Networking For More Than a Job: The External Benefits of Networking

December 6, 2010

We all know that one of the best strategies for finding work is to network. Talking with employers of a company or organization you’d want to work for, staff members who can tell you the inside scoop and maybe put in a good word for you, or friends of friends who are connected to a potential employer, are great ways to get your goals recognized. There are many possible topics for discussion, but its most important to converse about what the company is doing, what its needs are, and what you can offer.

Start Talking

What I find most fascinating is what occurs when a professional conversation goes off on a tangent. The results can be extremely beneficial and may take you in a direction you never imagined. For example, let’s say you set up a meeting with someone who works for an international non-profit organization and you happen to wear a piece of jewelry that you got while traveling in South America. Your contact notices and comments, drawing you into a discussion of your mutual travels and interest in Latin American culture. And, specifically your love for bossa nova, a seductive style of Brazilian jazz. Before you know it, you’re offered a discounted ticket to an upcoming concert.

Let’s take it a step further. You go to the event, and start talking to the woman sitting next to you, who also happens to be job hunting. She tells you about a Portuguese language class she’s taking. This reminds you that you’ve been thinking about improving your language skills, and you get inspired to sign up for a similar class. After a few weeks of
practicing those nasal vowel sounds and laughing about it with your classmates, you go out for coffee with one of your fellow students. Soon, you’re dating someone, and even practicing your Portuguese outside of class. You didn’t even need to use Match.com. What a relief!

By following the networking trail with people about a variety of subjects that are not job-related, you might just end up with a new job. Or, if this scenario sounds too good to be true, let’s change it and
forget about finding that job. You’ve still had a good time at the concert, you’re learning Portuguese, and you’ve found someone to hang out with. The point is, that you never know where networking can take you.

Gain Self-Esteem

Beyond finding love or engaging in new activities, there are many other many benefits of networking aside from finding a job. One of the ones that I find most compelling is self- esteem. When you’re not working, you often find yourself sitting at home much of the day, feeling like you should be producing, designing, serving, managing, facilitating – or any of those words you’re told to put on resume. But, you’re not. Nor are you shooting the breeze with your co-workers. In these circumstances, it’s easy to feel isolated and even depressed, especially when you’ve become discouraged about your joblessness. In reaching out, whether you’re communicating with people in your occupational world or just with others with similar interests, you rise to the occasion. You make connection and re-encounter your self-worth. As your esteem grows, you become happier and more attractive to everyone around you, including potential employers.

Learn Something

Finally, let’s look at how networking can act like an encyclopedia. Or maybe I should say Google, since when was the last time you actually picked up one of the many-volumed tomes? In any case, when you make contact with other professionals, you may learn not only what they’re doing, but also what other organizations are doing. Or, your contact mentions a new study, a recent technology that’s come out, a company that you’ve never heard of but that interests you.

Who knows where the journey will take you, but what you do know is that networking can open any number of doors. Interacting with others and being open-minded to their suggestion, will provide you with opportunities that may lead to a better quality of life.

by Brendan Cruickshank (Vice President of Client Services)
Brendan is a veteran of the online job search and recruiting industry, having spent the past 8 years in senior client services roles with major sites like Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. He is quoted regularly as an expert in employment and job trends in major media outlets like the Washington Post, US News & World Report, and Forbes and has spoken at recruiting industry events such as Onrec and Kennedy Information’s Corporate Recruiting Conference.

Operation Employment

October 15, 2010

by John Durfee

Though I now work in a great office at Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft guns, it took a strategic search to find this position and I am often dismayed at the struggles of my friends who are on the hunt. Seeing their constant disdain, I reflected on the primary differences between my search and theirs and came to the realization that I instinctively approached the process using war tactics. I have a favorite book, The Art of War in which Sun Tzu said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt” and my strategy was relying on this concept. I know you are probably thinking that the employer is not the enemy and you are right – but unemployment is!

The reality is that if you face unemployment as an enemy to be vanquished, then employers are your allies and you must strategically create those alliances.

Recently, I called a couple friends together to give a more tangible explanation of this through an afternoon playing Airsoft. After several hours of shooting at one another, and with adrenaline running high, I presented my solution and suggested they approach their job search with the same uninhibited determination and simply “kill” unemployment. I have to say it was well received and my two closest friends have had more promising interviews in the last month than the three months previous. Here are a few lessons from the battlefield that can be applied to the job field.

Plan the Attack

Sun Tzu said, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.” You must be prepared, not only in the way you dress and act but in your knowledge of the company you’re applying to. If it’s a public company they should have earnings reports and information online. You should also have a good idea of the “camouflage” of that job. If it’s a construction job, you should look presentable but probably should not show up in suit and tie. You should show up in a crisp white button down, sleeves rolled, timberlands and blue jeans: clean but appropriate. By taking the time to understand the company and how you are most equipped, you can create an executable plan just as any general would before launching an attack.

