Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Blog Has Moved

Please note that my blog has moved to. Just click on the title "My Blog Has Moved" to take you to the new site.

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Looking forward to keeping in touch!

Allison Cheston

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If Not Now, When?

At a bar mitzvah I attended yesterday, the boy spoke eloquently about the idea of serendipity. He described his favorite place in New York City to drink frozen hot chocolate (Serendipity, on E. 60th Street), and how he had just recently come to know the meaning of that word.

Some people believe more actively in serendipity than others, including a great many job seekers, as well as active daters, who spend a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring. When you're looking for a job, or a mate for that matter, it's pretty seductive to think that something will happen without any real, sustained action on your part.

So how to encourage serendipity? The rabbi who followed the bar mitzvah's talk spoke about one of the great Jewish sayings, "If not now, when?" He spoke about the notion of waiting for the phone to ring as counterproductive to the idea of serendipity. Because, it seems, serendipity can be encouraged by activity in a particular direction.

We all resolve to do certain things, and some of us are better at getting on with it than others. The rabbi's point was that the motivation to move ahead should be a powerful incentive in and of itself, without having the person at the other end of the phone (or the email, or any other form of communication) make the decision of when and how something is going to happen for you.

So resolve to take an active role in deciding what you want to do about your work life, and put a plan in place to make the right changes. Why wait for the motivation of the New Year's Resolution to propel you forward, or the friend who calls to ask if you want to start a business together? You won't be able to make the right decision if you haven't done your homework and planned what you need from your work to feel happy and fulfilled.

As I've said in other posts, it's not a great time to make a career move. But it is a good time to explore your values, interests and potential opportunities so when the call comes--or when Obama's economic stimulus plan takes hold and companies begin hiring again--you're prepared for serendipity. If not now, when?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How To Not Be Down in a Down Market

I'm generally pretty good about maintaining a positive attitude and I know what to do to keep my equilibrium. But man, reading the paper these days makes you want to jump off the nearest bridge. There's just endless bad news.

The thing that always makes me feel better is getting more information so I can make better decisions and advise my clients more effectively. To that end I've been interviewing retained search consultants about their businesses, and while many say that their clients are waiting until January to make hiring decisions, I wanted to share with you that there are still some bright spots within certain sectors.

To give you an idea, in one of the hardest hit sectors, financial services, Betsey Wood of Global Sage told me the following: "Senior roles continue to be needed, but they are changing. There are fewer pure “management” or rainmaker roles, as opposed to hands-on leadership and continued P&L responsibility for clients, even at the most senior levels. For example, in terms of retained search, there’s a lot more emphasis on specialized sales jobs. There is definitely a collapsing and merging of different pieces of the silos. We’re being asked to introduce talent for multi-asset class sales platforms, requiring a different type of salesperson, someone who can cross-sell both fixed income equity and derivative products, across a diverse range of institutions in a specific country or geography."

Management consulting is still doing fairly well, and restructuring is booming. HR consulting is healthy as companies more and more frequently outsource those functions. And healthcare is holding its own and will continue its upswing as people live longer and catastrophic illnesses become more manageable as chronic conditions.

If you are currently employed, the most common recommendation is to stay put; it's too risky to make a move right now, unless you absolutely have to. This is the time to shore up the good will of your employer by working more efficiently and taking on extra projects that may bring you additional experience and exposure at your company.

If you've been laid off or have been out of the job market for awhile, you may want to consider re-tooling your skills to become more relevant in today's market. There are plenty of creative ways to do that and they don't have to include earning a higher degree.

Taking positive action usually makes people feel better, as opposed to wallowing in misery and spending too much time watching the news. So get out there and take a step; it will only make the next steps come more easily and you'll feel good that you're doing something to enhance your future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tough Times Are a Litmus Test for Whether You’re in the Right Career

You don’t need me to tell you that the business climate is very uncertain, to say the least. So many industries are taking a hit, and everyone is asking you: “How’s your business?”

It’s likely that you’re busier than ever. If you have clients, they need hand-holding and persuading. If you’re at an organization, it is likely to be very lean at the moment; you may be doing the job of two or three people. The question on the table, that you may be too preoccupied to ask yourself, is: Have you considered your own career lately?

Now you may scoff at this question. After all, you may have logged many years in your position or industry, it may feel like your calling. And perhaps it is. If it is, you can stop reading here, no need to consider this further, you have more than enough on your plate.

But if this question strikes a chord, or at least gives you pause, you may want to read on.

