Archive for April, 2008

Allow for surprises!

April 30, 2008

I just heard a wonderful story from one of my career clients. She was walking home from the store and encountered someone handing out sample dvds from a communications business. She accepted a sample and hung around for a brief conversation. It turns out that the organization giving away the product sample would be a dream workplace for my client, a place where she knew no one.

That last fact (the one about not knowing anyone there) has changed. The company representative was delighted to have an intelligent conversation with a polite, respectful, interested person. They ended up exchanging business cards. The employed person urged the client to stop by with a resume, which happened later that day.

Can I tell you that this is a Cinderella story? Not yet. I don’t know if a job offer will be forthcoming, but I can tell you that a dialogue is under way. It is also a reminder that chance encounters can be exciting, productive opportunities.

Remember that statistic that somewhere around 85% of all jobs go to people through personal connections. How is your network these days? I hope your answer includes growing by the day.

If you would like to speak with a career counselor about how to expand your network, please visit my website at for contact information.

Philip Johnson: what is success?

April 26, 2008

There is an exhibit at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, DC, that raises the question of what is success. In the exhibition of the work of architect Philip Johnson (in the stunning building he designed), one can see plans and models of his provocative concepts. Plan after plan, model after model, you can marvel at the man’s mind. Then it hits you: several of the grandest ones have not been built, and it is possible they never will be.

True, devotees can visit the Glass House in New Canaan, CT, the Cathedral of Hope under construction in Dallas, TX, the AT&T Building in NYC, or the Kreeger Museum itself. But the Children’s Museum in Guadalajara, Mexico? Not built, not funded.

But as you watch the dvd of interviews with Philip Johnson, you are struck by the enthusiasm, passion, and even childlike sparkle in this old man (actually dead since 2005).

I might feel like a failure if I envisioned plans for wonderful buildings and complexes that never got built. But that just didn’t seem to occur to him. He waxed on about the need for change, His sparkle did not dim when speaking of projects not built – just a mild statement that that was then, this is now.

We can learn from the great creators of our time. We can learn to work in the present moment, focusing on today’s task and tomorrow’s possibilities. Johnson’s exhilaration just might become contagious to those who will listen to this message.

Can you feel accomplishment in developing plans for a project, especially if it isn’t carried out? Or do you wait for tangible success before allowing a sense of pride in your work?

Looking at Philip Johnson, you realize that you might be missing out on a lot of fun until you learn to refocus!

I recommend that you visit the Kreeger soon, either in person or at to learn more of this captivating man. We can all learn from his sense of pride in his work, whether it was completed or not. This was a man who loved his life and used the 98 years he was given.

What should I be when I grow up? Revisiting the question

April 24, 2008

What should I be when I grow up?

Do career counselors get tired of hearing this question? Sadly, yes.

Do you get tired of asking it about yourself? Definitely!

Here’s a thought: let’s table the question and simply ask something else.

Try these questions instead:

  • What skills do I want to use all day?
  • What course(s) did I enjoy the most in school?
  • What is my passion?
  • What triggers my enthusiasm?

That question about what I should be when I grow up is ultimately depressing. No matter what your age, it might suggest that you are immature, unsuccessful, unfocused, and undecided if you don’t have a ready answer. I think that can be destructive to your self-esteem and a put-down to all your accomplishments.

The question occasionally gets raised in job interviews, which is tricky. Even if you have frequent job changes on your resume, it is possible to answer that question with a confident smile and a summary of your most important skills and how they continue to develop. You do not have to be defined by your job title.

Some of the most interesting people continue to unfold, try new things, develop new skills, and redefine themselves throughout the lifespan. This makes other people nervous and even guilty – why can’t things stay the same?

The lucky ones are those who strive to develop themselves anew, whether on the next job or in retirement. Today is the best day to prepare for tomorrow, especially given the changing nature of the work force. Don’t be defined by a job title… it is way too transient.

If you would like to discuss your options for tomorrow’s work, please visit my website ( for contact information. I have no preconceived notions about what you are going to do with the rest of your life. You’re already a grown-up and you are already a person of accomplishment. Let’s build on that!

Excellence at the movie theater

April 19, 2008

The movie was scheduled to start at 7:20, it was 7:20 and we were just turning into the parking lot. But wait! This is the Greenbelt Theater in Greenbelt, MD, a tiny town whose core goes back to the 1930s, as does the pace in which it operates. Surrounded by middle-class housing as well as the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelters love their old facilities with a passion. Maybe the start of the show would be delayed, as it often is, until the last person has left the concession stand.

