Tag Archives | careers

Plan Ahead To Your Next Job

Last week I started a new job as a marketing manager for a software company here in Austin (which I hope offers a sort of apologetic explanation for my hiatus). The first week is always a mix of excitement, bewilderment, and high anxiety. It was also a chance to practice some ethnographic techniques which I’ll explain in greater detail in an upcoming post. But as I experienced the full rush of being back in steady employment for the first time in 20 months, I was constantly reminded of this bit of conventional wisdom:

Start looking for your next job as soon as you start your current job.

In my younger, more naive days, I thought this advice was tantamount to disloyalty to my new employer and a sure way of getting myself blackballed from the get-go. Now, as a (late) thirtysomething professional who has been through the fire and smart enough to see wisdom when it appears, there’s quite a lot of good we can gain by heeding this guidance.

First, let’s be honest…this isn’t our grandpa’s professional world and loyalty in employment doesn’t exist like it did two generations ago. So we have to take care of ourselves and be constantly vigilant with our careers and employment. This last economic downturn should have made that 100% crystal clear. Sadly, it’s a realistic and somewhat cynical perspective. On the other hand…

Here’s where we can take a more positive and forward-focused view. I’ve started to think clearly about:

  • what kind of tangible experiences I want to include in my professional portfolio
  • what kind of stories I want to tell at an upcoming interview
  • What kind of kickass results I want to market on my resume

By imagining into the future, we practice the kind of goal-setting we typically do with any sort of project: we begin with the end in mind and work backward. What this encourages us to do is frequently think about our resume and focus our actions toward remarkable results. And it’s not at all disloyal: we can’t build experiences, create stories, and generate results without completing our objectives for our current employers.

photo credit: Alexandre Moreau Photography (via Flickr)


JobAngels And The Potential Of Social Media

[Note: This is my latest post at Gravit8 Social Marketing. Because JobAngels really does mix both the social media and marketing focus of Gravit8 with the careers and work focus of WorkPlay, I’ll likely cross-post articles like this occasionally. But seriously…you should really subscribe to both blogs anyway. Now, back to our regularly scheduled post.]

When an opportunity to make a positive and revolutionary change in the world lands in your lap, you just have to leap on it and grab hold with both hands. For me, this opportunity takes the form of JobAngels. It all started with just one tweet from Mark Stelzner who asked what would happen if one person would help just one other person find work. In less than 140 characters, it simplified what is the most critical issue facing millions of people.

Not that the answer to this pressing problem is simple. Finding work at any time can be a frustrating experience; add a crappy economy to the mix and it can be an excruciating, soul-devouring exercise. I witness this happening to the handful of people I’m working with currently as a JobAngel. Our identity is often intertwined with our working persona so when we lose our job, we don’t quite know how to cope with the change. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride where you really don’t know how far down you’ll go.

What does this have to do with social media? As it turns out…EVERYTHING. When you lost your job and a part of your identity, the worst thing you can do is become a hermit. This is a time when your social network is a gift. You need to know what there are caring people out there who do give a damn about you, who will lend you support when you need it, who will connect you to others who can help. Of course these aren’t new things, but social media increases the potential for widening and deepening personal relationships in new – and extraordinary – ways.

Back to JobAngels…I’m the Chief Technical Officer, which is really just a fancy way of saying that I’m the person who makes sure all the technology works well. The soon-to-be launched community site that I’m developing will hopefully incorporate the best of what makes social media special. We want for folks to have the ability to build meaningful relationships with others, share resources and information, and ultimately connect them to work that matches their talents and passions. Plus, here’s my personal hope that will be the cherry on top of it all: that we demonstrate the potential that social media has to make this world a better place.

There will be much more to come as I offer some experiential lessons on how this online community continues to take shape. I think there will be many ideas and practices that you’ll be able to incorporate into your organization’s own community strategy. Oh, and if you’re willing to be a JobAngel (or especially if you need help finding work), reach out to me or connect with our team. We’re at Twitter (@jobangels and #jobangels), LinkedIn, and Facebook.


Don’t Jump Ship Too Quickly

Admit it. Unless you’ve found your soulful work, there are days when you come home from the job and toy with the idea of ditching it to move on to something better. But is ditching your job the best answer? It all depends on your circumstances.

A few days ago, CNN published a (somewhat surprisingly) insightful article called Look on the bright side of a bad job. Based on this title, I didn’t have high expectations. I rather expected the writer to admonish his readers to just “buck up” and find their shiny, happy selves. Instead, there are some pretty good ideas in the article…in particular the last one under their category of Wisdom.

