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Career transitions are the worst, but necessary

October 31st, 2008 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoCareer transitions are the worst, but necessary
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Career transitions are the worst, but necessary

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As someone who is constantly in the middle of a career transition, I am frequently reminded how difficult it can be. Like many transitions, mine are not the “short, sharp, shock” of moving between companies or towns, but rather a slow, almost daily progression. To outsiders, it might not even appear I am changing careers, but at the very heart of my work life, I am.

As with any transition, there are days when I wonder whether the process will ever end. The fact that you can’t see the end can makes it ephemeral. I have an idea where I want to end up, but I am sure once I get there I will see another path and start a new journey. I think this is a normal part of life, even if it can worry us and leave us feeling a bit confused.

The fact is transitions, both large and small, will always be a part of your life and work, so you might as well learn how to embrace them. There are ways you can manage your fears and use regular reflection to make sure that you stay on track.

First, have an end in mind. Your vision of the completed career transition will never quite match the reality, once it arrives, but like every good navigator, you have to have a destination in mind. Like a golfer aiming for the flag, even when they can’t see the actual hole, you at least know that your goal is in that general direction. Being aimless will have you turning in circles almost immediately.

It may seem counter intuitive, but once you have a goal, you need to start adapting it almost immediately. Sometimes we don’t know what a job or project entails until we actually start to work on it. These early discoveries can influence our goals immensely. Correct and adapt at every occasion. Otherwise you risk sticking with a goal long after it is feasible or useful.

I see this quite often. People profess to want something, but having achieved it, they find themselves at a dead end. This is particularly true with teachers. Making the transition from being a student in a classroom to being responsible for 30 children in a classroom is often insurmountable. It is very likely that they already knew this as they worked though their required student teaching, but after spending so much time getting their degree they probably thought they couldn’t change their goal. Do everything you can to adapt your career transitions so you don’t go down this path.

Don’t go it alone, either. Talk to your friends, your family, even selective co-workers about what you are trying to accomplish. It is very likely that they will have some good advice to offer. Sure, you might hear “why do you have to do that?”, but this is actually a good thing. People who challenge our assumptions force us to think more clearly about those assumptions. If we can answer our friend’s concerns then we can be assured we have taken the time to think things through. Now, some people will be universally negative where change is concerned, but these people are easy to recognize and easy to avoid. Their reaction to transition is often more illustrative of their fears than any flaws in your plan.

We face transitions large and small every day of our career. Making one decision instead of another leads us down a different path. Your job is to insure that your are thinking clearly each step of the way, adjusting your thinking and goals and navigating in the right direction for you. Transitions can be challenging, but they are desperately necessary to a long and productive career. If you are not changing, you are not growing and if you are not growing then you may never build the career you deserve.


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Manager Tools: Twitter, I don’t like it

October 30th, 2008 1 comment

Mark Horstman over at Manager Tools posted this audio blog post today decrying the use of Twitter (Twitter, I don’t like it). While I typically agree with Mark on most things, I had to take exception with him on this one. Here is the comment I left on his blog post. What do you think about Twitter and its place in your work flow?

For a freelancer such as myself, I consider Twitter to be almost a requirement. It is yet another way of establishing your visibility in the community, much like blogging, podcasting and video sharing.

Even more, Twitter has the ability to bring new work directly to your door. I have several personal experiences with Twitter leading directly to billable hours. While I was unclear on how Twitter might fit into my work flow when I started using it, it has become an integral part of my day now.

Can a tool overwhelm you if you let it? Surely, but as another commenter stated above, “Control the tool, don’t let it control you.” If someone systematically denies the useful of Twitter, with out ever using it, they could be discarding a great tool that could expand their career.

Douglas

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Archive: The Chaos of Choice – September 30, 2005

October 29th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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When you are starting a new project or pitching a new client, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the choices available? I know it cannot just be me, so at the risk of surrendering my computer consultant badge for all time, I am going to make some very personal confessions. Lately I have found it horribly confusing to decide which hardware, which software, which server, which printer to recommend to all my varying clients. At times, it seems to absorb much more time than I think it should. Still, projects seem to turn out for the best, even if my initial thoughts are a bit confused.

