Pam's Favs

Career Advice from Einstein — Is This Your Miracle Year?

May 18th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

einsteinIn 1905, Albert Einstein wrote a series of papers that changed our view of the universe forever. Historians refer to Einstein’s 1905 as annus mirabilis, the miracle year. In one year, Einstein discovered the special theory of relativity, the quantum theory of light, and the groundbreaking equation E = mc2 (and these are just the highlights…read more about Einstein’s Miracle Year).

He did all of this while working a 40-hour week as a clerk in the Swiss patent office. For those in career transition, the most interesting part of this story is what Einstein was doing before 1905.

Einstein as Office Drone

I already mentioned that Einstein was working as a patent office clerk — not exactly a job suitable for a genius. Well, the famous physicist didn’t even land that clerk job on his own. A friend had to pull some strings for him because Einstein’s university grades were so low (one teacher famously told him that nothing would ever become of him).

Einstein was barely making enough money to support his wife and young child. And in 1904, he was passed over for a promotion to patent clerk second class.

Luckily, the young genius never gave up on his passion for physics. Whenever he had a spare moment during the workday, he would jot down notes and hide them in a drawer that he jokingly called his department of theoretical physics. read more…

Back in Action — A Day in the Life

April 24th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Thanks to everyone who sent get-well wishes while I was suffering in my sick bed.  I swear that my last blog post was not a ploy for sympathy, but it was nice to get some!

And thanks to the good people at O Desk, who included this blog in their list of Top Freelancing Blogs.  I am a big fan of oDesk and have hired several talented people through them. Check oDesk out if you’re a freelancer or contractor or someone who hires freelancers or contractors.

I am finally feeling like a functioning human again and have managed to start digging out of my pile of unanswered emails and unfinished to-do lists.

Thank goodness for the weekend. I have started looking forward to weekends for different reasons these days — the opportunity to catch up on work without the distractions of emails and calls and meetings. That may sound a little pathetic, but don’t feel too bad for me. I still find time to have some fun (usually).  Plus, now that I work for myself, I can take time to have some fun on occasional weekdays too. read more…

Twitter Idea Party with Barbara Sher

March 12th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

I have been resisting Twitter for a while now.  I can see the addiction potential  and it scares me a little.

But I was finally inspired to spend a little more time exploring Twitter after reading about Barbra Sher’s ongoing Twitter idea party to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her landmark book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want.

Barbara Sher is an amazing person — brilliant, funny, and incredibly generous with her ideas. She also is the inventor of the concept of the Idea Party, which she has now moved to Twitter. An Idea Party is just a gathering of smart, creative people who get together to brainstorm and share resources. Each guest presents a wish or a goal and what obstacles are holding them back. Then everyone else chimes in with ideas, connections, and resources that could help. You see, Barbara believes that isolation is the dream killer and that  every one of us knows somebody who knows a shortcut to our goal.

On Thursday, March 12 (that’s today) and on Tuesday, March 19, from noon to midnight, New York time, Barbara will be hosting a TWITTER IDEA PARTY that you can jump into whenever you want, for as long as you want, for free.  Here are instructions (including instructions for those who need to set up a Twitter account first — it takes two seconds).

Bring a wish and an obstacle that is standing in your way. Then sit back and watch as people start tweeting ideas and solutions. Barbara will personally be there to offer advice for all twelve hours on both days (with just brief breaks to walk the dog). Believe me, this is a unique opportunity to get advice and ideas from a master. I will also be joining the fun later this afternoon (I will blame Barbara if I develop a hopeless addiction to Twitter as a result).

And mark your calendar for March 24, the official 30th Anniversary of Wishcraft.  Barbara will be hosting a 24-hour GLOBAL IDEA PARTY, which can be listened to via internet radio, and responded to by instant messaging. People will be able to call and IM from all over the world. Here’s a description of the party.

See you on Twitter.

Get Ahead By Giving Back — MLK Day and Inauguration Week Call to Service

January 19th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

yeswecanbutton1Today, I am participating in the national day of service to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The King Day of Service was initiated by Congress in 1994. And thanks to a special call to service by President-elect Obama, today is the biggest King Day of Service ever, with more than 12,000 volunteer projects taking place nationwide.  

