What’s Ahead in 2010?

December 30, 2009

Prognosticating is a fine, old end-of-the-year tradition. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that the devil we know is bowing out and the devil we don’t know has yet to appear, but we seem especially interested in these forecasts during the last days of December.

How much credence should we put in them?

Well, the dictionary defines prognostication as an activity in which you “predict according to present indications or signs.” To my way of thinking, however, figuring out the future is nothing more than guesswork gussied up as deductive reasoning. Nevertheless, I think it’s helpful to look ahead at what might happen if only to scare ourselves into paying more attention to the emerging trends and issues around us. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for those in the world of work in 2010.

We’ll emerge from the Great Recession with a permanently altered world view. The Great Depression profoundly changed the outlook of a generation or more of Americans. The Great Recession is doing the same. Americans lost their trust of banks in the Great Depression, and while that may be true during this Great Recession, as well, today’s Americans have also lost their trust in employers. In 2010, a growing number of Americans will come to believe that too many of these organizations do not have their best interests at heart and are not led by compassionate, fair and honest executives.

What can you do to protect yourself? Take charge of your career and get comfortable with change. Don’t rely on your employer to advance your career—that’s now your job—and plan for the inevitable adjustments it will require—you are now likely to have a new job, a new employer or both every three years or so. Make sure you’re the master of those changes and not their victim.

We’ll begin to feel the effect of two new classes in America. The traditional distinctions of American life—a society loosely composed of upper, middle and lower classes—will become less important as two new groups begin to emerge: workers and talent. Employers believe that the recession has given them access to an oversupply of workers—their mailboxes are now filled with resumes—even as they face a shortage of talent. In fact, the situation is so dire that they call it a War for Talent. They simply can’t find enough of two kinds of people: those who have a skill that is critical to the organization’s success and those who are superior performers on-the-job. As a result, workers find themselves competing with dozens, sometimes even hundreds of others for the same position, while people of talent have employers competing for them with hiring bonuses and above market salary offers.

What can you do to protect yourself? The good news is that everyone has an inherent talent; the bad news is that not everyone is working at it. The key to success going forward, therefore, will be to ensure that you are doing your best work using the talent with which you were endowed. For many Americans, that may mean a new career field, but making that shift now will also mean greater security and satisfaction in the future.

We’ll see layoffs continue even as hiring begins to increase. During the recession, employers laid off employees to cut costs. During the recovery, they will continue those layoffs to improve performance. They will eliminate the positions of those workers who are average performers and create new ones that require top performers. In this post-recession, global economy, employers believe that to ensure their own survival, they must hire only the best and brightest who deliver only the best and most useful contribution on-the-job. Loyalty to the organization, knowing the ropes and how things get done inside it and all of the other attributes that used to be valued and rewarded with continued employment in the past will no longer work in the future.

What can you do to protect yourself? See yourself as employed in two jobs, whether you’re in transition or working full time. You must conduct your job search or do your best work for your employer and, concurrently, you must devote the time and effort to build up and sustain the health of your career. Simply put, developing your personal Career Fitness is the only way to achieve meaningful and enduring success in the 21st Century workplace. We’ll recognize the demise of the “come as you are” job market. Historically, you found a new job with the skills and knowledge you had in your old one. You simply updated your resume, sent it out to a bunch of employers and within weeks had several offers, often including one that was better than the last job you had. Unfortunately, those days are over. Most recruiters want to hire people from the ranks of the employed—whether it’s true or not, they believe those individuals are better qualified—so if you’re unemployed, you are at a real and serious disadvantage. If you have any doubt about that, consider the record number of long-term unemployed persons in the country today. Once you’re out of work, you’re out of the zone of primary consideration.

What can you do to protect yourself? Re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress. Enroll in a class or start a training program even as you are looking for a job. Then, note that effort on your resume. Enter the name of the course, the institution where you’re taking it and the term “On- Going.” That single step will position you as a candidate with two attributes every employer prizes: it will show that you understand the importance of state-of-the-art skills and that you take personal responsibility for ensuring you have them. Next year will introduce a world of work unlike any we‘ve ever seen in the United States. For many, it will be a disconcerting and even frightening environment. There are, however, steps you can take to protect yourself. And doing so will also enable you to reach for and grab hold of the extraordinary opportunities that this new workplace holds, as well.

