New Year, Think Career!

List of typical, but not usually kept, New Year's resolutions.Happy New Year!  Now is the time when people make their New Year’s resolutions, usually with the best of intentions.  How did last year’s resolution go?  Did you make it to the gym as faithfully as you told yourself you would?  Lose that weight?  If you’re like most people, probably not.

This year, consider a resolution which could really change your life.  How about a resolution to make this the year when you do something to change or advance your career?

Are you happy with your current job or employer?  If not, you’re not alone.  According to a 2016 research report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Forty-five percent of employees reported that they would be likely or very likely to look for other jobs outside their current organization within the next year.”   This seems to be true even though many studies suggest overall job satisfaction has trended upward in the past few years.

Is your career advancing as well as you would like?  Not really?  The same SHRM report cited above found that “The fewest employees were satisfied with career advancement opportunities within the organization (57%).”  Viewed another way, this means 43% were not satisfied with career advancement opportunities!  Are you one of these people?  Like them, maybe you feel stuck in your current job situation.

So, Now What?

Like other major aspects of your life, deciding to change something regarding your career is no small matter.  Really following through on that decision may not be easy.  But, one thing is for sure: do nothing and nothing will change.  Consider the following:

In the end, nobody really cares about or is responsible for your career except you.

Wow, that really sounds cold and grim!  Is that how the world should work?  Ideally no, but think about it.  As I have said elsewhere here on Career Lantern, others can help, offer support, mentor, or whatever, but in the end, it is YOU that has to do the heavy lifting.

Don’t try and blame someone or something else if your career isn’t where it should be.  Maybe you do have a crappy boss or employer, attended a lousy high school, have issues with your parents, spouse, or ex-spouse, were handed some bad breaks, or whatever.  Perhaps some of those factors really did contribute to your current situation.  While you can’t change the past, you CAN change the future.  Don’t let yesterday’s setbacks become excuses for inaction today or cause you to remain stuck in a bad place in life.  Even if someone or something else really did help throw you into a hole, you’re the one who has to now find a way to climb out.  Accept that fact and move on.

Take Action

Step one is to make a real decision to do actually something about your career.  Believe it or not, this is the hardest part.  Sure, you can say you want to make a change, but truly committing to act and take on the challenge?  That’s hard!  Yeah, you’ll have to put some other things on hold and disrupt your current routine.  It will take time. But won’t it be worth it in the end?

Next, take inventory of any barriers which stand between you and the career you want.  Maybe it’s a college degree you need to finish up.  Perhaps you need certain new skills, training or experience which you currently lack.  Is there a particular certification or license which you need to obtain in order to advance in your field?  In some cases, removing barriers might require changing jobs or even your career field altogether.

No doubt, these barriers probably look too big, even overwhelming.  After all, if it were easy, you’d have done this a long time ago, right?  Think about the old but true saying: How do you eat an elephant?  A bite at a time.

Finally, develop a plan to overcome those barriers.  How does a project manager build a 100-story skyscraper?  With a plan.  Step by step.  Breaking down a huge, seemingly impossible task into smaller and manageable pieces makes the challenge become possible.

You Can Do This!

One way to change your career in a logical and organized manner is to use an Individual Development Plan (IDP).  There are literally hundreds of such IDPs readily available on the internet and we also have one here on Career Lantern.

Think of an IDP like this.  To avoid getting lost when traveling someplace new and unfamiliar, you probably use Google Maps, a navigation app on your phone, or a similar tool.  The same approach applies here.  A carefully thought-out IDP can serve as your navigation guide and keep you from wasting time or getting lost along the way.

It’s a new year.  Isn’t this the year to make a resolution about your career?



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Featured image courtesy of U.S. Navy – flickr


Don’t Go Into a Job Interview Empty-Handed!

Hand holding a tablet computer with people in background.Going for a job interview?  Assume the interviewers are all from Missouri!

Why?  Missouri, of course, is nicknamed the “show me” state.  All kidding aside, most interviewers, regardless of their actual home state, tend to have a “show me” state of mind.  Let me explain.

Suppose you and your fiancé are making plans for the big day and looking into wedding pictures.  You visit a studio to inquire about cost, album options, etc.  However, when you ask to see samples, the photographer says, “I don’t have any samples to show.  Trust me, I’m good.”  Based on that response, you’re ready to sign the photography contract, right?  Oh yes, and plop down the $1,000 deposit right then and there?  Yeah, I didn’t think so…

Yet, this is exactly what happens in many job interviews!  The candidate has the chance to show evidence of his or her abilities, but does not.  Sure, in certain fields like photography, graphic arts, music, writing, and others, the norm is for applicants to bring a portfolio or samples of their work.  But what about fields where this is not the norm?

A Real Example

I was once looking to hire someone for a team which performed business process improvement activities.  A basic but essential part of such a job involves identifying and documenting the existing process through a technique known as “process mapping” or flow charting.  Microsoft Visio™ is a commonly used software tool for this purpose, and it also tracks changes and improvements to a process.  As you might expect, the resulting process maps can be quite involved and complex.

The recruitment yielded several excellent candidates who came in for interviews.  During the interviews, each candidate described their experience in developing process maps.  Each claimed to have experience in process mapping, and some touted skills with Visio.  Yet, except for one, none provided any physical or tangible evidence of such skills or abilities.

Doesn’t this sort of sound like the “trust me” comment by the wedding photographer?

The one candidate showed copies of several process maps and explained in detail how the tasks were performed.  It was clear this candidate knew how to both do the work and use the software – and got hired!

But Was the Candidate Honest?

OK, you might ask, how do we as interviewers know the candidate personally did the work and created all the materials as claimed?  After all, who knows?  Maybe a friend or colleague really did the work and the applicant simply plagiarized the results.  Yes, I suppose that is always possible.

However, my experience has been that a skilled interviewer can easily expose such fraud in seconds.  All the interviewer needs to do is merely “scratch below the surface” regarding the content of the materials.  When asked anything beyond only the most basic questions, it quickly becomes obvious if the person lacks depth of understanding.  Should this occur, it is apparent the individual could not have possibly performed the work.  At that point, the credibility and integrity of the applicant just went out the window – along with any chance of landing the job!

What Can I Do?

Suppose show-and-tell is not the norm for job interviews in your field.  What might you present to the interviewers?  The following items might be applicable for you:

  • Reports which you routinely prepare.
  • Spreadsheets, charts, or graphs.
  • Screenshots of a website you designed, or if possible, call up the actual site on a mobile device.
  • Presentations you prepared and delivered.
  • Specifications which you have written.
  • Photographs, blueprints, or schematic diagrams.
  • Brochures or advertisements you created.

When taking samples of your work to an interview, here are a few important guidelines:

  • Don’t overload the interviewers with quantity; just a few quality pieces are best.
  • Don’t leave items expecting the interviewers to return them; make copies to leave, if appropriate.
  • Don’t show anything potentially sensitive, proprietary, or confidential.  Your work quality may be great, but revealing inappropriate information clearly shows you suffer from a lack of good judgement. Worse yet, your actions might even be illegal or result in you being fired from your present job!

Having something to show helps differentiate you from the other interview candidates.  If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the article “Stand Out from all the Other Job Applicants!


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Featured image courtesy of NEC Corporation of America – flickr