5 ways to survive a job you want to leave

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“I give up. I’m just going to stay here until I can save up enough to retire early.”

“How long will that take?”

“Seven more years. Given that I’ve decided to stop trying to move, do you have any advice for me?

She worked for a well-known company where she was handsomely compensated, so I could see why leaving the company wasn’t something she ever considered. However, her supervisor was moving the team toward work she wasn’t thrilled about doing, so she had been trying to find a different role within the company for the past year. Things didn’t pan out. She wasn’t happy, but she was throwing in the towel, for now.

“So, what I’m hearing is that you eventually want to leave this job and company entirely, but you don’t feel you can do it right now?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. If you’ve decided that you really want to leave eventually, maintain and protect your exit velocity.” Continue reading

Universally useful skills that you should develop

“Knowing what you know now about the skills required to do your job, what would you advise students to learn while they are still in school?”

I was at an alumni-student networking event geared toward humanities and science majors who were interested in careers in the public service sector.  Most of the other people in the room had studied things like psychology, history, biology, and literature.  I felt a little out of place, as the lone engineering alum in the room, but I had come as a representative from industries that do hire humanities majors.

I’m used to answering this question for students interested in pursuing a career in the fields in which I have experience, consulting, marketing, general management, and non-profit.  However, there were students at my table who were interested in paths I had no experience in, like healthcare and research.  I quickly tried to think of an answer that would be relevant to this particular audience.  The next alum to speak, agreed wholeheartedly that the skills I mentioned were extremely useful in her daily work.  This surprised me, as her work as a mental health counselor is very different from what I do on a daily basis as an operations manager.  Maybe I really had hit on some universally useful skills.  Here is what I had told the audience.

There are a handful of skills that have served me well throughout the different jobs I’ve held in the past 10 years:

Listen to what people need.  Dig for the issues that really matter.  Know how to break big things into smaller manageable pieces.  Be able to communicate with people outside of your peer group.

 

These are some of the basic blocks of problem solving.  No matter where you go, nor matter what you do, you will encounter problems.  And at some point in time, someone will look to you to solve them.  Regardless of what type of problem it is, taking the time to hone these skills will help you in your career.

Listen to what people need.  Most of the time, you will need perspectives other than your own to comprehensively evaluate a situation.  Talk to others to view the problem from multiple different angles.  What are the pain points they face?  Solutions are of no use if the don’t address actual needs felt by the people involved.

Dig for the issues that really matter.  My college advisor once told me, “What people say they want and what they actually need are not necessarily the same thing.”  Often it’s because it’s impossible to give everyone what they want.  But it’s much more feasible to get most people what they need.  Zoom in on what’s really important.

Know how to break big things into smaller manageable pieces.  If the problem feels overwhelmingly large, it’s difficult to move forward.  Divide it into chunks.  The pieces will be easier to tackle, because you can either take them on one at a time by yourself or delegate them out to others.

Be able to communicate with people outside of your peer group.  More specifically, learn to communicate with the folks two levels above you.  There will be times when you will seek their input, approval, and/or recognition, and you will need to present your case clearly and concisely.

How to impress your boss

Shortly after I started working, someone gave me one of the most useful pieces of advice I received early on in my career:

If you really want to please your boss, make their job easier.

Being recognized as a good employee takes more than just working hard and doing what you’re asked.  This became especially clear to me when I became and manager and had different kinds of people reporting to me.  As your manager, my job is to provide you with the guidance and resources you need to produce quality work, which I am ultimately responsible for.  Sure, you could be a hard worker. 

But if I have to expend a lot of time, effort, and extra thought to get you to do the job I need you to do, you can be a pain to manage.

So, how do you become the worker that is pleasant to manage?  There are a few things you can do.

Save them time.   Do you have regular check-in meetings?  Come with an agenda.  Have a lot of questions?  Consolidate them into a list and get them answered all at once instead of peppering your boss with questions throughout the day.  If you’re accompanying them to a meeting, offer to take notes.  Record major points made, key questions raised, and next steps, then send them your notes.  Your boss is a busy person, and they will appreciate your organization and efficiency.

Tell them what you need.  Your boss is ultimately responsible for the quality and completeness of your work.  If you aren’t making adequate progress, identify what’s holding you up.  You could need more clarification, guidance, training, input, feedback, or a decision?  It’s better to proactively ask for what you need than to leave them wondering why you haven’t gotten the job done.

Come with an answer.  Where possible,offer a hypothesis and ask whether they agree instead of asking open-ended questions.  For example, “I think I should do x,y,z.  Do you agree?” is a lot easier to answer than “What should I do?”  By coming with a point of view, you relieve them from the burden of having to fully think through something from scratch.

