Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Pick a Career You Actually Like

By: Penelope Trunk 

Most career problems stem from the fact that we are terrible at picking jobs. We think we are picking a good job and then it turns out to be a bad job. It's almost impossible to pick a good job on the first try, actually. So don't think you'll be the exception.

Economist Neil Howe says that only 5% of people pick the right job on the first try. He calls those people "fast starters" and in general, they are less creative, less adventurous, and less innovative, which makes a conventional, common path work well for them. So it's questionable whether you should even aspire to be one of those people who pick right the first try. But, that said, we all still want to be good at choosing paths for ourselves. So, here are some guidelines to think about—whether it's our first career or our fifth career.


Don't Believe the Hype

We have a grass-is-greener approach to professions that are not our own. For example, this award-winnng video from Chipotle about farmers becoming more animal-friendly pretends that it's just a mental and emotional evolution for farmers to realize that going back to nature, and being good to animals, is what feels best, so they should do it. It's so easy, for example, to take the pigs out of an assembly line.

The Chipotle video is total crap, to be honest. It's not that farmers don't know that pigs on pasture is nicer. It's that there is no market for pigs on pasture because consumers won't pay enough to eat humane meat (without farrowing crates, for example, pork prices would quadruple). So the idea that being a farmer is so beautiful and back-to-the land is just absurd. Being a farmer is actually really complicated, hard entrepreneurial work with very low wages.

Another example of a hyped up job is a lawyer. You see their exciting life on TV: a gloriously safe path from college to law school to a high paying job. But behind the scenes, each year the American Bar Association conducts a survey to ask if lawyers would recommend their profession to other people, and the vast majority of lawyers say no.


Pick a Lifestyle, Not a Job Title

Look at the lives you see people having, and ask yourself whose life you would want. That's easy, right? But now look deeper. You can't just have the life they have now. You have to have the life they lead to get there. So, Taylor Swift has had great success, and now she gets to pretty much do whatever she wants. But could you do what she did to get there? She had her whole family relocate so she could pursue her dreams in Nashville. Do you want a life of such high-stakes, singular commitment?

Look at the successful writers you read. Most of them wrote for years in obscurity, risking long-term financial doom in order to keep writing. Do you really want that path for yourself? Marylou Kelly Streznewski, author of Gifted Grownups, finds that most people who are exceptionally creative have to give up almost everything else in order to pursue "creativity with a big C." For most people, that path is not appealing.
The same is true for startup founders. It's a terrible life, to be honest. Your finances will be ruined, you won't have time for anything else in your life, and your company will probably fail. So when you decide you want to do a startup, look at the life the person had before their company got stable. Most people would want to run their own, well-funded company and control their own hours. Very few people would want the life you have to live to get to that point.


Don't Overcommit

Testing out lots of different jobs is a great idea. Job hopping is the sign of someone who is genuinely trying to figure out where they fit. Quitting when you know you're in the wrong spot is a natural way to find the right spot. A resume with lots of wrong turns is not cataclysmic. You can hire a good resume writer to fix the resume so it looks like you actually had focus and purpose. (Really, I rewrite peoples' resumes all the time. It's about telling a story and everyone has a way to tell a good story about their career no matter how many times they've changed jobs.)

The important thing is to not overcommit to one path. Graduate school, for example, is overcommiting because if you don't end up liking that field, you will have spent four years gaining entrance into the field. Taking on college debt is overcommitting because you are, effectively, saying you will ony take jobs that are relatively high paying in order to service the debt.

Buying a big house has that same effect: you overcommit to a high-earning field. Very few people want to have the same career throughout their life. Leave yourself wiggle room to switch because there is little reason to believe you'll be able to predict what you will like in the future.

Daniel Gilbert, head of the happiness lab at Harvard, has shown that evolution has ensured that we are terrible at guessing what we will like. We guess that we will like stuff that is possible for us—that looks attainable—which is what makes us keep going in life. We are generally optimistic that things will get better. This is not rational because, for the most part, things stay the same in terms of how happy we are.
Gilbert explains in his book, Stumbling on Happiness, that we have a happiness set point, and that's pretty much how happy we are today and it's how happy we will be tomorrow. But evolution has made us certain that something will make us happier tomorrow. Which means we are generally poor at predicting what will make us happy since that was not a necessary trait in preserving humanity.