If you’re unhappy, examine why. Do you dislike the people you work with or is it the actual work? Are you in a dead-end position? Think back to your interview and see if you missed any warning signs that this job might not be the one for you. Use your experience to avoid falling into the same predicament in your next job. If the situation didn’t turn sour until after you’d been with the company for a while, you know to stay attuned to shifts in attitudes and practices…Making the best out of a bad job situation doesn’t mean being complacent. A positive outlook shouldn’t replace your plans to move on (emphasis mine).

This is brilliant advice. I know from personal experience and from coaching clients that when the crapstorm at work starts to get wild, there’s a strong impulse to jump ship. Yes, there are times when it’s necessary to move on (say, when our health is at stake or the situation has become toxic), but it’s not always the best plan for our working future. Most times, these bad jobs are chock full of learning that we need to absorb in order to make better future decisions that will help us find work that has meaning and purpose. Or else, we risk falling into the same situation again and again (think Bill Murray’s plight in Groundhog Day).

If you’re in a spot where you’re edging toward the end of the plank and thinking about leaping for another ship, take some time to answer the questions posed above. Take full advantage of the wisdom and experience that this experience is offering you.

Also posted at Career Hub…read more articles at the #1 HR Blog according to HR World.


Searching Or Planning Your Career Journey

Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily conjures up a nice bit of integrative thinking by linking the process of securing international aid to the process of navigating our career journey. She writes of the differences between a top-down strategy (planning) which is fine if you know exactly where you’re going and a bottom-up strategy (searching) if you’re less sure of your direction. It’s a cool leap and one that resonates with the WorkPlay philosophy of playful career experimentation.

To use a search strategy to move forward in your career, take small steps towards what you think you might like to do (and what might reward you financially), stopping and checking often to see if you’re getting the results you want. When you search, you’ll spend relatively more time acting and checking results and relatively less time setting goals and trying to predict an uncertain future.

This bears resemblance to advice offered in Herminia Ibarra’s book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, in which she advocates taking short leaps to test possible career avenues rather than planning one big leap.


Starting A New Career Story

Someone very close and dear to me is experiencing a challenge that’s rather painful and isn’t unique to just her career. She has approached a crisis moment in her professional path where she no longer wants to continue practicing what she has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in. Some folks may find this a liberating feeling. However, she’s not just feeling scared, she’s also experiencing feelings of guilt, confusion, and disappointment. In essence, she’s saying goodbye to ten plus years of studying, training, and working. But her truth is that she no longer has the passion for that career and now feels a calling to explore new professional territory. Maybe this sounds familiar to you. If so, maybe you’ve also struggled with these feelings:

A feeling that your degree(s) are worthless now.
Let’s turn this around and focus less on what’s written on the diploma and what the diploma represents. The learning undoubtedly changed you in both significant and subtle ways. Take me for example…I studied history as an undergrad and though I don’t practice it as a professional it still has had a dramatic impact on how I approach life. I think about problems differently, taking a more holistic viewpoint in order to see all of the interconnections and possibilities. Take some time to reflect on how you’ve changed because of your past experience. Then celebrate how it’s made you the unique person that you are.

A feeling that you’ve wasted (or are throwing away) a part of your life.
Again, let’s turn this around. Consider the full experience of this chapter in your life: the people met, friendships made, knowledge gained, and so on. We can get hung up on the very old-school notion of a linear career path which not only limits our career choices, but limits who we are. Think of life and career as an anthology. The stories contained in an anthology have a loose theme, but can be different in their plot. At this stage of your life, you’re just adding the next story.

A feeling that you’re disappointing people or not meeting their expectations.
This may be true. But you have to ask yourself…are you living for yourself or someone else? Are you living to your own unique purpose or someone else’s idea of what that purpose is? I know these are not easy questions to answer. However, something else to reflect on is whether this feeling is based on your own assumption that you’re disappointing others, or in fact, based on reality. Have you taken the courageous act of talking to these important people in your life – parents, partner, friends – about your decision? Many times, we project a feeling of disappointment onto other people when its being felt from within.

A feeling that no one will understand your decision.
This is another often imagined feeling that springs from a fear of being rejected. We think that if the important people in our life are disappointed in us, they’ll shun us or not love us. That’s a fear that’s hard to shake. Yet again, we have to ask ourselves if that’s an assumption we’re projecting out onto others or whether it’s based on reality. More often than not, the people that love us will support us – even if they don’t immediately understand why we’re choosing to go in a different professional direction.

An overwhelming feeling of anxiety about what’s next.
Some of you may have at least some idea of where you want to go next. Some of you may have no clue where to go…you just know you don’t want to go back to where you were. Either way, you likely know more than you think about the next story in your career. You just need some help. So where can you find help? Contact me or consider any of the talented and passionate folks over CareerHub. We all have a wealth of experience to share.

This has been cross-posted at CareerHub.


Are You A Tourist To Your Own Career?

