Escape 101

Be An Entrepreneur….Or Just Think Like One

January 24th, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

As a career & interview coach, one of my core philosophies  is that we all must learn to think like entrepreneurs when it comes to managing our careers.

That doesn’t mean all of my clients are running their own businesses — many are very happy and successful in Corporate America or working for others. However, they all know that it’s important to run their careers like they would run a business.

An entrepreneurial mindset is key to success in any career path these days – whether you’re starting your own company, climbing the corporate ladder, or managing a career transition.

That’s why I’m excited about teaching a new class at New York University called How to Think Like an Entrepreneur at Work: Improve Your Results in Any Job

In three weekly evening sessions (February 10, 17, 24), students will learn the techniques and strategies that successful entrepreneurs use to identify opportunities, generate brilliant ideas,  develop and sell their “products” (including their expertise and talents), create action plans, persevere in the face of rejection and obstacles, and more. Learn more and sign up to join us.

P.S. I  am also gearing up to teach a new NYU semester  of Coaching Clients Through Professional and Personal Transitions, which provides instruction on essential transition coaching skills for managers, HR specialists, and professional coaches. It’s a valuable class for anyone working with clients or employees in transition.

Corporate Escape Artist Radio with Vera Babayeva

March 10th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Tune in at 11:30 AM EST today for our Corporate Escape Artist Radio interview with Vera Babayeva, founder of Women Can Have It All, a community for mom entrepreneurs.

Vera made her escape this year and will share her perspective on starting a business in today’s challenging economic environment and her advice for women trying to balance a new business with family responsibilities.

Listen live and call in with questions for Vera.

Listen to Corporate Escape Artist Radio with Margot Tohn

March 4th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

For those who missed our first Corporate Escape Artist radio show with Margot Tohn yesterday, you can check out the recording (listen live or download to iTunes) here: Corporate Escape Artist Radio with Margot Tohn

Margot shares lots of great advice on entrepreneurship, product development, self-publishing and more. Thanks to Margot and my wonderful co-host Chicke Fitzgerald at Solutionz Live! for a great show.

Are you interested in joining us as a future Corporate Escape Artist radio show guest? Let me know.

Banished from Corporate America? Work for Yourself

January 2nd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

grandopening

If you’re tired of waiting around for the job market to improve, for hiring managers to get back to you, for a decent position to show up on Monster.com, it may be time to seize control and see what kind of job you can create for yourself.

For years, I have been writing about the joys of escaping from Corporate America to find more fulfilling work. The best decision that I ever made was to walk away from my six-figure financial services job to start my own business.

Of course, that was in 2005. In 2008, many of those who left Corporate America did not do it by choice. They were pushed off the corporate ladder and felt lucky if they got a severance package to cushion the fall.

And now, many feel like they have been banished from Corporate America for good. There are far fewer jobs for far more applicants than ever before, especially on Wall Street (where many of my friends and coaching clients were superstars for years before getting laid off).

In this job market, many feel lucky to have jobs that they hate because at least they’re collecting pay checks. Others are willing to take whatever position they can get until the economy improves.

Does all of this mean that job satisfaction is an outdated luxury? That you should give up hope of finding fulfilling work?

NO. Yes, a recession is absolutely a tough time to find a job or make a career change. Yes, you may need to make some sacrifices to pay your bills through the downturn. But you don’t have to give up on your dreams forever.

Now is the time to take control of your career and start running it like a business. In fact, now may be the perfect time to start running your own business.

You don’t have to line up millions in venture funding. You don’t have to give up on your job hunt to explore entrepreneurship. You can start a business on the side in your spare time from your computer. After all, that’s how a lot of us managed to make successful escapes from Corporate America — by starting our businesses on the side and doing some ethical moonlighting.

You can launch a business as a consultant or freelancer today — all you need is the talent that you already possess and the confidence to go out and sell it. Or you can think much bigger. Some of the greatest (and wealthiest) entrepreneurs in history left Corporate America to pursue their dreams.

