework necessary to make real progress possible. Even worse, most of the questions they asked me were about relatively minor concerns such as what color stationery was best for resumes!
It's unfortunate that the only thing most people know how to do to take care of themselves professionally is to put together a resume. A resume is a necessary evil, but by itself it won't get you the job you want. It is only a starting point. Its real value is to you, not a prospective employer; in creating a resume you go through the exercise of articulating your selling points, which becomes the cornerstone of everything you do to claim the work you want to do.
Notice that I said, "claim the work you want to do," not "find your next job." This important distinction points out the reason for seeking out career assistance.
I am often asked to present at large business gatherings, the kind that offer ample opportunities for networking.
Recently at a particularly well attended event, I overheard a woman who was just leaving say with great excitement that she had had a great networking day.
She had come with a hundred business cards and was leaving without a single one!
When I heard this, I couldn't help thinking of all the times I've put my hand in my jacket pocket after one of these events and pulled out a handful of business cards without a clue who the people were or why I thought I'd ever want to talk with them again. They were just names to me.
On the other hand, whenever I've had a real conversation with someone and felt a genuine connection, I've always made a point to get their contact information, even if I had to jot it down on the back of a napkin or a receipt.
A few years ago, I did a full-day workshop on transition for a group of alumni of Bentley College. Right after we finished lunch, just before we started back again, someone expressed frustration with the inefficiency and wastefulness of traditional job-search practices, and I made the offhand remark, “If I had my way, we’d throw out resumes and stop networking.”
It was as if an electric charge went through the room. Thirty business professionals, all of them well-trained in the standard job-search methodologies, came alive. They knew instinctively there had to be a better way.
I’ve often wished I could have put aside the agenda I had planned for the afternoon to pursue the subject with them. What I suspect would have happened is that they would have told me they keep following the standard practices because they don’t know what else to do. The inability to answer the question, “What do I do instead?” is the reason people looking for work keep doing the same old things and expecting different, less frustrating results.
If you’ve decided to launch a new business venture, you’ll find plenty of books telling you how to go about writing a business plan, securing financing, setting up payroll, etc.
Likewise, if you’ve been laid off or you’ve decided you want to make a change, there’s no lack of information on how to start a job search.
But where do you turn when your start-up activities are completed, and things aren’t going so well, when the initial excitement you felt at owning your own business has cooled, and no one is walking in the door, or you’ve perfected your career marketing package, and the phone isn’t ringing. There are far fewer resources for dealing with the low points in our professional lives.
Fortunately, however, there is The Art of Possibility by Roz and Ben Zander. Ben Zander is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, professor of music at New England Conservatory, and a speaker on leadership and creativity. His wife Roz is an executive coach and family systems therapist.
In last month’s column I described how a consultative sales approach made it possible for employees who were unaccustomed to functioning as salespeople to be effective in that role.
A consultative sales approach is just as valuable to people who are engaged in work search, whether they have been laid off or have chosen to go out on their own. After all, work search is sales, and many people who find themselves thrown into it feel out of their element.
Yet they can be effective and comfortable in selling themselves if they pattern their work search on a consultative approach rather than aggressively cultivating leads and pushing to close the deal.>
In last month’s column I talked about how educated consumers are bringing about the extinction of the hard-driving salesperson at the same time that businesses are facing unprecedented competitive challenges.
It makes perfect sense for businesses who are trying to stay profitable in this new environment to set the goal of having every employee contribute to the revenue stream. It’s the lifeblood of the organization. But forcing an aggressive sales model onto people who aren’t ready for it is counterproductive. Trying to get “non-sales” people to sell in a way that is not comfortable for them, and is no longer effective anyway, just isn’t going to work.
It leads to the loss of people who have built invaluable relationships with their customers over time, and it overlooks qualities that make them ideally suited for building new relationships that will assure long-lasting revenue streams.
There’s good news for those of us who think we can’t sell. The salesman as we have known him is becoming extinct.
The unprecedented access to information that is available at our fingertips on the Internet and elsewhere is causing his habitat of hype, bravado, and manipulation to shrink, and soon he will disappear.
He’s met his match—the educated consumer.
The saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got,” finds pathetic voice in Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.
As she did in her previous book, Nickel and Dimed, this cultural critic formulates a theory about jobs in America and sets out to “prove” it by going undercover.
This time, instead of cleaning toilets, busing tables, and waiting on Wal-Mart customers for less than subsistence wage, sheposes as a job-beggar in corporate America. She endures an assortment of career charlatans, tweaks her resume endlessly, and sits through a series of demeaning networking experiences, all for the opportunity to sell insurance or cosmetics on straight commission with no benefits.