Keep them in the loop.  If something has gone wrong, or if you think you won’t hit a deadline, raise the issue sooner rather than later.  Your boss will be a lot more forgiving when they have enough time to react to problems rather than when it’s too late to do anything.

Speaking from a manager’s point of view, if you are the employee who makes your boss’ job easy, you become the person they enjoy working with.  You are the one they always want on their team.  You are invaluable.  There’s a high likelihood that they will do what they can to keep you happy, so that they can keep you.  And that’s a good place to be.

Defusing the I-need-a-job-freakout

Let’s be honest.  Two years ago, after I graduated without a job,  I had days when I freaked out.  Last winter, months after my friend also graduated without a job, she freaked out.  A few months ago, when my boyfriend realized that his under-employment was not sustainable, he freaked out.

(source)

We’re all bound to go through it: the “I need a job!” freakout.

It’s ok.

Freaking out can be legitimate. We all have bills to pay in order to maintain life’s necessities, like food and shelter.

Freaking out can also be therapeutic.  If you’re around a bunch of other people who don’t have jobs, it’s something you can commiserate about.  Aaaah freakout! Le freak, c’est chic.

But there’s a point where all that freaking out isn’t healthy.  And I doubt it’s making you happy.
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How to answer the question “What kind of job are you looking for?”

***DISCLAIMER: The following dialogue is a dramatization, and in no way reflects how much whining my boyfriend did in the early stages of his job search.***

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“Arrrrrrrrrgh!  I don’t know.  Why do you keep asking me that?”

My boyfriend, now employed, told me that getting him to answer that question was the single most helpful thing I did during the months I coached him through his search for a full-time job.

“So, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.  I just want to find a job.”

Well, babe, it’s kinda hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.  More importantly, it’s especially hard for someone to help you find something when you can’t define what it is you want to find.  Continue reading

Networking: Getting Started (Part 3)

Many of us grew up knowing networking was a good thing, and that it had something to do with having or getting a lot of contacts, but what we’re supposed to do with all those contacts may have been a little unclear.

A few months ago I was explaining the concept of informational interviews to my boyfriend.  He was in the midst of a full-time job search, and I had encouraged him to try a networked job search, in addition to doing the respond-to-job postings thing.

I walked him through Part 1, “You have an entire fan club of folks who think you’re awesome and want to see you succeed!” and Part 2, “You just need to let them know what you’re looking for and tell them what specifically they can do to help you.”  Now it’s time for Part 3: how to conduct an informal career chat (a.k.a informational interview).
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For undergrads: a mind map to get you started

Last week I did a workshop for undergrads on some basic tips on how to get started with their career search.  I only had about 45 minutes, so I focused on framing up the career search process as Contemplating, Communicating, and Connecting.

A few days later, I realized that what may be more helpful to give them is a template to help them organize their thoughts.  I did a similar mind-mapping exercise with my boyfriend, but wanted to create a tool that had all of the questions and guidance built into it.

I built it out on Mindmeister.com, where anyone can sign up for a free account and expand on the template mind map I created.  Here’s what I came up with (click on the picture to go to the map on Mindmeister.com):

 

Putting it out there

About a month ago, my little sister came over to hang out and tell me “something big” about what she has planned for this year.

“So, how’s your job?”

“It’s great.  I’m loving my job!”

“You’re loving it?  But, aren’t you back working the same job you quit 6 months ago?”

“Yeah, but it’s a little different.  It’s always different when I come back from quitting.  They change all of the things I didn’t like about the job before I quit.”

This was the third time my sister has quit that job, and the third time she’s gone back to it.  She’s really good at her job, and her boss knows it.  I’m not sure he would know what to do if she were to quit for real.

“Ok, so what’s you’re big news?”
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What if I can’t get there right now?

Take time to find out what you want.  Make time for the things you love.

What happens now will not determine the rest of your life.

Those were the three pieces of advice I gave during my presentation to a group of undergrads last week.  And then I opened it up to Q&A.

“What if I kinda know what I want to do, but I don’t think I can get there right after I graduate?”

Excellent question.  I did a lot of talking about how important it is to figure out what you want, and told a story about how I finally got it.  It’s only natural to think that I am encouraging folks to go out and get their dream life.  I am.

It’s risky.  It can be scary.  And for an undergrad who is still building up his savings, resume, network, and life experience, it can be difficult to get to exactly where you want.  In an economy like this, it may mean just taking “a” job.  The important thing to remember is to keep moving forward somehow and guard yourself against getting stuck.

4 Steps to Staying on Course


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