Test-Drive Your Dream Career

Whether you’re considering the possibility of retirement and starting a second career or maybe burned out in your current job and desperate to get out, you might be deterred by the potential problems involved in jumping into a new career. What if it fails miserably? For at least some people, there might be a way to test-drive that dream with minimum down-side risk.

The article that caught my attention today is “Test-Driving Your Dream Job” by David Ferrell. It’s an interesting read even if you’re not considering a career change.

How to Test-Drive Your Dream Career

A man named Brian Kurth came up with the idea of a company called VocationVacations because “he had a hard time finding a way to explore new fields and see what he liked while still working a day job” that he was seriously burned out with. His vocational mentors provide the Reader’s Digest condensed version of career exposure in fields that cover a diverse range, including archaeologist, makeup artist, and white-water rafting guide.

You don’t have to know anything about the career you’re dreaming about. You pay a fee for one to three days of up-close observation in the location where the mentor is based, plus the costs of your travel and accommodations. During that time, you’re exposed to critical elements of the career and have a chance to ground your fantasy in reality.

Avoid Career Missteps with a Test Drive

Not everyone will decide the dreamed-of new career is a right choice. You might be considering, as one person did, becoming a bed-and-breakfast owner. She knew it would be basically a 24×7 life and wasn’t discouraged, but if that field was your dream, you might find the demands of it more than you bargained for. Having to cater to the expectations of difficult guests could be just one of several drawbacks.

In most cases, too, you might not want to leap into the new career after the relatively brief observation, although it has been done (and successfully). As the article notes, “More typically, people take well over a year or two to prepare. The brief mentorships are just one aspect of the long learning process, and clients are just as successful if they can rule out a career change that would be unwise for them.”

Is an Onsite Career Test-Drive the Only Option?

Kurth published a book titled Test-Drive Your Dream Job: A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding And Creating The Work You Love. The reviews on Amazon are basically positive, with one partially negative review indicating that the person found the book overly simplistic and felt it romanticized small-business ownership. In any case, you might find the book worth reading, even if it only gives you some ideas about where to start your own new-career exploration.

Mind you, I think the concept of finding a way to try out a new career doesn’t have to be limited to people who want to own a business. I don’t see any reason you couldn’t come up with a plan that would allow you to check out a dream career possibility–a try-it-before-you-buy-it approach–and get a sense of whether it’s a good option for you to consider. Maybe you can find someone who does what you’re thinking about doing and persuade the individual to let you “shadow” him/her for a short time, have a heart-to-heart talk about what it takes to succeed in that field, and so on. Obviously, you couldn’t ask for a great deal of time, especially not for free, but if you’re resourceful, respectful and determined, you might achieve a workable approach that will help you avoid a “frying pan into the fire” career disaster.


Are You a Career Management Decider or Drifter?

As some of you might know by now, I like to take articles I find that aren’t necessarily written with job seekers and career management individuals in mind and turn the concept around to their advantage. That’s the case with an article I read recently by Nick Tasler, called “Are You Hiring Deciders, or Drifters?” Tasler’s article was published on ere.net and addressed to recruiters/HR professionals, but its points are worth noting for job seekers and others committed to managing their careers effectively.

Core Self-Evaluation as a Decider Advantage

Tasler talks about research by a well-known industrial psychologist named Timothy Judge, who came up with the concept of core self-evaluation as a kind of super trait that “is a person’s fundamental bottom line evaluation of their abilities. That self-evaluation has an enormous impact on their job performance.”

How enormous? Judge led a team that tracked 12,000+ people from teenaged years to middle age and found that they could use core self-evaluations to predict who did and didn’t make the most of the advantages their life offered. The upshot was that people you might think would have had a leg up on the competition–bright individuals, with well-educated and successful parents, for example–didn’t reach the income levels of classmates who didn’t have those advantages.

Here’s the kicker, according to Tasler: “…the supremely confident sons and daughters of roofers and plumbers who had only mediocre SAT scores and below average grades earned a 30%-60% higher income than the smart kids with dreary views of their abilities. And those kids with all the advantages…plus a firm belief in their competence earned three times as much money as their equally blessed peers.”

The Difference between Deciders and Drifters

Tasler labels people who have a high core self-evaluation as “Deciders,” who “…have such a firmly rooted belief in their ability to shape the events more than events shape them, that they aren’t afraid to make decisions.” He goes on to state that their lack of fear in decision making provides an increasingly huge advantage over less fearless individuals as they go through life.

Drifters, on the other hand, “drift through each day deferring decisions” to others–bosses, colleagues, and so on. They don’t make many decisions, which might mean they make fewer overt mistakes, but it also means they get very little practice in decision making and taking charge of their actions.

