Learning to Fail

May 3, 2012

So, how many times have you screwed up? How many times have you misunderstood, misinterpreted, or just misjudged? How many times have you been wrong? How many times have you failed?

As they say in motorcycle racing, crashing sucks! And if you’ve seen the way they go down, you’d have to agree that wrecking while wrenching a 300 pound machine just inches from the ground at 120 miles per hour is pretty much the apogee of failure. Nothing like racing forward at full speed with your desired end result in mind, possibly even in sight, and having it all go to hell with one miscalculation. Most times it’s easier to handle, though more disappointing, when it’s your screw up. If it’s someone around you or even someone on your team, it can send you into freakout mode because their mistake caused you to fail.

Failure sucks for a bunch of reasons. Mostly it sucks because, well, you failed! You didn’t accomplish what you wanted. But it also sucks because there’s usually negative consequences associated with failure. The bridge falls, the car won’t start, dinner tastes like a wet sock, you lose money, your CUSTOMER loses money, your girlfriend splits with half your stuff…the list goes on. If it’s a work-related failure there’s usually a butt-chewing that follows. Might even be a documented butt-chewing. Might even be a FINAL documented butt-chewing. Might be a smile and a wave as you pack your box.

But failure teaches us so much. For starters, it teaches us what NOT to do. Ever stuck a penny in an electrical outlet? Ever did it again? I didn’t think so. I remember getting my first ten-speed bike (yea, I’m that old…). Grabbed a handful of front brake and went tumbling over the front wheel. Did it right in front of a pack of kids from school who thought it was so funny as I tumbled through the air and across the asphalt. My pride was bruised, my back and shoulder were scraped, but my brain was smarter. Note to self, don’t try to stop quickly using just the front brake…especially with people around!

Failure also teaches us how to fix stuff. As a manager, I don’t want people who can just come in and do stuff. I want people who can come in and do stuff BETTER. I want people who can look at what we’re doing and say, I have an idea on how to improve that. And then I want them to shut the hell up and do it! I want people who can take responsibility for something and make it awesome. I want people, who can fix things. And how do you learn to fix things? Well, most times you learn by having broken it at some point. My Dad told me this awesome story about when he was a teenager and learning to work on cars. He pulled the distributor out of my grandfather’s 1958 Chevy. His uncle looked at him and said, that’s nice. Put it back. So Dad did. And the car wouldn’t start! Seems you have to have the distributor lined up just right, you can’t just shove it back in. Took my Dad the rest of the day and most of the night to figure it out so my grandfather could go to work the next day. I can identify. As a new HR person I was given the task of planning an employee picnic. It was an unmitigated disaster. After that I knew everything I should do to make it better. Still can’t stand employee picnics, though…

But more importantly it teaches us that we are not infallible. In an era of participant ribbons and no scoreboards and over-complimentary parenting sometimes we have to learn that we aren’t as freaking wonderful as we think we are. Sometimes we do dumb stuff and when we do there’s a negative consequence. The truly brilliant man is not the one who can tell you everything he knows, it’s the one who realizes there’s so much more to learn! Sometimes it’s a skill we need to learn. Sometimes it’s the application of the skill that we need to learn. Sometimes we just need to stop believing our own bullshit. Most times we fail because we don’t know something about ourselves.

So what’s the difference between messing up and learning from one’s mistakes? Well, first is a level of awareness. You have to be able to recognize situations where your actions, or the actions of those around you, have lead to failure and be able to quickly dispense with the excuses and get to the mechanics. Many times getting past the excuse phase is hard because we want to focus on WHO failed rather than WHY we failed. And in most of these cases, everyone played a role in the failure. Healthy self-awareness is being able to admit our own role in the failure then quickly get past that and on to the repair.

So, next is the competence to fix whatever it is that contributed to the failure. This shouldn’t be mistaken for fixing it yourself. Going back to self-awareness it’s important that you know your limits and seek out expert advice. If I’m sick, I go to a doctor. I know people who like to self-medicate. They take herbs and roots and berries and all that stuff when what they need to do is go see a doctor. Call me when WebMD has taught you out how to carve out that brain tumor and I’ll say it’s a good idea. Until then, I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. I’m gonna get help with the stuff I don’t know.

