A few career tips from a guy who’s been through the grind (just like you) and found fulfillment by helping others realize their career potential. Warning: the list below may include a few bad puns; any redundancy in content, particularly around the importance of networking, is intentional.
1. Chill out, seriously. Don’t obsess over the next dream job. It may not exist. Be honest with yourself. The perfect job may not exist. Or it may exist, but the boss might be a douche. Or the company might lay you off as quickly as they hired you. Or there might be an earth-shattering corporate scandal (not your fault, obviously) that makes you ashamed of working there. Some of my career coaching clients are convinced that company X is the only choice for them, or job Y is the only thing they’d ever consider. I do my best to keep their minds open, just in case they don’t get the job or, worse yet, they do get it and the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Career development isn’t always about climbing, clawing, job-hopping and jumping ship. Sometimes it’s about how to make the best of your current professional circumstances. Ah, sorry to be a downer. I promise the other tips are more upbeat!
2. Bridges are best maintained, not burned. Unless you really, really, really, super-duper-really hate your boss or colleagues (and even then!), do your best to move on from a job on good terms. Thank your team for everything they’ve taught you, write them a good LinkedIn recommendation (be specific), and then be outta there like swimwear! Also, always be kind after an interview, particularly after a failed attempt (i.e., after a job rejection). Send a follow-up note to the involved parties thanking them for their engagement during the interview process, reiterating what you learned and how you can help them should their needs change in the future. More often than you think, the person they hired may not work out, or might work out too well and get promoted quickly, so the vacancy might be posted back up in 6-12 months. Don’t burn bridges. Arson is illegal.
3. You’re awesome! (probably, in some way). When embarking upon a job search, realize that you’re in control. Yes, you. Not the job market. It’s always going to be competitive, particularly if you covet a well-paying, challenging, fulfilling job. You control how you appear to the outside world, via your LinkedIn profile, your resume, your website, etc. Study the job description. Research the company in question. Find out what about the place excites you, and tailor your professional documents to that end. Show them how good you really are! And if you’re not good, or you think that you’re not good, keep reading.
4. Care for a cup of communi-tea? Informational interviews are the best thing since sliced bread! Find out who the movers and shakers in your target industry/function are. Then invite them out. Treat them to coffee or tea, or to lunch if that’s how you roll, you big spender. And pick their brains. Ask them good questions. People love talking about themselves. Learn about their professional trajectory, their educational history, their skill set, their projects, and their challenges. And don’t do this just once.
A few times a year is a healthy start, but if you’re serious about your own career, hold a couple of informational interviews per month, or as often as your schedule allows. Don’t do this ONLY when you’re looking for a new job. Do this throughout your career. It will help build out your network, provide job prospects, and give you tons of creative ideas. Plus, you might make a new friend. Just sayin’. In short, you will learn tons (speaking of short tons, the blue whale weighs nearly 200 short tons, or about 400,000 pounds, the equivalent of 2,600 adult humans – the blue whale is considered to be the largest animal to have ever existed! Sorry, I’m obsessed with nature documentaries).
5. Humility + Confidence = a sexy combination. No, it’s not a contradiction. You can be humble and confident. Be honest (to yourself, and to others) about what you know. After all, no one else has the exact combination of skills, experience and personality that you have, and there are 7,000,000,000+ people on this earth (and a few more orbiting in space). Think about it from the perspective of a hiring manager: hesitation is not sexy; it can lead to doubt and even suspicion. Modesty is annoying. Arrogance should be illegal. Ranting is a turn-off. On the other hand, confidence, stated expertise and concise communication are always charming.
6. Don’t be a martyr. Be smarter. (Do I get bonus points for the rhyme?). Don’t do it alone. If you’re struggling, seek help (and that goes for any sort of struggle, be it professional, spiritual, physical or mental). New clients will sometimes call me saying that they’ve been miserable at their jobs for years. It breaks my heart, it really does, and then we get right to work on next steps! Not everyone wants to, or can “afford” hiring professional help. That said, there are plenty of free or low-cost job search services at local community centers, libraries, and the like. So, really, there’s no excuse. I’m always amazed at how people will pay strangers good money to watch their kids, or will drop tons of cash weekly on dining out, but will balk at paying a professional resume writer or career coach whose single goal is to help them with their career. You dig?
7. Stop spending all your hard-earned money on others. Invest in yo’self before you wreck yo’self! Think of career development as what it is: an investment in yourself. You can spend $1,000 on a new TV. Or you can spend half that amount on a resume writer or career coach, land a better paying job (or land a job more quickly), and that investment will pay for itself ten-fold (sometimes much more). You can buy 10+ new TVs with your new income. Ask any successful human being in any line of work and they’ll tell you the same thing: you’ve got to spend money to make money, and there is no better way to spend money than on your own professional development. That fancy TV can wait, trust me.