So are You a Career Management Decider or Drifter?

As Tasler notes in his article, Judge came up with a “Core Self-Evaluations Scale” that lists the following 4 qualities you can expect to find in yourself if you’re a Decider:

  • Self-efficacy (believes he/she can overcome challenges in many areas of life)
  • Internal locus of control (takes control of his/her work, rather than trying to place blame on outside factors)
  • Confidence not narcissism (not “in love with” himself/herself and able to help teammates when needed, etc.)
  • Emotional stability (not easily discouraged and more resistant to stress and burnout)

It appears that Deciders more often take action to make things happen, whereas Drifters mostly just let things happen to them and try to cope with the result. While some people might argue that you don’t have much choice in which one you are, I don’t agree. Deciders might in some cases be born with that inclination, but I believe it’s equally likely that you can cultivate the outlook and habits of a Decider, even if your natural inclination is to be a Drifter. The probable benefits of doing so seem very attractive–well worth pursuing.


Employer Access to Your Social Media

The big explosion of concern and outrage over reports some employers have been “requesting” (more like demanding) that job seekers provide their Facebook password has led to several states considering legislation to make the practice illegal. Even if these laws–and more like them–actually pass, they might not protect your privacy as much as you think. A short article by Gloria Goodale, “Give me your password,” explains why this might be the case (The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, April 23, 2012).

Why Withholding Your Facebook Password Might Not Help

According to the article, “there are many ways to get information from applicants’ social media without demanding their passwords” (a statement made by Kabrina Krebel Chang, an assistant professor at Boston University.) What are some of those ways? For starters, suppose some of your friends of friends of friends…are connected to, even working at, companies where you are applying and interviewing. There’s apparently nothing to stop those people from giving the company access to your Facebook page. Chang also points out that if there aren’t direct Facebook friends, you might be a friend of other pages or have liked other pages that will give people access to information about you.

Other Routes Employers Might Take to Get Your Info

Charles Palmer, executive director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University, is quoted in the article as saying that “human resources departments will simply switch to sending ‘friend requests’ to applicants….It’s a little less overt and completely legal….” Of course, if you receive such a request, you’re free to ignore or decline to accept it. However, it’s nearly impossible to predict the effect this might have on your candidacy at that company.

Ongoing Awareness of Your Social Media Presence is Crucial

As I’ve said before, you need to be alert to what you are posting on social media sites, what you are commenting on (and how), and a host of other considerations related to your online/social media presence. That’s true whether or not you’re engaged in a job search at this moment. Basically, anything you post/share online could somehow become public knowledge, whether you know it or not. You can’t rely on legislation to protect you and prevent employers from mining your “private” online interactions. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility. Yes, you can maintain restricted-access settings for your Facebook and other accounts, but under certain circumstances that might be inadequate. Better still, of course, you can refrain from posting/commenting anything anywhere that you wouldn’t want to have come back on you. If you’ve taken these basic steps, the rest might be “in the lap of the gods.” Full control or protection is probably an unattainable goal.


Should You Write Your Own Resume?

First, I should state that as a professional resume writer, I could be considered biased. After all, if everyone wrote his or her own resume, people like me would be looking for another way to make a living. That would be a shame, because I love what I do–love working with clients to help them market themselves to employers effectively and love seeing or hearing their reaction when they get positive results. Having said that, I’m going to touch on three points that are often brought up by people who advise job seekers to do their own resumes.

#1: You Know Yourself Best–Write Your Own Resume

Claim: “You should write your own resume because no one else knows you the way you know yourself.”

The implication is that you have the best inside information and an outsider couldn’t possibly get to know you well enough to represent you effectively in a resume.

Fact: While it’s true that you probably know yourself in many ways better than someone else would or could, writing your resume requires understanding what’s needed to present you as a desirable candidate to employers. It can be very helpful to have someone who has a sense of perspective and isn’t so close to the situation–someone who also makes an effort to keep up on the job market trends and opportunities, challenges, etc.

#2: You Don’t Need Someone Else to Write Your Resume

Claim: “You can do at least a good job as the people who are representing themselves as professional resume writers. It’s not that hard to write a resume.”

Fact: Not everyone is a good writer, and you might be one of those not-so-great writers when it comes to doing your own resume. How good are your general writing skills, and how much do you know about the difference between resume writing and other kinds of writing? I used to teach English, but that wouldn’t necessarily make me a good resume writer. I’ve taken a lot of training from experts and maintain active involvement in professional associations to help me stay on top of things in my profession. Do you have the time, money and desire to do that?