Finally is the support structure that not only allows, but encourages periodic failure. I remember my son tooling off down the street on the little trail bike I bought him. I almost threw up….. I knew he was going to run into a car, or a tree, or a dog, or just fall and break some random body part (going back to the top, that’s why crashing sucks!). But, he wasn’t going to learn to ride unless I let him ride. He still rides today. Does pretty good. But I’ve also worked in HR long enough to know that everyone is just one screw up away from getting canned. With that in mind we sometimes work harder to cover our ass or set others up to take the fall for our mistake (for reference, see the lyrics to, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid”).

On that note, ever been stabbed in the back? It sucks worse than crashing, but it’s a special kind of failure. It’s a failure in trust and judgment. You put your trust in someone else, and they violate that trust for their own self-interest. I wrote about inconvenient truths a few blogs ago. Here’s another one. Some people are just assholes. Learn to deal with it.

To new grads I say, get out of your seat and go fail. To their future bosses I say, don’t be a jerk. Let them fail then man up and support them when they do. Failure doesn’t make either you weaker, it makes both of you stronger!

Shoot me a note at UCF_OCC@yahoo.com if you think I’ve failed in my reasoning. Send me a note if you think I’ve succeeded. Whatever the reason, get out there and talk to folks. Peace!

In this month’s HR Magazine there’s an article about the benefits of “poaching” as a recruitment tool. Timothy Gardner, a management professor at Vanderbilt University is a published expert on “lateral hiring,” a nice way of saying you convince someone else’s employees to come work for you. Seems innocuous enough…or is it?

I taught an undergraduate Recruiting and Selection class at UCF for five years. To illustrate the recruitment process I’d tell my students that hiring a new employee should be a lot like the way you would find a “significant sweetie.” First you have to figure out what you want in a partner. Do you want someone who has a job, apartment, and is kind to animals? Or do you prefer a partner who has tattoos, doesn’t eat meat, and camps out in public parks to rail against “The man.” For recruiters this is when they establish qualifications for the position. They update Job Descriptions. Do you have a job description for your new beau, I’d ask. No? Then why are you surprised that after you get done playing kissy-face you find you have nothing in common with this numbskull?

After figuring out what your sweetie should be like, you need to develop a pool of prospects. Go to social events, answer personal ads, join Match.com, or approach people directly. Bars become job fairs. Telling your friends you’re in the market become networking. How do you make networking effective; reach out to those people who share your common interests. Maybe you network with mom, maybe not! Finally you identify candidates and select talent. So a first date becomes a job interview. If you spend the day together is that a working interview?

Anyway, this focus helped put the recruiting process into terms that a 21 year old college student could understand. If a hire fizzles out (kinda the way a relationship fizzles out) then maybe you didn’t really identify what you wanted, or maybe you didn’t interview thoroughly enough, or maybe you just didn’t look around long enough and hired the first loser that answered your ad!

So, all that said, what do we make of Dr. Gardner’s assertion that lateral hiring is legal, ethical, and desirable because the issue lies not with the party soliciting, but the relationship the solicited apparently has with their current suitor? To quote, “Managers who lose employees through lateral hiring want to blame the hiring organizations but the real issues come down to the relationships they had with their employers.” There you go. If someone comes and steals your sweetie, it’s your fault you loser! Not keeping them home fires burning? Then be prepared to have your partner skip out on you. Ok, maybe there’s some validity to that. There must have been some issues at home to make the person stray. Maybe you write it off to the solicited; they have no loyalty and hid it from their partner. Maybe there’s an issue with the solicited’s morals. It’s ok to look around while you’re hitched. Hey, you know what Dad told you before you moved out, it’s always better to find a job while you have one. I guess the same applies to sweetie pies!

My question is what does it say about the individual that preys on other people’s partners? Is it ok to hook up by hanging out at the Publix in Lake Mary to hit on all the Heathrow soccer moms? Is it ok to sit at the bar at some businessman’s hotel and pick up hubbies who are on the road? Do you see PTA meetings as a chance to expand the numbers in your little black book? What about your neighbor who comes over to confide that she and her husband are having a spat? Do you feel sorry and offer condolences or think, JACKPOT!!