Know the Battlefield

For my interview with Airsplat, I came clean shaven, wearing a button down shirt with a military style jacket. I also brought some of my custom made airsoft guns to show that I had extensive knowledge of the history and mechanical workings of airsoft guns as well as real guns from my military training. I basically showed the company it made sense to hire me. I was prepared and when I entered the “battlefield” I brought only the useful skills and equipment.

You could say my job is a perfect fit. I’ve been an avid airsoft player for the past 10 years, so when I was invited to interview with an airsoft company, it seemed meant to be. I’m not advocating trying to convince the employer that you’re ‘the chosen one,’ but you should articulate why you make sense for the position and what you provide in terms of skills and value.

Don’t wait for perfection

Some people struggle more than others in finding a job; often they have been offered jobs, but haven’t found exactly what they are looking for. Sun Tzu says, “There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.” In airsoft that means you don’t wait for the target to come to you in order to create the perfect shot. You must be proactive and take action so that a shot will open up. In terms of employment this means not waiting until you find a position that satisfies all your requirements. Know yourself, know your limits, and if it’s acceptable, take the job and work hard at it, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” By taking an acceptable job instead of waiting for the ‘perfect job’, you are giving yourself more opportunities. You can still search for better jobs, while making money and leveraging your hard work to advance within that company. Action leads only to benefits.

I never thought airsoft could be a means to finding a job, but I think it reminded my friends that if they could find determination and confidence on an airsoft field, they can certainly muster the same measure in searching for employment. It’s also beneficial to take a break from the constant job search, because all the loose ends and failed leads can be disheartening.

John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and the marketing manager for Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

Job Advice? Net versus Reality. Who ya got?

July 22, 2010

All too often in these days of utter economic gloom, the college degree
meaningless and the corner “spare some change man?” guy’s job looking
better and better…we get a lot of quick, cheesy short lists from so called
career experts. Sites like Yahoo finance, AP news, Forbes, etc. Here are
some titles you have probably enjoyed: Top Ten Careers Not Downsizing.
Cities Weathering the Recession. $100k Jobs without a College Degree. All
promise employment bliss, if you can just quit your current 20-something
life, move and erase everything you ever did and start again. Not exactly
a Quarter Life option.

Not gonna happen, not likely and not reality.

Then again…

So, I thought to put together a cliche top ten list of careers that are
totally, utterly going to need big time numbers, pay well and not laying
off for the next 50 years.

Tattoo Removal Surgery Tech – Lots of people are going to need, “I love La
Cretia” removed when they marry “Michelle” and Michelle will need her
tramp stamp removed so she can get the wedding dress she always
wanted. And hubby will need to get that promotion, so the little “I
pretended I was a gangsta” tattoo he got at Boulder Community College
will need to come off. And the Black and Decker sand-belter is just not
going to be covered by Obama health care.

Techie – Some of these magical nerds are your company computer guys with
Cheetos stained fingers and lord over you as if his World of Warcraft
fantasy extended over the whole office floor. Others are big time main
framers who decide the fates of billions of dollars and many smaller
developing nations. Ergo, you will always have a job, because idiots like
me only understand control-alt-delete.

Manga Cartoonist – Hey it‘s not just a Japanese marketing gizmo. This
pseudo porn artwork and the male fetish for school girl panty heroines
makes this a solid bet if you have a penchant for the Quarter Life
artistic.

Holodeck Programmer – They do not exist yet. But when they do…wham! You
thought porn, the X-Files and South Park drove the internet in the 90’s!
The 2000’s were about Facebook and YouTube? The 21st tweens are all
holograms baby! Of course you will be one of the many causes for the fall
of humanity, but so has any person who ever blogged.

Artificial Food Additive Taster – Despite the organic, green, eco-fad,
people found out that the real taste of strawberry is not the wow factor
one gets from an ultra X-treme Flava Crystal Jolly Rancher with edible
habanera, cilantro mango chutney wrapper. Dow Industries is back in the
driver’s seat again, coming up with simple cancer causing formulas to help
deal with the reality that nature is just not that good tasting. Your QL
demographic taste buds are just what’s needed in this once again thriving
industry.

Sanitation Engineer – Not sure if I like the PC term for that. ¼ Lifers are
trash makers. Sure they recycle, but someone still has to pick and sort
that crap. The stuff keeps coming, is piling up and you can be there to
get it done. Did you know that a waste disposal expert…garbage man, in NYC
gets paid $70k per year? Think about that the next time you throw the
Dasani bottle in the recycle bin.