Choice above all else

I know, for Americans, choice is considered a fundamental right. Not only do we deserve the right to choose, but we also deserve the largest number of choices possible. If I want a vanilla ice cream cone, made with chocolate ice cream, I should be able to get it. While that is a ludicrous example, there is a grain of truth within. In today’s high-tech market, consumers are often given choices that, in the end, really don’t make a lot of sense. Still, for most people, it is the quantity of choices, not the quality that make them happiest.

Of course, such a bounty of choices leaves me staggered sometimes. Not only do you have to make the big choices, Mac vs. PC, Windows vs. Linux, you also have to make the smaller choices, 120 GB hard disk or 360 GB, 1 GB of RAM or 512MB, the blue one or the pink one. The choices provided are almost that ludicrous, at times. Still, we all have to make a decision eventually, so even though you might have misgivings and wonder if you have made the right choice, you do have to make it. There are ways, though, to help you make better decisions among the choices you have.

From the outside, in

So, how do you start weeding out the choices for your project? First, you have to have as much information as possible from your client. What type of work do they do? How many people do they have? How much data do they store? All the usual questions, and more. Dig a little deeper. Do they have a preferred vendor? Do they have a preferred manufacturer? Do they want it to be red, blue or pink? Sometimes clients have had dealings with vendors and manufacturers that have left them cold. You don’t necessarily want to recommend a vendor, only to bring up bad memories.

Once you have learned all you can from you client, turn to your collection of high-tech peers and get their input. It is rare I make any major recommendation or purchase for a client until I run it by my friend and colleague, Sam. Sam not only is a high-tech expert, he also has something I am sorely lacking, experience in sales. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the “chaos of choice” a quick email, IM or phone call can usually get me back on track. Where I might have to create a small spreadsheet to compare features and prices, he can quickly rule out entire product lines with his insight. If you don’t have an advisory board of peers that you can turn to at a moment’s notice, start building one today. You will find that while someone else may be an advisor to you on one particular issue, you can often provide the same services for them on some other topic. This isn’t a one way street. Everyone benefits.

Hopefully, your advisory board will pare down the choices to a more manageable level. Then you can turn to various online resources such as review web sites, user forums and such to give you more insight into your, now more limited, choices. For me, it makes little sense to start doing Google searches or looking at vendor web sites until I have a more manageable list of choices. Without a smaller area of focus, online tools just lead me deeper into the chaos.

If you find yourself a bit confused when trying to specify equipment and software, you aren’t alone. Everyone, from the newly-minted IT staffer, to the grizzled tech consultant can find themselves mired in the chaos of choice. The best way to resolve this confusion, though, is to work from the outside in, hacking the choices down to a manageable size and then whittling these possibilities down to a perfect match for you and your client.


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Viral Careering

October 24th, 2008 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoViral Careering
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Viral Careering

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If you follow the Internet world at all, you have surely head the term viral marketing. The way I describe viral marketing is to make content so good, so compelling, so fun, so interesting that others cannot help but pass it along to their friends and contacts. I was discussing this concept on another show I produce (New Media Answers, Viral Marketing, http://newmediainterchange.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/new-media-answers-007-viral-marketing/) for New Media Interchange when it occurred to me that Viral Marketing can apply to your career, as well. In this case, though, viral careering would be to perform your work so well that others can’t help but talk about you and what you have done for the company.

Let me be clear here, viral careering isn’t about relentless self-promotion. Promoting yourself within a company, without considering the reactions and emotions of those around you can be a quick path to the unemployment office. Viral careering comes from a much deeper source and a source that most of us are trying to access on a day-to-day basis. Viral careering comes from our desire to do the best work possible and, more importantly, have a positive effect on the world around us. Yes, we have to “get the word out” about what we are doing, but in the best cases, this happens organically as a result of the work, not some manipulative marketing plan.

Viral careering isn’t about touting your successes. It is about sharing the information, skills and knowledge that led to those successes. Sending out a memo about how your project came in under-budget and on-time is one thing. Sharing the methods for achieving those results goes much farther. It allows the project to shine brightly, while you get to bask, a bit, in the glow. Sharing information shows a willingness to give back to the company and your fellow employees. Sure, you rightly deserve credit for your successes, but buffering your need and desire for credit with humility and and understanding of human nature can go a long way towards raising your profile within your company. Even better, it can help to reduce the number of enemies that all of us create as we move up the corporate structure.

