Maybe you've just finished school, or dropped out. Or maybe you're ready to change career.
In any case, you don't want to screw it up. Here are my top tips:
Go with what you got. For example, if you're good at writing but a lousy team player, fight to get a job that allows you to be that best self. Yeah, I know that self-help
gurus tell you to keep learning and that with effort, you can
accomplish almost anything. Bull. Few people grow enough from
remediating their weaknesses to justify spending the time on that rather
than on using and building on natural strengths.
Be contrarian. If you search for jobs in popular areas--environment, entertainment, law, medicine, nonprofits--the competition is fierce. Go for the less sexy, for example: management
in an industrial company, exporter of obsolete high-tech machinery to
developing nations, work at a toxic waste disposal business. In the end,
career contentment comes from doing a good job, having responsibility,
getting appreciation, good pay and job security. You're more likely to
find all those in something other than a "cool career."
Do the most you can, not the least you can get away with. I know that sounds like your parents' preaching but that is key to success. Really.
Procrastination is career cancer.
During a talk to college presidents, I asked, "How many of you consider
yourself a procrastinator?" Fifteen percent raised their hand. I asked
the same question to a group of unemployed people. 90% did.
Use your network. Alas, good jobs are ever harder to
find. Unless you're a star, most of them go to someone with an "in." So
pitch everyone you know. Give 'em just one sentence, for example, "I'm
good on a team, keeping things organized, and calm. I'd like to work in government. Know anyone I should talk with?"
Consider self-employment. That's the fastest way to
go from schlepper to CEO. Yes, I know that most businesses soon go out
of business. But if you keep it really simple and choose a low-status
business, your odds skyrocket--you'll be competing with lesser lights.
Examples: online dating
coach, a small chain of flower carts near a busy bus or train terminal,
heavy equipment servicer (e.g., printing presses, MRI machines.)
Append yourself to excellence. Try to get to report
to a smart, hard-working, ethical, kind person who knows a lot about the
field. Better to be that person's entry-level assistant than to have an
important job aside a cretin.
Be low maintenance. Yes, if it's important,
complain, but recognize that you pay a price for each whine. One of the
best things you can say to a boss or even co-worker: "How can I make
your life easier?"
Do your hobby at work. There's usually a way. For
example, I play the piano. How in the world could I incorporate that
into my work as a career counselor? Many ways. For example, when I want
my client to take a moment to think about a plan we've developed, I say,
"I'll play some soft piano to give you a little space to reflect as
well as to get us out of our head space and help you get in touch with
your feelings about the plan we've concocted." Clients like it and so do
Keep ethics primary.
I'm well aware that cheaters often do prosper but I really believe that
you'll feel better about your life if you always let ethics trump
Always take the next step forward. Looking back at
past mistakes or unfairnesses is more likely to keep you mired than to
teach you lessons. Looking aside at others is more likely to make you jealous or aspire to keep up with the Joneses than to help you do what you think is right for you. Always take the next step forward.