Marketing Chicks – Not just the realm of girls with speech communications
degrees anymore. But, with the influx of males with useless degrees there
was a glut in the market of warm bodies taking up cubicle room playing
solitaire, texting and IMing each other the latest OMG gossip or Fantasy
Football stats. Since companies cut way back on these drones in
2007-9, they now need them back. And it turns out that the ladies are
much better at these Power Point presenting, PR decision, meeting making,
lunch attending jobs than males. So dust off those Anne Taylor pant suits
ladies…ya’ll are back!

Soldiers – You’ve seen the world today. Ya think this time honored
profession is going away anytime soon? After the oldest profession in the
world, prostitution, this one is next and probably provides a sizable
portion of the income/market share of the former. And yes, for the ¼
dudes out there. You should have already signed up for Selective
Service…it’s the law. But, the draft scare for a quarter lifer draft ends
at 28. Ladies…knock yourselves out. Be All You Can Be, Army of One, The
Few, The Proud, AccelerateYour Life…visit new places, meet new people and
then kill them. Plus the medical and dental…three square a day is a lot
better than lots of places.

Internet List Maker – Duh.

Guest Star Appearance on the Simpsons – Of course for this one, you have
to become a flash in the pan star or have so much camp value like Betty
White. So this is sort of a long term project, but I think it is good to
have big goals. And we know the Simpsons are not going away, no matter how
long it stays in the rut of stale, boring and not funny.

There ya have it. Money, career satisfaction and job security can be all
yours. No go get out of your pajamas and make it happen!

A Quarterlifer Abroad Part 3: A Costa Rica Love Story

April 8, 2010

One of our writers, Alli Whalen, is teaching English in Costa Rica for a few months. Check back in for her updates on living a quarterlife abroad.

We stood behind the gates of the school in the dark, hoping we wouldn’t be seen. I had called my colleague over to come and watch as soon as I heard the singing and saw the procession moving toward us in the distance. It’s Holy Week, or Semana de Santa, here in Costa Rica and I was witnessing something altogether new to me, and I knew it was going to be beautiful. A group of 80 people or so walked slowly down a side street in the Guardia community where I teach Tuesday and Thursday evenings. They moved with gentle purpose as they came closer and closer, and I feared they would enter the school yard and find us standing there, dumbfounded, being the gringos that we were. Instead, they kept walking past the school toward a small altar table the other teacher and I had noticed on our way to class.

Sleepy-looking toddlers were held by their parents, who walked among other members of their community. There were teenagers and the elderly, all singing something beautiful. I didn’t even mind that I couldn’t translate the lyrics – I wouldn’t have wanted to lose that original moment. They passed us like a blue whale would pass a lifeboat: ominously but peacefully, posing no threat. A few minutes later they walked back, singing more softly but staying together. I was mellowed and moved by the experience: the beautiful unknown. Later, Carmen, the ONLY student who showed up to class that day (Semana de Santa is the equivalent of Easter holidays) explained that there were seven stations or events, like the one we had just witnessed, that the community would attend for the religious holiday. We didn’t have much of a class that night considering only one student showed up, but I felt so lucky to have been there to see the quiet, raw grace of those Guardians coming together.

Organized religion has not been imposing here, despite its popularity. Jesus appears on the backs of busses, students’ notebooks, signs (I saw one rather confusing sign saying the Spanish equivalent of “Jesus is my homeboy” above a watermelon stand – interesting marketing technique), in music and of course in the church I pass by each day. Here, Christianity is part of life, but it doesn’t seem to set the rules; religion is equivalent to family dinner or going to school – it brings people together in a positive, peaceful way.

Like most holidays, people visit family and do things together, like go to the beach or out to eat. Our teaching life has slowed down as a result of this, and also because we are doing a grand switchover: alas, the teachers who have been here for the past five weeks are departing, and a new batch have arrived. While I will be staying here for another month, I have passed the torch on to several new teachers who will be taking over my classes.

It was a very tough decision to figure out if I wanted to spend another “semester” teaching, or if I wanted to dedicate more time to running the volunteer teaching program with my boyfriend, and to supervise classes and support the teachers. I chose the latter, because it seemed to be the best of all worlds, but I still miss my students so much! When I broke the news to my Guardia class, they actually froze, their expressions shocked and appalled: they didn’t want me to go! They immediately told me they didn’t want a new teacher, whined that they wanted me to stay and didn’t move when I told them class was dismissed. They stayed late to gather around my desk and asked me to sign their backpacks and take pictures. I felt like someone famous as I wrote my name in whiteboard marker on the fabric of their bags – they liked me, they really liked me! One of my favorite students (yes, I have favorites – I try not to show it but some of them blow me away with their enthusiasm for taking part in class, and their respect for learning), Carlos, contradicted me when I said I was Canadian. “Soy Canadiense!” I exclaimed. He shook his head and I thought he didn’t understand; I came up to his desk and he looked up at me smiling and said quietly, “No. YOU are Costa Rican.” Well. I wanted to cry and fly at the same time. Many of the other teachers were given gifts and food by their students as going away presents, but I wouldn’t trade the high honour that was bestowed upon me for any physical object. Unfortunately, a local teen’s approval doesn’t get me official dual citizenship! Still, I would do those five weeks over again if it meant holding on to that unique feeling of acceptance and appreciation.

