A client called me today to add an internship to his resume. His goal is to be a financial analyst. The problem is that the internship involves little to none of the skills needed by that profession. His primary function is identifying and prospecting new business, which is not the kind of work this client wants to do in the future.
What should he do? He could quit the internship, but I think that would be a rash move. His first step should be to evaluate what he wants and talk to his supervisor about doing extra work that would involve his analytical skills. If the company won’t work with him on that kind of project or assignment, then it’s time to look for something else.
This example underscores the problem with many internships: They have little or nothing to do with the student’s professional goals. Before taking an internship, a student needs to define what she wants to get out of it, how it will be a resume builder that employers will care about. Here’s a simple test: what skills do you want to use in your ideal job? If the internship isn’t letting you develop and practices some of those skills, how is it helping you grow as a professional?
Make your internships work for you.
If you want to be happy at work, you need to align your work with skills you like to use. I call these gifts. We all have skills that let us do things that don’t make us happy. Such skills are needed to do any kind of work. However, gifts are those skills that bring us the most satisfaction and joy. For example, a surgeon enjoys the physical and mechanical skills that are involved in operations. Conversely, a psychologist’s gifts are listening and motivating change.
Think about what you do that really makes you happy at work, the kind of activities that make you forget about quitting time or breaking for lunch. Once you have identified your gifts, you’ve taken the first big step to being happy at work.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at the annual SEAK Conference in Chicago. SEAK assists physicians in making career transitions, which was also the subject of my talk.
Many people assume that physicians have it easy. What they ignore is the many challenges faced by doctors in the current marketplace. It’s very expensive to get through medical school. Then, once in practice, doctors face problems with insurance rates and ever changing compensation models. With reforms in the health care, more doctors are considering taking their skills in a new direction.
While I only attended a couple of sessions (other than my own), I was impressed by the options presented to physicians. Speakers, all of whom were MDs, gave examples from their own career that involved moving to non-clinical positions in investing, consulting, and, even, media. People can make a change more easily if they have a role model, and the SEAK Conference gave doctors that opportunity.
My message was pretty simple: Find your destination, build a map, and always believe in yourself. It’s an easy message, but – like all career changes – difficult to achieve. While I laid out some practical steps related to finding a direction, writing a resume, and engaging employers, I still believe the most important factor is attitude. I ended my presentation with this quotation from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Simple words. Powerful truth.
I was coaching a client today. He told me that he’s been miserable at work for the last four years. On paper, this client is a success story, someone who exceeds his sales goals and has won awards for outstanding performance. The problem is that he hates selling bank products and insurance. He asked me what he should do.
My formula for sales professional who want to stay in sales but work in a different industry/sector is pretty simple. Ask yourself these questions:
What do I like to talk about?
What do I like to learn and think about?
What subjects fascinate me?
The next step is to find a job that will let you sell something that you like talking about, something you want to learn more about, something that excites you.
If a salesperson can align her interests with her job, that’s the first step in career satisfaction. Over the years, many sales clients have told, “I can sell anything if I believe in it.” Rather than starting with the product, why not start with yourself? What makes you happy – and interested?
A client called me today to say that he landed a job. He and his wife were sitting at a restaurant bar and struck up a conversation with another couple. It turns out that one of my client’s new friends was in his industry. She passed his resume along to her boss. Two weeks later, he has a new job.
Was my client lucky? Of course, luck matters. However, he was also prepared. He had his resume ready to send, and he impressed the employer during the interview. Networking is like lighting: You never know when it’s going to strike. Be prepared when it does.
Too often people hang onto to a lost job or a stalled career. They feel so wounded that they don’t want to face the future. People who can let go of their old profession or career usually make a faster, easier transition.
No matter how much you love a job or career, never forget that things can change quickly. Embrace change and your power to do something new that you will love as much or more than your current position. Take a cue from the poet William Blake:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the wingéd life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.
One of my clients sold his business about ten years ago. He wanted to break into sales with a well respected company. Through a contact, he met the hiring manager who told my client that he couldn’t hire someone without experience in the industry. My client didn’t give up. He asked where he could go to get experience. The manager gave him the name of a competitor, where my client worked for less than a year. After proving himself, he was hired by a company that was higher ranked than the one he originally applied to. Morals of the story? First, don’t give up. Second, ask good questions.
Writing in Huffington Post’s new feature, Small Business America, Amanda Peyton, cofounder of Message Party, discusses her career path and some missteps she has taken over the years. She says that she found advice to “do what your passionate about” was “cheesy.” However, she eventually found that advice hit the mark.
For Peyton, the right answer was to start her own company. For most people, that option does not exist. They will find jobs and works for the “boss.” However, they can still pursue work that is meaningful, something that will make them get out of bed and go to work, not hit the snooze button and pull the covers over their head. Everyone can be like an entrepreneur – take the risk needed to be happy – find the kind of work that is right for you.
Career change intimidates many people, especially in a time of high unemployment. They fear that no employer will consider a candidate who lacks “experience.” In a way, they are correct. Most employers want some kind of relevant experience. However, that experience can often be presented as transferable skills that apply from one profession to another.
For example, a teacher who want to become a sales professional might play up the following skills: presentation, persuasion, demonstration, listening, and administration/record keeping. She could also show relevant experience in coaching, fundraising, or training peers.
An executive assistant and office manager who wants to move into the hospitality industry needs to demonstrate an understanding of the new industry. Relevant skills could include event management, tracking business costs, and problem solving. It would also be good to talk about customer service. In a cover letter, however, this candidate would want to sat serving guests, not customers. Using this language would be one way to show an understanding of the hospitality industry.
The key to a good job search is to demonstrate that you belong in the new role, that you have skills that will let you do the job. Transferable skills will make employers confident that the teacher can become a sales professional or that the office manager can work in hotel event management. Some employers won’t be convinced. They will only want a candidate with industry experience. This prejudice means that career changers need to budget a little more time for their job search. They have to be more persistent and patient than a candidate with direct experience. At the same time, people do change careers. It is possible with good planning and hard work.
This morning I was picking up a newspaper just as they were being delivered. I watched the driver pull out of parking lot and realized a hard truth: Within the next ten years, that man’s job will likely be gone. Newspapers will be available only as online products. The people who print papers and deliver them will need to find another kind of work. These workers are just one example of professions that will be extinct in the coming years.
In a similar way the video and music industry is changing, and that is affecting employment in retail. Big stores like Blockbuster are closing because people are getting DVDs via services like Netflix or Redbox. Others are downloading movies via their computers. Similar, most large music stores have closed. People download songs, which means fewer jobs. There are still independent video and music stores, but the people who work at these locations are often the owners.
Even skilled work like accounting and computer programming is shedding jobs. New software systems are making administrative jobs in accounting redundant. Programming projects are being “offshored” to India. Jobs in medical billing are shrinking because of electronic medical record keeping and offshoring. If an employer can save money, it will – even if it means laying off long time workers.
The challenge for us as working people is to recognize when our professions are dying and take action to find a new career. It’s hard to let go of a job, especially for people who have worked in the same job for ten or twenty years. However, when it is clear that a certain kind of job will no longer exist (or only be available to a few people), it’s time to be realistic. The sooner working people in these fields accept their job loss, the better they will be able to manage their new careers.