Thanks for reading,

Peter

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including Recognizing Richard Rabbit, a fable of self-discovery for working adults, and Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System. © Copyright 2009 WEDDLE’s LLC. All Rights Reserved.


The Work-Life Balancing Act

December 28, 2009

Recently, several items have drawn my attention to the issue of work-life balance.

The first is a recent report, published by the Center for American Progress and the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic and Family Security entitled “Staying Competitive: Patching America’s Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences.”  The authors were intrigued by a recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences that confirmed that women who receive PhDs in the sciences are less likely than men to seek academic research positions, and were more likely to drop out before attaining tenure if they did take on a faculty post.  These authors wanted to find out why, so looked into the impact of children and family obligations.

Some of their key findings:

  • Family formation accounts for the largest leaks in the scientific pipeline – women in the sciences who are married with children are 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure track position after receiving a Ph.D. than are married men with children.
  • Scientists often make decisions about career paths while still in training, and both men and women report shifts away from the career goal of research professor during the course of graduate school (also confirmed by Cynthia Fuhrmann at UCSF, unpublished data), with the movement of women’s plans being more pronounced.
  • Research intensive careers in university settings have a bad reputation among both men and women.
  • Scientific researchers receive limited benefits such as paid maternity leave and parental leave, and young scientists are least likely to get any of these benefits.

The second item was a recent poll on ScienceCareers in which readers were asked how they plan to balance family and career.  The respondents were mainly younger scientists, especially postdocs (43%) and graduate students (49%), with a few undergraduates and other.  Nearly half of the respondents “expect/plan to have children while still in training”, and more than a quarter of respondents already have children. About a quarter (24.5%) plan to wait until after their careers are established before having children, and 2% don’t intend to have children. This is encouraging – it shows that most respondents think it is possible to balance a healthy family life with a scientific career.

And finally, I see that at the ACS national meeting this spring in San Fransisco, the Division of Small Chemical Businesses is organizing a symposium entitled “Sustaining a Work-Life Balance”.

It seems like this is an issue that more and more people are willing to talk about.  While the term “work-life balance” was first used in the 1970s, until now it has mainly been an individual, or at most a family, discussion. Balancing the different parts of your life – work, family, friends, hobbies….. – is always a challenge, and something that professionals need to think about from time to time.  While it’s impossible to achieve perfect balance on a daily, weekly, or sometimes even monthly basis, on a longer term basis you should be spending your time and energy on things that matter to you.  If you’re not, perhaps it’s time to think about what you can change to make your actions match your personal values and desires.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).


Isn’t Free a Four Letter Word?

December 22, 2009

Four letter words are generally thought to be unfit for public consumption. We counsel our kids to refrain from using them, and we do our best to abide by our own wisdom. It’s odd, therefore, that so many of us seem determined to rely on a four letter word when we search for a job and manage our careers. What is this seemingly inoffensive term? It’s the word “free.” Well meaning institutions and counselors often avoid programs and tools that require job seekers to pay a fee for their use. They argue that the cost imposes an inappropriate burden on those who are in transition and potentially experiencing financial hardship. They also contend that many if not all of the fee-based services can be obtained for free—there’s that four letter word—on the Internet.

Certainly, no one can argue with the notion of trying, wherever possible, to avoid asking job seekers to sacrifice any more than they already are. To say that every product and service they might need should be free, however, takes that view to an illogical conclusion. Why? Because their good intentions have at least two unintended consequences that are bad.

Sending the Wrong Signal
First, advising job seekers (and others) that they shouldn’t pay a fee for a product or service that can help them find a job or advance their career is the equivalent of saying they shouldn’t invest in their future. We pay for our college education, our insurance policies, even our membership in a professional or trade association because we believe that doing so will benefit us and we know it’s up to us to do it. The same is true with our careers. There is no entitlement to workplace success, so it’s up to us to make it happen. If we ignore that responsibility, we undermine our future.