It’s funny – I’ve been thinking about how I will be staying here for another whole month; what I haven’t been thinking about until recently was how much I don’t want to have to pack up my bags and leave this place. I remember, near the end of our first week here, that I felt I was falling for Costa Rica. It wasn’t too serious then, but I felt that we had a strong connection. Well, sucks to your asthmar, old me! I am in love with this town, with this unique landscape and its smiling people. I love seeing the friendly guy at the local grocer learn to say “watermelon” and “pineapple” when we come to buy fruit. I love that the woman leaning against the counter at the fried chicken place was patient and grinned the most gorgeous smile as we hummed and hawed over our order. I love that the colour and salinity of each beach here is a little different. I love the quesadillas and batidos at the Panama Beach Club, and the sign that says “It’s beer-thirty” even though it’s cheesy. I love the amazing cotton dresses from the little pink shop in Coco that smells like rainforest leaves. I love the man with the fu-man-chu mustache and no bottom teeth who is the ringleader of the crazy taxi vendors who stand outside the airport, yelling at the shell-shocked, newly arrived tourists like the paparazzi on Oscar night. I love the guys who bike around selling chilled coconuts in a cooler, hacking a drinking hole in the giant seed with a machete so you can drink the sweet water inside. I especially love the puppy who is snoozing beside me, settling nicely into her temporary, new home (it’s a big change from the classroom she was found in, emaciated and shivering). I even love the sand on the floor, on my feet, in my swimsuit, in my mouth (gotta love that telltale crunch after a day of sunbathing) in my hair, on the roads, and of course on the breathtaking beaches. Quarterlife, midlife or any-part-of-life, try stepping outside the box and doing something like this, whether you’re travelling, teaching, writing or just taking it all in.

Last night, a bunch of us swam in the new neighourhood pool that has finally been filled, and afterward played movie trivia games and drank homemade pina coladas. The moon was full and had a wide, white ring around it. I know it’s supposed to mean something, but I couldn’t remember what. I think I’ll put my money on a sign of good times had, and good times to come. Pura vida!

Career Exploration

April 5, 2010

Career development while in the Quarter Life phase is an on-going decision, yoga job stretching process…full of trials, tribulations, tragedy and triumph…& that’s just looking for work on Careerbuilder.com.

Jobs…shmobs…blobs…

You need to pay rent. But, you also need to find fulfillment in a career; not just a paycheck. Career preparation is really a search that encourages you to accept individual responsibility for your life. Sounds all adult like don’t it?

I would say there are three stages of career development. It is very familiar theme from your recent alma mater day career center pamphlet:

Your Self-Assessment

Your to-do career examination

You! Going for it!

Your Self-Assessment
Stage one provides an important base for finding your career. As you learn about yourself and about occupations, you become better prepared to make better career choices. Before you begin or ya might have just begun exploring careers and trying to identify jobs which will prove satisfying, you must first develop a true understanding of your self, skills, interests, values, and personality characteristics. You might want to take one of those skills sets psych tests…Myers Briggs and all that.

But, you also might want to just take some serious time to reflect on what drives you, motivates, makes ya happy…and if it will indeed pay the rent. Dr. John Koldus III, former VP of Student Affairs at Texas A&M University once told personally told me, “Jayce. Find something you love that someone else will pay you to do.” Good advice.

¼ Skills
What are my strengths & weaknesses?
What are my most prominent capabilities?
Yes, I can text 65 words a minute, one third prize at Karayoke/Pole Dance Night at the Bronze Club and I occasionally talk down my suicidal roommate. Just means you might be good at writing, table dancing or therapist. All pay good.
What skills do I want to use in a career?
What talents do I need to acquire for a career?

Kid to teen to 1/4 life…Values
What do I seek or value in a career? Out of life?
How must I be challenged and rewarded?
In what type of environment would I be happy?
What are some definite places I would NOT be happy? Funny, it is always most easy to pick out the destinations, careers, people you never want to be associated with.

Interests
What am I interested in doing?
What activities have I enjoyed the most?
What kind of people would I like to work around?
I like finger painting…but not a high paying, in demand kind of career. But, you could go back for an art therapy degree. And that is the way you need to think…you can do anything…just do it smart.