So we stood in the s-l-o-w ticket line as the minutes ticked by. Then the miracle happened. The manager, a bright, hard-working young woman named Angela, appeared outside with a wad of bills. Smiling, she said, now, how can we shorten this line and get the show started?

She started in the middle of the line, collecting bills from at least six people in the time the cashier was dealing with a party of two. Most of us in line were slack-jawed with amazement. No tickets, no stubs, just a smile as she took the money and told us to enjoy the show.

But Angela’s performance wasn’t finished. After we were seated, she jogged to the front of the theater and officially welcomed us to the show. Her welcome went like this:

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Greenbelt. Thank you for your patience. Enjoy the show.

People applauded. As the movie appeared on the screen, I reflected that this is an amazing display of excellent customer service. I’m old enough to remember when someone always introduced the feature film. It was a cue for the audience to settle down and cease conversations. We thought those customs would last forever, but of course, they did not.

What is excellent customer service? It has something to do with the energy we bring to our jobs, the creativity we use to solve a problem, the willingness of the employer to encourage and reward such behavior, and the smiles it brings to the faces of the customers. Well done, Angela!

Job Fairs: are they worth it?

April 18, 2008

The short answer: yes, they are.

The longer answer: maybe or maybe not.

Yes? Because you are out in the world, throwing yourself into the world of the possibilities. You might meet an employer or two, you can leave your resume with a number of folks. You will have a chance to chat with other job-hunters. And you never know.

Maybe or maybe not? It might be a mob scene. It might be mostly franchises, looking for investors. It might be entry level and you are more experienced.

So, do you go? I hope the answer is yes. There might be a government agency (federal, state or local), an institution of higher learning, and a few companies you’ve never heard of. All of these add up to opportunities. And have a chat with a temp agency – they provide many chances to gain experience.

I think it is true that job fairs are often geared to those who are entering the workforce. But company representatives want to go home with a stack of resumes to peruse later. They get bored just hanging around, so I urge you to visit the stations that have the least buzz about them. It is okay to ask what their company is all about, take some literature, and offer to leave your resume.

Rules for job fair success:

  • dress professionally
  • keep smiling
  • shake hands eagerly
  • bring enough copies of your resume (copy facilities there usually cost more than you will want to pay)
  • pick up literature and business cards as you are able
  • listen as representatives explain their companies
  • keep an open mind about which booths to approach

Oh yes, one more thing: when you go home, review all the literature, attaching business cards to the appropriate brochures and fact sheets. I suggest that you write follow-up letters to the companies that interest you. Address the letter to the person whose card you took. Thank him/her for the courtesy that was extended to you at the job fair. Attach another resume.

And good luck. See you at the job fair!

Tax day: thoughts of the self-employed

April 15, 2008

Was business good or bad in 2007? What are your thoughts as you send in your tax forms and (probably) a check? I’m not speaking of what the government does with your money (that is for others to analyze), but rather what your income represents to you.

We cheer when business comes in, we rejoice to keep paying bills and making deposits, we carefully invest in our businesses for growth, we make quarterly tax payments, but nevertheless, WHAM! There is often a nasty surprise each April.

What goes through your mind? There is a dangerous tendency to rue our success by such statements as:

  • if I made so much money, where is it?
  • why bother? I just got bumped into a higher tax category.
  • all I did was work to pay taxes.

Wait a minute. The money you made was reinvested in your future. It paid your bills. It fed and clothed yourself and your family. It developed your business. It may even have landed up in a retirement account (I hope). Most of us did not fritter it away.

In addition to financial gains, being an entrepreneur may be part of your identity. Years ago, someone told me that working for yourself means no one can limit your earnings. That is a good motivational point, even when times are tough.

It is hard to remember to congratulate ourselves on our success of the previous year. Yes, the tax bill stings. I saw a statistic in the newspaper that said that 75% of Americans are getting a refund for 2007. If you are not one of those people, it is hard to congratulate yourself for not giving the government an interest-free loan. It is hard to remember that paying taxes is a sign of your success.

As you mail in that check, please try hard to congratulate yourself for having the fortitude, creativity, and intelligence to define your own path in this turbulent economy. Here’s to continued success in 2008!

Technology as a minor: making you unique

April 14, 2008

Too many college students arrive at college with a persistent mantra; study computers… study computers… study computers.