#3: You’ll Be Wasting Your Money Hiring a Resume Writer

Claim: “Professional resume writers charge a lot of money and don’t do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself.” That’s one common claim. There’s also often the underlying, if not actually stated, view that resume writers as a whole are just out to get people’s money and don’t really provide any value in return.

Fact: Resume writing is like most, if not all, professions–the quality of people engaged in it can vary from charlatans to part-time hobbyists to highly skilled professionals to seriously great resume writers. I like to think of myself as belonging in the highly skilled category, but I aspire to join the seriously-great category one of these days. The people I know who are already in it are my mentors and my inspiration because they work amazingly hard to make sure they deliver the highest-quality results for their clients and have established very successful careers doing that. As if that weren’t enough, they give back to our profession in incredibly generous ways.

What does this mean to you? By all means write your own resume if you’re sure you can do justice to it and know how best to use it once you have it finished. No truly professional resume writer would urge you to do otherwise. However, if you’re not sure how well you can do it or if you try and it’s not producing the results it should, at least consider having help from a professional. Then choose one wisely.

P.S. If I can’t help someone who contacts me, for whatever reason (maybe he/she can’t afford me or we’re just not a good fit to work together), I will try to refer that person to someone who can.


5 Problems to Avoid in a Confidential Job Search

Conducting a confidential job search means doing it without letting your current employer know. In other words, you need to protect the confidentiality of your search until you have accepted a formal offer from an employer and are ready to give notice at your present company. However, numerous mistakes can trip up an incautious job seeker. Pitfalls certainly include some outside your control, but you can greatly improve the chances of avoiding disaster by paying close attention to the others.

Problems to Avoid in Your Confidential Job Search

  1. “Walls have ears!” Sound carries in open cubicle arrangements, so you can’t assume it’s safe to talk normally, even if no one is actually in the cubicles closest to you. Even a private office isn’t the complete answer, because closing your door without a reason that people will consider normal can raise a red flag in their minds.
  2. Posting your resume online or distributing it through an outside service can be problematic. Some job boards will allow you to remove or replace your personal information, and if you’re using a distribution service, you may be able to indicate that your current employer is not to receive the resume. However, most online boards and other services will not guarantee confidentiality, so you need to use them with caution.
  3. Discussion of your plans with co-workers, even if they’re also looking, carries a big risk. They might get upset with you over something and let your boss know what you’re up to or they might just be unable to maintain a discreet silence about your confidential activity, no matter how much you trust them. One incautious remark might be all it takes.
  4. Sending or receiving messages related to your job search while at work should be avoided if at all possible. Your voice mail and email are accessible to your employer, and they don’t have to ask your permission. Also, even if, for example, you erase your email messages as soon as you read them, technical support people can retrieve them. People can be—and have been—fired for this type of activity. It’s more than simply a question of being caught, of course. Ethical issues arise in connection with it.
  5. Ethical considerations also come up if you’re using company resources of any kind to help find your next job—even if you confine your activity to breaks and lunch. Not only can your current employer penalize you if they find out, but also prospective employers may wonder about your ethics if you’re conducting your search using employer resources. One valid exception is when your employer knows you’re looking and has authorized the use.

Bonus Confidential Job Search Tip

And here’s one more problem and related tip: Identifying people to use for professional references in a confidential job search can present numerous challenges. This is especially true, for instance, if you’ve been with one company for years. Asking people who are still there is a definite recipe for disaster. One possible solution is to maintain contact with people who have left the company that you believe would provide good references. That way you have some viable possibilities without rocking the boat at your current employer.

How Can You Safely Navigate the Minefield of a Confidential Job Search?

Start by identifying all the resources you can legitimately use that don’t involve your employer’s time or money. Then take a careful look at the people who need to know all (or at least part) of your plans, including family members and potential references, and make sure they understand the need for discretion. While 100% confidentiality may be unattainable, these steps can go a long way toward enabling you to conduct the search successfully.


When Social Media Backfires

We all know the stories about people who’ve done less than brilliant things like posting revealing party videos on YouTube or way too much personal information on Facebook and had it come back to haunt them when they needed to do a job search or even after they’ve gotten a new job. The upside of that is that if you refrain from such dumb stunts, you shouldn’t have to be embarrassed or suffer damage to your career from those sources. However, I’ve just read an article called “What does social media gone bad look like?” The story the writer, Dean Da Costa, tells is enough to send innocent people running for cover!