Again, self-Assessment is the first and most important step in career development during the Quarter Life. If you are willing to invest the time and effort, you should be able to use this self-assessment mantra to identify career options that are most appropriate for you.

Whether you are about to graduate or have already made that “mistake.” Oh, come on…like you wouldn’t return in a second. I mean really? You would rather be out there in ground hog cube farms, paying $10 a drink and having no books to sell back for beer money? Okay…your life. Jobs and careers just don’t fall of trees in this economy.

Yet, most college career centers offer several options in terms of resources and services to help you conduct a self-assessment inventory. Stop in or call your career center to schedule an appointment to discuss the process and how they might be able to help.

Friends are a great resource. When they are high or not…amigos can give great insight into areas of your life, YOU just never realized or were too ego-delusional to ponder. Family is a sticky one. Some parentals handle the career path well, others want to live through you, some want just the best, but really do not know the correct route for YOU.

Finally, there is just the go out and try a few jobs. Feedback from experience is the best kind of feedback.

Your to-do career examination
The Career Examination stage is best described as the “information gathering” phase. Essentially, you will gather as much information as you can about potential careers in order to make an educated career decision. “Educated” it the key word here. Never go blind into a career decision. Also, as you go through the lists of potential careers, be open-minded. Don’t discount a career until you have done some research.

Make a Wish List
It is likely that there are several career possibilities you have already thought about, but are not sure of. Make a list of them…no career idea is too small or insignificant or TOO BIG!
• Again, talk with your family & friends and ask them for their ideas for career possibilities.
• Go through the want ads or job listings and e-clip out those that interest you.
• Attend career programs, panels, or seminars to learn about different career fields.
• Surf that old WWW til you just want to find a newspaper and do things the old fashion way.
• Talk to participants at career fairs to find out about their jobs and careers.
• Take a other college or certification course to see if you like it and are good at using new skills.
• Dream big!

Gathering General Information
One place to start your career search is with literature. There is information written about every career field. The information will provide general overviews of career fields giving the types of jobs which are available, working conditions, environments, employment outlooks, qualifications and credentials required. You Bing, Google or Yahoo it…and there will be ten million others doing the same. And that last point is a big one. You are one of 6 billion people…jobs, careers and opportunities are tight…if you find your path, don’t walk, jog or wog…sprint to it!

Gathering First Hand Information
One of the best ways to obtain career information is to talk with someone who is working in the field which you have an interest. An informational interview is an excellent way to gather first-hand information about a particular job. Regardless of what reality television has taught our generation. Most people or not insane assholes. People are more than happy to tell you the good…and especially the bad of a career choice.

You Going For It!
From your research and experiences you should be ready to choose one of the options available to you. If not…that is cool. All in good time. Patience young Jedi. It is OK to pursue several career possibilities at the same time, but ultimately you will choose one over the others (at least for the time being). Many ¼ life types have pursued several career options at one time and then opted for the one that fell into just the right place. The course of action you choose will depend on where you are in terms of “getting to know you and the world.” Good luck!

Remember…the average number of jobs for a Quarter Lifer is 7. Just because you say yes to a cube. Just because you got one pink slip. Just because you made a bad call on salary. Just because you moved to Kansas to be near to the love of your life, who ended up cheating while you were actually driving cross country in the U-Haul! Does not mean that is where you are stuck for life. Careers like significant others, like a dating scene, like friend who come and go, like grade school yearbook photos, change. You are changing big time in the .25 life phase…let your career path do the same!

A life abroad- Costa Rica

March 4, 2010

One of our writers, Alli Whalen, is teaching English in Costa Rica for a few months. Check back in for her updates on living a quarterlife abroad.

I’m sitting on a very comfortable couch with white, overstuffed cushions while eating slices of slippery, fresh mango. The lighting is fairly dim in the early evening, and the jazz music that plays in the background gives the room a very luxurious, classy feel. I am the only one here at the moment, and I am relishing my solitude with the music. It’s more than that though; a gecko ran up the bathroom wall earlier, and there is a bowl on the coffee table filled with local coral and sea shells. The words written on the bowl say it all: Costa Rica, which is where I find myself. What the heck?

Late last night, myself and my partner in all that is quarter-life landed in Liberia, a city that lies within the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica. After a very long day of terminal-jumping, altitude headaches and learning that one should always, always, always pack food to eat on the airplane in case they don’t give you anything, we were feeling pretty worn out. As the plane landed in our final destination, I was relieved but wearily awaiting the ordeal of customs lineups, security checks and lost luggage. How could Continental NOT have lost our luggage after three flights?