In fact, I have heard from several readers of my About.com Manhattan blog that it was hard to find a project in New York that still needed volunteers because of the overwhelming response.  That’s fantastic news. I hope we can keep that spirit alive long after MLK Day and the excitement of this week’s inauguration festivities have passed.

One way to do that is to find a new volunteering opportunity that inspires you and make a long-term commitment today. For those currently seeking a new job or trying to navigate a career change, there are benefits to volunteering above and beyond the joys of helping others. 

Those who have read Escape from Corporate America know that I highly recommend volunteering as a career change strategy. You can gain valuable experience and make great networking contacts while you make a difference for a cause you care about. I know many job searchers who have found new positions through connections made through nonprofit work. New entrepreneurs have similarly found potential clients, partners, and mentors. I also know many who have leveraged volunteering to strengthen their resumes, which has helped them  position themselves for new jobs or whole new careers. 

read more…

Small Is Beautiful — Don’t Hire, Partner

January 8th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

monkeys_groomingA business forced to shrink may be stronger, according to a recent column from The New York Times’ Paul B. Brown. He makes a solid case for the joys of staying small and rounds up lots of great advice from blogger Jarkko Laine, ZeroMillion.com, and the always-insightful Seth Godin.

It’s an interesting look at the bright side of the current economic climate,  in which  businesses have been forced to scale back or limit growth. And for many entrepreneurs, staying small can lead to big success.  I have seen a lot of promising businesses crash and burn because they tried to grow too quickly. And I have seen plenty of  inspiring business success stories that started with one guy and a lot of ingenuity.

I started my own company as a business of one. I had no full-time employees, but I had an impressive team of freelancers, consultants, partners, and vendors. I continue to rely primarily on this model for a number of reasons:

1) Access to the best talent: There are a lot of brilliant people out there who aren’t willing to settle for one full-time job working for you. The best and the brightest in any field tend to be running their own consulting businesses or working on other fascinating projects (writing books, starting nonprofit foundations, teaching, raising kids, touring with their ska band, etc.). These people are too busy to give you all of their time, but they often have availability to consult on a specific project or devote a few hours a week to you or your clients. I have been able to hire some amazing people with this approach. They contribute diverse perspectives and more innovative ideas precisely because they are not spending 40+ hours per week sitting in a cubicle in your office.

2) Low overhead: Outsourcing allows you to bring in talent only when you need it. If your project pipeline is unpredictable (and whose isn’t these days?), it makes sense to be flexible. Assemble a stable of reliable freelancers and consultants that you can bring in when their skills and expertise are called for.

3) Ability to stay nimble: In this economy, a small business has to stay nimble. When you’re small, you have the ability to adapt quickly when the market changes, when you have a great new idea, or when a fantastic opportunity comes along. That’s a lot harder to do when you’ve got a large full-time staff to feed and clothe.

4) More engaged employees: Did you know that employees of small companies are more than twice as satisfied as those in large corporations? (Source: AgeWave/The Concours Group)  When I wrote Escape from Corporate America, I interviewed a number of former corporate superstars who fled the bureaucracy to work at smaller companies. They cited benefits including economic opportunity, independence, the ability to help build a company,  flexibility, and more meaningful work.

5) Benefits of supporting other entrepreneurs and the free agent economy: Outsourcing and partnering lets you help other entrepreneurs and solopreneurs succeed. Working for yourself is an American dream. Don’t you want to be part of creating more opportunities for small business owners in this country? The opportunities that you create are more than likely to come back to you. When you join and support the entrepreneurship community, you  form rewarding and profitable relationships with future partners and referral sources. And I guarantee that you will meet a lot of very interesting new drinking buddies.

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.

7 Holiday Gifts for the Downsized and Disgruntled

December 3rd, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

As you’re making that list and checking it twice, you’ll probably notice that some of your nearest and dearest are among the downsized (recently laid off) or disgruntled (stuck in miserable or stressful jobs for purely paycheck reasons) this year.

