My Best Career Ideas

A summary of my planned talk in the Working in America touring exhibit.

Posted Mar 16, 2018

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

As part of the touring exhibit, "Working America," I’ll be giving a talk at the Oakland, California library this Saturday. I thought you might like an advance look at what I’m planning to say.

After the library director’s probably flowery introduction of me, I’ll bring people back down to earth by describing a few of my many failures:

  • Getting fired from my first job at age 12, recording payments that were mailed in. I was so eager to show I was worth the $2 an hour, I rushed and made mistakes, too many mistakes—I got fired.
  • In my first job managing people, I had no training and so, as a boss, I thought I was supposed to boss people around—I was fired.
  • When I was a professor, I was chatting with the department chair and said I like New Yorkers because they’re straight shooters. Later I found out that offended him, a tactful Midwesterner. I was not rehired.

I’ll then offer some widely applicable career tips:

Work for the government. The private sector will increase the proportion of work done by computer, offshore workers, and U.S. temps and part-timers. The last major bastion of full-time benefited jobs will be in government, where the bottom line is less important—Government can, and certainly has, rather than belt-tighten, wrest more from the taxpayer, print more money, and borrow yet more, that is, issue bonds. (The federal debt alone is $21 trillion.) Most government jobs are fully benefited, including generous vacation days, holidays, pension, and offer job security nonpareil. And for equivalent work, except at the doctoral level, federal government pay is higher than in the private sector. True, government jobs can be frustrating because of government's inefficiency and slow pace but even that varies across workgroups and agencies. So it may be worth taking the time to complete the usually long applications and endure the long selection process, which sometimes can exceed a year.

Walk in.  Especially for entry-level jobs, walking into perhaps a dozen desired places of employment can more quickly land you a job than simply applying for advertised jobs. To explain why that’s so, imagine that at 3 AM you got a call from a stranger asking if you’d take a baby in for a day or two. Most people wouldn’t. But imagine that the doorbell rang and you open it to find a baby at your doorstep. Wouldn’t you take it in? Just bring your resume and engaging persona to  potential employers.

Network? Not so fast. Unless you've just made major effort to improve your networking skills, it's wise to network only to the extent it’s worked for you in the past. For some people, networking yields sufficient benefit and pleasure to follow the standard exhortation to network, network, network. But other people who followed that urging have derived limited benefit and less pleasure. The latter people are wiser to use that time on activities that have yielded more success: perhaps writing carefully crafted job applications, polishing their LinkedIn profile and setting up alerts, getting together with friends and asking for leads, or giving a talk at a meeting of your professional association.

Job-search right. Today, for most people, the most effective job search strategy is to answer ads for jobs you’re truly qualified for using a point-by-point letter, which for each of at least three of the job requirements, you explain how you meet the requirement and with quality.  Ask any of your connections who might know someone at that organization to tout you. Successful job seekers usually supplement that with back-door efforts: emailing, phoning or getting together with 10 to 20 people to tell the range of jobs you’d consider and if they have no leads, asking if they would keep their ears open and wouldn't mind, if you're still looking, your circling back in a month. Do have a solid resume for them to forward.

Prepare for the modern interview. Increasingly, interviews are person-free: You sit in front of your webcam and a recorded audio voice asks you questions which you answer and get recorded for the employer's review. That approach was created to ensure that all applicants are treated equally. Whether or not a live person is interviewing you, do get used to talking into a webcam. Tip: Look one inch above the lens. That raises your chin slightly and so makes you appear more confident. (President Obama did that to great effect when proposing something controversial.) Another element of the modern interview is job simulation. Expect to be asked how you’d handle difficult situations you’d encounter on that job.  It’s difficult to prepare for such questions. The only generic advice I can give is to take a few seconds to gather your thoughts before responding. That not only buys you a little time but portrays you as reflective.

Use your age. If you’re older, consider job targets in which being older is a plus: senior housing jobs, insurance sales, big-ticket (mainly affordable by older people) items such as vacation homes, architecture, boats, plane leasing, and old-line industries, e.g., transportation, the construction trades. food and drink.

Use the keys to job success.  Job success or at least avoiding being “laid off" requires scout attributes: reliable, thrifty, honest, etc. It also helps to get expert on what the employer needs and that ideally is trending so that if you need to look elsewhere, you have a marketable skill. It also helps to improve your public speaking if only so you sound good when you make comments at staff meetings. Finally, in many workplaces, you must play office politics: ingratiate yourself subtly to the power players and be alert to potential rivals and saboteurs, tactfully but firmly letting them know you won’t tolerate it.

Never look back. Always take the next step forward. I’ll end my talk by telling a lesson I learned from my dad: When I asked him why he so rarely talked about the Holocaust, he replied, “The Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Never look back. Always take the next step forward.” Everyone has been ill-treated by a parent, spouse, boss, etc. But a major differentiator between my successful and my unsuccessful clients is that the successful ones are far more likely to follow my father's advice: Never look back; always take the next step forward.

I read a video of this on YouTube.