8. Work that network, work it real good! (it should technically be work it “really well” but that just sounds lame). See Tip #7. Even if you don’t hire professional help, reach out to your network for a second opinion. Whether it be a friend with HR chops who helps you with interview prep, or a writer pal who fixes those pesky resume and LinkedIn typos. We all have blind spots. People are here to help. Engage your people. And be generous in return.
9. Get the heck out of your comfort zone (or not). Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of, you guessed it – insanity! If you’re overworked, overstressed, underpaid or just plain over it (as suggested in the title of this article), you’ve got to do something about it. Well, you don’t have to. But if you want to improve your lot in life, you’re the only one who can do anything about it! So, try something new: be it attending a networking event, enrolling in an online class, or taking on a new project at work. You will learn, you will make mistakes, and you’ll be a stronger professional as a result.
10. Network IRL. And avoid those pesky networking events! (IRL means “in real life” for those who hate short-hand). Networking in person is so much more fun and effective. If you do it right (e.g., be yourself, don’t be desperate), you stand to make a much stronger impression face-to-face than you would with, say, only a LinkedIn exchange. Some of my clients are antisocial creatures, and I show them how easy it can be to talk to other people. Just making conversation. No big deal. Except when it leads to a job interview – then it’s a cause for celebration! Also, networking events — you know, the ones where everyone is in the same boat trying to get clients or land a job interview — can be stiff, uncomfortable, repetitive, boring or just too darn contrived. You’re better off joining a Meetup group around a fun activity or hobby — you’ll enjoy yourself more and you’ll network organically. After all, everyone is a potential networking contact, but it won’t feel like networking when you’re flying that kite, knitting that hat, sipping that rare wine, or engaging in whatever creepy NSFW hobby you might be into ;-). I’m into mushroom foraging — the kind of ’shrooms you throw into an omelette, not the hallucinogenic ones, silly!
11. Social media networking is not the devil some of you think it is. Listen, I get it. As a society, we spend entirely too much time online. It’s part of the reason I decided to quit my 9-to-5 years ago to start my own business; it allowed me more time to travel, to explore nature down the street, and to step away from my computer and phone whenever I felt like I needed a recharge. That said, precisely because so many people use social media networking sites, it’s genuinely a great place to meet people, make connections, exchange information, and learn new skills. LinkedIn is a powerful tool (nope, they’re not paying me to say that). I’ve used it effectively in my own job search years ago, and now I use it to help my clients boost their own networks. By the way, if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile photo, you are 7x-11x LESS likely to get traction from potential networking contacts, recruiters, and prospective employers. So, put your best foot forward. You’re in control of your public profile – use it to your professional advantage.
12. Show it off. Show it all off (well, not all). Let your uniqueness shine. Show it off. You may have a few lookalikes/doppelgangers in Switzerland or Swaziland, but you are unique on this earth. No one has your combination of skills, experience and sass. Use this to your advantage. Make sure your resume, LinkedIn profile or other professional portfolio demonstrates who you are, illustrates your unique achievements, and stands out from a visual standpoint. Don’t have the time to design a website or update your resume? Not sure where to start? Hire a professional! See Tip #6 and #7.
13. I bet you think this article is about you. Yeah, but it’s also not about you. Success is most easily achieved when you help other people, be it friends, family, co-workers or clients. Warning: this may also lead to life satisfaction and, dare I say it, happiness.
14. Gimme a break, gimme a break. Break me off a piece of that… Step away from the job search and career development process once in a while. Sometimes we need to step back from our daily lives, zoom out, and see the bigger picture. Often, we wait until tragedy strikes (layoffs, death of a loved one, etc.) to snap us out of our routines, but you can actually do this intentionally, right now. Take stock of what’s important to you in terms of career, work-life balance (which may not be important to you, and that’s okay), and next steps. After all, it’s so much easier to look for a job when you’re currently employed and not miserable. Don’t wait until you’re in a desperate bind, like some of my clients do (I still love you all, though!).
15. Unemployment -> Funemployment. Also, attention all workaholics – take that vacation! If you find yourself unemployed, use this newfound time wisely. Consider taking a vacation, even an inexpensive local getaway or a totally free stay-cation. Unfortunately, too many Americans don’t take their allotted vacation time because they (a) fear getting laid off, (b) are workaholics and think working non-stop is good for productivity, (c) don’t enjoy their families and prefer to work, or (d) genuinely enjoy their jobs and hate traveling. When I worked in an office setting, I took every single vacation day that I earned – first, it was part of my compensation and, more importantly, I found that I came back to work re-energized, more creative and significantly more productive in the weeks after my trip.
