Sunday, February 22, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 2

Much to everyone’s surprise, it gets really cold here in New Mexico in the winter – frozen-solid-birdbath-water cold. Consequently I’m never in a hurry to slipper-shuffle down the long drive to the newspaper box – not when the flannel and down on my bed are so warm. And so my first news fix happens even before my first cup of coffee. Courtesy of CNN and my remote control.

This morning there was a segment about how seasoned executives are competing with 14-year-olds for summer jobs with theme parks. One former executive/current job candidate is quoted as saying how this is her chance to do what she’s always wanted to do, which is work with animals and people. To which I thought: Yeah right.

And then I thought: Uh oh. Here comes a whole new Recession-era story line: It’s gotten so bad out there that seasoned executives are competing head to head (in a manner of speaking) with youngsters who can barely be trusted to upsell by simply saying, “You want fries with that?” And then quickly on the heels of that dread scenario will be the executive applicants’ frustrated conclusion that “I am such a loser, I can’t even compete with a pimply pre-pube.”

What recruiter in his or her right mind would even consider a seasoned, middle-career executive for a job that a teenager can – and, by the way, should – do? There’s the over-qualified issue, of course. But even more to the point, these people are totally non-applicable. If we’re going to see more of this kind of behavior, we should add a third category to the problems of being qualified. You’ve got over-qualified (which is often code for being, well, you know). You’ve got under-qualified. And you’ve got N/A qualified. That’s where these people land.

Recruiters know that as much as these people might want the gig now, if they are handed a six-figure job offer in July, they’re going to ditch their summer job in a twinkling. They also know that the supervisors are going to be barely post-pubescents themselves. And who wants that kind of power issue going on? And, perhaps most compelling of all, if you’re talking customer service, just think of all those parents taking their kids to these parks for a jolly holiday and, perhaps, an escape from their own woes. Do they really want to hand their money over to someone just like them? Do they want to be reminded on their day of escape, “Don’t judge, you could be me before too long”? I’m thinking probably not.

N/A stands for non-applicable. It also stands for non-appropriate. And it just isn’t appropriate to crawl down your career ladder just for the sake of a job – even if you need one so badly that first paycheck is all that stands between you and Snidely Whiplash. Plus it’s insulting to everyone involved: you, the hiring company, all those kids who really deserve to take their spot on the first rung of their own career ladder. Entry-level does not mean easy-entry.

Which brings me to Step Two of my conversation with certified executive and life coach, and licensed mental health counselor Meredith Kaplan. (Click here for Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings) Merry (that's her pretty picture at the top of this blog posting) says that if you want to change your life in 2009, Know Your Core Genius is the essential second step. If it’s counting correct change, filling bags of popcorn, and filing customers onto whirl-and-hurl rides, great! Knock yourself out. But I’m thinking you’re capable of more than that. It’s largely a matter of remembering what those things are and holding on to them for dear life.

“You owe it to yourself to figure out what your core genius is,” she says. “If you do it by yourself, brainstorm the answers to such questions as:

‘Where have I had peak experiences?’
‘What have I done that no one else can do quite like I can?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of my work-related skills?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of who I am as a person?’
‘What is it that I have or can do that is unique from other people?’

“These are the traits, skills and passions that can take you further in your career,” she says.

If you come up with a big, fat, “nuthin” when you ask yourself those questions, it could be that your self-esteem has been so hammered by your rough patch that you can’t see yourself as clearly as your friends can. So, says Merry, go to your friends for the feedback you need to get that clear picture of who you really are and what you can really do.

“Seek out people who really know you, people you can really be yourself with, and ask them straightforwardly, ‘What do you think my strengths are?’” she says. Those are the things you want to expand on and use to position yourself in the career marketplace.

Keep in mind all the elements that make up your core genius and you won’t be so tempted to give into the siren song of “gimme a job, any job will do.” First of all, you won’t get it. Secondly, be glad. Just imagine how silly you would feel if you encountered on Saturday the guy who interviewed you for an executive job on Friday. Only now you’re wearing a silly hat and counting change.

(To contact Merry directly, email her at

1 comment:

  1. Martha and Merry, this is such a timely post. Though I am not seeking a summer job, I am seeking work, but have been stuck in a conundrum of how far down I should settle. Should I go after roles which I performed 10 years ago, those that started my career? Or should I hold out for a lateral or, dare I say, role that is a step upward in my career?

    I've asked friends and family and have received very mixed responses. Most friends tell me, any paycheck is better than no paycheck, so just take any job. My family tells me that I have earned a minimum "worth" now, so don't take just any position.

    Personally, I agree with your advice, particularly on the notes of being non-appropriate for me and insulting to all those involved. As tough as it is to ride out this storm by sticking to your inner talent, that is the path I am taking.