Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Early Career Advice Part 2

A budding something... like early career advice

Random Observation/Comment #249: I’m surprised at how much career advice is out there for people, but how few people actually take it seriously. Seriously, this advice is helpful…

After speaking to my personal board of directors (a.k.a. family, friends, and mentors) about career advice, I had gathered more very useful information about career development that I feel should be shared.  Surprisingly, there’s not much overlap, so I’ll just append it to the previous list.

5. Your personal brand management – maintaining a reputation and self-marketing. Think before you speak and keep a “can-do” attitude. Be conscious of all conversations and be sure to actively go out and tell people you do things.  Project your ideas in a mature way and practice the elevator pitch to be able to tell people your goals. If you have a solid and consistent perception by all coworkers, then they will think about you when opportunities arise.  This can be summarized with one quote: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

6. Performance. Although self-marketing is important, you have to also be good at what you do.  Remember WINE: Work, Integrity, Network, and Excellence.  All of these should be pretty straightforward.  For life in general, just say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say, and deliver what you promise.  Keep yourself transparent and don’t fake those multiple personalities tailored to specific people.  This will build trust and also improve your personal brand.  Also, staying consistent will ensure that everyone knows who you are and what to expect from you. If you start off strong – you better stay that way or else any slacking will be a disappointment in comparison.

7. Change management. Change can be very scary, but it should also be seen as an exciting opportunity to see how you act outside of your comfort zone. Change should be embraced.  “Those that stand in front of change get run over.” Also, if you can fill a vacuum in times of change, it will be a huge growth opportunity for you.

8. (Although this is already emphasized enough) Network, Network, Network. Obviously, networking is important. Almost all opportunities that just “land in your lap” are because you know someone and you were able to project your personal brand onto them and make a positive impression. If you do this consistently enough and seek for new opportunities, then it will make your life much easier.  Other methods of finding networking possibilities include, professional networks, NGOs, clubs with similar interests, and going out with your team/vendors for drinks.

9. Mentor filtering and categorization. Once you meet someone of interest at the networking events above, follow up with coffee and enter them into your circle of people to go to for advice. It’s a great idea to categorize your mentors into something realistic, like: life advisor (anything and everything), strategic career (3-5 year plans with career), tactical career (1-2 years career), problem solver (immediate analysis), comfort food (someone that makes you feel good about your situation), and news update (someone to keep in touch with to get the best out of their niche).  Not everyone will be your best friend (they just don’t have the time for that), but maybe they could help you in these specific categories. It is possible that your best friends should fit into all of these categories.

10. The long term plan? How would you answer someone in HR asking you, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  I answered: “My goals have changed annually, as I think they should, because life should be reassessed on a consistent basis.  However, the thought process I use in making these decisions have always stayed consistent to my principles, and have always improved with additional feedback.”  Now that I think about it, this answer was just avoiding the question but plugging in my overall view of life. I was happy with this answer, though.  It at least makes the company know that I’m not a sheep and I’m always putting the company in check at the same time. I have my level of loyalty, but it’s always important to take into account personal factors.

I hope this advice is useful. At the end of the day, it’s really all about experience.  Keep an open mind and continue to learn about your niche, your peers, your managers, your friends, and yourself.

~See Lemons Expand

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It’s Not Goodbye – It’s I’ll See you later

Wordlife Nat Shermans

Random Observation/Comment #248: Friends can be brothers – but not literally, just the way black people use it.

I have great respect for those who serve in the military.  How could you not? They are putting their lives on the line to maintain the luxuries we have back home in this first world country.   You could say that they are fighting some meaningless wars that boil down to some greedy corporations trying to make more profit, but at the end of the day, you still have to support the soldiers who do it. Don’t be an asshole and try to find a reason to say they’re stupid or made their own choices.  That’s just heartless. You can hate the government, love your country, and respect the soldiers all without contradiction.

There’s a big difference between watching Army commercials and seeing your best friend of 19-years go into the army.  There are stages of emotions that I went through – all probably explained in a psychology textbook.  As I am in one of the final phases, I’d like to go over the other sets of emotions I went through to get here.

