Posts Tagged ‘career advice’

Image courtesy of www.paper-source.com

Image courtesy of http://www.paper-source.com

I picked up these calling cards from the Paper Source on Chicago Avenue last week.

I’m too cheap (now) to create my own business cards – but it beats writing my contact info on scrap notes and post its. If you are a stationary junke (or craft nut) this store will be your orgasmic Utopia.

Also, they have really cool crafting workshops and uber-wonderful discount sales.


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Photo Credit: Offbeat Photography @Flickr

Photo Credit: Offbeat Photography @Flickr

They’ve been out of the job market for years.

Parents mean well, but they can give a lot of useless advice to their kids.

Especially when it comes to job searching. If your parents have been at the same place since you were in high school – they most likely haven’t had to actively look for a job in quite some time.

That being said, when they gripe at you about not finding a job – their perspective is referenced from a job market that existed 1o to 15 years ago.

Of course, they’ll bring up anecdotes about that time they were unemployed for a year in 1983 or how they had to look for a job in the bubble of the 1990s – it still won’t compare to your job search.

Why? Because they haven’t had to look for a job now.

Their contacts are in the same boat

If your parents are in the same boat as this guy – their connections may not be as strong as they once were. Since older job seekers entering the market haven’t had to look for a job in ages, they’ve probably become a little lazy and insulated from the necessities of keeping a fresh (and relevant) network.

Despite building up powerful contacts – there’ s no guarantee that your Baby Boomer parents can capitalize on them like they could several years ago.

And, by the time your Mom or Dad hits the job market – their contacts may have dwindled (if not disappeared).

The same places that won’t hire you will hire your parents

Nowadays, employers are taking advantages of the blood fest going on in the job market. Seizing upon the opportunity, they can now doubly trade in on getting cheap experience – even if it means hiring baby boomers to work at a fraction of what they could really make.

So why hire you when cheap labor comes at a better price by hiring an applicant that has twice the experience?

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Photo Credit: Lutz-R. Frank @Flickr

Photo Credit: Lutz-R. Frank @Flickr

Creating complexity, meaning and autonomy in your professional life is not done through the 1-2-3 step process. For the best results, steps 1 and 2 may occur simultaneously while step 3 may not be readily achieved until you finish a part of step 4.

Generally, if you are interested in gaining meaningful employment, you will have to do more than utilize brains and talent. Additionally, you will have to create work for yourself that is beyond your usual 9 to 5 job.

Develop a Curriculum

This means that even though you are no longer in a classroom (or…maybe you are), you are not exempt from teaching yourself new skills or honing present ones. There are several ways to touch upon your desired area of expertise.

One way to get an idea on what an industry is studying (or learning) is check out trade magazines and professional associations. Decide what area you want to concentrate on (Research? Sales? Development?).

This doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school formally – but you do need to develop self-discipline (especially if you find yourself in a career rut). Libraries and public lectures are other great ways to connect with (free) learning.

Upside: You get to pick and choose what subjects interest you and focus on learning them

Downside: Reading, listening, learning – rinse, repeat.

The proof is in the pudding

Do work that naturally attracts your interests. This can range from performing projects outside your scope of responsibility at your present job to extensive volunteer work.  Career multiplicity is about juggling the interests with the ideas – don’t be too caught up in specific roles (for example, only wanting to concentrate on marketing or only performing “management” type work).

Set projects up for yourself that reflect what you want to learn and do.  As a result, you’ll have a distinguishable set of work that is tangible to prospective employers and shows evidence of your (extremely marketable) skills.

To begin, develop a Project/Skill Wish List. Essentially, divide your skills and talents into two categories – things you want to create and things you want to learn.

For example, you may want to create a community garden in your neighborhood (project) and want to learn about grant writing and research (skill). Keep writing out ideas (don’t worry about how ridiculous or prosaic they seem). Sort out the ones that seem relevant to your immediate interests -start working on those first.

Upside: You’ll get in the thick of things by creating goals

Downside: Deciding between workable skills and doable projects

Find a Sponsor

You don’t have to create a start-up if you don’t want to (or, aren’t ready). On a smaller scale, if you have an idea that you want to test out – but need financial backing, research opportunities through entrepreneurial incubators.

Also, sponsorship doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of money – it can be in the form of providing space (a venue/facility), time (mentoring/networking connections) or materials (donating goods/services that will help promote or develop your idea).

Upside: Connecting your work with others  (sometimes on your terms)

Downside: Running into naysayers (who won’t connect with your work no matter what)

Critique Thought Leaders

Emerging fields, old stand-bys and everything in between all have thought leaders. You won’t get far (in your own intellectual thinking) if you nod your head in agreement with every last one of them. Challenge yourself by instigating an alternative viewpoint.

