Tag Archives: Career Advice

My #1 piece of advice for picking a college major.

your major doesn't matter

Steven S. via Flickr

Are you torn between a “practical” major that offers a clear career trajectory and the course of study that speaks to your heart but feels useless when it comes to finding a job?  If so, you’re not alone.

It’s a tough decision, so let me offer one insight that I hope will make it easier:

Your major does not matter.

A degree is important to your career and will impact the kinds of jobs you get, but in most cases, your focus of study is irrelevant.  Employers want to know that you can complete something, that you have had exposure to a wider world view and that you have the basic skills needed for the knowledge economy:

  • teamwork and leadership
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • the ability to synthesize and present information
  • self-direction
  • digital competency

These are skills you can develop in ANY degree program.  Your specific, and ultimately most marketable, skills will be learned outside of school – in your first job, in your volunteer work, in whatever side-hustle you’ve put together.

Yes, higher education is hugely expensive and it’s important to make it a worthy investment.  But you know that – you don’t need all the caveats from me.  Do your research. Talk to your professors and counselors.  And then, if your path is still unclear, just choose a topic that is going to hold your interest for 4 years.

Focus on learning and exploring.  If you’re in the Humanities, take a few business courses.  If you’re into science or technology, take some Philosophy courses.  Be open and creative.

And most of all, don’t confine yourself to what you think you know about your future career path.  It will emerge on the job, as you discover your professional interests and strengths.

It will not be what you expect and that is a good thing.

 

(Photo by Steven S. via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Advertisements

Five women I would invite to dinner.

5 women I'd invite to dinner

Vijay via Flickr

I’ve been thinking about my ideal dinner party since Kathleen Shannon put the idea in my head during the Being Boss podcast.  If I could pick any five people to invite over for an evening of food and conversation, who would they be?

Nellie Bly
Groundbreaking investigative journalism, a solo trip around the world and some industrial manufacturing…all while wearing a corset.

Virginia Woolf
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  I’ve been fascinated by Virginia Woolf since first reading Orlando.

Peggy Olson
Yes, I know Peggy is not a real person but her character is such an interesting portrait of a woman moving through the corporate ranks in the 1960’s.  I’d pick Jane Maas if our lists are restricted to real people.

Dorothea Hurley
Who?  Exactly.  Dorothea has been married to Jon Bon Jovi for 25 years, a fact I only recently learned while answering the burning late-night question…”is that his real name?”  Rock star husband, 4 gorgeous kids…I’m dying to find out what her life is like.
(And it’s John Bongiovi, btw.)

Amy Poehler
She is just hilarious AND she founded Smart Girls at the Party.  “Change the World by Being Yourself“… so cool.

How about you?  Who would you invite to your imaginary dinner party?  Please share in the comments.

 

(Photo by Vijay via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Don’t let your inexperience hold you back.

you can figure it out

Rayi Christian Wicaksono via Unsplash

If you’re making progress in your career – getting promoted, taking on new responsibility – at some point you’ll be faced with the unnerving reality that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.  Maybe you’ve never managed a project or run a meeting.  Or you’ve never given a professional presentation or conducted a hiring interview.  Trying something for the first time can be terrifying, and no one wants to screw things up right out of the gate.

But I’m here to let you in on a little secret:  Most things just aren’t that difficult.

In the words of Marie Forleo“Everything is figureoutable.”  Or as my Dad used to say,  “You can learn anything in the world from a book.“  (Or, these days, a book and the Internet.)

Sure, some tasks are harder to pick up than others.  If you work in hospital reception, you’re probably not going to jump into the operating room and just wing it.  But let’s be honest – most of what we do isn’t brain surgery.  You can probably figure it out.  It just takes a little initiative and a healthy dose of confidence.

Here are some things to remember:

When you first dive into a new topic, it will seem like there are a million different resources and perspectives out there.  But as you drill down, you’ll usually find that there are a handful of themes and core concepts that repeat themselves over and over.  With practice, you get better at spotting those key points and with a concentrated effort, you can learn the basics of most things relatively quickly.