I just published my first post over at Career Hub where I’ll be writing a few times a month. Here’s the beginning excerpt.

Sometimes I get overcharged,
that’s when you see sparks.
They ask me where the hell I’m going?
At a 1000 feet per second,
hey man, slow down, slow down,
idiot, slow down, slow down.
Radiohead – The Tourist

I fondly remember spending a college semester abroad in Oxford, England. It was a wonderful opportunity to surround myself in a different culture and experience the world from a different perspective. It was also a chance to visit all the places I had read about in books and seen on television. Along with my fiancée (now wife), we discovered ruined remains of long abandoned castles, quaint villages with thatch-covered homes, and charming roadside pubs.

We also made a point to visit London. London is a magnificent city with no lack for things to see and do. If visiting unprepared, it can be overwhelming. So being the kind of guy who wants to be prepared for anything, I made a very detailed schedule for our first visit. When I say ‘detailed’, I mean down to the minute. How else can you see the Tower of London, British Museum, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the National Gallery all in one day? That’s a lot to do and only a detailed plan can make sure it all happens.

The first thing you realize when trying to stick to a very full schedule is that other people may not want to cooperate. Sure, my fiancée was playing along, but the Londoners operating the Underground (their version of our subways), serving tea, and guiding the site tours just wouldn’t keep to my strategically created schedule. I even suspected my fiancée was an accomplice to their desire to subvert my plans. However, despite their best effort, they couldn’t break my resolve and by the end of the day we accomplished my mission of visiting each place on the list. We could leave the city saying that we had been to all the places you associate with London.

You may be thinking, “Sure, you accomplished your objective, but did you really enjoy the experience?” The answer would have to be ‘no.’ And worse, those around me didn’t enjoy it either. Sadly, I hardly remember any of those places on that trip. I was driven by the importance of being able to say I had visited those places.

My mad tourist dash seems silly, yet how many times have we done the same thing in our careers. So many of us race from task to task, project to project, and job to job. Perhaps we do this so we can check them off our strategically created career plans. Or maybe we become seduced by the thought that the next thing ahead is better than what we have right now. Ultimately, we find ourselves trapped by the notion that the destination becomes far more important than the journey itself and we lose ourselves in the process.

So, what can we do?

Find out by visiting Career Hub…


Happiness At Work Is Yours Now

Alexander Kjerulf at The Chief Happiness Officer blog has published his Happy At Work manifesto at It’s not that long, but it has some powerful reminders in it.

His philosophy is the same as mine here at WorkPlay – we decide if we are happy. We choose this every single day. The choice does not belong to our managers, our coworkers, or our customers. They don’t get to decide our happiness unless we give them the power to do so. And that’s a choice, too.

Here’s an appetizer to what you’ll find:

5: Letting others know what makes me happy or unhappy at work is my responsibility.
It’s not up to my boss, my co-workers, my employees or my workplace to experiment to read my mind and find out what it takes to make me happy at work. It’s up to me to tell them.

16: I recognize that happiness at work doesn’t come from the absence of bad things in the workplace.
All workplaces can have unpleasant people, too much work, demanding customers, stress, red tape and other idiosyncrasies and annoyances. Though we strive to minimize these, I won’t waitbe happy at work until all of these have been eliminated. If I did wait, I would never be happy.

There are 23 other messages in the manifesto. Take them and savor each one.


St. Patrick’s Day Lesson From Gazoo

Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s retro channel for old cartoons, decided to connect St. Patrick’s Day with Gazoo, the snarky, little green alien on The Flintstones. In one episode, Fred gets tired of being kicked around by his boss and asks Gazoo for help. Gazoo’s suggestion? Why don’t you try to be boss for a day. Great idea, right? Fred thinks so. He thinks a boss’s job is all about spying on him (particularly when Fred is at his laziest), smoking fine cigars, eating a lavish lunch in the executive cafeteria, and generally keeping him down. He soon finds out the Mr. Slate isn’t actually the big boss, but the underling of the chairman of the company board of directors. And man…Mr. Slate’s life must really suck.

The Great Gazoo taught our guy Fred some interesting lessons.

1. No matter how far up the ladder we are in an organization, we always report to someone. That’s the fallacy of the increasingly anachronistic hierarchical org chart. So perhaps a better way to think of this is that we are always responsible for something or someone else. Even a CEO is responsible to her Board, as well as her employees; responsible for the welfare of the organization.

2. The management life isn’t a walk on the beach. When I first started working, I remember how much I pined for a management gig. I wanted the power and privilege without fully comprehending the responsibilities that naturally tagged along. Eventually, I got that management gig and I know now how challenging, frustrating, inspiring, and overwhelming that just being a good manager can be. I can now look upon my own manager and company executives with a sense of empathy.