Folks, your reputation is one thing that you are entirely responsible for. The way you conduct your business says, “This is who I am, this is what I believe.” Whether you are an HR / Recruiting professional or just a business leader looking to grow your enterprise, you will need to have a good working relationship with your peers. Networks are built and thrive on nothing more than trust. You can’t see it, smell it, or touch it. But you know when it’s there. And you know when it’s been violated. Violate that trust, and don’t be surprised when some big biker is pounding your sorry butt into sausage because you made a move on his girl!

“Sales.” I said it. I said it loud enough for the sleepy young lady in the back row to be annoyed by my inflection. I smiled when I said it. And I watched their cherub-like exuberance slowly melt into an ashen repugnance. They were budding MBA graduates. A sales job is beneath them!

A month or so ago I wrote that in Orlando, “you either sell to those who serve, or serve those who sell.” It generated a LOT of discussion in various circles. Some thought I was castigating professional sales as a career path for new college grads (including those newly-minted MBAs) but I want to make it clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Sales, in fact, is an EXCELLENT way for new grads to gain entry into a firm.

Why? It’s the best way to show what you, individually, are capable of achieving. It’s also the most effective way to learn about the firm’s core product or service. Career-wise it’s a good move because companies will generally lay-off overhead and support positions before touching revenue generating positions. It’s also the best position to be in to interact with every operational unit at every level of the organization. From a control standpoint you generally enjoy a performance-based pay structure, are given a great deal of flexibility to self-manage, and initiate most of your interactions. Intrinsically you get to experience the highs and lows that come from setting and achieving goals along with helping your clients operate their businesses or live their lives better.

So why do students have an aversion to sales? Some claim they don’t like the reputation a “sales job” has. They immediately think of a used car huckster or other dishonest caricature. I know this picture well. I worked in the car business and there are a lot of folks whose actions keep that reputation alive. Slicksters, cheaters, sloths, and just outright crims dot the dealership landscape like so many potted plants. But it’s too easy to blame the profession for some bad seeds. I think that’s a convenient excuse for not really knowing all it takes to be a good sales professional.

Sales is hard. To be a good sales professional you have to be smart. You have to be able to retain tactile facts about the product or service you offer, you have to be able to communicate with and relate to your customer, you have to listen to their needs, and ultimately be able to apply what you know to create a solution for your customer. When I was teaching I used to say it’s one thing to barf up a list, it’s another thing to be able to pick through the chunks and identify what made you sick.

Sales takes discipline. Good sales people have to be smart enough to create a plan and have the discipline to stick to it. You have to manage your own activity, manage your time, and stay organized. It also takes interpersonal discipline. You’ll be challenged and questioned. You’ll be rejected. You’ll have to “suck it up” and make amends when your plan falls through or someone outside of your sphere of control fails to perform effectively. You create and maintain the image of the company you represent. Ask Charles Barkley, being a role model takes discipline.

Sales means you have to perform. In sales there is no cover. You either did it, or you didn’t. Your performance is out in the open and subject to evaluation. Some people are not comfortable being held accountable. In sales if you don’t perform you can expect corrective feedback. You have to be mature (and disciplined) enough to take the feedback and improve your performance. If you don’t improve your performance, you will eventually pay the ultimate price and be removed from your position.

Finally, sales is less about talking and more about relationships. In the days of sailing ships the British Navy would solicit new recruits by just cracking them over the head. You’d wake up miles out to sea with a knot on your head. Sales professionals understand that long-term success comes from building a relationship with their customers, not cracking them over the head. Only thing is, it takes time, effort and talent to build a relationship. I’ve heard people say, “So-and-so is a great talker, he should get into sales.” Wrong! The best sales professionals are the best LISTENERS, not talkers.

Regardless of the job you have, you need traits like these to be successful. Accountants have to interact, consultants have to influence their clients, analysts have to be capable of complex thought, HR generalists have to build relationships. All of these are critical competencies to a professional sales person in the same way that all of these are critical competencies for a professional business person.