Enemies? Yes, I said enemies. Over the course of our career there will always be a certain number of people that see us as an enemy, even if we don’t feel likewise. This comes from a sense of scarcity. Some people will believe that every success you gain is a success that is withheld from them. Instead of seeing success as an unlimited natural spring, they see it as a slowly shrinking desert pond. Every drink you take is one denied them. Add this to the natural factors of conflicting personalities and differing attitudes and you can see that gathering enemies is, sadly, a natural process.

Viral Careering helps to alleviate some of the animosity that success can cause while still developing the career you deserve. First, sharing your successful experience and tactics gives you the opportunity to recognize others who helped you achieve your goals. People are much less likely to resent your success if you share some of that success with them. Second, when the focus is on a successful project or product, you won’t appear to be promoting yourself. You will still gain credit and recognition for your success, but others will be less likely to see your actions as solely self-serving. In fact, this is one way you can judge your own actions. Are you doing something solely for the benefit of yourself or does everyone benefit?

It may be cliche, but the concept of win-win is important in any viral campaign. The creator wins because you share their product, you win for sharing the cool information with others and the receiver wins by learning something, being entertained or both. Is everyone successful when you succeed? If not, you are making more enemies than supporters.

Think about the last viral video you emailed to someone. Think about the email you forwarded to all of your friends. What made you do it? What was it about the content that was so compelling, so funny, so important you had to pass it on? Look for this same content in your own career and bring the viral nature of the new media world to bear on building the career you deserve.


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Archive: Change Everything – September 23, 2005

October 22nd, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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What did you do the last time you were looking for a new job? Did you try to find another job that was exactly like your previous one? Did you use the same resume and cover letters to apply for new positions? If so, then you probably did yourself and your career no favors. The next time you decide to go looking, you will want to use the opportunity to search out new types of jobs and perhaps even a new career. If you go looking for the “same old job” you are very likely to find it.

Opportunity

I was very serious when I used the word opportunity above. While looking for a new job can be stressful, it also offers up opportunities to learn more about yourself and your desires. When you are in a decent job, you often settle in, ignoring both problems and challenges that could lead you to something better. You don’t want to think about major changes in your career again. You just went through all that. Of course, what happens if an even better opportunity presents itself soon after? Do you simply ignore it or do you go after it? In almost every case, you should be reaching out for new opportunities even if you just moved jobs.

This freedom to pursue new opportunities, no matter when they might arise, is an important part of career satisfaction. Those workers who feel they have no other choice, no way out, are truly trapped in their jobs. Feeling trapped often leads to a wide variety of exploitation and abuse. You’re not going to complain about long hours, no overtime pay or other issues if you fear you might not be able to find another job.

The truth is, though, everyone has the ability to find a new job – usually one better than the one they have. You need to be constantly watching and listening though for those opportunities to come along. While you may not change jobs, this week, this month or even this year, you should still explore any opportunity that comes your way. To do otherwise is a dis-service to both you and your career.

A new role

So, what form might these new opportunities take? In many cases, the opportunities that present themselves will be in entirely new areas of work. Perhaps you will find a management position after all these years in the trenches. Maybe you will find a position in web design instead of programming. You might even leave high-tech work altogether. Are you prepared for these possibilities? Will you be able to think clearly about these new opportunities or will you simply turn away? If you want to get out of the routine of a typical high-tech career, you need to think about these questions now, so you are better able to evaluate opportunities in the future.

With so many possibilities; you might wonder how to get started. You should begin with those areas that already hold an interest for you. Maybe you have already been talking to friends about programming, web design or IT work. If some specific area interests you, start to investigate what it requires and what opportunities might be available, both within your company and without. The simple act of considering your options might just turn up a hidden opportunity on its own. This exercise also conditions you to be more open to any different opportunities that come your way.

Finally, take your thinking even farther. Do you want to continue to work in high-tech at all? Could you find a new job that allows you to combine your high-tech skills with some other interest or hobby? If you really love music, search out opportunities to apply those skills at a music-related company. Does medicine interest you? How about an IT job working for a laboratory or drug manufacturer? Do you like to be outdoors? How about positions with a scientist or researcher specializing in biology or ecology? How about working for the Forest Service?