These are the friends and family members who deserve an extra special gift this year. They’re dealing with increased stress and financial uncertainty and could use a bit of extra good cheer. And you don’t have to bust your budget to give a thoughtful present. After all, this is a year of reduced gift budgets for everybody.

A great present for your downsized, laid off, or job-loathing loved one will accomplish one (or more) of the following goals: 1) Assist with their job hunt or career change; 2) Offer some distraction or escapism from their work or no-work stresses; or 3) Provide a little bit of luxury or pampering that they may feel guilty about spending money on right now. Here are some gift ideas to consider:

1) A Great Book — Books are perfect gifts because they are always affordable and always personal. Show how much you care by taking the time to pick out just the right book. You can opt for a title that will support your pal’s current career transition — like the always-appreciated Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams. Naturally, I am biased and think my own book is the perfect gift for the downsized or disgruntled. In fact, I was inspired to put together this list after hearing from several readers who had purchased extra copies for holiday gifts. Another good career-related book is Smart Networking, which has valuable advice on using online and in-person networking strategies to make career-boosting connections.

Then again, it might be more fun to give a fantastic novel or engrossing nonfiction work that is totally unrelated to the job hunt. Or a book of hilarious essays like David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames or Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking.

2) A Resume Revamp — A strong resume is the key to booking that career-changing interview. And sometimes, a little bit of professional, unbiased input can turn a dull resume into a brilliant marketing document. Buy your buddy a gift certificate for a professional resume edit or rewrite. Find a certified professional resume writer in your area through the Professional Association of Resume Writers. Most resume writers offer a range of services at different price points — from a quick edit of an existing resume to a full rewrite.

3) Network Building — Another way to help with the job hunt is by giving the gift of networking. Pay to upgrade your friend to a premium LinkedIn account for a few months. The Business ($19.95 per month) and Business Plus ($50 per month) accounts include more powerful search capabilities and the ability to connect with more people outside your immediate network.

4) A Night at the Movies — Everybody loves the movies. Give Fandango Bucks and your best buds can enjoy some end-of-the-year Oscar bait or a fun holiday popcorn flick (throw in a few bucks extra for Twizzlers or Junior Mints). They can even enjoy one of the perks of unemployment and play hooky at the movies in the middle of a weekday while you’re slaving away in your cube. Another option is to pick up a great DVD for a cozy movie night at home (popcorn from Orville Redenbacher is much cheaper). Good DVD choices for the downsized and disgruntled include Office Space and Jerry Maguire.

5) A Spa Indulgence — Just when your best buddy could most use a massage or a bit of pampering, she probably feels guilty about spending the bucks on something “impractical.” Treat her to a well-deserved rubdown or give a gift certificate to put toward a day of relaxation. SpaFinder can help you find top-rated spas and purchase gift certificates online. Or you can treat her to a little at-home pampering for around $20 with a Spa-In-A-Basket With Comfy Slippers And Massage Tool or Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spa with Bubbles and Massage

6) Overpriced Coffee — Overpriced luxuries are the first things that get cut from most downsized budgets. For your favorite Starbucks fanatics, it’s probably painful to give up those lattes and mochas and espressos for cheaper home brews. So why not perk up their lives with Starbucks gift cards? They get to enjoy some extra caffeinated treats during the holiday season without feeling guilty about frivolous spending. And for those coffee fans who are fed up with the job hunt and searching for a Plan B? Buy a copy of How Starbucks Saved My Life so your pal can learn more about the joys of barista-ing (health insurance, free coffee, and valuable life lessons!).

7) Lots of Love and a Juicy Job Lead — But what if there’s no room in your gift budget for your favorite unemployed or unhappily employed friend? Believe me, he will understand if your wallet is a little light this year. You can always show your love with a holiday card with a personal message or a batch of home-baked holiday treats. Even better, think about whether there’s a favor you can do to help out. Can you think of a job lead to pass on or a potentially valuable introduction that you could make? Could you offer to help punch up that resume or brainstorm career ideas? These are gifts that don’t cost you a dime but can be worth a lot to a friend who’s feeling stuck in a job-hunt rut.