Unemployment is also a great opportunity to learn new skills, volunteer, and spend more time with friends and family; to do all the silly things you said you would do if you had all the time in the world. Well, now is your chance. And unemployment is also a great time to build out your network. If you maintain an upbeat, positive attitude (rather than letting everyone know you’re unemployed and desperate) others are going to be more supportive of you and more likely to help you out. I speak not just from personal experience, but from the experience of many of my clients.
16. Avoid asking others if they know of any jobs for you. It can come across as little desperate. There are so many other more tactful ways to ask the same thing: “e.g. I’m really impressed with your LinkedIn profile and would love to treat you to coffee and pick your brain.” See Tip #4.
17. Use your ears. More than your mouth. The most successful interviews are the ones where the candidate asks insightful questions, and the interviewer/hiring manager does most of the talking. I know because I’ve been on all sides of the equation: as a recruiter, HR employee, and interviewee.
18. Volunteering for the win! Helping others builds your network organically, elevates your mood, supports your mental and social health, teaches you new skills, and gets your creative juices flowing. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do. Find a cause, and donate 1 hour of your time each month (or more often).
19. Green can help you earn more green. Nature is a cure for so much that ails us, and yet for the first time in history there are more humans living in urban centers than in rural environments. Even if you’re a germophobic city kid with 15 allergies, consider that a day trip to the mountains, or the ocean, or even the urban park, can do wonders for your mood, creativity, productivity and overall health. I used to work right by Central Park, and of the thousands of people in my office building, I was one of very few who regularly lunched at the park. Such a tragedy, I think. Oh, and if you are going to the woods, don’t forget the (natural) bug spray!
20. Worry more, not less!!! I’m kidding, of course. We all get anxious to varying degrees. But we also know on some level how useless (and, actually, counterproductive) worrying is. In recent years, I’ve trained myself to remind myself not to worry so much about every little detail. Truly, done is better than perfect. Sometimes I even play a little mental game with myself: how can I worry more? It’s really just a way to lightly poke fun at myself, and it helps me realize how silly some of my concerns really are. Many of my clients are terribly worried about whether anyone will be looking at their new LinkedIn page (of course they’re looking, and that’s a good thing!) or whether their boss might terminate them (in some cases, that might actually be a positive thing!), or whether their resume is good enough (it may not be perfect, but a resume that is decent and is in the “Sent” folder is infinitely better than a near-perfect resume that just sits idly in the “Draft” folder. Get my drift?).
21. Surround yourself with high-quality people. Years ago, I read that you become the average of the 5 people around you. It is so true. Not just in terms of the types of inner jokes or lingo you may share, but in terms of wealth, intelligence, kindness, life satisfaction and myriad other attributes. If your immediate network sucks, it may be time to do some social spring cleaning. Yes, this might mean you have to make new friends, or maybe revisit old ones whom you’ve neglected over the years.
22. Networking is not your enemy. Ugh, not another tip on networking! Truly, don’t be afraid of networking. All it involves is just talking to people, asking how their day went. I’m an immigrant from an Eastern European country known for a rather reserved personality (Poland), and it took me many years of living in the U.S. to get comfortable with talking to strangers at bars, restaurants, airports and cafes. But practice made perfect when I realized that people are social creatures, and most are happy to just chit-chat about life. One easy way to start networking, for those of you who absolutely hate the idea: find an activity you already enjoy, whether it’s knitting or kite-flying or coding or wine tasting. Go out, enjoy, meet people, and much like the wine, the conversations will flow.
23. What are you most proud of? Instead of asking yourself: Why is the job search so hard? Why am I broke? Why can’t I get a promotion? Why am I tired of my current resume? … Ask yourself a positive and decidedly more powerful question: What am I most proud of? Take stock of your professional and personal achievements. This simple exercise helps some of my clients identify or refine their job goals and grand life aspirations. Career road-mapping, yo!
24. Find a mentor. Become a mentor. There are plenty of people who know more about topic X than you do, and also plenty who know much less. To level yourself up, find a mentor. Learn from them. Let them challenge you and support you in equal measure. Also, become a mentor for someone else. Help others to grow. You’ll sharpen your own leadership, coaching, motivation and communication skills along the way – which are useful in every profession (even the world’s oldest one!). Speaking of thought leaders, one of my unofficial mentors is Marshall Goldsmith. I say “unofficial” only because he and I haven’t technically met, but for several years I have followed his amazing content online — Marshall is one of the world’s top executive coaches and, dare I say, a doggone engaging “effectiveness philosopher” (if that’s not a thing, I’m happy to have coined it). If you want to experience his kind-hearted but lethally-effective, and possibly life-changing (if you let it be) collection of blogs, videos, and books, visit marshallgoldsmith.com. Nope, I don’t get any money from his site. I just love the guy and admire his pureness, authenticity and engaging delivery — and want to share his powerful message with others.