  1. Disbelief. When I first heard Justin tell me he was going into the army, I thought he was joking.  I wrote in my diary. I read it and even laughed about it later. “Justin, you hilarious sonuvabitch.” How could someone with a Bachelor’s degree in bio-chemistry and 3 years of research experience at Columbia University’s neurology department change from a path of going to med school to a path of being a soldier?  Honestly, I thought it was a passing idea that he just wanted to bring up.  We spoke frankly about it and of course he fed me the same lines the recruiters feed soldiers.  I listened, nodded, smiled, and drank some more beer with my buddy and I thought – there’s no way he’s going to follow through…
  2. Confusion. As Justin told me more stories and I saw he was seriously considering the next steps of applying, I was puzzled around his logic.  I was confused because he had so many options and I felt like he could do so much more.  He told me his MOS would be with the Explosive Ordinance Department (which is pretty bad ass after watching “Hurtlocker”), but it still sounded like he played one too many video games.  We drank another beer and I thought – At least he’s learning more about career options and talking to people. I can always support building a community and networking .
  3. Anger. I heard his efforts progress, and one day he gave me a call to tell me that I will receive a call from someone that will ask me questions about him.  Once I knew he was getting a background check, I knew he had already signed up.  I was actually mad at him for being stupid.  He knew all the risks and he knew one of my close friends went through the Marines with all the negative things he could say about it. There were so many of us opposed to the idea, but Justin was so pig headed with this belief that it pissed us all off.  He wouldn’t bend to reason and it just seemed like he’d argue for the sake of arguing.  There was no “losing” the conversation because he was too prideful and stubborn.  I wanted to punch him in the face and say “Get your shit together, dude. You’re a freaking mess.”
  4. Indifference. This phase was the worst of them all. I knew the days were passing and I read his progression and boredom.  I thought that someone about to leave would make the most out of his time. I thought he would get closer with friends or start a blog that could actually tell the true story.  If I had those 4 months before leaving, I would travel more and write more.  I’d take pictures and be a tourist for a while. Everything that I like to do – I’d cherish because it’d be all gone.  He may have done his own version of this, but I didn’t feel like he made the most out of it.  I gave up on my ideas and I just let him do his own thing.  He fell off the radar for weeks at a time and I didn’t know or ask to worry about how he handled it.  There was no way to convince him otherwise, so that was that.
  5. Curiosity. It wasn’t about 2 months ago that I tried to learn more about what he would get into.  I had a small phase of fear in between, but my fear phases immediately shift to the reactionary preventive phase.  Worrying never gets anyone anywhere – it’s better to just learn more about it and give as much relevant advice as possible. So I did my research and I spoke to him about all of it. I could see he was passionate and looking forward to leaving. I asked him questions that I already knew the answers in order to test if he knew what he was getting into.  All in all, there were just more beers exchanged and more random stories.
  6. Acceptance. It took some time, but I did see that a few things had changed.  His family had come together and he became closer to a few friends. His church community grew stronger and he met more people that he could relate to.  I shifted my attitude towards him based on his attitude towards himself.  At times, I saw his uncertainty and fear as a weakness, which led me to doubt his choices.  Any shred of regret or childish view of this career path would just make me sad.  What I wanted to hear was confidence, excitement, and appreciation.  If I heard all these things, I would be supportive.  And you know what? I finally support him.

I don’t even want to think about going to my friend’s funeral, but it’s a possibility.  I choose to, however, accept that it is his life and his choice.  As a friend, the best I could do is give him my support and any relevant advice I can.  I am not going to hide behind any petty arguments or second guess his judgment a few weeks before his departure.

As a friend, you have two choices: 1) Hate Justin for his stupid choices and stop being his friend, or 2) Support Justin and hope he comes back to share his stories.  With even the risk of him not coming back, you should talk to him and see him before he leaves, because think about the worst case scenario of each choice.  In 1) Justin doesn’t make it back (which won’t happen) and you feel the guilt of having your last words to him be ones of anger or even your last efforts to see him to be non-existent.  In 2) Justin doesn’t make it back (which won’t happen), but you at least gave him a reason to come back.  Either way, you cry with emotions of anger and sadness, but at least with 2, you did your duty as a friend.

I’m proud of you, Justin.  Remember to think and stay calm.

~See Lemons Pray for Justin to Return

Early Career Advice

The Blue Sky Vision

Random Observation/Comment #247:  When a hobby becomes stale, the best way to handle it is to find take small steps to reinvigorate your passion towards it.  Take it one step at a time and it will come back.

There are four main things that I learned from the past 9 months of working.  I feel like not sharing it would be unfair for those just starting off.  I will keep the entry sweet and simple.

1.  Learn like a sponge. As with all new hires from college, you are cheap labor. They hired you because you are passionate and hard-working with a likable personality that had shined through in the interview.  Mentors teach you (at least in some way) because they feel that level of accomplishment in passing on useful information.  Managers are (in some ways) trained to cut you some slack and be patient with the learning curve. This is always the case, and before gaining experience, it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of your position by asking stupid questions and making mistakes.  Acting confident and knowing stuff is a plus, but acting like you know everything and dealing poorly with work politics is disastrous. However you approach it is in your own style, but just be sure to learn along the way.

2. Jump around and explore. A brilliant man once said (and probably still says this) “The world is your oyster.”  There are so many different opportunities in this world and it is in your best interest to continue learning about what is available.  A good job will keep you happy and lead you with a carrot while you continue to produce useful content.  A great career will keep you challenged and make you stretch your comfort level to learn new things. An amazing life will make you jump for joy to get to work and do what you love doing because you’re so damn good at it. Underlying idea is that you keep an open-mind because money doesn’t really matter.

3. Be realistic and be consistent with deliveries without burning out. Burning out is probably the worst things to happen to someone. It happened to me at Cooper once, and I needed a year and a half of “finding myself” to get back into it – well, I guess burning out wasn’t that bad.  Anyway, when you work 8-9 hours a day, there is a limit.  You can be a top performer and still walk around and make friends.  Actually – it’s probably more important to walk around and chat with people around you so people don’t think you make them look bad.  Office politics is crucial and it doesn’t hurt to take a lighter load. There’s always more work to be done, so even if you finish quickly, they’ll just pile more on top of you.

4. Work for someone you like. Before you know the answer to this, you need to know the person you work for. Go out for drinks and network with those around you. See them outside of the working light and just ask them about hobbies and career paths. Treat your co-workers like your friends and it will go a long way.  If you don’t respect your boss, then that bad taste in your mouth will just make life that much worse. Also remember that it’s difficult to be a manager and it should be a two-way system. You should talk to your boss (or bosses) on a daily basis and make sure they know you’re still: 1) alive and 2) happy.  If they see you smile and you really mean it, then it’s a good indication that you’re not looking for employment elsewhere.  It also doesn’t hurt to trust your mentors and speak to them frankly (in an appropriate way).  Mentors, in this new light, have always given me relevant advice (which may sometimes be useful).

The truth is that work should be fun. I’m too young to have stress. Keep your hobbies separate from work and stay active.  Do some restaurant reviewing and read a book.  Read my blog.

~See Lemons Jump into a Career