Career Leap Year

“Figuring out what you want to do is the hard part. The rest is just hard work.”

Doubts

We all have those pesky little voices in our heads that want us to live smaller, the “devil-you-know” sort of lives. I’ve thought of writing a post on career transition for a while, but doubts creeped into my mind every time I sat at the computer. “Who are you to write this posssssst?” my doubts hissed at me.

Me: “I’m someone who has made a successful career transition, that’s who.”

Doubts: “Oh yeah, but how did you do it? Perhaps it was jusssssst luck?”

Me: “I don’t think so, doubts. We were all there. Myself and all of you. And dare I mention I was highly outnumbered? And while I’ll admit that luck played a certain role in the sealing of my transition, I took some distinct actions along the way before that luck kicked in.”

The Background

Two years ago, it occurred to me my job was not fulfilling me. I was one of a three person team that had contributed to the birth of a brand new department in a mid-size organization, which after one year became profitable and at the time of my leaving had tripled in size. We did it all. We sold the idea within the organization, and pitched it to the sales team so they could pitch it to the customers. We created the actual content, vetting it with Subject Matter Experts, defining our process for requirement gathering and delivery, and refining, refining, refining. I worked long hours. I read books on the subject and employed best practices. I made mistakes and learned from them, immediately applying my newfound knowledge to the next batch of work. Those were exhilarating times, but after two years, I knew I was ready for something else. How did I know? I had a clear sense that regardless of the level of effort I put into my work, my work had limited impact.

The Start of the Transition

I decided to take an introductory class in Human Computer Interaction at a local university. The class fired me up for the topic, and exposed me to a crucial reading list. I immediately plunged into the literature and, before I knew it, I was hooked. User Experience Design work was the work I wanted to do. I understood the impact my work could have: I would design technology interfaces in a way that made them simple, usable, and maybe even delightful.

I joined some local MeetUps, where folks in the community presented papers, ideas, and challenges, and even ran workshops. After attending a few, I took more classes online, where I continued to hone my knowledge of the various aspects of Human Computer Interaction, understanding further the areas of specialty that were available to me and the processes and skills used in the field. I did all this while working full-time. I cut out the TV and some weekend activities for a time, because I was motivated to make this change.

Finally, I met with five people for informational interviews. They were a range of folks: from self-starters entering the field to others who had been at it for 10 years. I met with a CEO of a design agency (Yep! I cold-“called” him via LinkedIn and we’re buds now), a Product Manager for a start-up hardware organization, a Content Strategist, and a recent Start-Up Institute grad. Each person gave me a new perspective on the field, gave me valuable advice, added to my reading list, assisted with my skill assessment, and provided ideas for building my portfolio.

By the time I met with a Director of a UX department for a casual lunch, he told me to apply for the job in his organization, and all I did was come to learn from him.

Finding the time

You might tell me that you have no time to do what I did.  But I believe it is primarily a question of energy.

Where has your energy gone?

If your current job is weighing you down (making you feel bad about yourself, your prospects, or capabilities), it is likely sapping your resources. Ask yourself, “Can I afford (read: financially) to leave my current job and focus on my new career search?” This is not for everyone, but for some of us – this may be just the ticket.

I left my job long before I had something “lined up.” I was very clear about why I left. I did not view my pending unemployed status as a weakness. I viewed it as a strength and I communicated that to everyone I met. If what you are doing is intentionally purging the aspects of your life that don’t serve you anymore and creating the space in your life for new and more exciting challenges, then that is what you say to yourself and to others. Quitting is not a weakness. Quitting an unsatisfying job is the bravest thing you can do. Just watch your energy and motivation spring back up and you’ll know how awesome it can feel to be a quitter.

The Result

I’ve just celebrated my 1 year anniversary of doing User Experience design in a major Boston-based company.

So What About You?

I know you’re looking for a checklist, so here’s the list of career transitioning steps that are sure to propel you forward.

Note: This list does not come from the countless blog posts you’ll read or a self-help book collecting dust on your shelf right now. I took every step on this list to get to where I am, so every step here is tried and true.

