Master Career Counselor

Carla Hunter, President of Career Span, Inc. is a Master Career Counselor (MCC) by the National Career Development Association and a Certified Career Coach by the National Board for Certified Counselors. She is an expert in writing resumes, effective job search strategies and interviewing success. Most recently, with over 20 years of navigating the complexity of today's world of work, she published "Finding Your Place in the World of Work", a career interest inventory (2014) and CareerView, an iPad app. As a private practice career counselor and a workforce development consultant, this blog is Carla's trove of ideas, trends, forecasts, and career tips for finding meaningful work.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Common Courtesy: The Heart of Career Success

This is my "elephant" in the room blog moment.  It is an obvious but woefully neglected topic for any person desiring to increase career success: display common courtesy because it impacts you and others in only two ways, positive or negative. 

There is no gray area in between the two extremes.

1. The rule of life and career: Treat others as you want to be treated. 

I don't know if its the time, age or cultural shift of our society but we neglect the art of displaying common courtesy.  This can sting you in a career, maybe not immediately but eventually.  The consequence can be a fatal blow in a job offer, personal connection or advancement opportunity.

Examples of lacking courtesy:

1. Not taking a few moments to call if I'm running late to a meeting assuring others I will be there.
2. Not showing up at all with no call, no warning and simply ignoring the meeting altogether.
3. Not returning phone calls within 24 business hours.
4. Not returning email messages within 48 business hours.
5. Not saying thank you to a colleague for something they have done, no matter how big or small.

This all seems so elementary, but it's not.  We seem to be a people in a hurry, rush or in an environment that diverts attention, simply forgetting the basic course called "Be Nice 101".

2.  In the end, whatever you sow you'll reap.

This wisdom rings true more than we realize.  Whatever kindness, generosity or manners we display will be given back in some degree over time.  Its the law of the universe.  Its as imperative and true as the law of gravity.  And, lots of things fall on your head rather than in your lap when you don't use it.

So what can you do to improve your courteous spirit and business etiquette?

Five simple strategies will get you moving in the courteous direction.

A. Remember people are more important than time, money and even sleep.  They drive your business or job.  Without them, you have no work.  Be nice even when you don't feel like it.
B.  Return their phone calls in 24 hours.  No wiggle room on this one.
C.  Email them promptly.  The deadline is 48 hours. Sooner is better.
D. Never leave another person, business or organization stranded when they expect to meet you. Pure rudeness will bite you in the a*#.
E. Say thank you more.  In words, in action, in a moment, just say thank you more.

The result will be a happier you and everyone else around you.  Common courtesy is the lifeblood of career and life success.   You probably have heard that common mantra "Don't burn bridges in your career" a thousand times.

Today a new one emerges that sounds like this, "Take time to build a bridge with common decency and kindness."  Can't burn a bridge that was never built.

Courtesy will go a long way.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Recalibration: The job market's bully

Economists are not career counselors. It seems to me they're being sought after to explain the job market's woes while using potentially outdated methods to surmise our current condition.

Economists can explain the parameters about the job market but are not actively working inside it to give us an accurate bird's eye view. To say they live in an ivory castle is the extreme but I'm not far off when it comes to providing us with substantial relevance to our present condition. They appear sometimes as detached from the real world.
It is equivalent to me stopping by a funeral visitation of a friend. I enter the room, walk over to him and pay my respect. Gently, I begin to speak.
"So sorry for the loss of your mother. I know just how you feel."
I then proceed to the exit, grab my cell phone and call my mother.

What I offered was hollow sympathy without a speck of authentic understanding for the crisis my friend is experiencing.

Economists have sympathy for our job market woes. But do they really know the impact of the power of their words and how that affects the trenches? They seem to focus on the hole when we need them to look at the doughnut.

The hole they see: Loss of obsolete jobs. Low consumer confidence. Bleak outlook. The sky is falling.

The doughnut they need to talk about: New job creation not on the radar as independent contractors emerge and vocationally certified occupations need new workers to provide infrastructure for the new economy from electricians to hydrologists.

The bully who made it all happen

The reality is some types of jobs are lost everyday and this will never end. The likes of media giants in particular are beginning to fossilize in print media form such as newspapers. Some business chains are suffering HUGE consequences for not adapting their stone age models to an ever fluid audience.
Technology has outdated yesterday's golden digital child. It is a tornado of epic proportions that is hard to predict and few can stay ahead of its volatile forces.

Many businesses during the economic recession (not my word for it) did not peek ahead to an ever changing paradigm of customer need and fickleness that will hurt them as the economy rebounds. Businesses who stick to hard and fast rules are losing breath or are already dead. Still have a pager? Once you did, but now you don't. Why? Because something else made it obsolete. This is the nature of our economy that is beautiful in one way and ugly in another (especially when you lose a job).