You can potentially start bringing in revenue right away. Maybe you’ll decide to ditch your job search and focus on your business full-time. Or maybe you’ll just keep it going until the market improves and you land the job of your dreams.

Haven’t you always wondered what it would be like to work for yourself? Now may be the perfect time to find out. In fact, many of the entrepreneurs that I interviewed for Escape from Corporate America started their successful businesses after they were laid off during the last downturn. Some of them did it because they were able to use their severance packages to pay the bills during the first, lean months of entrepreneurship. Some of them were fueled by anger over getting laid off and vowed to never be at the mercy of bad managers again. Still others found that unemployment finally gave them some time to really think about what they wanted to do with their lives.

I’m not saying that entrepreneurship is an easy out for frustrated job hunters. To make your own business work, you will have to put in a lot of sweat. However, all of that sweat will go into building something real. The rewards can be life changing.

2009 may just be the year that you discover a new purpose and show the world what you can do. And who knows? You may someday look back on being banished from Corporate America as a gift.

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years? Visualize Your Escape

August 14th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

It’s a stupid interview question. There is no remotely honest way to answer this question in an interview that will please a hiring manager. I always went with something like: “Working in a challenging role in a fantastic company like yours!” Which is a total BS response, but always seemed to satisfy interviewers (Do you have a better answer or a really unwise answer that you regret? Please share.)

But have you ever REALLY thought about where you see yourself in five years? Most of us haven’t — especially in the corporate world. We move from opportunity to opportunity without much thought about the future beyond wanting to keep advancing and making more money (and avoiding the layoff fairy). That’s probably because it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen during five years of reorganizations, mergers, and other fun corporate games.
read more…

Are You A Corporate Casualty? Take the Quiz and Find Out.

July 10th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

How do you know if you should escape from Corporate America? How can you determine if it’s time to make a major career change or if you’re just having a bad week?

I put together my Are You A Corporate Casualty? quiz based on the  research and interviews I conducted while writing Escape from Corporate America.

I would love it if you could spend a few minutes taking the quiz. We are compiling the results to try to get a better sense of just how many aspiring corporate escapees are out there (and what is driving them up the cubicle wall).

The quiz was debuted online a few weeks ago by the amazing Guy Kawasaki (thanks again to Guy for taking the time to speak with me) and the response has been great so far.

Please pass the quiz link along to any disgruntled friends who might welcome an opportunity to vent!

How to Get Started in Freelancing or Consulting | A Guide for the Recently Laid-Off

June 24th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Given the seemingly-daily announcements of new corporate layoffs, it’s no surprise that my most frequently asked question of the moment is about how to start a career as a freelancer or independent consultant. Many of these queries come from the recently downsized. Some of them are looking for ways to make extra cash while hunting for their next full-time position. Others are fed up with layoffs and bad corporate behavior and thinking about making a permanent switch to working for themselves.

If you’re currently between jobs (or fear you may be soon), I recommend giving the freelance life a try. Even if you have no interest in working for yourself long-term, it’s a great way to create a temporary cash flow and make valuable contacts (those freelance clients will likely be hiring for full-time positions eventually).

Freelancing is also a good way to take control when the indignities of the typical job search start to make you feel powerless. Who knows? You may be so successful on your own  that you’ll never want to return to cubicle life. I know many thriving solopreneurs who started freelancing as a temporary arrangement between gigs and got hooked.

So how do you get started? If you’ve been laid off, you’re probably  itching to start making some money fast. That’s why I put together the tips below on how to quickly land those first paying gigs (for more in-depth advice on launching a career as a solopreneur, please also check out Chapter 8 of  Escape from Corporate America). 

1) Define your service offering. For some of you, this is a no-brainer. Certain career specializations lend themselves to freelancing more easily than others. For example, there is always demand for freelance writers, designers, and programmers. But there are also plenty of opportunities for those whose skills are not quite as easily packaged. Think about who might be able to use your knowledge, talents and experience on a freelance basis. Can you manage projects, advise on strategy, conduct research, or revamp processes (to name just a few examples)? It’s important to be proactive about defining what you can do. Don’t just wait around for potential clients to tell you what they need.