1. Sign up for meet-ups and go to the ones that grab your fancy.
2. Get your hands on a good quality reading list (a university intro class may publish their syllabus online or perhaps you have an inside person).
3. Read those books and the key industry blogs regularly.
4. Check Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, Codecademy, Lynda.com for good online classes related to the field of your interest.
5. Tell everyone who’ll listen that you are looking to transition and are open to meeting people in the field. (Don’t try to get a job with these people. These are casual conversations where you are learning about the person, their path to the industry, their experience, and any advice they can provide to propel you forward.)
6. Be open to opportunities, but keep on honing what it is you want (from your conversations, readings, and MeetUps).
7. Check your energy level and do everything in your power to make the time and space to dedicate yourself to this process.

Take these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to your new career.  I wish I could be there with you, my friend. I am so proud of you and your bigger life.

Obsessed… with professional growth

career confusion

Addiction has many faces.

Are you a “professional” addict?  Are you obsessed with LinkedIn influencer articles about career growth?

Sometimes career growth advice is too simple.

Every day there is something to feed your obsession. “The 5 things to do at an interview.”  “The 5 things never to say to your boss.”  “The 10 things you can learn from your cat…”

Yet, it is addictive.

We are all a bit addicted to simple advice. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be there, reading, commenting, re-posting. I am finding LinkedIn influencer articles the “career growth” version of “dieting”. There are so many options to grow and prosper (just as there are options to shrink and slim down) – which to follow? Which ones are “true” and who knows?

Well, these successful types do – so we read their advice! And while some of that advice sounds like just the right amount of wisdom for a Monday morning pick-me-up, a lot of it does not always resonate well.

At times, it doesn’t match our capabilities.  

Not all of us do creative work which we can visibly display to wow our potential employer, like web site design or 3D video production.

Yet, maybe such advice can inspire us to do something new and creative – like write our deep thoughts down… in blog form.

Sometimes, it doesn’t sound realistic.

Not all of us can afford to quit our jobs because “we don’t feel appreciated” or “we are not growing anymore”, and then start the search for something better, if that means we have to live off our savings for an indefinite period of time.

Yet for others, that kind of move is just the formula to get out of a rut and take stock of who we are and where we want to go next.

In an interview with Matthew McConaughey about his recent Indie movie, “Mud”, he indicated that he made a decision to say no to “fluff” films and that’s when the interesting acting opportunities came rolling in. By saying “no” to what he no longer wanted, he opened up new opportunities for something bigger and more meaningful.

Is it bad advice?

I don’t think so. There is something valuable here, even though a lot of it contradicts and trips over itself. For what it’s worth, I believe this is the voice of our professional generation: the search for our better selves, our “optimal” place and occupation, and possibly – our life’s work. And it’s beautiful to see it displayed so openly and accessibly.

So what do we make of this?

How we follow through on this advice is entirely up to us, but it must fit our life situation, our capabilities, our budget, and our schedule. One thing is for sure, wherever we end up next, we want to be valued and we want to do good, useful work.

So the important thing is to keep reading, exploring, and trying things on for size. You’ll get there, wherever you are trying to go, with style. So long as it’s yours.

 

Postscript: Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar in 2014 for best actor. Am I a soothsayer or what?

Endorse Me Not, Unless

Endorsements image1

You’ve no doubt noticed the latest somewhat controversial LinkedIn trend of endorsements.

A window pops up at the top of your profile asking you: “Does so-and-so know HMO?” “Endorse.” “Does Amy Schmidt know leadership?” “Sure.” “Does Billy Gus know C++?” “Um, yeah I think Billy does something with computers…” Click.

At the click of a button we can endorse the skills and expertise of our friend or colleague and possibly make someone’s day.

And it costs us nothing. One click. How rewarding!

Like many others, I have endorsed the skills of some of my connections (though, admittedly, I’ve done this sparingly, so if you are wondering whether I’m an endorsement Scrooge, this is your confirmation…)

In turn, I’ve also received my share of endorsements over the past year or so.  And like picking through a handful of pine nuts, I’ve tasted the sweet though fleeting joy of some of them, while others have left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.  Why is the last nut in your little packet always spoiled?  Never mind that…we were talking about dubious endorsements.