Social Media can be Used Carelessly by Recruiters

In Da Costa’s article, he describes a friend who was highly qualified and should have easily landed the job he was interviewing for but was rejected with the statement that he wasn’t a good fit for the company. Da Costa investigated because he was curious about what had happened and got some information from a person he knew in the HR department at the company. It turned out that a recruiter at the company had contacted LinkedIn members who had worked at the same company and came across one who seriously bad-mouthed the job seeker. The bad-mouthing, as it happens, was a big lie by someone who had been fired for stealing and lying at work and had an axe to grind because the job seeker was involved in the case against him. Didn’t matter that it wasn’t true. The recruiter didn’t make any effort to verify what he was told.

Could this kind of nightmare experience happen to you? We’d all like to think, no way! But I’ll bet Da Costa’s friend would have said the same before it happened to him. The article was primarily a cautionary tale for recruiters and others involved in the hiring process, but what caught my attention about it was the damage it had done to that job seeker’s employment opportunity. Hopefully, it didn’t continue to hit him during subsequent opportunities he pursued, but the risk is there.

Can You Prevent or Minimize the Risk of Social Media Backfiring?

The short answer, unfortunately, is probably not. How can you possibly anticipate all the potential disasters that might strike when you haven’t done anything that deserved them? Assuming you’ve conducted yourself as a true professional in your career activities and given your previous and current employers full value (or more) in exchange for your salary, it’s fair to say you’ve done as much as most people would expect you to do. If you’ve also been selective about the people you connect with on LinkedIn or other sites, you’ve also done what you can to provide a sound foundation for your online reputation. What you can’t really do is control the behavior of people outside your sphere of influence.

If you do run into a situation that seems as out-of-kilter as Da Costa’s friend, you might want to see if you know someone who can help you gather intelligence to clarify what happened, the way he did. Companies aren’t likely to provide you with a direct and helpful answer, because they’re afraid of lawsuits or other repercussions, but sometimes people can find a way to unearth at least partial answers.


Talent Retention vs. Baby Boomer Retirements–Why You Should Care

Two separate articles on the RecruitingTrends web site today (April 11) touch on different aspects of the same topic, and it’s something you might want or need to pay attention to–regardless of your age or career situation. Basically it seems that job market improvements are causing difficulties and concerns for employers who fear losing key employees; at the same time, massive numbers of baby boomers have started retiring, a trend that’s expected to continue and maybe even accelerate over time. This could potentially mean better/more opportunities for you going forward, depending on your career field, industry, and so on.

Talent Retention Issues and Employer Actions

According to one of the articles, “2 Out of 3 Companies Trying to Retain Talent,” two-thirds of employers are starting to implement programs to retain as many of their most talented workers as they can (source: an OI Partners’ survey). Here are some of the stats reported by the survey:

  • 90% concerned about high-potential employees
  • 72% worried about front-line workers (sales and service)
  • 60% apprehensive about middle managers
  • 45% uneasy about senior-level executives

The article quotes OI Partners’ chair, Steve Ford, as saying that “companies are most concerned about losing employees who they have designated as their future leaders and those who directly work with customers. Job opportunities have already increased for these levels of workers….”

What does this mean for you? If you’re in one of the following careers or occupational fields, you might be particularly marketable and attractive to companies that are looking to hire: operations and production; sales and marketing; customer service; accounting and finance; information services.

Possible Impact of Baby Boomer Retirements

The second article, “SHRM-AARP Poll Shows Organizations are Concerned about Boomer Retirements and Skills Gaps,” mentions Pew Research Center data indicating that over the next 20 years or so, baby boomers will retire at the rate of 10,000 per day! In spite of this fact, about 71% of the companies polled by SHRM/AARP haven’t yet begun serious strategic planning assessment to study the impact they could face from losing employees 50 and older so they can try to figure out what to do about it.

Is your current company doing anything to help prepare? If you’re targeting other companies for your next job, do they have any plans or programs in place? These are potentially significant questions for you to be asking. Preparations could include “increased training (45%); developed succession planning (38%); hired retired employees as consultants or temporary workers (30%); offered flexible work arrangements (27%); and designed part-time positions to attract older workers (24%).”

Talent Retention and Baby Boomer Retirements: What the Future Holds

Those of you who are old enough will remember the following quote from a cartoon character: “We have met the enemy and they are us!” (Walt Kelly, Pogo, 1971) One way of interpreting this is that we can be our own worst enemies. Sometimes that’s because we don’t plan for the future or make plans and don’t take the steps necessary to carry them out. Companies are, after all, made up of individuals, so they’re at least as fallible in this regard as an individual might be. If the talent retention and baby boomer retirement situation gives you an opportunity to enhance your own employment or career situation, make sure you’re ready to take advantage of it.