I’m glad to say I was wrong. As soon as we climbed down the stairs to the tarmac, the beautiful humidity of a balmy, summery night washed over me. I was delighted to have forgotten about open-air airports – no stuffy, recycled oxygen! And even more to celebrate: we breezed through customs and immigration within ten minutes. Not even the disturbing sight of my shadow – revealing a silhouette of humidity- frizzed hair that resembled a drowned clown wig – could get me down. I still had my doubts about the luggage, but lo and behold, it was calmly awaiting us, all three pieces sitting next to one another. Sheepishly, I grabbed my suitcase and hopped in the car that took us to our new home for the next two and a half months.

You may have guessed at what I’m doing here, which is volunteer-teaching the English language to the local communities in the city of Comunidad (an easy name to remember). Having taken an ESL teaching training course with United TESOL in Ottawa, I had finally made the first move in a process many a twenty-something has considered or experienced: teaching overseas.

A few years have gone by since my first Quarterlives article about the “McJob” – a basic job one is generally overqualified for and does not inspire one’s passion. Well, after recent months of not finding any job, “Mc” or otherwise, I got a little restless. Like so many others, I had toyed with the idea of teaching overseas, educating others and opening my mind to all sorts of new experiences and adventures. It takes guts, though, to hop on a plane and fly many cramped hours through the earth’s atmosphere to land in a place where nobody knows your name, let alone speaks your language. I’ve always wanted to travel more but have been wary of going it alone, far away from my loved ones, comfortable routines and, you know, hot showers and Pavarazzi pizza delivery. But I found myself at a point in my life where the idea of escaping the grey, bone-chilling winter with someone who makes overseas travel not so scary sounded pretty ideal.

A good a time as ever, right? I went through with it: the ultimate, quarterlifer fall-back plan has become my reality.
This brings us full-circle to my fruit-sticky hands mucking up the keyboard of my laptop and reggae Radiohead covers making me feel at home in a new place. For someone who was afraid to travel, I’m finding that I can’t wipe the smile off of my face, and that I’m curiously awaiting my first week of ESL teaching, starting next Monday. Change isn’t always easy, and I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing when I decided to go, but I’m counting all of the lucky pennies I ever picked up and feeling extremely grateful to be here. Wading into the ocean waters off of the Papagayo Peninsula and drinking a chocolate-banana smoothie to cool the intense heat beaming down on Comunidad, I felt a pretty fantastic realization happening: the world is large, and rather than feeling lost in it, I’ve found a surprisingly comfortable place in the role of traveler. So, balls to the wall! Onward and upward! Maybe I’ll change my tune next week when I’m trying to teach verb tense to a bunch of overheated 15-year olds, but for now I think the hardest part is over, and if I can do it, so can you. It’s better than sitting around and waiting for something to happen. Try it if you may find yourself in those old shoes of mine. If nothing else, come on down and pay me a visit; I’ll buy you a mango.
Until next week, pura vida!

Career Therapy: Getting professional help when the going gets tough

March 1, 2010

Intro: Deciding to get therapy

Have you ever considered getting professional help for your quarterlife crisis and general career confusion?  Maybe my personal experience will be helpful to you.  Recently, something at work triggered my search for a therapist who specializes in career counseling.  Partially for the sake of exploration for this blog, and partially because I really think it will be  helpful, I’ve started this “column” to document my experience with the counselor anonymously.

The other day, an event occurred at work that made me loathe my work environment more than usual.  It wasn’t so far from the usual things I deal with, but it was just a bad day that made me reevaluate my purpose at work and where I wanted to go with my career.  Typical stuff.  Granted, I’ve been going through the quarterlife crisis for months now.  In general, I’ve dealt with it quite well because of the resources at my disposal, including this blog, as well as a strong support network.  In any case, for reasons beyond disliking my job, I decided it was time to take real action.

Here’s how I got started.

A very close friend studies psychology and is a practicing therapist.  This friend suggested awhile ago, long before I seriously considered it, to reach out to a professional therapist for career help.  I didn’t take the advice too seriously at first because I thought therapy would be expensive.  When I reconsidered recently, the friend provided references.

I reached out to the therapist that was most highly recommended.  The therapist has a Psy.D. and has practiced for years, with one of her specializations in career guidance.  Again, I was worried about cost.  But here comes the big surprise.  It was news to me that therapy is covered by many health insurance plans.  In fact, after calling mine, it turns out that each session would cost me just $30.  Out-of-pocket, the sessions would have been $150+.  I don’t think I have to point out the obvious irony, but I will: My company’s healthcare plan is helping me figure out my next career steps.  It makes a lot of sense for companies to provide therapeutic support for their employees.  If this works out, it would theoretically make me a more productive worker.  Happily, I booked my first session with Dr. R, who was accommodating enough to schedule me for the next day.