2) Set your rates. The question of what to charge can be a challenging one. When you’re starting out, setting your rate will be more art than science. Do your research on the going market rates for similar services by checking out listings for freelancing and consulting assignments on the sites mentioned in Tip #3 below. Join a networking group for independent professionals in your field (like Freelancers’ Union or Mediabistro for example) and ask other members about appropriate fee ranges. As a newbie, you’ll probably have to be a bit flexible. Once you’ve got some experience to back up your claims of greatness and a better understanding of your fair market value, you can always adjust your rates accordingly.

 3) Find assignments. There are potential clients out there looking for you right now. You just have to know where to find them.

  • Start with online freelance marketplaces like eLance.com and Guru.com. You can browse through available projects and bid on the ones that interest you.
  • Job boards like Monster.com and Hotjobs.com can also be good sources. Search for "freelance" or "contract" positions. Similarly, there are often freelance job listings on Craigslist. Many of these listings are placed by staffing agencies that frequently fill contract positions. Make note of which agencies have posted attractive opportunities and consider contacting them directly to ask about other openings.For example, Hired Guns is a NYC-based agency that specializes in contract and freelance work.

4)  Do your own business development. Not all great assignments are listed. That’s why it pays to reach out to your network and let people know that you are available for freelance or contract work. Describe the types of projects that you’re seeking and express your appreciation for any leads or suggestions. And don’t stop with the people that you already know. Spend a few bucks on some business cards for your freelancing business and pass them out at networking events and other gatherings (you can get cheap business cards at VistaPrint, but I recommend steering clear of the free ones with the VistaPrint logo that make it obvious just HOW cheap your cards are). While you’re at it, update your profile on LinkedIn and Facebook (and other social networks and industry directories)  to reflect your new status as a consultant.

5) Get to work. Once you’ve got your first assignment, the hardest part is over. Do a great job, get paid, and prepare for more work to roll in.

Of course, it will take time to learn all of the ins and outs of freelance life — invoicing, managing your time, managing your clients, managing your cash flow, and all of that fun stuff. If you have questions about these or other aspects of making the move from employee to independent consultant, let me know and I I’ll address them in a future post. Similarly, if you’re an experienced independent contractor with tips for those new to the game, please share your wisdom.

The important thing to remember is that you don’t necessarily need a 9-to-5 job to pay your bills. That can be very reassuring news for anyone who has been laid off or is feeling panicky about the less-than-promising job market. If you’ve ever thought about what it might be like to work for yourself, now may be the perfect time to try it out.

6 Career Change Mistakes to Avoid

May 8th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Guest blogger Heather Johnson has some great advice on common career change mistakes and how to avoid them.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and shift your career, then you’re bound to be feeling a bit vulnerable.  As you make your transition, you will likely experience a myriad of  emotions including anger, anxiety, stress, excitement and terror.  With all of these emotions running wild, wrong turns sometimes start to look like good ideas  To minimize stress during your career change,  avoid these six common mistakes:

1.    Not having a plan in place.  Even if you have a clearly thought-out strategy to shift your career, it can still take a couple of months to complete.  If you just up and quit your current job with no plan in place, you may be facing an even longer and more stressful transition period. 

2.    Changing your career because you hate your job.  Don’t mix up your career with your job.  It may be that you’re at the wrong company but not in the wrong profession.  Don’t let a bad job make you rethink your career path.  Figure out if it’s your job or your career that you hate before making a drastic move.

3.    Making a change just for the money.  Remember the old adage that money can’t buy happiness when you feel lured by dollar signs toward a different career.  Even if a different profession inherently offers more money than your current field, be careful about switching for money alone.  If you switch and hate your new career, you’ll be spending that extra money to relieve your newfound stress.

4.    Changing careers due to pressure from others.  If you like your job and make a reasonable living, then you shouldn’t change your job because of what others have to say about it.  Your parents, spouse or friends don’t have to go to your job every day.  While you can certainly respect their opinions, don’t let those opinions dictate your career choices.