I still feel Orlando needs a more diverse Entry-Level employment base if it’s going to retain the best and brightest local college graduates. Everyone can’t be expected to sell or work in the service sector waiting for their break. Especially if that break is just a higher level position in sales or service. The graduate talent pool is just too diverse. However, a lack of options, doesn’t mean those options are bad.

“I hate fishing! Why would I bait a hook and wait for a fish to get hungry and come get the food. If I want a fish, I go down there and get the fish.”

I was having lunch with a new client and we were talking about his love of spear fishing. He grew up in Key West diving without tanks, not even a snorkel. Just a mask, fins and Hawaiian sling. It’s not a sport thing. It’s a food thing. He’s not looking for a trophy to hang on the wall. He fishes because he loves fish; fresh fish. So, if the desired end result is a meal, wouldn’t you take the quickest most efficient path there? Makes sense to me.

When my students talk about their job search, they talk about answering online job postings. They use the campus job board. They go to job fairs and do all the things that we generally associate with an entry level job search. Sounds like fishing to me. They bait their hook with a resume and wait for a job to swim by. If an employer bites, they work that strike like Bill Dance landing a trophy bass.

Here’s the problem with that approach and why I love my client’s position as a metaphor. My client likes to spearfish because HE chooses the fish to pursue. He’s not waiting for whatever wants to hit his bait. It’s essentially a shift in the power relationship; he’s taking an active role and making things happen. In the same way, incorporating networking and direct contact into your job search gives you more control of the job you try to land.

Sounds pretty straightforward, eh. So, what’s the downside? Plenty! First of all, lots of shots miss. Spearfishing is a skill and even the most skilled at it go home hungry on occasion. You need to practice…a lot! That means getting off the boat. That means getting in the mix. In job search terms, that means turning off the computer, putting on pants and getting out among people! Networking is an active strategy and to learn how to use it you have to practice. Then once you figure out how networking works, you have to do it a lot to get good. Then to stay good, you have to keep doing it.

Next you have to know where to fish. You can put a lot of effort fishing a reef with none of the fish you want to eat. Again, networking takes skill and knowing where to find the fish you want takes practice and experience. For example, knowing dolphin gather under beds of floating grass is something you learn after spending a lot of time out on the water. So if you want to network with bankers, do you know where to fish? How about HR folks? Purchasing managers?

Finally, you may snag a fish that you can’t actually land! My client told a story about tagging a huge grouper that was hanging around a wreck. But he couldn’t pull it in. He tied it off, went up for air, and kept coming back. But in the end he couldn’t land it. You might make what you think is an AWESOME connection only to hear, “We aren’t hiring” or “Gee, I really don’t know anyone that can help you.” You invested time, effort and skill. Made the shot. Got connected! But, you couldn’t make the sale. Or you picked a target that just wasn’t right for you. Happens a lot. Sometimes you can change your technique or approach. Sometimes you can back off and then hit it again later. Sometimes you have to do like my client and go get help to land it. Then again, sometimes you just can’t land it.

Networking and direct contact is the key to unlocking the ubiquitous “hidden job market.” Sounds exotic, but really all you’re doing is ditching the passive rod and reel for a more active Hawaiian sling.

Lonny

When I was a kid my dad had a Zippo lighter. Actually, I think everyone’s dad had one. They were standard issue to GI’s in WWII and no one could be the Marlboro Man – Ten gallon Stetson askew, wrinkled smile, cig hanging from one’s bottom lip – without one. That is, until that whole problem with cigarettes and cancer, emphysema, and all kinds of other health issues made smoking only slightly more socially acceptable than spitting tobacco juice while Uncle Lou gives the blessing before Thanksgiving dinner. People still smoke these days and some of them carry a Zippo. But the vast majority of smokers would rather flick their Bic than maintain a lighter. Cricket and Bic lighters took the disposable fire creating attributes of matches and got rid of the litter. Well, until it was out of fuel, anyway. Zippos needed TLC. My folks kept lighter fluid in the Kitchen cabinet next to Florence Henderson’s Wesson oil. I remember my dad taking his lighter apart to change wicks or maintain that mysterious little sparking thingy.