The truth is, it’s never a bad time to assess your career. If you’re forward-thinking you make it your business to do it periodically, just to make sure you’re on the right track. There are many ways to conduct a career assessment, and I’ll address that later. The point is: right now, in a down economy, do you have the time and inclination to work on yourself?

That depends on how satisfied you feel in your career today. You may say: How can I feel satisfied in my career when the market is in such bad shape? There’s so much pressure right now, how can I really enjoy the work I’m doing?

What would you say if I told you that the right career is one that feels that way most of the time? It should not feel right when business is up and wrong when business is down. You should feel confident most of the time that you are engaged, growing and making a contribution, whatever that means to you. I’m not ignoring the fact that work may be frustrating right now, but that shouldn’t bring you down, day after day. If you start your days feeling challenged and regularly end with a sense of failure, something is definitely wrong.

You may not be in one of the few industries that is currently growing. But putting aside that you might not be as financially successful this year as during the last few years, what does your career really mean to you? What aspects of the profession keep you charged up and ready to dig in each day? Do you have the interest, skills and talent to stay where you are or should you invest your energies elsewhere?

If you are feeling frustrated and enervated in a tough market, you may want to explore some new career tracks. It’s never a bad time to investigate, you don’t have to make a move until you’re ready.

Join me here next time as I provide some ideas on conducting your own career assessment. Meanwhile, I welcome your questions and comments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Edit Thyself

I have a new client who sought me out to help her package her information for a position she's very excited about. She is a highly accomplished non-profit professional with 25 years of experience, and has an extremely impressive resume. But damn is it long.

This is possibly the most common question I get from people: how long should my resume be? The truth is, there are really no clear rules today, especially since many resumes are posted online, and there are no real criteria for those. The rule of thumb, in my mind, should be: Put yourself in an employer's (or search consultant's) shoes.

Imagine you are a senior manager, under a lot of stress at the moment, with an open position reporting to you. Perhaps you've hired a search firm to conduct your search, or you may be spending more hours than you'd care to name trolling websites and reading resumes. You are starting to feel desperate; it seems counterintuitive that with so many people out of work, the ideal candidate has not presented him/herself.

With your employer hat on, think about the kind of communication you would like to see from that ideal candidate. Would you be interested in someone who merely attached a resume as a response to your posting, no cover letter in sight? Would you be inclined to respond to someone who wrote to you as Dear Sir/Madam, when you had clearly listed your name and title? Would you give someone a call if they wrote a 2-page cover letter and their resume was 10 pages long, including addenda and footnotes?

I can tell you from the perspective of both employer and search consultant, all of these examples are more common than you would expect.

So going back to this client of mine, she's having some trouble seeing the forest through the trees. She's afraid to leave anything off her resume, lest it be the one thing that will spark interest.

My job is to help her package herself so that she's done the hard work for the search firm and the employer. She needs to share the right amount of experience to get the employer to ask for more detail. If she fails to edit her material appropriately, it will be seen as a red flag and she won't get a call.

If you have done your homework, your resume will be an effective sales document, showcasing your unique selling proposition and providing the proof you can continue your successful track record with your next employer. If you don't do the work upfront, I can tell you for sure, you won't get a call.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Keeping Your Career Healthy in a Sick Economy

Today's New York Times features a piece called "Staying Healthy in a Sick Economy". It caught my attention. This particular article talked about staying fit, a particular obsession of mine, but it got me thinking about other wellness issues that can crop up during times of stress.

One of the reasons I became a career advisor is I strongly believe we all need other people to help guide us and boost us on a regular basis. I've mentioned in other posts the idea of selecting a personal "board of directors", because we all benefit from the advice of those we respect. It is not a sign of weakness to ask others to help, but the ask should be specific. And that is where coaching comes in.

Finding a partner during a time of change or crisis is an excellent investment in your mental health. Making a career or life change is always tough, but it doesn't have to be debilitating. It's incredibly helpful to have someone in your corner.

Now most of us don't have to hire people to be in our corner, we have friends and family members who love and care about us. But having a coach is very different from having a spouse; this person is focused on a particular aspect of your life--in my case, your career--and is bringing his or her professional experience to bear on your issue.

That means that your change will probably happen a lot faster, more efficiently, and with better results. And you will protect yourself from spiraling downward during a stressful time.

Now that's a good investment. So drink your milk, go to the gym, and if your career is under stress, find a good coach.

Fast Company