5.    Changing careers because someone you know is successful.  It’s human nature to compare yourself to your friends and family members.  But don’t make a hasty career change because you’re envious of the success a friend has had in a given field.  Put your competitive impulses aside and think about whether you would truly be happy in your friend’s shoes. 

6.    Searching for a new career without honing your skills.  Before you take the plunge and actually change your career, take the proper time to prepare. Do your homework on the field you’re interested in and seek out any additional training or knowledge you will need.  Make sure your resume is up to date and presents your qualifications in the best possible light.  Practice interviewing with friends and start building your network.

This article is contributed by Heather Johnson, who regularly writes on the topic of career exploration. She invites you to email her with questions and writing job opportunities.

7 Reasons to Change Careers Now (Never Mind the Recession)

April 9th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Think a shaky economy means it’s too risky to make a career change? Think again. In fact, now may be the perfect time to make your move.

After all, long-term job market forecasts project severe labor shortages ahead as Baby Boomers continue to retire or scale back their careers in record numbers. While short-term job prospects don’t look quite as cheery, that doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist or that you’re stuck in job purgatory for the duration.

If you’ve been feeling unhappy in your current career, there’s no time like the present to kick-start your career change and position yourself for years of future success. Here’s why:

1) Your current job is not secure.

caution career change

You may be tempted to grit your teeth and cling to your current position until the economic forecasts start to look sunnier. In today’s workforce, that’s a dangerous strategy. When an 80+-year-old Wall Street institution like Bear Stearns can disappear practically overnight, no job is truly secure. It doesn’t really matter how good you are at your job or how much boss butt you kiss.

If you have been contemplating a career change, there’s no good reason to put it off until the unemployment rate falls again. I’m not suggesting that you make any rash moves like quitting before you’re financially ready, but you can start developing your career change strategy now. Get started on the homework you need to do while you’re still collecting your paycheck. Update your resume, step up your networking, explore your options, and develop your skills.

You will be taking a career risk whether you resign yourself to staying in the job you hate or start moving toward the job you’ll love. Why not put your energies into the risk that could have the biggest reward?

Put your career change in motion now, even if it’s only taking baby steps in your spare time. Not only will you be ready to launch your dream career that much sooner, you will also be better prepared just in case your name pops up on one of those downsizing lists unexpectedly.

2. Plenty of companies are hiring right now.

for hire

The overall job forecasts may look bleak at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that nobody’s hiring. There have been a flurry of articles about “recession-proof jobs”  in the media lately.  The fields that are expected to stay strong despite a possible recession include education, energy, health care, environmental careers, and international business. That doesn’t mean that you should flee blindly to these professions if they don’t inspire you. However, if your dream career is connected to any of these growing industries, you may find it fairly easy to make a move. 

Lots of other companies in all industries are also hiring. Yes, there are fewer job openings than there were at this time last year. Then again, you only need one good one. It may take a little bit longer to land a great position, but there’s no reason to abandon all hope.


3. But if you really want job security, you have to work for yourself.

pencil holder pig


When you work for yourself, you never have to worry about getting fired. Today, just about anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can start a business. You can even keep your day job if you want to (or need to for financial reasons while you build your business).

Of course, you’ll have to be prepared to put in some work. Running a successful business is no cakewalk and entrepreneurship may not be the right career move for everyone. However, it’s definitely the best way to go if you really want to live by your wits. You’ll have to find your own clients, manage your own time, and pay for your own bagels. But you’ll never be at the complete mercy of one boss or one company ever again.

4. Living in fear isn’t healthy.

worry


When layoff rumors start flying, it’s easy to get caught up in worry and speculation. We gossip about who deserves to go, we curse the stupid managers who got us into this mess to begin with, and we waste a lot of time on scary worst-case scenarios. If it goes on too long, this can sabotage your job performance and have an impact on your mental and physical health.

The best thing to do to stop the madness is channel your energy into something constructive – like preparing for your career change. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel once you’ve taken charge of the situation and are actively working toward your next career move.