Here’s a few suggestions on how you can get started.

If you’ve done career exploration on your own already, and you feel like you need someone else — a coach, therapist or counselor — to help you sort through all of it, I would encourage giving counseling a try.  Start by looking for a general therapist who specializes in career guidance and life transitions, or look for a specialized office dedicated to career counseling or coaching.  They should be able to provide references or statements from their past clients that will give you a better idea of their background and experience.  If you do not have a friend who can give you personal recommendations as in my case, definitely do your homework.  Compare your options carefully.

Next, if you are on a budget, check to see if your insurance covers it and what the co-pay is.  The therapist should be able to give you a general idea, but only your insurance company can give you a definite answer. Then, book your appointment and give your new counselor a try.  There is no promising that the relationship will work out, so make sure you are comfortable.  My therapist offered the option of a complimentary consultation session the first time.  See if this is the case in your situation.  Once you try it out and find the him/her to be a good fit, then decide whether or not you want this to be an ongoing relationship.

Lastly, I want to point out that going to a counselor/coach/therapist doesn’t mean your personal exploration ends.  Professional help is only a guiding force, and I realize the powers of change are within me and within me alone.

If you decide to give this a try, good luck!

Stay tuned…my next post will focus on the experience of my first session.

Job Searching Sucks….But It Doesn’t Have To!

November 2, 2009

The joy of unemployment is that you have an incredibly wide open schedule in which to accomplish goals. The terror of unemployment is that you have an incredibly wide open schedule in which to push your goals to the side, lay around in your pajamas, eat macaroni and cheese, and watch tv. Battling this issue isn’t a matter of willpower- its a matter of strategy.

When you were in school or working, you had a regular schedule, or at least a group of tasks that needed completed by certain points. Job searching is no different, just more abstract. So first things first. Take some time out and write a schedule- an incredibly detailed schedule. The hardest thing to do when you’re unemployed is to get out of bed and think to yourself “now what?”. Having a schedule gives you something to fall back on. If done well, you never have to worry about what’s next on your plate.

Here is a typical day (Friday, to be exact) from my ‘funemployment’ schedule:

7- wake up, check internet
7:30- eat breakfast
8- work out, shower
9- review job files
10- follow up with jobs
11- read job related book
12- lunch
1- search for new jobs, apply or add to file
4- recap week, plan next week
6- Friday!

I don’t adhere to it strictly (I did sleep in til 8:30 today) but it gives me a guideline on what to accomplish. Many of my days have empty blocks. That enables me to move things around or schedule interviews as they arise. Reevaluating your schedule occasionally is important. If you find you can’t do three hours of job searching, break it up with working out. Maybe waking up early doesn’t do it for you and you decide to work later. That’s fine! Keep checking in with yourself to see what you need in order to find a job and stay sane.

It’s also important to schedule life things and fun things. Now is the perfect time to get some of those things done that you couldn’t while you were working. Get your teeth cleaned, get an oil change, go to the thrift store that is only open on Thursdays from 1-3. Take advantage of your flexible schedule while you can. I also make sure to schedule time to watch my favorite show, update the website, or volunteer. By having those fun things in place, the work looks less daunting and the fun things become rewarding.

I didn’t schedule it, but in that 8-9 block of working out and showering is getting dressed. Just like the schedule, getting dressed is important. If you find yourself with a scheduled day where you’re just going to be working on the internet and getting your resume in order, you still need to put on real clothes. Laying around in your sweats is wonderful- but reserve it for a weekend. It keeps your mind alert to the fact that you’re actually accomplishing things. It also makes the transition back to working easier if you’ve maintained the morning rituals. I don’t wear a suit to work on the internet. Most days are jeans and a sweater, but I am far more prepared when I don’t just roll over in bed, grab the laptop, and start the day (I must confess, I often work in my sock monkey slippers).

For those days when you’re stuck at home, plan an outing. Once you’ve accomplished what you needed to do, get out. Go to the grocery store, the library, walk your dogs, walk yourself, get some ice cream, see a movie- just get out. Nothing starts the downward spiral of depression more than going to bed realizing that you never saw the sun and you haven’t breathed fresh air since last week. Looking for a job is a job, and you have to treat it as such. Everyone takes breaks from work, otherwise we’d all go mad. Make sure you’re taking those breaks and visiting civilization.