These days disposable lighters come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Plain, ornate, big, mini, pink, blue, and designer disposables from Ed Hardy fill the shelf in front of the cash register at my local convenience store. That last one cracks me up. Only in America could you sell a wildly blinged-out item that’s meant to be thrown away when it runs out of gas! But it’s not just lighters. Diapers are disposable, razors are disposable, cameras are disposable. Shoot, if you think about it, this laptop that I’m banging out this blog on is disposable. In a few years it’ll be way cheaper to just buy a new one instead of upgrading memory, drivers, or a CPU. So why are we so quick to discard these used up commodities? No more minutes on your cell phone? Toss it in the trash and go get another one when you need it. Toaster on the fritz? Don’t empty the crumb tray, just stop at Target and get a shiny new one. Short of the underwear guys have worn since high school and will never throw away, no product in use today is designed to be purchased and then maintained over the long run. You just pitch it and go get a new one.

Is it the hassle of having to maintain the item? Are we so busy that the Zen task of pulling apart a small appliance, massaging life back into it, and then carefully reconstructing it is too consuming and bothersome? Or is it the expense? Has the cheap, plentiful nature of replacement items made it easier to just toss the old one aside and get a new one? And then there’s repurposing. When cigars were hot you couldn’t use your Zippo, you had to buy a new expensive torch that burned special NASA formulated fuel that wouldn’t sully the subtle overtones of chocolate and road tar in your Romeo Y Julieta Maduro Reserve. Zippos, according to the standard paradigm, were for lighting Marlboros (remember the cowboy?)

Unfortunately, many companies now treat their people like disposable lighters. People, to their employers, are commodities. Nothing wrong with that; that’s why it’s called “Human RESOURCES.” Labor is purchased in the hope that the output will be more valuable than the costs of operation (wages, benefits, training, office supplies…) Back in the day, people were Zippos. You went to work at the local mill, or in an office, or at the store and 35 years later they gave you a watch, a dinner, and sent you packing in your Oldsmobile to some Adult Living Community in Florida. But somewhere along the line, employees became Bics. You didn’t take a junior employee and move them up, you hired a new person to do that job. Maybe it was technically beyond their reach. Or maybe it dealt with some new process or technology that no one understood. Or was it just way too much work to do what needed to be done to repurpose that person for a different job? People were a fairly cheap commodity for a while and it was easier to just buy a new one. I remember one job where I was laying off Engineers while hiring new ones at the same time. The old ones were really just technicians. They had some technical expertise related to existing products, but lacked the formal education and design expertise needed to create new products for new markets. In other instances I’ve witnessed the dismissal of an employee with no prior disciplinary issues because they made a mistake or took an action that was “grounds for immediate termination.” Fighting and stealing are reasonable. But I’ve also seen it applied to behavior that was determined to be an “audit risk.” Labor, then, is no different than Bic lighters, Gillette razors, and Fuji cameras. No different, that is, except for one glaring difference. Labor is personal.

Given the current state of our economy, new employees are more available than ever. Anyone who took an introductory economics class can line up their supply and demand curves to know that for now, labor is plentiful and cheap. Not only is unemployment still almost three times what it was before the recession, but “underemployment” or the employment of people in jobs that demand less than what they’ve previously done is on the rise. My guess is this will only exacerbate the tendency to view labor as disposable. Instead of investing in what they have to make the worker better, or repurpose it for a different use, or simply maintain it so it’ll keep working efficiently, short-sighted companies will feel it’s easier to just toss aside half-used employees for one that’s newer, cleaner, fuller, or just more blingy.

This in turn will create a feeling among existing employees that they need to look out for themselves since they could be one mistake, one poorly executed project, one personal emergency away from termination. Instead of seeing themselves as part of an interrelated team, employees are in competition to show that they are not the weakest link. In highly competitive fields that focus on individual metrics, the competition could result in cheating, cutting corners, or at least a bunch of nanny-nanny tattle tales vying for the boss’s good graces. This will ultimately limit the team’s productivity. When Laverne and Shirley discarded their cooperative shopping spree strategy for an “Every man for himself!” sprint to the finish line they ended up sacrificing a cart-load of winnings for Bosco and a box of cookies.