Sometimes, the tools we need will be free—searching the employment opportunities on a job board, for example—and at other times, there will be a cost to acquire them. Paying that fee is not inappropriate; it’s a commitment we make to and in ourselves. We have to be smart about it, of course—as with other kinds of investment, it is possible to buy useless or even harmful career products and service—but the payment itself is a profoundly empowering act, one that reinforces our self-respect and our capability at the same time.

Ignoring Qualitative Differences
The Internet is the richest source of human knowledge ever devised. It’s also a garbage heap of mediocre advice, bad information, stale ideas, and occasionally, outright dangerous opinions. Most of us have learned, therefore, to evaluate what we find online very carefully. We select what we determine to be true and useful and we ignore the rest. Subscriptions to the online version of The Wall Street Journal, for example, have actually risen during the recession, and those subscriptions aren’t free. Hundreds of thousands of people pay to access that information because they believe that it’s helpful to them and better than what they can get in other places. The same is true with job search and career resources. There’s a lot of free stuff out there on the Web, but it’s not necessarily state-of-the-art or very helpful. For example, you’ll find countless primers and checklists of job search techniques that worked in the 1990’s, but will waste your time and get you nowhere today. Paying a fee for a career tool or resource doesn’t necessarily mean it will be qualitatively better, but it certainly holds it to a higher standard. So, what should you do? Be as smart a consumer of career tools as you are of cell phones and television sets. Assess the credibility and track record of the individual or organization behind the product or service before you invest your time or money in using it. Now I grant you that fr** is not your run of the mill four letter word. It’s neither impolite nor off-putting. It is, however, potentially misleading and even harmful, at least when it’s used to guide the way people acquire job search and career management resources. What’s a better way to judge such tools? Focus on how helpful they will be to you. You deserve access to the tools that will serve you best, and having to pay a fair price for them isn’t doing you a disservice; it is making a down payment on your hopes and dreams.

Thanks for reading,

Peter

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong

Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including Recognizing Richard Rabbit, a fable of self-discovery for working adults, and Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System.

© Copyright 2009 WEDDLE’s LLC. All Rights Reserved.


The American Dream

December 18, 2009

The American Dream. While it is a quintessentially American aspiration, each of us has a unique vision of just what it is. For some, the dream is a chance to build a successful business. For others, it’s a home of their own. And for still others, it’s the opportunity to shop until they drop. As alluring as all of these visions are, however, I would respectfully suggest that they are outcomes of the dream and not the dream, itself. The American Dream is actually a state of mind.

We all know, of course, that the American Dream exists because we live in a nation founded on certain extraordinary principles. Much as we take them for granted, deep down inside, every American knows that they are especially fortunate to live in a land where they are accorded an enduring right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. While most of us are very clear about what Life and Liberty mean, however, there is some confusion about the pursuit of Happiness. And it’s that misunderstanding which causes us to misperceive the American Dream. The founding fathers, themselves, inadvertently provoked this situation with their capitalization choices. They used initial caps on Life, Liberty and Happiness, when what they really meant to enshrine was a commitment to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. In other words, what the American Dream promises is not a right to happiness, but a right to Achieve it on our own. What does that mean for those of us in the workforce?

Over the past decade or so, social scientists have been trying to figure out just what happiness is and where it comes from. While many of us think the answers to such questions are intuitively obvious, it turns out that we may be selling ourselves short. Humans have the capacity not only to experience happiness, but to experience joy, as well. And those two states are very different. Joy is an emotional state. It is derived from our relationships with family and friends. When those interactions engage and satisfy us, when they enable us to be the best of ourselves with the others in our Life, we experience joy—one of the human species’ greatest gifts.