Be Unrealistic — Obama’s Lesson for Career Changers

November 6th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Whether you’re an exultant Obama supporter or a disappointed McCainiac, the results of Tuesday’s election should be encouraging in at least one way. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States clearly demonstrates that no brazen career goal is unrealistic if you are willing to work your butt off and never give up.

I can only imagine how many times Barack Obama was told to give up on his “unrealistic” presidential goals. After all, it was clearly a tremendous long shot.  U.S. voters weren’t ready to elect an African-American candidate as President (remember the Bradley effect). Besides, Obama was inexperienced. And what about that middle name “Hussein”?

I will leave the in-depth analysis of Obama’s win to the eight zillion pundits and political bloggers who have been living and breathing the election for months. Obviously, Obama is a symbol of hope in many ways for many people.

However, as a passionate advocate for those seeking meaningful and fulfilling work, I want to point out that he is also a perfect example of someone who followed his passion and triumphed in spite of significant obstacles.

Barack Obama never escaped from Corporate America. But he has made many courageous and non-traditional career choices — all of which helped guide him to the White House.  He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School and took a job as a community organizer. “Community organizer” was certainly not the most lucrative or prestigious choice to make (just ask Sarah Palin). Obama could have easily opted for a more traditional path and accepted a position at a law firm or as a corporate attorney. I’m sure many wise people advised him that he would never make any money as a community organizer.

But Obama followed his principles and his passions. They led him to the Illinois Senate, and then to the U.S. Senate (after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives). And now, he’s preparing to move his family and new puppy into the White House. Oh yeah, and  along the way, he also became a bestselling author (so much for those predictions that he’d never make any money).

So what is Obama’s lesson for career changers? Don’t let anybody tell you that your dream is impossible or unrealistic. Your goal may very well be a long shot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it. It may take a lot of hard work and some temporary sacrifices and discomfort, but so what? Nothing worth achieving is easy.

A tough economy doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams and settle. It just means that you’ll have to be smarter and more resourceful to get what you want. You’ll have to be patient if it takes a little bit longer before you can quit that day job and pursue your dream full-time. But don’t wait to start your planning and take your first steps.

Barack Obama didn’t wait around for racism to go away or for someone to ask him to step up. He went after what he wanted with every bit of energy and passion that he could summon. And now he’s the President-Elect of the United States of America.

So what are the obstacles on the path to your career dream? What can you do to overcome them? What would Barack Hussein Obama do? You really can achieve any goal if you’re willing to devote the same energy and passion to them that Obama devoted to his campaign. You can do it. Yes, you can.

So You Want to Work for Dunder Mifflin Scranton

September 29th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

I am so happy that new episodes of The Office are back. I sat down to watch on Thursday night even though my other favorite shows are piling up on the old Tivo (sorry, America’s Toughest Jobs, I’ve been busy but I still love you).

It was a great episode. Unlike some fans, I’m not obsessed with the Jim/Pam romance thing (even though I think John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are awesome). The highlights for me were 1) the humble return of Temp Ryan and his subsequent groveling to Kelly and her tapeworm; 2) another glimpse of Dwight with his rumpled, half-dressed, post-workplace-nookie glow; and 3) an update on my man Toby and his sad escape attempt from Corporate America. It was so nice to have them all back.

The warm, fuzzy feelings got me thinking that Dunder Mifflin Scranton might not be such a terrible place to work. Yes, the boss is totally incompetent and inappropriate and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and irrational dislike. Yes, employees spend their working lives devoted to the manufacture and sale of office paper. But a career at Dunder Mifflin can have its advantages too:

1) Flex-time — At Dunder Mifflin, it’s no problem to take time away from the office to maintain that elusive work/life balance. Pam is apparently on a sabbatical to study design in New York. Jim takes very long lunches for romantic rendezvous. Dwight and Angela take frequent bomp-chicka-wow-wow breaks in the supply room. Phyllis took time out of her work day for a long workout (even if it wasn’t intentional).