The easiest way to express those ideas? Blog it. And, while you are at it – create a community that can rally around your ideas.

Upside: Becoming a thought leader

Downside: Pissing off a thought leader

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Photo Credit: -bast- @Flickr

Photo Credit: -bast- @Flickr

Last week in D.C., I learned what bitter disillusionment can do to the unsuspecting professional.

While pitching AWP’s work to an agency, we got the usual questions about who, what, when, where and why

Yet, one particular person insisted on asking us questions to try and make us look stupid or, worse yet, useless.

When that happens, that person is not interested in finding out  what you’re about. They are trying to prove a point about something that has little (if anything) to do with your work.

There are always two groups of people who gather in response to new ideas: people who love it and people who want to find reasons not to love it.

Granted, nothing is perfect.

Nor, is it meant to be.

But, if you find yourself in the latter camp – do yourself a favor: initial (and unwarranted) bias has little, if any, use.

Ask a question. A real question.

You’ll be surprised how often real questions don’t get asked. Real questions find out value. They probe for purpose and insight. The odd thing about that? People forget what they are looking for in the first place.

Therefore, they’ll meander around until they think they find out what they want to know. If you want to know about the “value” of someone’s work, ask this: Why did you create this?

Airing dirty laundry

When this happens, you lose credibility with the person you are questioning. For example, in one meeting, one of the members chose to bring attention to the fact that there are other advocacy groups and projects that campaign in the name of human trafficking (the project we were pitching).

OK – and? Is there a quota? From the gist of his not so subtle and completely hostile statement – he was doing the following:

  • Airing his dissatisfaction of (what he deemed) the effectiveness of such campaigns
  • Questioning the usefulness of our work

There’s very little tact in such a tactic. When you take that route – you unavoidably do this:

  • Lessen the likelihood of me wanting to collaborate with you
  • Cause me to question your own professional validity in the project

If you are genuinely interested in what makes someone’s work different from others (or if it makes a difference) be simple, ask: How does it work?

Apples and Oranges

Despite the fact that AWP is an arts organization – the art part is actually secondary and the social justice advocacy work is the primary definition of our projects. What’s that mean? No matter what, we can connect with lots of agencies that work in the realm of our initiatives. We create advocacy tools.

So, instead of focusing on how we’re different, let’s try: What are your goals?

Just because I am an apple and you’re an orange – we’re still fruit.  So to add, ask: Who do we want to connect with?

What should you keep in mind as the answerer?

  • No return volleys allowed
  • Respond with a question if you are not sure what they want to know
  • It’s not necessarily personal – they’re probably just bitter
  • Stick to the facts
  • Beggars can be choosers – you can always choose not to answer

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Photo Credit: Envios @Flickr

Photo Credit: Envios @Flickr

With very little cash, I headed towards Washington, D.C. to gain a little more perspective on my (possible) future as a social justice maverick who uses artwork as an advocacy tool.

The Rayburn foyer, where our exhibit is being displayed, has hideous carpet. I wonder if all government buildings in D.C. have such crappy design.  

Tonight, we are taking 3 hours to set up the Congo/Women exhibit (lasting well into 12 am), despite 12 volunteers and an energetic 3 year old (L’s son).  

After we’re done, my colleague W and I leave and head to our hotel. I get an immediate gush of smallness. Everything feels so tiny now. I feel so tiny right now. I hope I don’t feel any smaller tomorrow, I fear I might disappear.

W and I have a meeting with an NGO the next morning to pitch a partnership with our Human Trafficking project.  During the meeting, they don’t ask many questions, but they want to snatch our marketing materials. I feel like the bad guy when I tell them they can’t keep them.

W is nicer than I am about that kind of stuff – she offers to send a digital copy.

W always thinks of the nicer stuff to say. I’m a little too forward and direct with people sometimes.

After handshakes and goodbyes, we cab over to the Rayburn. We have to hang around for several hours because our event doesn’t end until 7 pm that night (we arrive shortly after 12 pm). And, we have to break down the installation afterwards – but that shouldn’t take long.

Our guest speakers arrive and the program begins. After hearing Stephen Lewis, my gush of smallness evaporates.

Nothing is out of place.

What I’m doing makes sense.  

No ridiculousness or second guessing anything that is happening. I think that can be rare for people.  When you’ve been out of work for as long as I have, second guessing becomes par t of your daily language.

To clarify, there are a lot of things you can do while you have a job that don’t make sense. You may think they are unnecessary, a waste of time or even beneath you. Yet, when don’t have a job; there is very little excuse to do things that don’t make sense to you.

And, that’s the core of good, stimulating and worthwhile growth – the stuff that makes sense. Stick to the continuities that are logical for you before you become part of doing something (for a paycheck) that doesn’t make sense.