Happiness, on the other hand, is a cognitive state. It occurs when we are tested by meaningful challenges that stimulate us to express and experience our fullest natural potential, our talent. These challenges can occur anywhere, but they are most prevalent in the workplace. In other words, our best shot at Achieving happiness occurs when we put ourselves in a position to excel at what we love to do. That is the essence of the American Dream. It is a personal commitment, a determination to devote our Life and exercise our Liberty to the accomplishment of two tasks:

· To discovering our natural talent or what we love to do and do best. and
· To working only where we can use that talent to achieve satisfying goals. The outcome of those tasks will be unique to each of us, but the tasks themselves are the same for all of us. They represent our right to the Pursuit of happiness.

Those two tasks are also the key to a successful job search and a rewarding career. Whether we’re in transition or currently employed, they enable and empower us to control our destiny, to shape it to an end that is important and fulfilling to us. It is our right, to be sure, but it is also our responsibility. For only we can take the first step, only we can decide to set off on our own personal Pursuit of happiness. Why should we bother? Because as wonderful as the joy is in our relationships, we deserve more. We spend at least one-third of our lives at work, and that experience should offer more than frustration, anxiety and despair. It should be, it can be a source of profound fulfillment. Or what the founding fathers called Happiness.

Thanks for reading,

Peter

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong

Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including Recognizing Richard Rabbit, a fable of self-discovery for working adults, and Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System.
© Copyright 2009 WEDDLE’s LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Life Lessons from Laureates

December 7, 2009

Later this week, on December 10 in Stockholm, three scientists will don their finest formal wear, shake hands with the King of Sweden, and accept the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  This is science’s annual version of the Academy Awards.  Even though it isn’t broadcast live around the world, you can watch a recorded video of this year’s ceremony afterward on the web.

Maybe you’ll want to let your imagination run wild and pretend you’re standing up there with them.

The Nobel Prize has always held a special mystique for me. (You, too?)  If there’s one ultimate symbol of professional success in a scientist’s career, it’s the Nobel Prize. 

While my career has not yet produced a Nobel Prize (and I’m not holding my breath), I’ve learned some valuable life lessons from those who have walked across the stage in Stockholm. Why did they become a chemist?  How did they pick their research topics?  What makes them tick?  Whenever I’ve explored these questions, I’ve come away with a perspective that’s helped me in my own career. 

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to interact with a number of Nobel Laureates.  Sometimes, I’ve simply been in the audience at one of their seminars or public lectures.  Once, I took a semester-long class from a Nobel Laureate.  And sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to talk to them one-on-one in my role as a science writer.

What did I learn from them? What pithy career advice can I pass along? 

One of my chemistry heroes over the years has been Dudley Herschbach, 1986 Nobel Laureate.  He taught my quantum chemistry course in grad school, and I witnessed firsthand his enthusiasm for chemistry.  From him, I learned the importance of passion for a research subject, the value of using metaphors to relate chemistry to everyday life, and the nobility of devoting a life to teaching others.

I also discovered that, outside the lab and lecture hall, he was a musician, a Boston Red Sox fan, and a father.   

Today, I remember very little of the quantum chemistry he taught me, but I will never forget the twinkle in his eye when he told a story, the look of concentration on his face as he played his viola in a string quartet concert in the chemistry building, or the Red Sox ball cap he wore at the press conference on the day his Nobel Prize was announced. 

What do you know about the lives and careers of your scientific heroes and heroines?   A fascinating place to start, if they are a Nobel Laureate, is to read their autobiographies on the Nobel Prize website.

This week, in honor of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, take a break from thinking about chemistry and instead learn something about a chemist.  I guarantee you’ll gain some insight or inspiration that you can use in your own career.

To get you started exploring these Nobel autobiographies, here’s a link to Herschbach’s autobiography.

And here’s a trivia question for you, with the answer to be found on the Nobel Prize website: 

One of the 2008 Chemistry Laureates confesses that he chose his area of research (the green fluorescent protein), in part, because, “I love pretty colors.”  Who was it?

Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science fellow, he launched a freelance science writing business, Wedin Communications (www.wedincommunications.com), in 1992.  His blog, “The Alchemist in the Minivan” (www.alchemist.pro), looks at the intersection of science, parenting, and daily life.


