Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sometimes the only way to win is to quit

One of my recent clients has a very inspiring story of hard-work, determination, and perserverance. As you might imagine, part of what is so inspiring here, is that this person overcame great odds and boundaries in order to reach a level of achievement experienced by only a select few.

Where I can only admire how strong this person is, and her unwillingness to give up was much of the fabric of her success, there are times when such stubborn determination can be detrimental to an individual's success and well-being. So is the case when this person came to me. Recruited from a prestigious graduate program, this young woman found herself in a nightmare job. The leader in the organization, who she was hired to report directly to, was harshly abusive to everyone. Where this young woman entered the organization feeling on-top-of-the-world confident, she soon found herself feeling lost and discouraged by a barage of negative feedback and a lack of training or clear expectations to avoid this abusive negativity.

Staying true to her former recipe for success, this young woman did not give up, and instead watched eighty percent of her peers leave, while her situation worsened. By the time she came to me, she described her work day feeling like getting a root canal without the anethesia.

Robert Sutton has written a book on the topic of workplace bullies, which he perhaps better names the title: The No A!!Hole Rule (I just couldn't bring myself to type out the actual title). I suggested that my client and all those going through similar circumstances read the book, since the number one tip for dealing with jerks in the workplace is to is to get out as fast as you can.

This advice goes against what my client was comfortable with, and she resisted until her job started to take a physical toll on her. Initially, the worst thing for her was facing the potential sense of failure by quitting. After much encouragement, she did quit, and has already found herself in a much more desireable place. Sometimes our greatest strengths can work against us when they are not appropriately applied in a given situation. Sometimes the only way to win is to quit.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Smile, You're On Camera

Career advisers regularly need to admonish their job search clients to protect their image, and consider their personal branding. There are just too many horror stories of employers doing background checks, only to find a lack of good judgment documented on a MySpace website or somewhere else on the Internet.

Part of the trouble is that many young people do not understand corporate culture, and how typically conservative it is. Many employers now use drug screening as part of the hiring process, and even if employers do not use drug tests, they still are more comfortable with candidates they are certain will exercise good judgment.

This is where I feel for all students at University of California of Santa Cruz. Notably one of the most beautiful public campuses in the country with some excellent academic programs, this school is clouded by a reputation that many employers would not smile upon. A prime example is an annual event that occurred last week on April 20, or 4/20. 420 Day or 420 Fried Day is an event where thousands of students gather to smoke marijuana. Documentation of the event can easily be found on the Internet including many photos and You Tube footage.

Perhaps this event is an excellent way to broadcast political views on legalization, as there is no denying that this movement is gaining wider support with the younger generation, but the question that needs to be asked is: How are such things affecting the brand image of Santa Cruz? Where at least 5,000 students participated in 420 day this year (this is still a small percentage of students attending the school), all their students are potentially impacted by this image. If you were an employer would you feel more comfortable hiring someone from this school or perhaps a school that has a more conservative culture?

A college education should help students acknowledge their power to change the world, but students should also be warned that the world of work is substantially more conservative than a typical college campus, and changing the world is a lot more challenging when it is difficult to get a job.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Disabled Discrimination

Today I met with a brilliant young man afflicted with cerebral palsy (CP). Sadly, my training as a career counselor did not focus on providing career services for those with disabilities, as typically vocational or rehabilitative counselors place more emphasis in this area. Still, I have now met with enough individuals with disabilities to experience my ignorance and limitations in providing the quality service I hope to bring to each session.

So it was in my meeting with this gentleman today. I honestly did not know anything significant about CP, and was an immediate study from what I learned from my experience today. This man had a truly amazing story--one that I have no doubt will be published in a biography or perhaps even dramatized in a movie.

Starting out virtually paralyzed and effectively mute, this man learned to speak, read, and walk when nobody expected him to be able to do any of these things in his childhood. His passion to learn and determination was effectively shown when he mastered elementary and middle school content in only five years.

His propensity for math is even more remarkable--when most kids/young adults learn by taking notes and writing out the steps to solve problems, this man had to learn how to solve the majority of his problems in his head, as his mobility has never been fast enough to allow him to be an effective note taker.

In college, he had similar challenges. Enrolling in a competitive computer engineering class, he was expected to keep up with no accommodations for his disability. Where this expectation was sometimes impossible and certainly detrimental to his success, he graduated--even having the honor of having some of his brilliant work published.

Now for the sad reality. This man has had difficulty finding a full-time job. Where top corporations were quick to recruit him based on his resume, he almost never made it beyond the first interview, because most employers have no idea how to accommodate him. So here is a man who has some amazing software and engineering skills, and yet nobody could see beyond his disability.

His latest resolve is to create a business that seeks out employees with disabilities so that he can prove to the world that an unfair and superficial assessment of a person allows the workforce to ignore some of the most valuable gems.

I hope he is successful. Not every employee is like George Clooney.

To donate to the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, click on this link.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It’s never too late to be who you might have been

The title of this entry is a quote from novelist George Elliot, which I discovered from a recent ChangeThis manifesto from David Rendall.

As a counselor, much of my advice is enriched by the many mistakes I have made in the past. Those mistakes have made me more knowledgeable, keen, and empathic in my work, so arguably all of my career mishaps are ultimately good things.

Perhaps you are down on yourself for not selecting the right career or not changing careers earlier when a transition might have been easier to make, or that you did not focus your time at work to acquire the skills necessary to make your next move. This kind of thinking will not get you anywhere. Instead, learn from your experience, and seek out unique opportunities where your experience is beneficial rather than detrimental. It's easier said than done, but once accomplished, I assure you the hindsight will be 20:20, and you will be amazed at how good things turned out.