Best Career Advice: 2011
Joyce Lain Kennedy
DEAR JOYCE: I've noticed articles about
PAY ATTENTION. Take a night now and then to seriously evaluate where you are and where you want to be. Remaining alert will keep you from being blindsided if your job is suddenly outsourced or offshored to cheap labor. That can happen in nearly any field, especially where the work can be digitized, including medicine, law and accounting. It's a myth that "only the low-end jobs are being sent overseas."
In cost-control mode, employers are supplanting permanent employees with independent contractors, temps, consultants and freelancers. And there's no end in sight to the rush of galloping technology that's changing the content of jobs, or eliminating them altogether. The emphasis, subtle but important, has changed from "holding a job" to "doing a job."
This is a historic juncture for American workers, and not all will benefit from changes.
FIGHT OBSOLESCENCE. The only job security you can count on is the transportability of your own skills. Do whatever it takes to keep your qualifications mint-fresh and marketable. If you have to forgo leisure pursuits to revisit college or vocational training, think about the consequences of your choice; what's it worth to you to remain vibrantly employable?
NETWORK FOREVER. Never has it been more important to participate in professional organizations and to network with other groups and individuals -- even parents you meet when driving your kids to school. Contacts you nurture over the years are the people most likely to return your calls and open doors for you when you're in employment distress. Calling only when you need something doesn't motivate others to assist you.
MENTOR MOVES. If you can find a rising star willing to guide and support you and vet your ideas, be grateful. If you're in the mentor class yourself, shepherding a younger person can add freshness to your own career.
STRATEGIC ZIGZAGGING. Fertilize your career climb by judiciously changing employers when opportunity knocks. Job-changing doesn't hold nearly the risk for you being seen as a job hopper that it once did, as long as you make quotable, measurable accomplishments at each stop. The trick is to keep your core career in sight and, when possible, avoid value-reducing detours to take quick-fix jobs.
THINK SELF-EMPLOYMENT. Certainly not everyone should strike out alone, but if you have strong entrepreneurial traits, running your own business may prove more secure and rewarding than being at someone else's call.
But plan out such a move. Middle-aged managers often discover to their regret that they lack the risk gene and are cut out to be wage slaves after all. Or they run out of money. When that happens, they can hardly wait to get back on a payroll. They've found out that it takes a whole lot more to succeed than doing what you love and hoping the money will follow. Those U-turns can be quite a challenge.
TAKE A LONG VIEW. Look at your career as a whole. Don't force yourself into a round hole if you're a square peg. Stay true to your personality and preferred lifestyle -- if you're a water lover, taking a job in the desert won't satisfy your inner sailor.
Look at personal timelines for progress and how you're moving through phases of growth: promise, momentum and harvest. If you're still in the promise stage at 45, something has to change or momentum-followed-by-harvest will slip beyond your grasp.
FIGHT FOR MONEY. Red alert: Learn ever-more-critical salary negotiating skills. Employers aren't famous for spending a dollar when a dime will do. If you don't know market rates for your work, you can't fight back a lowball offer.
BECOME AN ACE JOB HUNTER. Job hunting has been reinvented and now includes such e-skills as online social networking and using mobile smart phones. You need a high Internet IQ and solid Web skills, as well as mastery of familiar on-ground job hunting methods. Lost in a cyber-crush of resumes, the all-purpose resume has become obsolete as employers respond best to customized resumes. Can you learn how to quickly tailor a dead-on match of your qualifications to a position's requirements?
No matter how you find the job, perfecting your job interviewing skills will make all the difference in determining who gets the nod. Here's the latest scoop -- get ready to smile (and talk) for the Webcam attached to your home computer as video interviews creep up on preliminary phone interviews.
Come to think of it, maybe you need to spend more than a night now and then to pay attention to a workplace very different than it was when I began this column 44 years ago.
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Careers - Best Career Advice: 2011
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