The mantra was put there by well-meaning, check-writing parents and other relatives, neighbors, a few teachers, all offering advice they wish they had heeded in their time.

Our confused college students know that there is more to life than programming. What does it mean for an artist, a writer, an athlete, a linguist, a diplomat, a dancer, a biologist, a teacher?

I think the answer lies in combining one’s primary passion with an understanding of the technology that will increasingly support almost all other endeavors. Theater arts majors will be more employable when they are comfortable with computerized stage lighting, sound, and special effects. Teachers will be prepared for classrooms that are in front of them or online. Artists can still be creative, especially when technological tools are at hand. Composers will produce music of today and tomorrow with electronic sounds added to the traditional orchestra. Athletes will know more about facilities management, record-keeping, and media needs.

Talented young people may find it difficult to enter the paid workforce, but with an additional tool or two from technology, they will be more marketable. (Don’t forget to hghlight computer accomplishments on your resume!) And the senior members of the family can rejoice and say I told you so.

Would you like to discuss your college major and how it can be made more appealing for today’s or tomorrow’s job search? Please visit my website at for contact information.

Something fun for students

April 11, 2008

Who knew that the Department of Energy has an attractive game for students? Along with factoids about energy, conservation and the environment, there is a virtual dissection of a frog available. Furthermore, you can change the languages by a click and learn the organs of the body in different languages! Your student may find this by going to

Why does a government agency do this? Like all of us, they want visitors to their sites. They want teachers and parents to browse in search of activities and information that can be relevant for their kids. When entering a science fair, do not overlook this source!

Why does a career counselor ferret out information for kids? If it:

  • makes learning fun,
  • makes a kid think,
  • builds confidence,

it is an activity that can lead to insights about what one likes to do.
Do you love this virtual dissection project? You might approach biology with more enthusiasm. Are you squirming and saying “ew” at the very picture of the frog? Okay, you know what is not for you.

Adults who are successful and satisfied in their careers can look back at youthful experiences and remember key moments where they were totally engaged and enthusiastic in what they were doing. They didn’t know it at the time, but these successful moments caused them to seek out similar opportunities. And one thing lead to another…

Are you still trying to figure out what you are meant to do as an adult? You’re not alone. Many adults have not found their work satisfying. I think that possibly they haven’t learned to look at the clues from the past. If you would like to speak with a career counselor about the direction of your work life, please visit my web site at for contact information.

Science websites for kids: inspiring, educating, encouraging

April 10, 2008

I’ve been exploring the student section of the website produced by NASA and I highly recommend it to young people. You will be surprised at what you can find at You can select the grade range of the explorer, and the content varies in an age-appropriate way.

In the K-4th grade section, NASA writers educate us on how long the current voyage to Pluto will take. By comparing the ten-year-voyage to the decade of childhood or adolescence, they have found an imaginative and personal ways to explain the passage of time.

The same web section (K-4th grade) invites kids to send in a local geological specimen to its Rock Around the World collection for NASA scientists to identify and preserve. I can imagine kids aged 5 – 10 enjoying that activity and having their eyes opened to the possibilities of a career in the natural world. What a great activity for an aftercare program, a scout troop, a family reunion, or a summer camp.

When the grade level goes up to 5-8, information becomes more structured, straightforward, and formal. Along with the offer to identify a rock (described above), there are design contests which dreamers, explorers, and others with vivid imaginations might love to enter.

As the grade levels advance, so does specific career information. Throughout high school and college, visitors to the site can find opportunities, information and contests. Congratulations to NASA on serving the public in such a creative way.

If you know of other websites that will be useful to young internet explorers, please feel free to leave a comment about them. If I agree that they offer career information and fun without any cost, I will be happy to review them at a future time.

Liberal Arts Majors: a tip for success

April 8, 2008

In The Washington Post‘s business section of 4/8/08, there is a small item containing information for liberal arts majors. Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Vicki Elmer reminds literature or general studies majors to keep in touch with their career centers on campus. She writes that college internships will count heavily in landing that post-graduation job. You can read just a snippet or the whole article at

Parents need not panic when their students opt out of majors in engineering, business, or computer programming. There are jobs for people with proven communication and research skills. With planning, your sons and daughters will have a track record and portfolio to document their competencies in oral and written communication. They can learn to brush up on how to discuss their abilities in job interviews.

If you would like to speak or meet with a career counselor who can coach the college student into productive internships or summer jobs, please visit my website at www, for contact information.