Let me explain why I find them dubious. For one, I’m confused about the people who are endorsing me.  At times, these are my verifiable colleagues and associates.  They’ve either seen my work, collaborated with me on a project, or interacted with me professionally on several occasions thus having gained an impression of some of my skills at least on the surface level. This enthusiastic endorsement of my PowerPoint skills is largely understandable.

At other times, however, I get endorsed by colleagues I’ve only said “hello” to in the cafeteria.  They might very well know about my last week’s ankle injury – if you are reading this, Sally, please forgive the exaggeration – it was only 6 stitches, not 8! – but how can they possibly know about my in-depth knowledge of SDLC?

I’m not complaining about that though. Others have complained about this altogether much more eloquently:  [http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57578085/why-linkedin-endorsements-are-worthless/].

In fact, despite my obvious trepidation, I am going to try to do the opposite.  I will assume my endorsers know someone who knows someone who absolutely swears by how good I am at SDLC.  It’s possible…  Or, perhaps, they’ve accidentally hacked into my computer just as I was arduously working the “animation” feature of PowerPoint.  (Hint: I like to make those key points fly in…from the right… and I’m pretty sure I can patent that move.)

In other words, let’s assume my endorsements are an accurate description of what I’m good at…

If so, then why are “Software Documentation” and “Process Improvement” my top two skills? And what kind of skill is “Software Documentation?”  I don’t produce Software Documentation and I don’t code based on it.  I do interpret it in order to understand how our product design is structured and how the user must be trained.  Reading it, I often exclaim, “Is that what the user has to do?  Holy Moly, please, say it ain’t so!”  But does “Software Documentation” really cover what I do and, more specifically, what I am good at?  I am not so sure.

And then there is “Process Improvement”. “Process Improvement” – really?  I always thought of myself as a creative person. For instance, my husband says I create new idioms at least weekly.  Here’s one:  “Those pizza slices are flying off the shelf like hot cakes.” or “That Chipotle was a mob house on opening day.”  See what I mean? Good stuff.  But “Process Improvement”!?  Isn’t that what big, boring corporations do when they are no longer capable of innovating?

And besides, I’m a technology trainer.  Shouldn’t a training-related skill be at the top of my list and not 6th place?

As I ponder these questions, I decide to write to some of my colleagues who had recently endorsed me for skills, and ask them what made them select “Software Documentation” over, say, “Training”, which is an actual skill I have displayed on multiple occasions to various audiences within and outside my organization.

Only one of the 10 people replies, honestly stating that he didn’t know he had a choice of what he could endorse, so he just endorsed what was displayed by LinkedIn, presumably thanks to a very secret and fancy algorithm that popped up “Software Documentation” with my smiling face hovering above and possibly, audibly stating how “I approve this message.”  Ah-huh!

Perhaps this points to a feature problem, rather than simply a people problem?  What if LinkedIn would organize endorsements differently, by, say, allowing me to endorse a colleague in a more focused manner?  For instance, upon logging in…

a)      A pop-up leads in with “Is there someone in your network whose work has impressed you recently?” – yes/no

b)      A “yes” leads to my contact list and a quick search finds my lucky candidate

c)      The system displays their full set of skills

d)     I select the relevant skill(s) which I have personally witnessed or benefited from, and…

e)      Briefly comment on each, rather than just “Liking” it.

Voila! Such thoughtful, pointed, meaningful endorsements would likely lead to more representative skill distribution on my colleague’s profile.  If nothing else, it would certainly help them get an accurate picture of which of their skills are valued by me (and others) and why, potentially deterring frivolous “quid pro quo” endorsements.

Oh, I see, LinkedIn, three clicks and some typing is highly burdensome to your users?  Or perhaps, you don’t think a sample of one is a trustworthy sample, eh?

Well, I will continue to hold out for more responses, but in the meantime, the above feature improvement is my recommendation and I’m sticking to it.