5. Sometimes you need someone to light a fire under your ass.

lit match


Apologies if that sounds harsh. But the truth is that lots of people stay stuck for years in careers that are uninspiring or downright miserable. Why? Because it never gets quite bad enough to force them to make a move. I know I stayed in my corporate career for a good couple of years longer than I should have because of my belief that “it could be worse.” Nice words to live by, huh?

A layoff or the threat of layoffs could be just the spark you need to get moving on the career change that you’ve been fantasizing about for a while. I can’t tell you how many people I know who felt overcome with relief after getting served with pink slips. They had been ready to leave for a while, but just hadn’t been able to work up the nerve to walk away on their own.

6. You can turn a layoff into a stroke of luck.

luck clover four leaf


That’s not to say that I take layoffs lightly. I know how devastating it can be to lose your job when you’re unprepared financial and/or emotionally. I’ve been in that position and it’s not a lot of fun. Not at first, at least.

That’s why I think it’s so important to get moving on your career change plans now, no matter what the economists are saying. Then, even if the layoff fairy visits before you’re 100% ready to leave, you’ll still be several steps ahead of the average job-hunter. 

In fact, if you do your homework and prepare for your career change in your spare time, you might soon find yourself longing for a layoff. After all, a good severance package can give you a nice head start on your new career if you’re adequately prepared. Even some of us who weren’t perfectly prepared have managed to leverage severance packages as start-up funds for our new careers.


7. There’s never a perfect time to change careers.

thinking career change

The bottom line is that there will never be a perfect time for a career change. The perfect opportunity will never just fall into your lap. You will never achieve anything great without at least a little bit of risk and some hard work.

If you are unhappy in your current career, it’s worth taking a calculated risk. And it’s better to start now than to waste more of the best days of your life stuck in a dreary job hoping for the right moment to come along.

How to Keep Your Job During a Recession

March 25th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

There’s an interesting article on Yahoo! (by way of AllBusiness.com) titled  5 Ways to Keep Your Job During a Recession.

There are a lot of articles like this one popping up, so it’s pretty clear that people are feeling job security anxiety these days. And this piece features some good advice. It’s always a good idea to boost your visibility (in positive ways only, of course) and marketability. Another tip that wasn’t mentioned — focus on maintaining a strong relationship with your boss (and, ideally, your boss’s boss) and make sure he/she knows about all of the valuable things that you do. Make sure that decision makers are aware of the value that you provide to the company.

However, I think the most valuable advice comes in the conclusion of the article: "And, because there’s no guarantee that you will retain your job in a recession, no matter how hard you try, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. On your own time, update your resume. Also, make sure that you are still networking with old bosses, coworkers, and business contacts. Don’t wait until you are laid off to keep your contacts and resume fresh. You will get better results if you are prepared ahead of time."

Amen. The bottom line  is that there is no way to control whether you’ll keep your job during a recession or even during a strong economy. Today, all corporations go through layoffs and it’s hard to predict when or how they are going to happen. It’s not only companies in underperforming sectors that lay people off. You can waste a lot of time and energy worrying about layoffs that would be better spent preparing to minimize any negative fallout if it does happen.

I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I think people should keep in mind that strong performance is no guarantee that you’ll stick around. I have seen many valuable employees get laid off and many slackers survive job cuts. I have wasted many hours gossiping about layoff rumors, speculating about the safety of my job, and ostentatiously "adding value" in every meeting to show how indispensable I was. All of that while I could have been working on my resume.

The truth is that layoff decisions are often made for reasons that have nothing to do with performance. Sometimes an entire department is laid off or just the people who make the highest salaries in a certain group.

That’s why you can’t ever take it personally. Future employers know that getting laid off is no reflection on your value as an employee or a person. In fact, most job candidates at this point can probably boast at least one lay-off on their resumes.

So yes, you should keep performing well. This is no time to slack off. But stop gossiping, worrying, and biting your nails. Instead, use your spare time to step up your passive job search efforts and start looking for your next position. Even if you don’t end up needing a new job, it’s always a good idea to keep your options open.