Here’s a thought: what would happen if organizations would allow employees and managers to swap work for a day? For a week? It might just change a few perspectives.

3. Find appreciation for whatever work you do. At the end of the episode, Fred finally gets to go home. He’s exhausted and dispirited. Gazoo decides that Fred has experienced enough and returns him to his normal life. Once he gets home, Wilma says she has supper warmed up for him and he’s just in time to tuck Pebbles in. It’s here that Fred realizes that he’s got it pretty good. Too bad his taste of management is so sour.

Hope you’re wearing your green today.


Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day Is April 26

In the Bailey home, Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day has established itself as an annual tradition. For at least three or four months, Leah (age eight) has been asking me when our “Daddy/Daughter Work Day” is this year and if we’ll be able to do it again. The answer, of course, is, “Absolutely!” Katie, my youngest, is quickly closing in on five years old and is starting to ask when she’ll be able to do this, as well. I’ll probably schedule a shorter day with her later in the summer.

There are a few reasons for it’s popularity. One is that it’s a special daddy-only time which is important since I’m not as available to them as their mom during the day. Two is that it’s an intentionally fun day spent outside of school. Three is that it’s a chance to see and experience a world they only hear about.

What do I get out of it? Quite a lot. It’s a chance to share in my daughters’ excitement of spending time together in a unique way. Also, when I get to share my work experience with my them, it helps me crystallize my own sense of whether work is meaningful or not. It’s hard to fake fulfillment in soulless work and for me the whole purpose of the day is to encourage them to think about finding work that’s fulfilling for them. Anyway, kids can sense those sorts of lies and ask the most honest and pointed questions that drill down to the heart of our own work. Interesting how our children can help coaches us without even knowing it.

Wondering what you can do to make it a fulfilling and enjoyable day for both you and your child? The folks who manage the day, Ms. Foundation For Women, have some tips and provide a sample day on their website.

Start by contacting your child’s teacher and see if she or he has anything planned surrounding the day. If they don’t know about Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day, then introduce them to the concept and ask whether they’d be interested in learning more. Don’t be afraid to track the principal down and do the same for them. Make sure they understand that it’s not just an excused absence from school, but an experiential learning day.

Next, check and see if your workplace has anything planned for the day. Some companies have some structured activities planned, which is great to find that type of buy-in. And if not, talk to the folks in human resources, and again, emphasize the importance of sponsoring workshops or other events. If you don’t find any sympathetic ears, don’t fret…just do it anyway and plan things on your own. This is what I had to do in my last two organizations.

Need some help building activities? Here’s a listing along with pdf worksheets and an interactive online activity.

I’m interested in learning if anyone else has plans for April 27 and what you’re doing. Bring your ideas and questions to the WorkPlay community.


Mentors Are Everywhere

Even though I’m technically out of the non-profit association world, I still like to check in frequently with friends and other folks who keep this vital area of our working world moving. Over at the association for association professionals (ASAE) they have a blog called Acronym. To work in associations is to understand why this particular blog name is rather clever and playful.

A couple of days ago, Lisa Junker noted an interview with Howard Gardner in the March 2007 Harvard Business Review where he talks about the influence of an anti-mentor. Gardner describes anti-mentors as “potential role models who had been unkind to their employees or who had shown behavior that others would not want to emulate.”

Lisa writes:

This struck a chord with me, and as I consider the idea, I’m surprised to realize how much of my personal management style has been shaped not by the good examples but by the bad ones. Many things I strive to do as a manager — like moving heaven and earth to do a review on time, or providing constructive feedback immediately when needed (in a private setting) instead of letting issues fester, to give just two examples — came about because I’ve seen the atmosphere that can be created when these basic things don’t happen.

Which prompted Lisa to ask: “What lessons can you thank your anti-mentors for?”

There’s quite a lot to consider in her question. The first is that, as employees, we are capable of being grateful for the examples of lousy management. Within that, there’s a certain release that from being in a less-than-optimal professional relationship. And we also gain a greater sense of control when we can acknowledge our own learning in these situations. This doesn’t excuse shoddy management practices and certainly nothing that creates toxic work environments, but by taking time to consider how situations of anti-mentorship are contributing to our own growth, we can turn some of this pain and discomfort to our own advantage. If nothing else, it teaches us we need to get the hell out of that organization as fast as humanly possible.

I also realize that it’s not quite as easy to throw my former managers and colleagues into the two separate buckets of mentors and anti-mentors. Each of them have their strengths as well as their flaws – all of which have contributed to my own practice of being a manager and leader. In our not quite so black and white world, it seems more appropriate to consider our past managers as human beings who have a mixed bag of qualities.

And rather than thinking we have to have it all together before we can possibly mentor someone, John West encourages us to just do it and do it now.