Instead of hammering at what you think works, do what makes sense to you no matter how out of whack it may initially seem (like going to D.C. with very little money to help set up a one-night exhibit in a government building).

This is not about being reckless. It’s about taking steps towards the most fulfilling risks and reaping their rewards.

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Obo-bobolina @Flickr

Photo Credit: Obo-bobolina @Flickr

You can’t get a word in. When you do, it’s glossed over like you are talking about the weather. You are ignored.

Or, at least it feels like it. Lots of twenty somethings complain that their superiors look over their ideas or outright ignore their creativity in the workplace.

Cue rolling eyes and huffy sighs

Frustration is inevitable when one has so many ideas they want to implement – if only their boss would just listen to them!

Contribution and creativity are, in reality, two different things in the workplace. Effective contributions generate ideas that have a foreseeable (and achievable) impact on a company or department’s bottom line, operations or strategical methods (or all three). They are not necessarily plans that have the “wow” factor attached to them or implement the never-seen-before-or heard-before ideas.

Creativity ignores that – not in a bad way, though.

Creativity doesn’t follow the route of necessarily being practical. It tends to be big. It creates new (or side) projects. It requires a leap of faith or someone with guts. Creativity may not always be effective. Yet, it damn sure is interesting (to the creator, at least). 

If, however, you are able to successfully merge creativity with an effective contribution – then, you may boost yourself out of the Middle Child Syndrome.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with creativity. It, nonetheless, may have little to do with work. Here is what you can do in the meantime to get over your MCS:


As long as your own work is not in peril, it may be best to “act like it’s not happening.” Depending on the hierarchy in your company, your boss and co-workers might not be ready to bask in the light of your sunny ingenuity. Don’t let that stop you from being your wonderful, creative self.

Keep coming up with new ideas – they’ll be useful.

Tone it down

Are you running down your boss (mercilessly) to get your point across? For example, its’ 8:05 a.m., you and your boss are at the Flavia machine and you hound her with all your “great” ideas for getting involved with social media.

Your boss is a 57 year old Baby Boomer who thinks Facebook is stupid. And, the last thing she wants to hear (for the 8th time) is you cheerleading for blogging, twittering or whatever else.

You have to dole your creativity out in small doses. Don’t stampede people with it – spoon feed instead.

Don’t Whine

“No one listens to me – and I have really great stuff to say!” Ugh. That’s one way to alienate everyone in the office. Don’t (openly) complain about how you are not getting the attention you think you deserve.

Be open and cheery. Whining is a major turn off. Who wants to talk to a whiny (Gen Y) brat?

Find a connector

This is especially helpful for women in predominantly male environments. Gender differences in communication (and creativity) will always exist. Therefore, if you have someone who can help support your innovation, it most certainly can’t hurt. Recognize that nothing gets done alone.

Find an evangelist for your ideas.

If that fails, connect with someone who can help you do the following:

  • Tweak your ideas so that they can better fit with the personality and goals of the company
  • Better address the priorities of the company or department
  • Target you towards existing projects that need a fresh jolt of energy and creativity


Sometimes, the frictions are more personal than professional. It can be hard to fit into a new environment and doubly difficult when the chemistry is off kilter. There are ways to fix this, but it takes time. Spend your time being likeable and dependable, implementing creativity will surely follow.

Good ideas and plans don’t expire, so don’t rush yourself.

What do you think of MCS? Do you think there is more to MCS than just having your ideas ignored?

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rubber-band1There’s loads of talk about having a personal brand, specializing and niches. But, why just have a brand? What’s the point of a niche when the blogosphere is teeming with others talking about the exact same thing you are talking about?

Stretching yourself means reshaping your topic. I means connecting the unexpected and making something unheard of out it. It’s not as intriguing to talk about marketing to Gen Y when all you’re doing is talking about what that marketing means to other marketers. Reshape your topic to the point that it’s unrecognizable. Marketing doesn’t look like marketing anymore because you managed to link sex in movies to Gen Y women buying more clothes. It’s a stretch, but the real creativity is finding the points that link such a concept.

You don’t need to know what links you’ll create when you’re stretching because that’s the whole idea. The stretching creates the points. The point is the new ideas you come up with.

So, be a stretch. Why be an engineer who only talks about engineering when you can talk about the comedy of engineering mistakes? That’s a stretch because most engineers aren’t funny (with the exception of my boyfriend). Make something not normally humorous funny. Provide information to your readers that requires you to be engaging.

Why have a blog about career advice when you can advise people on how not to work instead? That’s a stretch because career advice doesn’t advocate that you don’t try to work. Being a stretch forces you to think about your topic in new ways that are not readily apparent to the average eye.

And if you are careful, you’ll learn something. You’ll bring your readers to more than just the edge of an topic. You’ll have stretched it into something new altogether.

What an enlightening idea, indeed.

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