And speaking of civilization, go volunteer. This is so good for you while you’re unemployed for a myriad of reasons. First, volunteering gives you a sense of accomplishment. If you didn’t get a call all week and got nothing but rejections, knowing that your favorite non-profit was happy to see you and couldn’t have gotten that mailing out or cleaned their storage space or built that house without you lessens the blow. You can also volunteer for a company in your area of interest. See if that design firm wants an extra hand on Wednesdays or if that boutique could use some free web design. You never know when a volunteering gig could turn into a full-time gig, especially if you’re showcasing your skills. Volunteering also helps you meet people. You could gain new friends or even new employers through your temporary volunteering experience. Finally, if you’re truly unemployed, volunteering gives you a current reference and fills in that gap in your resume. While it won’t necessarily disguise that you’re unemployed, it will let future employers know that you weren’t just sitting on your butt eating Cheetos all day. Unless, of course, you swung a volunteer gig with Cheetos.

See that hour of “read a job related book”? That one is a saving grace because it keeps you fresh on your skills. If it takes you six or ten months to find a job, some of the things you were good at are going to take some time to get back. If you stay current with your industry you can hit the ground running when an employer finally says ‘yes’. It also breaks up reading straight from a computer for eight hours a day and gives you a break that is still productive. I make sure to get in a comfortable chair with some tea and make it an experience.

But don’t stay in that comfy chair too long. Choice of workspace can make a huge difference. If you’re able to work laying in your bed under the covers, then congrats. However, much like showering and changing clothes, sitting at a real table or desk to participate in your job search changes your mental approach. Some days you have to get out of the house and work somewhere else or go stir crazy. Try the library before the coffee shop. Scones and lattes are awesome, but are far better as a reward motivator if they aren’t sitting next to you while you work. 

If you fall off the funemployment bandwagon and spend a day in bed reading trash novels or obsessively watching Lost (all of which are instant watch on Netflix *cough*), don’t let it wear on you. One day lost to the unemployment gods isn’t the end of the world. That being said, if you start to schedule a three hour block of “America’s Next Top Model” marathons instead of resume or skill building, you may need to reevaluate your schedule.

Dreams from Twelfth Grade: Lessons from a letter I wrote to myself in high school

October 29, 2009

During senior year of high school, my environmental science teacher asked all of us, his students, to write a letter to our future selves. He promised that when five years passed, he would mail our own letters to us.

Well, Mr. B lived up to his word. Last year, I received the letter I had written to myself five years prior on May 29, 2003. I had composed it on the second-to-last day of my high school career, only a few days shy of prom (which we will not get into now, at least not in this entry). Aside from the curious fact that my handwriting then was so much neater than it is today, the most shocking thing was that everything I predicted for my “future” career came true.

As I stated in my letter verbatim, I became an Economics and Communications double major in college. I went into the advertising/marketing industry as I prophesied. Although I didn’t state it in my letter, I now even work at the exact company I wished to in high school. If I didn’t know better, I would think I had everything I ever hoped for. Big surprise – although I got what I wanted, things did not pan out the way I anticipated. I appreciate everything I’ve learned in the past few years on the job, but the truth is: the career my twelfth grade self dreamed of is no longer my present day dream. The scariest part? I’m not sure what my dreams are anymore. I’m not even sure I’m capable of dreaming properly. Dreams are without limits or bounds; they are infinite and daring. I’m not sure that’s how my mind works anymore. I think I’ve been adult-ified.

Curiously, my past self has this great advice: “I hope I find more things to be passionate about, and to only work toward passions. If this is not the feeling upon reading this letter…then something has to change…I just want happiness…Keep dreaming.”

So, exactly what secret did I know then that I clearly no longer can crack? What part of “I just want happiness” do I no longer understand? I guess what’s difficult for all of us is finding a path that leads to career satisfaction and still leaves enough time for personal happiness. With this economy, it isn’t so easy to chase passions when people are just happy to get paid. What right do I have to complain when unemployment is brimming near 10% ? It was easy to dream when the future was far away and ambiguous. In reality, we all struggle between money vs. passion. Only a lucky few amongst us are able to attain both, even though our entire generation is programmed to expect both.

In the end, I do believe I can figure this out. I have no doubt I can get where I want to go (apparently, as long as I write a letter to myself about it and then find someone to mail it to me in the future). It may not always be as expected, but I have to be willing to try and stay open-minded. The hard part is finding a sustainable passion that translates into a real occupation, or a job that will allow enough time to pursue other things. Ultimately, maybe it comes down to finding the courage to dream again.

The Job Security Myth

July 24, 2008

I was raised in a Southern, blue-collar family. “Git r’ done, boy!” and “Does a bear shit in the woods?” were some of the typical phrases heard on a daily basis. I received a rifle for my 10th birthday. Like Bubba in Forrest Gump listing every shrimp dish, my Dad has a different boat for every type of boating activity you could possibly imagine: a flats boat, a deep sea boat, a bass boat, a ski boat, a john boat, a paddle boat, a canoe, a jet ski, etc. And now they’re contemplating the purchase of a pontoon boat.

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