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Career Issues I’ve Changed My Mind About

11 examples of revised thinking that may abet your career.

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Somehow, we’ve come to prize people who stick to their guns. But as Longfellow wrote, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Not wanting too little a mind, I have tried to remain open to changing my views. In hopes of encouraging you to do that, here are 11 things on which I’ve changed my mind.

While I’ve changed my mind on many issues, here I describe only ones related to my profession: career counseling. Not only have I done the most thinking about that, offering my current thoughts on career may help yours.

Networking. I used to entreat my clients to follow the conventional wisdom: that ongoing networking is key to getting and remaining well employed. But I’ve come to find that one size does not fit all. Some people have found networking well worth the time, others not. I now encourage people to use their track record to determine how much if any time to spend networking, and to decide their best method(s): in-person events, online events, one-on-ones, or even throwing parties. I also now recognize that people likely to remain well-employed and don’t enjoy networking are wise to forgo it.

Paying dues. A common dig on millennials is that they’re unwilling to “pay their dues.” I used to buy that but on reflection, I think that's often wise. Even just weeks of scut work is more likely to brand you as low-level than be a launchpad to better work. A signal moment in my change of heart about this was with my daughter. After college, she got an internship in the Clinton White House. Her job? Answering letters to the Clintons' cat. She asked her boss whether she might get more responsibility. She quickly became a researcher for Hillary. Yes, ask for what you want, including a way to leapfrog dues-paying.

LinkedIn. Initially, I scoffed at it, thinking that most LinkedIn “connections” are wafer-thin and thus unlikely to abet a person’s job search. I’ve come to realize that with 300,000,000 now on LinkedIn, it’s usually possible to at least get, if not job leads, useful info on a prospective career or employer. In addition, a solid LinkedIn profile is now a must—So many employers troll LinkedIn to find best-suited applicants. They especially troll the forums to find people who make smart comments. Such employers try to recruit them even if their LinkedIn profile doesn’t state they’re looking for employment.

The career of optometrist. I never even stopped to think about that career. It was, for me, under-the-radar. But in creating the Best Careers section on USNews.com, I came to assess optometry as a terrific career choice for a bright person who likes a structure to work from. You cure most patients, the hours are regular, you earn a six-figure income, you get to be called doctor, and the training is far shorter than for a physician.

The career of physician. I used to consider the medical profession among the most desirable—After all, you help prevent and cure disease, sometimes saving lives. But having had many physician clients and especially since I began teaching at the UCSF medical school four years ago, I’ve come to realize how challenging the profession is and that it will likely become even more so. Getting into medical school requires a difficult set of undergraduate courses, real-world medical experience, and a high MCAT score. And even at the public UCSF, four years of that rigorous medical school is $300,000. After that comes a low-pay, long-hours, two- to five-year residency. That all done, physicians spend inordinate amounts of time on paperwork and are pressured to see ever more patients per hour. No one has a crystal ball but I believe that the U.S. is headed toward a single-payer system, which will likely reduce physician salaries, which already have been reduced by low Medicare and insurance company reimbursements. And in covering everyone, there will be many frustrating, high-need, low-compliance patients. I believe that many would-be physicians might be wise to consider being a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. They get to do much of what physicians do with far shorter training and still can earn six figures.

The career of lawyer. I must admit that my early impression of lawyers came from TV: clever, dogged barristers fighting for justice while wearing fabulous suits. That view started to change when I read surveys that revealed a majority of lawyers were unhappy and wouldn’t want their children to become lawyers. My many unhappy lawyer clients have solidified my change-of-mind on the legal profession.

The career of medical researcher. For a long time, that was my career goal. But even in the vaunted fields of neuroscience and molecular and genomic biology, there is an oversupply of Ph.D.s. Many must take low-pay post-docs and, even after that, forgo their dream of working in university or even industry research to take some other further-afield job. Among my most vivid memories is when I gave a career workshop at the Society for Neuroscience convention and expected 25 maybe 50 people. 500 showed up, most with a science PhD who were looking for work. I’ve also been made more conscious of how slow progress is in medical research. Even many scientists fortunate enough to be principal investigators at a university complete their career without a major discovery, let alone a breakthrough.

Self-employment. My father was self-employed so I was positively predisposed. But upon learning of the percentage of the self-employed and of startups that go belly up, I started to have doubts, which have been confirmed by my clients’ difficulty in achieving self-employment success. You need a business sense—that ability to discern what will sell, and to buy low and sell high. Plus, until you get big enough, you must be at least decent at everything from sourcing to selling, bookkeeping to IT. And you must be a self-starter—There’s no boss cracking the whip. Sure, being self-employed enables you to instantly leap from schlepper to CEO but it’s often a quick drop back down to schlepper.

Working at a startup. That got so much good press---Foosball, ping-pong, Frisbee, massages, free Red Bull in the break room. It sounded almost like summer camp, but with my office near Silicon Valley, I’ve come to learn that the fun stuff is often dwarfed by the chaotic, underfunded realities of most startups. Most startups are disorganized and before they get organized, are out of business. Not fun. In contrast, more of my clients find greater satisfaction working for The Man, big corporate America. Those organizations have had the time and money to work out the kinks and to afford to pay people well, provide nice workplaces, and thus attract good talent, which makes working there more pleasurable.

Tough negotiating. I grew up in New York City, where the culture values tough negotiation. But my clients are finding that a moderate, win-win approach to negotiation generally is wiser. You may or may not squeeze out every last dollar but most times, fighting past the first round or two is more likely to yield enmity and even a withdrawn job offer than an after-tax amount of money that's worth fighting over.

College and graduate degrees. Having consumed a lot of education, if only because of cognitive dissonance, I can't help but value it. Yet, as the decades have gone by, and especially since colleges and graduate schools are now willing to accept students with academic records that previously would have yielded a rejection, I have grave doubts. Not only has the pervasiveness of degree holders made that sheepskin a mere job-hunting license, studies, notably Academically Adrift, find that a remarkable percentage of graduates grow little if at all in those crucial attributes: critical thinking and writing. And those are the graduates. Nationwide, only 59 percent do graduate, even if given six years. And then there’s the mountain of student debt. So I’ve become more a fan of degree-free learning: self-study augmented by a tutor, carefully selected individual courses, and then making the case to employers that the learning was more practical.

The takeaway

What have you changed your mind about? Any career ideas in this article that may justify a change of mind?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.  

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