Most topics have a steep learning curve.  In the first focused hours of your study you learn a lot.  Then, over time, your progress slows as you work to absorb all the nuance and detail that makes you a master of the subject.  But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a master.  You just need to avoid looking like a clueless rookie while you’re learning.  It takes years to become an expert at anything and I’m not suggesting that it isn’t worth putting in the time and effort.  But if you’re just starting out, don’t underestimate what you can pick up in a short amount of time.

And don’t forget to ask for help.  Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to talk with an expert.  And “expert” could mean that guy in IT you talk to at lunch or your friend over in Marketing.  Anyone with experience can point you in the right direction, so use the resources you have.  It’s also often a good idea to figure out the basics with a peer offline.  There may be no “dumb questions” but you don’t want to repeatedly test that hypothesis in front of your boss.  So work out the kinks with a friendly sounding board first and save your higher level issues for your manager.

 

Want to show you’re ready to take on more responsibility? Start small.

start small

Sherman Geronimo-Tan via Flickr

You know that taking on projects in addition to your core tasks is a key step in moving out of your entry-level position and into a more interesting role.  But finding a potential project and the time to do it seems daunting, doesn’t it?  It isn’t.  Just remember to start small.

In the beginning, you’re just looking to show that you’re interested in contributing, that you want to learn, and that you have the self-leadership to prioritize your own time.  It doesn’t have to be a high-profile project and it doesn’t have to take a huge amount of time.  Here’s an example:

Early on in my corporate life, I worked in the accounting department, doing primarily data-entry.  Not very exciting and I was dying for something more interesting.  I knew my manager wanted to make the accounting page on the company’s intranet more valuable, so I let her know that this was a skill I was interested in and that I’d be happy to put in the time to learn and to upgrade the site.  She was supportive and approved the project.  The result?  I demonstrated my motivation and interest in learning new things, made a contact within the IT department and got to do something different for a few hours.

Shortly thereafter, the company was moving into a new building and my manager was on the cross-functional team doing office design and furniture selection.  She needed a back-up representative when she had other commitments and so who do you think she chose?  She’d already seen that I was motivated, dependable and able to manage my priorities.  I was there as a placeholder for my boss – taking notes, etc. – but it allowed me to meet people outside of my department and gave me insight into how large projects were handled.  I also learned a lot about cube systems, which served me later on as a project manager.

Neither of these projects required a large time or energy commitment, but they were highly valuable to my career.  Over time, I was given larger, more complex projects and eventually, promotions.  And it all built off an initial expression of interest and the willingness to try something new.

So stop waiting for an amazing project to fall into your lap.  Go find something small and get started now.

 

(Photo by Sherman Geronimo-Tan via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Three tips for surviving corporate life.

surviving corporate life

Sunset Girl via Unsplash

Sometimes the corporate world can feel like career Heaven, with loads of challenging projects and an awesome benefit package.  And sometimes it can feel like cubicle Hell, where you endlessly grind away at something you don’t believe in and are powerless to change.

Maybe your career priorities have shifted over time, or maybe this gig is just a pit-stop on your way to better things.  Whatever has put you in corporate survival mode, here are 3 things to remember to help you get through the days:

You are not your job.  Of course you want your work to align with your personal mission and beliefs, and maybe this isn’t exactly the career you imagined.  But sometimes it takes awhile to get there.  In the meantime, focus on who you are outside of work.  Good health, positive relationships and engaging interests are just as important as your day job.  Volunteering also has surprising time and energy benefits.

You are in control.  Maybe not every minute of every day, but unless you work on the production line, there is likely some flexibility in how you arrange your time and activities.  You definitely control when get to work, how you look, what you do during breaks and lunch…you get the idea.  You chose to be here (yes, you really did) and you get to choose how each day will go down.  Choose wisely.

You are here to learn.  You are in the best place to observe organizational dynamics and to absorb how businesses really work.  Bureaucracies can be mind-numbingly slow to change, but the upside is that it gives you a chance to learn what really moves the needle.  At the task level, having a variety of departments around you gives you the opportunity to explore what interests you and start growing your skill set accordingly.