Career Victories

December 2, 2009

Back in the day, accomplishments at work were only accomplishments if they were acknowledged by a supervisor. That reality had at least two downsides for you. First, it limited the definition of an accomplishment to whatever made sense to your supervisor, whether or not it made any sense at all for you. And second, your accomplishments were only recognized if your supervisor bothered to do so, and sadly, not all supervisors have good human relations skills.

The net effect of this situation was to diminish your perception of your accomplishments. If you have any doubt about that, think back to the last time you wrote a resume. Remember how hard it was to recall your achievements in your most recent job, let alone those in jobs you held before that? That fuzziness indicates how little impact your accomplishments have had on your own sense of success at work. Such a malformed view of your role at work is a threat to you and to your career. It undermines your self-image and, ultimately, your self-confidence in your own capability. And, it clouds how people see your contribution on-the-job and potential in the workplace. If you are only as accomplished as your supervisor acknowledges, they are in control of what happens to you and your career, and nothing could be more dangerous in today’s much more demanding world of work.

What should you do about this situation?

Throw out supervisor-defined accomplishments and focus, instead, on personal “career victories.” A career victory is different from an old fashioned accomplishment in several ways:

  • First, a career victory is defined by you. You set a goal—I will improve my work skills or I will increase my output on-the-job—and you determine what constitutes reaching that goal—I will improve my work skills by completing this course of instruction or I will increase my output on-the-job by learning how to use that software program.
  • Second, career victories occur wherever you say they do. They may happen on-the-job or outside it, in an academic institution, a professional association or a volunteer activity. A career victory is not limited to what happens in your employer’s workplace; it describes what happens to you—the self-improvements you realize by reaching goals you set—in whatever venue you select.
  • Third, career victories occur however you say they do. They are not dictated by what best serves your supervisor or employer. A career victory may certainly do that, but its purpose is to reinforce your self-esteem and advance your career. You decide what self-improvement will do you the most good and the conditions under which it will be realized.
  • Fourth, career victories occur whenever you say they do. They don’t depend upon your supervisor’s ability to recognize them or their willingness to express that recognition in a way that will do you any good. A career victory is a success that you recognize, and it is a well deserved pat on the back that you give yourself.

Career victories are based on a very simple, but powerful premise. It analogizes achieving career success to riding a bicycle. In other words, you can coast for a short while in your career, but most of the time, you’re going to have to peddle—you’re going to have to engage in continuous self-improvement—to keep making steady progress. If you don’t, your career will start to wobble and eventually topple over.

Although this concept may seem a bit strange at first, it’s not all that hard to get used to. After all, almost all of us know how to ride a bike. And even if we haven’t done so for awhile, it’s one of those skills you never really lose and thus can quickly regain. Achieving career victories, therefore, is something anybody and everybody can do. They are a democratic activity. And, unlike accomplishments, where recognition can be colored by the biases and limitations of your supervisor, they are an equal opportunity form of celebration.

You can use your career victories in several ways. To start, I suggest that you memorialize your victories in writing by creating a “career record”—a diary of sorts that describes all of your work-related successes. This document isn’t a resume, although it can certainly make writing a resume much easier. It is, instead, a simple listing of your self-improvement goals and what you did to meet them. That record, in turn, can help you see your progress in the world of work so you can celebrate your successes (whether or not they are recognized by your employer’s performance appraisal system). And, it can provide a wake-up call if you find yourself coasting along and losing momentum in your career.

Focusing on your career victories doesn’t mean that your contributions on-the-job are any less important. Indeed, they can and should be career victories to which you aspire and for which you strive. The reason you do so, however, is not to gain the recognition of your supervisor, but instead to express and experience the best you can be. That’s the true definition of success in the modern workplace.

Thanks for reading,

Peter

Visit me at www.Weddles.com
Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including his latest, Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System.
© Copyright 2009 WEDDLE’s LLC. All Rights Reserved.