25. Do one thing. Just one. Less thinking, more doing. Do one thing this month that will actually boost your career prospects. Take one, just one, learning course, be it at a local community college or online (many are free or low-cost, and offer a free-trial period). Consider a topic that is related to the job you’re targeting, whether it’s a technical skill (specific software) or soft skill (management acumen, etc.). If you don’t do this, that’s totally fine. But you’ve got no one else to blame.
26. Less is more. Don’t apply to too many jobs at once. Don’t send too many follow-up emails to the same person. It’s a headache, it’s a time suck, and if you don’t get traction you will burn out quickly. Be more targeted. Tweak your resume and cover letter to each job best you can, so it’s more relevant and increases your chances of hearing back from the employer. Work that network. Research each job and company carefully. Make every effort count. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the resume black hole. And it ain’t pretty.
27. Refresh your brand. Like the Queen Bey herself, you too deserve a bit of glitz and glamour. Think: a fan blowing in your hair with flattering lighting while a fine mist sparkles around you – figuratively speaking, that is. If your resume, LinkedIn, cover letter and website look drab and so-last-decade, outdated in terms of content and format alike, it’s time a brand refresh. Do it yourself, but only if you’ve got the time, the drive and the skill set to make it look damn good. Otherwise, hire a professional. I can’t tell you how many of my clients get re-energized just because I tweaked a few things on their resume. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Other times, it requires a major overhaul. If you’re having great success with your job search, you don’t need to be reading this, and I’m sorry for stating the obvious.
28. F*ck politics for a moment. I know that right now we live in a highly-charged political climate (it’s actually always been like that, but maybe it just seems worse these days?). Consider reaching out to someone on the “other” side, someone you don’t typically interact with, and see if you can find something in common, either related to business, education, charity, or the like. Don’t discuss politics, or religion, or sports, not because you can’t, but because there are so many other things in the world worth exploring. You may learn a lot more from people who don’t think like you. Otherwise, you’re just getting validated by like-minded friends and you’re not really, well, growing. So, step out of your comfort zone once in blue moon (by the way, blue moons occur when fires or volcanic eruptions deposit particles of a certain size in the atmosphere).
29. Confused? Overwhelmed? If you don’t know what to do next, do anything! Try something bats#it cray cray. I mean, we Americans tend to be over-planners, and then life slaps us in the face anyway. If you’re confused, or looking for a major career switch, perhaps it’s time to try something new and different. I know, I know, it’s scary. I went through it when I quit my 9-to-5 a few years ago, but it was the best decision of my life. So many mistakes, so many successes, so many lessons learned. There are so many stories out there of, say, a bored accountant who becomes a successful glass blower, or a burnt-out lawyer who opens a bangin’ bakery. Such examples are becoming more common as the workforce becomes more mobile… or perhaps people are just more outspoken and it’s been a thing for many years. Either way, you’re not alone.
30. Start a side hustle (but… baby steps). So, you’re not happy at your current job and find yourself daydreaming about another career. But can you really do it? Well, there’s one simple-but-not-always-easy way to try: allocate a few weeknights or weekends to your side hustle, whether it’s web design, accounting, baking, or tennis coaching. You may need to start with one or two pro bono clients (a friend, a relative) just to get experience as well to collect testimonials that you can use for marketing purposes. But immediately after, start charging an appropriate rate. Don’t offer deep discounts just to get more clients – you’ll get the least grateful clients that way — trust me, I learned the hard way. And please declare the side hustle earnings to the IRS… be a good sport. Integrity and honesty make the world a better place, fo sho.
31. Be loyal, but don’t expect loyalty in return. Too many of my clients these days come to me, having been at their company 10+ years, only to get laid off suddenly. You’ve got to be as proactive as you can be in terms of outlining your career roadmap. Don’t sit back passively waiting for the proverbial axe. Anticipate possible future outcomes. Have at least some backup plan.
32. Let it go, let it go (ugh, that children’s song is still stuck in my head – Disney, can I get compensation for my aural trauma if it interferes with my work?). I’ll keep this last one simple. Change is inevitable, particularly with regard to your career. Let it happen. Accept that it will happen. Plan best you can, be tough on yourself and kind to others, and enjoy the ride! I wish you nothing but success and professional growth.
Bonus tip: Talk to anyone who has meditated consistently for at least 6 months, or is an avid yoga practitioner. Your mind may be blown.
Dawid (David) Wiacek is a career coach, resume writer, avid baker and insatiable traveler.