Entries in Career Exploration (12)


Try before you buy

Can’t stand your boss?  Tired of all the hoops you have to go through to get anything done at work – the office politics, the bureaucracy, and the endless meetings?  Then you, like many other dissatisfied workers, may be considering quitting and striking out on your own as a consultant, selling your skills directly to the clients who need them and cutting out the middleman:  your employer, who is holding you back rather than helping you move forward.

And you may very well be right – for some people, becoming a self-employed consultant does allow them to create a more satisfying career.  But if you think consulting may be right for you, rather than trying to make the change all at once by quitting your job and becoming a full-time consultant, you may be better of if you ease into it gradually by consulting part-time on nights and weekends while keeping your current job.

This gradual approach to becoming a consultant has several advantages.  It allows you to find out if you actually enjoy consulting as much as you had hoped (see Newsletter #2: Is Consulting for You?), before you have invested too much in the change.  It allows you to find out if you are willing and able to do the work involved in finding new clients.  And it allows you to start building up your contacts and client base while you still have a steady income – it usually takes even successful consultants a minimum of 3 years to build their business to the point where they match their previous income as an employee.

Try before you buy:  if possible, start a new consulting business part-time while staying at your current job.

Of course, not everyone can follow this advice, for a variety of reasons.  You will need to review any non-competition or other contract you signed with your employer to make sure there is no limitation on your outside work, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you should discuss your plans with your employer.  Some people just don’t have any free time to take on an additional part-time job, and some types of consulting just aren’t compatible with a regular job.

But if you can take the gradual approach, it can have great benefits.  One of my clients was tired of his job working at a non-profit organization, and decided to transfer his skills into a new field as a professional organizer.  He started doing the organizing on weekends, and at first business was slow, so he was really glad he still had a paycheck coming in from his regular job.  But gradually, as he impressed clients with his work and word-of-mouth about him spread, he found it easier and easier to find new clients, and eventually he was in a position to quit his old job, and he is now entirely self-employed, and much happier in his work.

Another client had lots of experience working as a general manager and CEO at companies, finding funding and creating and implementing business plans.  She was attracted to the idea of selling her skills as a consultant, but on my advice started slowly with a few part-time contracts.  She soon found that she was dissatisfied as a consultant – after she helped a company come up with a business plan and find funding, she couldn’t bear to turn over the implementation to others; she much preferred to be in charge of the entire process from first to last.  Though she failed to find satisfaction as a consultant, at least she made the discovery before she was relying on it for her entire income.


The Upside of Being Googled

Back in January, I wrote about how potential employers now routinely Google job applicants, and the importance of being aware of what they will learn about you.  In response, one of my readers sent me an e-mail that illustrates the upside of being Googled. 

The reader has a friend who studied computer science at college, and as part of her studies the friend did some research on a somewhat obscure topic in the field and wrote a paper about it, which she posted on her personal web site.  Some time later, a major software company called her out of the blue asking if she was looking for a job and would be willing to come in for an interview, and she eventually ended up working for them.  It seems that the company was doing some research on the same obscure topic, and when they did a web search they came across her paper and were so impressed by it they wanted to hire her.

Being spontaneously approached by potential employer is obviously unusual, but this example does show that while there can be a danger to having your information out on the internet, it can also be a great opportunity when you are looking for a job or clients.

Put your best work on the web where potential employers and clients can see it.

This work can be just about anything you create professionally or as a student.  White papers, business plans, marketing campaigns, student projects—anything that shows off your abilities and knowledge.  In some case, your work will already be on the web, such as white papers posted on a company’s site.  But in other cases it will be up to you to make sure the material is up there, using any of the many free or low-cost hosting services.  And when you can, make sure that your work has your name on it, so that it will show up when you are Googled.  (Of course, for business reasons your current employer or client may not want you to publish some of the work you created for them; always make sure you have permission before posting anything created as part of your job.)

Once you have your work on the web, you can’t rely on a potential employer stumbling across it—not everyone will be as lucky as the friend with the computer science paper—and you can’t even be sure that a potential employer will find it with a web search.  So to make sure that people know about your work, tell them about it. 

For example, my husband, who recently changed careers and became a librarian, is currently engaged in a job search as he attempts to move from a part-time to a full-time library job.  In his current position he has been creating a number of online tutorials and guides to library resources, so the task of putting his work on the web has already been done.  But to tell potential employers about it, he has created a simple web page containing links to his best work, and includes the address on his resume.  That way, they don’t even have to Google him to see what he has been up to.


Back to School

September marks the traditional start of the academic calendar after the long summer break.  The importance of this date depends on your relationship with school.  If you are a student, of course, it is a major event, as you catch up with old friends or make new ones, and begin a fresh year of studies with new classes and new teachers.  But once you’ve graduated, unless you become a teacher yourself, your life becomes largely uncoupled from the academic calendar, as one year fades into the next without the abrupt changes every September. 

Still, there are always reminders of the yearly academic cycle.  If you have children, their school schedule becomes a part of your life, and you may be heaving a sigh of relief as the start of school gets them out of the house.  Even if you don’t have children, there are flurries of advertisements for back-to-school sales to alert you to the season.  Some reminders take surprising forms.  Here in the Boston area, there are so many colleges and universities that most apartment leases run from September to September to fit the academic schedule, so that September 1st the streets are clogged with moving vans on the unofficial holiday known as “Moving Day.”