Additionally, this approach means that the path to promotion for existing employees will be stymied because it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new person that’s been laid off from a higher level job somewhere else than it is to develop an existing person and guide them through the learning curve. Not bad on the surface. Get some new blood in there. Look and the clusterfudge that GM became by eating its own young. But not every company is GM. Most companies benefit from procedural and environmental experience. Philosophies are developed over time and need to be passed down, or you end up with “Mission Creep” (the desire of the new creep to redirect the company’s mission!) At the most basic level, think about your own boss. How does it feel when that person has your back, and how does it feel to be hung out to dry? So, next time you stop at an intersection, look out your window for an old discarded lighter and then think about the people that work for you. Are you tossing them out the window as they dull, or doing what you need to do to keep their flames high and bright?

Lonny

Not sure if I can finish that witticism from my rural youth in polite company. Suffice to say, it points to making yourself seem more appealing by increasing your proximity (and potential for comparison) to less appealing individuals. Yea, I know, crass. But layered in this homage to “Foxworthian” philosophy is a lesson for college grads. You can increase your perceived value by simply being compared to less valuable. Seems simple enough, eh? Not so fast…

A month or so into my new job I’m watching the local news and hear a headline about a local college student being arrested for trying to wrestle a police officer at a football game. I remember looking up over my coffee thinking, please don’t be one of MY students. Now why would that be my first reaction? Quite simply, I didn’t want the brawler to be associated with my pool of students. I didn’t want one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch.

Cities and economies have reputations as well. A city can be tagged as being unsafe or “business friendly” based on the publicity it gets/seeks. It can also develop a reputation based on what’s happening in nearby cities. Cities compete for positive press so that they can look like the place to be. And that reputation is leveraged to attract businesses, industries, and ultimately workers.

According to the most recent wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Orlando should be concerned. I looked up data for a “Financial Analyst,” a typical entry level position for recent college grads. When you compare Orlando to its closest neighbor, Tampa, we actually compare favorably with a mean annual salary about $2-3K higher (translation, about $1.70 per hour.) But, when you compare Orlando to two major metropolitan areas with highly diversified economies, we don’t fare as well. Orlando lags Miami by $7K and Atlanta by $10K. Additionally, Orlando trails Charlotte, a city of comparable population but a very different economic base by $8K. When you compare overall wages for all occupations Orlando lags all of these locations (including Tampa) by $3-5K.

Much of the buzz around my last posting had to do with salaries and wages in Central Florida. Specifically, job seekers who commented felt that wages in Orlando were too low. This can be driven by a number of factors including cost of living, the nature of Orlando’s service dominated economy, and simply what the market will bear. Additionally, the price of labor can be impacted by what is has to offer. Workers that are seen as highly trained or possessing a special expertise can drive up wages for themselves, the industries they support, and ultimately the entire economy.

So how does Orlando’s cost of living compare? Metro Orlando’s index is slightly HIGHER than the national average, being driven mostly by the cost of housing and transportation. Tampa, on the other hand, is LOWER than the national average (and almost 10 points less than Orlando!) Factor in wages that are only slightly higher and Tampa becomes more attractive by comparison. The comparison is even more striking when you look at Atlanta and Charlotte. Buoyed by lower transportation costs (public transportation and lower gas prices) both of these metro areas have cost of living indexes lower than the national average. Miami, plagued by higher transportation and housing costs is the only metro area in this informal survey that has a higher cost of living than Orlando. But factor in higher wages and it seems like it may be a wash.

Lower costs of living, higher wages, tell me again why a top quality recent grad would hang around? If we want to grow our economy and reap the long term benefits of retaining our best and brightest college grads (not to mention attracting NEW grads from elsewhere!), we’re going to have to fix this one. What tangible advantages do we have over these other metro areas? What do you think drives down wages in Central Florida? And, most importantly, what do we need to do to make ourselves look prettier? I know there are things like Sun Rail in the works, but it has been in the works for some time now. As always I invite you to weigh in on the discussion. Comment here or shoot me an email at UCF_OCC@yahoo.com.