 

How about you?  Are you in corporate Heaven or Hell?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

P.S. Are we Twitter friends yet?  Find me @TheMgmtMaven

 

How to make time for the work that matters.

how to make time

Sonja Langford via Unsplash

Stop for a minute and think of all the people you work with.  Who would you say is the busiest?

I bet one person pops into your head immediately.  Because every office has that one “busy” person – the person who always has too much to do and makes a big, passive-aggressive production about it.  The person who responds to tasks with a resigned sigh but, because they have a lot of institutional knowledge, are respected and even seen as an expert at their job.  Which isn’t surprising, since they’ve been doing that same job for years.

So why hasn’t the Busy Bee been promoted?  Because being busy is career quicksand.  You can work yourself silly, but if it’s not right kind of work, you’ll never get anywhere.

In order to move up, you have to do the kind of work that makes you management material – understanding your industry, effectively prioritizing, creative problem solving, learning to lead a team, and so on.  You have to do more than just your core tasks.  You have to take on the projects that will help you grow as a professional

But how?  You already have a full day of assigned duties and you can’t simply stop doing them, right?  Of course not.  I’m not suggesting you neglect your work.  You have to do your job and do it well.  But leaders identify ways to get what they need.  If you need more time, you’re going to have to create it.

Waste is a concept I became familiar with during my time in manufacturing.  Every process we do is full of waste – actions that take time and energy but don’t create real value.  Maybe it’s moving material from place to place.  Or sitting idle while you wait for your next task.  Or finding a defect and having to scrap your work.  Eliminating waste is key to reducing costs, improving quality and decreasing production time.

You probably don’t work in manufacturing but I believe the concept of waste is valuable in any field.  If you look closely at your day, you’ll likely see that you expend time and energy on things that aren’t really necessary.  If you can reduce or eliminate that waste, you can get more work done in a shorter amount of time and, in essence, create more time.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Are your tools in the wrong place?  The things you use to do your job should be readily accessible, when and where you need them.  If you find yourself reaching, stretching and searching for things you need, you’re wasting time and energy.

Are you in the wrong place?  If your tasks are repeatedly taking you outside your work area, consider whether your workspace should be closer to the people you support.  Think in terms of process flow rather than department or function.

Are you doing more than is necessary?  By this I mean adding extra administrative steps for no reason – like printing reference copies of things that are readily accessible online.  Save your energy for going above and beyond in ways that actually matter.

Are you reworking things that weren’t done right the first time?  Sometimes things come to us broken and we just fix it as part of our process.  Taking extra time now to address the problem at its source will save you time over the long term.

Are you inconsistent in your processes?  Find the best way to do a repetitive task and stick with it.  The speed and accuracy you gain will free up time to do more glamorous work elsewhere.

Each of these individual examples may seem trivial, but considered together, they add up to a significant amount of wasted time – time that you can be using to do the right kind of work for your career.

 

Have you been favorited?

star-struck bokeh by Neal Fowler

If you’re advancing quickly in your department, being given more responsibility and added authority, then you may hear rumblings of favoritism – accusations that a superior has given you preferential treatment for one reason or another.  Is it just sour grapes?  Or could your ability and integrity truly be in question?

If you’re genuinely concerned, start by asking yourself why you might be the “favorite”.

Is it because you only tell your boss what he or she wants to hear?  Because you highlight your own achievements while downplaying the work of your teammates?  Because you enjoy playing politics?

Or… is it because you work hard and consistently add value to your team?  Because you’re eager to learn and are willing to take on new tasks?  Because you have a positive attitude and are generally pleasant to be around?

If you’re in the latter category, relax.  You’ve likely earned the recognition you’ve received. And you’re probably perceived as well-liked because…well, you’re likable.

If you objectively feel that your manager doesn’t have any ulterior motives, just keep doing what you’re doing.  Focus on your job and make a point to recognize the hard work of those around you.  Be generous with your praise and share the limelight whenever possible.  Eventually, any unfounded grumblings will fade away.

 

(Photo by Neal Fowler via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)