Despite these reminders, thoughts of school gradually fade.  But one time you should think of school is when you are looking for a new job or new clients.  Many colleges and universities have excellent career centers that provide services such as job listings, workshops, networking, resume assistance, and career counseling to current students and alumni, usually for free.  Even if it has been many years since you graduated, one step in your job hunt should be your school’s career center; thanks to the internet, it usually only takes a few minutes to find out what services they provide.

It’s never too late to use your school’s career services to help you find a job or a prospect. 

Obviously, career centers will be most useful if you still live in the same area as the school, since you will be able to drop by in person, and they are more likely to have good leads on local jobs.  But even if you now live across the country, they can still be useful. 

One of my clients did her undergraduate work at a major southern university before moving up north to get her MBA and work.  When I was helping her find a new job in business, I suggested that she contact her old university, which had a well-regarded business school.  Even though she had only attended as an undergraduate and never took classes at the business school, as an alumnae she was allowed to draw on the business school’s career services and use their exclusive job listings database.  The database had a national scope, and through it, she was able to make a contact in her own area that ultimately led to a job.


Negotiation: it’s not just about the money

It has finally happened.  After sending out countless resumes, enduring endless interviews, and waiting by the phone for weeks, you’ve at last had a job offer from your dream company.  Your first impulse is to immediately accept the offer – after all, it’s what you’ve been working so hard to get – but you need to pause for a moment and decide if you are completely happy with the offer, or if you want to try to negotiate something better.  Money – your salary, bonuses, stock options, and such – are usually what comes to mind in job negotiations, and sometimes it is indeed possible to negotiate for increases in these areas.  But just as important for your ultimate satisfaction with the job can be intangible, non-monetary forms of compensation.  And given your new company’s budget constraints, negotiations for increased non-monetary compensation are much more likely to be successful than holding out for an increased salary. 

Job negotiations are about more than just money.

Non-monetary compensation can include the number of vacation days you receive, how often you can work at home, whether you get a window office (or an office at all), who you report to, and your job description.  And sometimes you can find indirect ways to increase your compensation without increasing your salary, such as tuition or parking reimbursement – because they are accounted for differently with different tax implications, companies sometimes have more flexibility in these areas even when they are unwilling to increase direct compensation.

I had one client, a software designer, who suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which meant that he was more likely to feel low or depressed when deprived of direct sunlight for long periods.  Thus, when he moved to a new job, it was in both his and his new employer’s interests to make sure he had an office with a sunny window.  The company wasn’t able to provide him one when he was starting, but they promised that he would have one within six weeks, and in the meantime agreed to let him work two or three days a week from home.  The company was happy to do this since it didn’t cost them anything and ensured a productive employee, and my client was happier than he would have been with a higher salary but an inside office.


Looking beyond your job

It seems that everyone wants to offer you one stop shopping.  Your cable company wants to sell you cable television, internet access, and local phone service.  Your bank wants to give you a checking account, sell you a mortgage, be your stock broker, and handle your life insurance.  And your supermarket not only wants to sell you any kind of food you might want, it also wants to be your florist, your pharmacist, your bank, and your video rental store.

While these attempts at offering one stop shopping can offer convenience, they don’t always provide the best goods and services, or the best prices.  When you want the best bread, you may have to stop at a good local bakery in addition to the supermarket, and the cheapest stock transactions may come from a discount broker rather than your bank.  You can get a lot from one stop shopping, but you can’t get everything.

Because we spend so much of our lives in our jobs, it is important to find a job that satisfies our own individual needs –  (Newsletter #7 A winning “Success Formula”).  But just as it is rare to find a store that truly offers one stop shopping, it is not always possible to find a job that satisfies all of our needs.  In such cases, it is useful to remember that while a job is an important part of our lives, it isn’t our entire life.

You don’t need to get everything from your job.

If you’ve decided what is most important to you, and can’t find a job that provides it all, consider what things you can get outside your job.  If you love traveling and meeting new people, you may find a job that allows you to travel, but if you can’t, perhaps you can find a job with sufficient vacation days to allow you to travel on you own.  If you have a strong social consciousness and giving back to the community is important to you, you may find a job with a social service element, or you may find that you are otherwise more suited to a different kind of job, and show your commitment through donations and volunteer work.

I had one potential client who contacted me because she was dissatisfied with her life.  Although she enjoyed her work as the leader of a new product development team at a technology company, she felt there was something lacking, and wanted my help in discovering a more satisfying career.  She was in her early forties, and was afraid that if she didn’t make a move now, she would be stuck with a vague dissatisfaction for the rest of her life.  But when I talked to her during the initial free consultation, I discovered that despite her professed dissatisfaction she actually loved her current job, since it met most of her needs – the opportunity to work on a variety of intellectually challenging tasks with smart people.  The only problem was that the job provided no outlet for her strong artistic instincts. 

Rather than working with me to attempt to find a new job that would use her skills, allow her to continue to work on a variety of intellectually challenging tasks with smart people, and would also have an artistic component, I suggested that she look for an artistic outlet outside of work.  She had always enjoyed paper crafts, and she decided to commit herself to taking at least one class in paper crafts a month, and devote more time to this hobby while continuing at her job.  She never did become a client, but I still count her as one of my successes, since she told me several months later that she was now happy in her life and her job.  She had it all, even if she couldn’t get it all at one stop.