The possibilities are truly endless if you don’t stop looking and if you don’t limit yourself to specific areas of work. You should treat every job search as an opportunity to explore new worlds. You might be very surprised at what you find.


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Extra: Paper resumes are dead, dead, dead…or ought to be

October 20th, 2008 Comments off

This guest post appeared today in the blog, The Graduate Student Survival Guide on the web site of the Albany Times Union. Thanks to blogger, Brandon J. Mendelson for presenting this piece to his readers.


Paper resumes are dead, dead, dead…or ought to be

by Douglas E.Welch

The paper resume is a relic of a century past. Designed to be shuffled and filed, traditionally limited to one page, resumes are the buggy whips of our age. With online alternatives exploding, you can learn much more about a job candidate, in a much more inclusive and casual fashion, than might ever be represented by a typical resume. You can learn about the full individual, not just a one-line statement of responsibility for their last job. I would think myself a poor catch if my entire career could be summed up on one sheet of paper. As Walt Whitman said, “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Getting a job is all about telling stories and paper resumes are the equivalent of soundbites — short, pithy and signifying nothing. Why should we continue to use resumes when we can point to our blogs, our videos, our photo galleries or even our Facebook page? I like to think that anyone looking to hire me for a job could get enough information about me to make a fully informed decision about whether to have me in for an interview or offer me a job. More important, they might find something about my life that cinches the deal for them in some way. You can never tell what might interest others or what might prove useful in your non-work background. You don’t know what might prove interesting to an employer, so you should seek to share your work and your life and let others decide the worth of that information.

A major part of career success is visibility — exposing people to what you do and how well you do it. You might be best writer, programmer, plumber, whatever, but if no one knows what you do, what does it matter. Creating an online resume out of blogs, Facebook, Flickr, community web sites and more allows people to “stumble across you” in ways that a paper resume could never allow.

Of course, in this new world, this means that each of us needs to be constantly conscious of what we are sharing and the impact that might have on friends, family and employers. We must remember that we aren’t being judged on one page of text, but the sum total of everything that we do and share. Frankly, I greatly prefer this well-rounded, if more intimate knowledge of my life. It insures that everyone involved enters into a business relationship with as much information as possible.

People on both sides of the hiring equation need to use online tools to everyone’s benefit. Companies gain employees who are a better fit and have the skills the company needs to thrive. Candidates know that they can promote themselves online (like any good brand) and give companies the information they need to make better interview and hiring decisions. Let’s replace the resume with one simple line of text…the URL to your web site…or lifestream…or blog.

Douglas is a new media consultant and writer of Career Opportunities, a weekly column and podcast available at http://welchwrite.com/career/ .

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Pacing yourself

October 18th, 2008 1 comment

 

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Pacing yourself
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Pacing yourself

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It is bad enough when your employer decides to give you too many projects in too little time, but it is even worse when you overwhelm yourself with projects and work. Sure, we want to accomplish as much as possible, but putting too much on your plate is a recipe for failure. There are only so many hours in the day and something has to give eventually. Like a good athlete, we all need to pace ourselves so that we have the energy to run the long race that is life.

I was reminded of the need for pacing over the last few weeks. I knew that life was about to get very busy for me, but I moved ahead with several new projects I found interesting. It seems I am incapable of doing nothing and once I conceive of an idea I want to implement it as soon as I can. In that vein, I leapt into these new projects only to discover then how much work it would require.

That, of course, lays out one of my first rules of pacing yourself. It is great to have grand ideas and large projects to accomplish, but you need to think a bit about how much work might be involved. Projects have a way of seeming easier in our minds than they are in reality. Perhaps we haven’t thought them through enough to understand the work or perhaps we are actively fooling ourselves. Sometimes we can find a project so interesting that we deny how much work it might be. We find it so much more interesting than that other work we need to do, so we find anyway to shoehorn it into our life.