We have created a beast. I call it the bully of constant recalibration.

The world of work is in the midst of unprecedented evolution. A recalibration that may not shake out for several more years. One major reason is because so many jobseekers right this moment are searching for jobs that don't exist. They are never coming back. So what do you do in this job market climate?


The economy is recalibrating for a new era of workers who stop looking for big companies to hire them. Rather, they gear up to do business as unusual. In other words, they develop a type or brand that offers a specialization that makes life easier for customers who don't have that particular expertise or product. This could include occupations such as graphic artists, writers, editors, project managers, consultants and trainers just to name a few. Our emerging economy will be quick and nimble unless it has federal government letterhead. There will be many who contract their services and answer to the feds on a 1099.

In just a few years, we will have a generation of tornadic new spenders in the market numbering over 75 million. When they get ready to spend, their primary business targets will be who they know, trust and believe will make life simpler, cheaper and quicker to navigate. How will you position yourself to be on their radar?

Every worker has to develop a business acumen independently and as a part of a community of experts within an industry. Keep reading blogs on emerging technologies and business practices. Keep having coffee and lunches with your colleagues. Stop focusing on the decline(symptom) as the economist seem to be doing and start paying attention to the recalibration (cause) that took effect when computers first began to hum. I think we need to face up to being the new business owners we were always afraid to be.

This is not an easy transitional decade. Yet, we as a nation can't continue to spend money in reviving what can't be brought back to life. We don't want to go back to pagers, do we?

After all, the global market is calling. The ones who pick up the phone to answer will see recalibration not as the bully who forced job elimination and wreaked havoc on family and friends. But the new kid on the block who wants to be a friend. What do you think economists will say about that?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The career trifecta: perseverance, focus and humor

Since the word career derives from the french meaning "racetrack", we should make one sure bet on the top three characteristics of career success.

Here is my personal trifecta:

2nd Place: FOCUS
3rd Place: HUMOR

Without perseverance in the lead we're all in serious trouble.  How many times have you had a great idea until a bump or roadblock sidelined your creativity?  Just like that, your perseverance vanished.  Without Thomas Edison's first place finish we'd still be reading by candle light.  Develop this characteristic by increasing your capacity for disappointment. Sulk only for a moment.  Then, be tenacious and try again.

In second place by a nose is focus.  This is the long shot who darts out in the front of the pack.  Focus is the key to getting work accomplished and goals achieved.  Focus gives impetus to finish strong when so many things are vying for our attention in the midst of multiple distractions.  Focus is harnessing your energy for a certain task until it is complete.

Rounding out the winning wager is humor.  This spry attitude of looking at life through a positive lens is critical to our mental and physical wellbeing.  When is the last time you laughed out loud from the gut?
In spite of an often grueling pace, laughter is the essential component that eases tension and stress.

No matter how we place our talents at the starting gate, the human quest for a meaningful career is a hard race to run. It asks for both speed and endurance simultaneously.  The question is, how much are we willing to wager in finding a career worthwhile?

Of course, we missed out on the announcer declaring the last place finisher.  It crossed the line but no one in the crowd saw it complete the race.

Apathy.  It came in all alone.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Emerging New Work Ethic

I've interviewed employers and asked them face-to-face, what skills do you want in your future workforce?

They're indicating a need for a plethora of critical skills to meet their business demands.  Just a few of the most important include:

1.  The ability to self-manage and work independently without excessive feedback.
2. The ability to utilize critical thinking skills when confronted with a complex problem.
3.  Exerting professionalism at all times.
4. A basic willingness to learn new skills as technology constantly shifts the business model.
5. Display a strong work ethic at work.

What exactly are these skills and how does one learn them? 

My previous post was about the skill of self-management.  This post centers on a strong work ethic.

A strong work ethic in metamorphosis

First, let's define it and then explain the phenomena of its apparent shift.

The definition of a "strong work ethic" is subjective at best due to personal influences such as age, life experience and one's family of origin.  What is determined to be a strong work ethic by one individual or family may be considered as "lazy" to another because everyone's ideology is different.   It is therefore safe to generalize the sustainability skill of "strong work ethic" by pointing to indicators that likely represent it.

The positive behaviors reflecting a strong work ethic include:

1. Coming to work everyday.
2. Being punctual everyday.
3. Not letting personal life interfere with professional responsibilities.
4. Doing the work with excellent quality.

Based on these four behaviors we can now define a strong work ethic as a worker's intent to take work seriously when actively engaged in it.
Why are employers asking for employees that possess a strong work ethic and what is the reason for its necessity today as compared to previous years?  Is there a generational difference in how a person's work ethic is defined?  Or is it simply an issue of pervasive indifference, laziness and lack of motivation in workers?