Gilbert says you need to try stuff to see what will make you happy. Do that. It's scary, because it's hard to find out that what you thought would make you happy will not make you happy. But then, it's true that being a realist is not particularly useful to human evolution either.

Top 10 Tips for Acing Your Next Job Interview

By: Whitson Gordon 

Finding a job is tough enough as it is without having to go through harrowing interviews. Here's everything you need to know about nailing your interview so you can get through it stress-free.

10. First, Get the Interview

Before you can ace your interview, you have to actually get the interview. That means making an awesome resumé and making sure it gets through. Check out our top 10 ways to rock your resumé, and make sure to avoid the items that can kill your chances at getting the job (like a long history of unemployment). Once you're done, don't just send it in with the rest. Use your connections and a bit of ingenuity to beat that computerized system and get your resumé into the right hands. If you don't get the interview, find out why and use that to help you the next time around.


9. Prepare Ahead of Time

So you've got the interview, but you still have a lot of work to do before you walk into that building. Writer Alan Skorkin says the main reason most people suck at interviews is a lack of preparation. So, find out as much as you can about the company, research the job, and formulate a strategy to stand out in that interview among all the other candidates. Getting a cheat sheet together and studying it can help you out, too.


8. Make a Good First Impression

Your job interview starts the second you walk in the door, so be ready. Practice walking into a room if you have to. But more than anything, learn how first impressions work and do everything you can to make a good one: be on time, dress and groom yourself well, and be aware of your body language. Remember, just giving a damn will go a long way in your first impression—if you don't want to be there, they'll know.


7. Tackle the Tough Questions

Once you're inside, it's time for the hard part: answering the interview questions. Know the questions you'll be expected to answer backwards and forwards, and do some extra research on answering the really tough ones, like "what is your biggest weakness," "have you ever been fired," "tell me about a challenge you faced with a coworker," or even just the ever-vague "tell me about yourself." Most of your answers will probably follow a specific pattern, so when in doubt, fall back on the STAR technique. But most of all: learn why they're asking you each question and tailor your responses to their hidden motives. Don't be afraid to dance around questions you'd rather not answer, too.


6. Ask Some Questions Yourself

Your interviewer shouldn't be the only one asking questions. This is your chance to not only make a good impression, but learn a bit more about the job you're applying for. Ask a few questions that will make you look good, as well as some questions that'll show you whether this is the right job for you. With the right questions prepared, you'll be one step ahead of the competition.


5. Emphasize Your Good Qualities

You'll probably feel the need to be humble, but don't. Shameless self-promotion is a good thing in job interviews. In fact, it's the only thing you can really do to showcase your good qualities. If you don't have experience to tout, remember that potential is actually more valuable than experience: if you can show why you're a promising hire, you're in.


4. Avoid the Common Pitfalls

So you've learned what to do, but it's also important to know what to avoid. Even something as simple as negative body language can sabotage your chances, so make sure you aren't hurting yourself without knowing it. Research the subjects you should avoid and make sure you don't overshare, particularly when it comes to your personal life. As long as you don't raise any red flags, you should be good to go.


3. Recover When Things Go South

Hopefully, with the right preparation, your interview will go smoothly. But, if you end up answering a question terribly or hit a common brick wall (like claims of over qualification), learn how to turn the tide quickly so you can get back on good footing. If you leave the interview thinking the whole thing was a disaster, you can always request a second interview explaining the problems you had, too.


2. Follow Up Afterwards

Don't let your interview be the last they hear from you. If you follow up afterwards, you'll help them remember who you are, and make sure your resume doesn't fall into the abyss of the forgotten. Send a thank you note after your interview, and a short email later on to check in if you haven't heard back. Take into account how you've been communicating with them so far, though, as different modes of communication may be more beneficial. If you have a follow up interview, be sure to nail that too.


1. If You Don't Get Hired, Find Out Why

Not every interview will be a winner, sadly, even if you do everything right. If you don't get hired, the best thing you can do is find out why and apply that knowledge to your next round of interviews. Look back on your interview and think about what you could have done better, whether it's avoiding the "overqualification" trap or just simply using better grammar. There are any number of reasons someone might not hire you, and all you can do is use this round as practice for your next interview.