Lonny

Without a doubt, the most difficult decision a business student has to make is what kind of career they want to pursue after graduation. Oh sure, there are those who graduate high school knowing they’ll be an Accountant or take over a family member’s business. But business school isn’t like engineering school. If you graduate in Electrical Engineering, there a pretty good chance you’ll look for work as an Electrical Engineer. But degrees in Management, Finance, Economics, or Marketing pretty much leave life’s screen door wide open.

So now you’re getting close to graduation. What’s next? Can’t go back to school…don’t want to join the Peace Corps…couldn’t do a sit up even with the drill sergeant screaming at you…yep, you’re stuck like Chuck. Gonna have to go to work! Having trouble deciding what to do? In my first post I said that a contributing factor to Orlando’s Identity Crisis was recent college graduates’ lack of knowledge about the entry-level job market. Some of the feedback I’ve received supports this idea so here’s my two cents…

Figuring out what you want to be can be accomplished by combining the “Three A’s”:

Ability – I worked with a guy who said he never worked a day in his life because he got paid to do what he loved. Everyone knows someone like that. My friend loved working on old cars, was a talented body man, and made his living running a chain of body shops. Sounds simple enough? Not so fast, I like to cook, but I certainly don’t do it well enough to make a living. Focus on those things where you have true talent. What do you do well? If you don’t know what you do well, then look to “A1.2” – Assessment. There are a lot of skills and personality assessments out there that can help you identify your core competencies and suggest careers that utilize those competencies. In our office we use CareerLeader, a product used by many graduate business career offices that was developed by the Harvard Business School. Once you’ve done all that and figured out your talents, remember an extra piece of advice my friend gave. Learn to live within the means that your talent provides. If you have talents that point to a career in Human Resources, but want to live the life of a Wall Street Investment Banker, then you probably won’t be successful or happy. Note to students…do this BEFORE you get too far along in school. Don’t get a degree in Accounting just because your dad told you that’s what you should do.

Available – I hear it all the time, “I’d like to get a job in a corporate headquarters and work my way up in the organization.” Cool…where are you moving? Orlando is not exactly a hub for corporate headquarters. We all know the big names; Darden, Tupperware, um…can I buy a vowel? This “A” is all about research, knowing the jobs in the local economy, learning how to live off the land and surviving on what’s available. Ever watch Survivorman? If he’s been ditched way up in the Alaskan tundra, he’s not living off spit roasted Cottonmouth. Why? No sticks to use a spit! Oh…and no Cottonmouths, either. He’s living on what he can find where he is. Job seekers must also learn to live on the jobs that are available. Want to live in Orlando, then get to know what kinds of companies and jobs that are available in Orlando. The Orlando Business Journal publishes its “Book of Lists” each year with dozens of lists and hundreds of companies. Want to know what community banks are in Central Florida? There’s a list of them in…The Book of Lists! Then look through a localized and targeted online job board like OrlandoJobs.com to see what’s being advertised in this area. This is basic supply and demand economics. Successful job seekers are supplying something that’s in demand.

Ask Around – One of the best things a soon to graduate student can do is stop just talking to other students and start talking to people who are working. Formally this is called conducting an “Informational Interview.” Informally it’s called chatting folks up. Be curious. Ask people what they do for a living. Ask them how they like it. Ask how they got to that position. Ask if they needed additional training or specific experience to get there. Ask them what kinds of tasks they work on each day. What do they like doing? What do they not like doing. Why do they like doing the things they like. Ask what other people in their office do. When you can’t ask any more questions, ask if they could recommend other people you can talk to. Who do you talk to? Everyone. Go to networking meetings. Be active in your alumni association. If you’ve targeted a job, look for professional associations.

A colleague of mine told students there was a “rule of three” in her class. If you had a question, you needed to try to find the answer in three different places before coming to ask. The “Three A’s” are your career “Rule of Three.” Good luck!!

Lonny