2) Every employee is special — The Dunder Mifflin party planning committee makes sure that every employee’s birthday is celebrated with cake (or fruit if they’re too fat) and conference room camaraderie. When an employee is feeling sad and weak from hunger, she is encouraged to stand on a chair and hear positive commentary about her butt and wardrobe choices. And if an HR rep believes than an employee is a little bit extra “special,” she will go out of her way to support him.

3) You get to live in Scranton — What could be better than living in close proximity to both the Anthracite Museum (with its awesome ride) and the Steamtown Mall? Here I must reveal that I have spent a lot of time in Scranton, PA over the course of my life. I grew up in a town that is approximately an hour away from Scranton and so small that we had to drive to Scranton for such cosmopolitan fun as shopping at a mall or getting served at a “club.” I still have fond Scranton memories of drinking underage and shopping at Claire’s Boutique.

4) It’s better than a Costa Rican hospital — Poor Toby. He summoned up the courage to quit his job and move to Costa Rica and ended up trapped in a full-body cast. Let his experience be a cautionary tale for all of us. When escaping from Corporate America, always remember safety first!

Career Change Lessons from the Movies

June 11th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

You can learn a lot about career change from a cartoon panda and an Israeli counter-terrorism agent.  I know this because it was so hot in New York this past weekend that I could feel my brain cells melting. So we decided to escape to the multiplex for some frigid air conditioning and screenings of Kung Fu Panda and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that both films tackle the themes of career identity and career change. In Kung Fu Panda, Po the panda works in his father’s noodle shop, but  dreams of becoming a kung fu master. Zohan is an Israeli counter-terrorism badass who really just wants to cut hair (and wear sassy denim shorts).

While these films may not be cinematic masterpieces, they are definitely entertaining. And you may even find them ever-so-slightly educational on the subject of career change.  In fact, as I was finishing this post, I heard about an interesting article related to this idea in today’s Boston HeraldDarren Garnick has some great points about how Zohan can be a role model for career changers (he also quotes some of my advice from Escape from Corporate America).

Once I started thinking about it, I realized that some of my favorite flicks feature heroes struggling with discovering their true callings. So I put together a list of my Top 10 movies about career change. Keep in mind that I don’t recommend following any of the examples in these films too literally.

1. Office Space

I have to lead off the list with the best movie of all time about escaping from a crappy job.
Lesson: Don’t waste your life on TPS report covers.

2. The Godfather
 

War hero Michael Corleone gets pulled into the family business despite loftier intentions.
Lesson: If you want to be Godfather,  you may have to sell your soul.

 3.  Fight Club

A disgruntled office employee finds a unique way to vent his work aggression.
Lesson:  Sometimes a bad job really isn’t better than a kick in the head.

4. Jerry Maguire

Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise show us how to make a dramatic exit from a bad job and how  to start a successful business against overwhelming odds.
Lesson: Success is sweeter when it’s on your own terms.

5. American Beauty

A depressed suburban father finds happiness after quitting his job to work in a fast food restaurant and obsess over Mena Suvari.
Lesson: Stop and smell the roses.

6. The Matrix

A computer programmer discovers that his entire life is an illusion and sets out to lead his fellow humans in a rebellion agains the machines that are enslaving them.
Lesson: A virtual life is no life at all.

7. Iron Man

A billionaire defense industry mogul rejects the corrupt family business to become a superhero.
Lesson: Money can buy a pretty sweet house, but it’s more rewarding to kick terrorist butt.

8. Michael Clayton

An exceedingly good-looking "fixer" for a morally flexible law firm discovers a client’s dark secrets and tries to get out of his job alive.
Lesson: You can only stomach corporate dirty work for so long.

9. Ghostbusters

Three professors leave academia to start a ghostbusting business.
Lesson: Bustin’ makes them feel good.

10. Working Girl

A Staten Island girl finds a creative way to climb the corporate ladder.
Lesson: Fight for your ideas and you might just end up with a window office AND Harrison Ford.