Could it be that an employee's strong work ethic is no longer linked to time spent clocking in, blind loyalty and total dedication to an employer?  Are employers asking for what is no longer available in the workforce especially given the reductions, lay-offs and down-sizing experienced over the last decade?  Are workers more savvy in determining not to let work become an all consuming bent? Is it possible many younger workers have seen tangible results of family break-down and unhealthy lifestyles of parents who were let go in spite of a "strong work ethic"?

Is the price tag for a "strong work ethic" too high for the up and coming generation of workers to pay?  Many not only want but demand flexibility as life outside the walls of work is critical to a sense of meaning while accomplishment at work is not completely entwined with a sense of self and identity.

Thus, a new work ethic is emerging from the dead skin of out-dated modes of employment: 

My employer can have my sweat but not blood.

The worker's blood belongs to family, community and life outside work.  This includes going to a child's soccer game or school musical rather than brainstorming in a boardroom. Today's work ethic must be founded on productivity and the deliverables of a person's skill-set. 

I'm not advocating for the lazy, apathetic and withdrawn individuals that are currently disengaged from the world of work drawing a check not because of a verified disability or illness. I'm advocating for the worker who wants to work but not at the cost of one's health, life, relationships and basic wellness.

I'm asking today's employer a simple question worthy of consideration:

How are you going to meet your employees in the middle? 

For many employees, a strong work ethic is about productive results.  Not about the ticking of a clock.
And the best reward? The smiles of their children when they come home for dinner.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Self-management: the new deal-breaker skill

I'm fascinated by the myriad of skills today's worker must possess and utilize on a daily basis. 
There are the employability skills defined as the skills, trade, or credential learned and earned in order to do a particular profession.  There are also the sustainability skills defined as the way a person accomplishes work through character traits, personality preferences or a code of conduct required to do business.  Employability is the "what" of a job.  Sustainability is the "how" one does the job.
For example, if I'm an accountant with a CPA designation (employability skill) but lack ethical character traits of honesty and fairness (sustainability skills) it will likely result in being unemployable (unless matched to a company that cheats).

We can deduce the critical employability skills a company demands based on occupational requirements for the job.  However, what becomes difficult to quantify is the sustainability skills that help a person stay employed.  Ever heard an employer say, "If we can find the right person that fits our culture and team, we can always train for the job"?  Translation: Employability skills really matter to us but sustainability skills are even more important.

So, what are the top sustainability skills most needed in today's job market?  The answer may surprise you depending on your age...seriously.  It is a demographic shift in behavior that is obvious in the workplace.

Employers (especially if the hiring manager is over fifty) would indicate certain skills are blatantly lacking in the younger workforce...but are they?

Let's take a look at the one skill many employers indicate is missing:

The skill of self-management

The simplest definition of this skill is the ability to accomplish a task, outcome or goal without excess feedback from others.  It is the proficiency to accomplish something without a boss or colleague holding one's hand.  In addition, there is another stealth element at work. Underneath the surface the worker who lacks self-management tends to have an excessive need for praise when a task, outcome or goal is accomplished.  The intense need for kudos from a boss or constant interaction to make sure one's work is stellar is annoying and time consuming.

Employers tell me that a lack of self-management is the basis for why people have been fired. The employer spent so much time trying to pacify one high maintenance individual to the detriment of everyone else resulting in toxic levels of apathy and disengagement. 

Self management skills are reflected in the following positive behaviors:

1. The ability to follow instructions carefully.
2. The confidence to solve a problem using creative solutions instead of defaulting to a whining mode.
3. The ability to make a decision and execute with follow through and completion.
4. The assured attitude of doing a task without the need for outside or external reward when finished.

Here is a quick self-management checklist for you:
  • Minimal supervision needed from my boss
  • I seek internal reward and intrinsic value of accomplishing work
  • I refrain from complaining in the workplace
  • I can work as an independent contributor and team-player
  • I listen more than I speak
  • Don't bring personal life issues into the workplace
Typically (though not always) the younger the worker, the higher the level of needing to improve self-management.  Conversely, the typical mature worker may have the opposite issue of not asking for feedback or seeking input from others enough. 

If you're starting out in the world of work, developing self-management attributes will be critical to your success.  Don't get in the habit of seeking praise and recognition for a job well done.  Find the reward in yourself.  You'll learn quickly employers don't have a treasure chest of treats, stickers and a pat on the back.  It's nice when it occurs, but do your work, make a contribution and then go to the next assignment.
In essence, what I'm describing is a professional with an innate ability to work without a lot of drama and fanfare.  That is the skill of self-management. 

In the next post, we'll look at another top skill employers are looking for: strong work ethic.  That upcoming post promises to be a generational lightning rod.