Unfortunately, this often ends up overwhelming us when the other necessities of life simply won’t get out of the way. Bills must still be paid. Dishes must still be washed. Other work must get done. Yet, we still try to fit even more into our day. In the worst cases, our attempts to do more can cause other, more important projects to fall apart. This can be very damaging to your life and career and should make very clear why you need to pace yourself.

As much as it might pain you, the only way to make room for new projects is to get other projects out of the way. You need to finish a project, or abandon it, if possible, so you can move on to other, hopefully more interesting work. Some work can’t be removed so easily, though. You might have to spend some time delegating work to others where possible, or developing ways to make your current work easier and less time consuming.

Finally, among all this work, you have to build in recovery periods where you dial back the intensity for a short period of time so you can rest and recuperate for the next big push on the next big project. Without these planned respites you will quickly find yourself burnt out and stumbling your way through all your work.

It can seem crazy to slow down when you really want to speed up — to rest when you need to work — to turn off the computer when business demands you be online — but unless you pace yourself — in work and life — you will find yourself on an endless treadmill that will eventually throw you off. Manage your life and manage your work to insure your sustained productivity. Pace yourself so you can make it all the way to the finish line, no matter where that might be.


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Career Tip 20081016 – Create it yourself

October 16th, 2008 Comments off
Career Tip 20081016 – Create it yourself

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Archive: Straight lines and circles – September 16, 2005

October 15th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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As a high-tech worker, I am sure you try to compartmentalize your work. You make budgets, timelines and project plans, but you fail to notice one important aspect of your work…nothing is ever finished. Sure, you might get the PC or network installed or the new program operating. You might even think the project is “complete”, but tomorrow will bring changes, requests and problems that put the lie to your false sense of closure. Just like the painters of the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, you might reach the end of the job one day, but you soon find that it is simply time to start all over again.

Think in circles, not in lines

Thinking in a straight line, from start to finish can lead to a number of problems in your work. One of the worst examples is the project that is obsolete before it is complete. I am sure you have run into a program like this, or will very soon. Thinking only about the end of the project can cause you to blindly keep moving forward even when the destination has moved. Your project doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so neither can your project planning.

Each project needs to be constantly re-evaluated. Has new hardware appeared that functions more quickly at half the cost? Has the manufacturer significantly upgraded their software? Have estimates, reviews and budgets been proven flawed? If so, don’t keep going down the wrong road. Change direction immediately. In today’s project thinking, though, this can be very difficult. No one wants to admit a mistake was made, even if there was little or no way to know at the time.

Instead of thinking of projects as a straight-line progression from beginning to end, you need to start thinking of projects as circular. A project might begin at any point on the circle but there is never truly an end. In some cases, you might come around the perimeter of the circle to the Start/Finish line, but you will immediately see that the end is also a new beginning of a new project. Programmers often begin working on the new revision of their software immediately after, or even while they are completing the current one. In other projects, you might jump off the circle entirely, spinning off a new project, while abandoning the old. Perhaps the company has suddenly decided not to pursue a new business area. That project stops wherever it is in the cycle and you jump off to the new project.

Viewing projects as circular gives you the freedom to change, diverge from the plan, strike out for new territory, if the project calls for such a move. Use this metaphor enough and you begin to see that projects aren’t a horse race to the finish line, but more of a logical and holistic progression along the circle.

Career Circles

You should also consider your career as a circle. While we often diagram career growth as a series of stair steps, the truth is often different. In today’s business world, we often spin our career off to new jobs and new companies. Sometimes this is planned and, at others, change catches us unaware. One circle lies half-completed, while we may make numerous circuits around another. I had one particular time in my career where I completed the circle 5 times, rising slightly higher at each revolution until I jumped off to pursue another line of work. In some cases, like myself, you might be traveling multiple circles at once. In my case, I have separate, but related, careers in technology, writing and even a small one in music.

A career never lies in a straight line. Even in the old days of the “Company Man” it took the form of stair steps rising up to the corner office on the top floor. A career is an endless cycle, with beginnings and endings occurring each and every day.

If you are having a difficult time understanding and managing your projects, or your career, you might require a new way of thinking. The concept of the circle and the cycles they represent is an ancient one, but applying this concept to our modern day cycles might just be a great way of enhancing your high-tech career.


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October 11th, 2008 Comments off

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