Finding Your Niche -Part 2

4.  Identify workplaces where your dream job might exist

Hopefully, you’ve started talking to people about what you dream of doing.   If so, you’ve figured out that they work in a variety of settings  and what you want to do is done in a variety of settings–maybe in government, nonprofits, small businesses, educational institutions.  Hopefully, your interviews have given you the flavor of how the job might be different, depending on the setting.  Although some settings may appeal more than others, based on what you’ve learned from your interviews, try to withhold judgement for now and get a sense of pro’s and cons’s of each setting.  You may be saying “I already know the two places in my area where I want to work,” and you may be absolutely on-target, but in this job market, and as someone who is shifting into a new career path, you may want to know not just the most hotly contested job arenas, but also the smaller, related arenas where you might have an easier time getting your foot in the door.

Action:  Here’s where you get to do some research.  You can start with the Occupational Outlook Handbook: http://www.bls.gov/oco/     This will give you a national perspective on the growth in jobs in your interest area as well as some suggestions on where these jobs exist.  Next, you can look up those settings in your geographic area.   As you search websites, look at mission statements, annual reports, strategic objectives. Make files for youself of this kind of background information.  Next, look at organizational charts and find the names and contact information of the folks heading up the departments in which your dream job could exist.  Add this to your files.  Review this information for each organization and ask yourself,  what you might have to contribute.  What problem can your unique experience help them solve?  Write down those ideas as well.  Prioritize the places that most appeal to you and where you have a rock-solid idea of where you fit and what you offer.

5.  Network, network, network

This is where you ask everyone you know who they know.  You’re now looking for links to people in your prioritized organizations and to people in the specific organizational units where you’d like to work.   If your network leads to the executives there, great Hold that information for step 7.  If it leads to others within the organization, that’s your starting place.  What’s important is knowing who is who!  You want to be sure you understand what the organization needs to move forward so that you can demonstrate how you can meet that need. Most importantly, You want to establish rapport and try to start a relationship with someone within each organization.

Action:  Use your contacts as referrals to set up a round of informational interviews.   Ask for no more than 20 minutes and keep to that timeframe.   This time your questions should be specific to the organization.  You use this information to clarify what you learned in your web research, especially about goals, objectives and obstacles.    Try to identify an interest of your interviewee that gives you an excuse to follow up periodically–an article on team-building if they mentioned a challenging team situation or a website on ski conditions if that is an avocation of theirs.Be sure to send a thank you note to each interviewee immediately after each meeting.

6.  Identify a problem you can help the employer solve

This can be a double edged sword, so craft it carefully!  You need to demonstrate how your experience makes you the perfect person to help the organization move forward without coming across as a know-it-all who is insensitive to this unique organization’s needs and culture.  Especially if you are an older worker, you need to be sure you don’t feed the stereotype of some employers that you are vested in last decade’s solutions!

Action:  What you’re really selling is your experience with a wide range of approaches to a particular problem.  You need to craft 3-6 talking points that cover the following aspects:  State clearly the problem the organization is trying to address.  If you’re unsure, ask a question that helps clarify the issue from the organization’s perspective.   Next, describe briefly but specifically how your  experience with other organizations gives you a “20-thousand-foot perspective” which offers fresh strategies to the experts within the organization.    You should also be ready to describe your ability to follow through masterfully once the best approach is selected.

7.  Find out who has the power to hire you and talk to them

Use the rapport and relationship you’ve set up to leverage the next meeting with the person who could hire you.  A recommendation from staff or someone in your network can give you a real advantage over someone cold-calling the organization!!  Although it’s a scary prospect, in reality, it should be less scary than a job interview–you’ve skirted the competition by coming to the organization with your unique talent and the service you can provide before anyone else has been interviewed.  Maybe even before a job description has been written.  There are no set interview questions to respond to.  You have the opportunity to set the agenda for the meeting.  If you’re prepared, this is a wonderful opportunity to highlight your abilities.

Action:  Do some more research on the interests and responsibilities of the person you’re going to meet.  Review  what you want to say with your contact.  Remember, it’s in their interest for you to come across well!  Listen to their feedback about tone– formal/informal, key phrases, buzzwords, any hot issues you should avoid.  Tailor your resume to the job you’re shooting for.  Consider bringing an electronic or paper portfolio that demonstrates your past experience visually.

During your interview, although you have your talking points prepared, give your prospective employer time to speak (aim for 50-50 like a real conversation).  Note the terms that he/she uses and include them in your response. Try to listen for where his/her interest lies. Focus your comments there, even if it takes you off-script.

After you’ve made your most important points, you need to be prepared to say why you want to be a part of this specific organization.  Lastly, you must ask to be hired.  Crazy, huh?  Just something simple like, “Given all we’ve discussed today, can you offer me this position?”  Be prepared to wait for a response.  Ask when you can follow up. Send a thank-you note!

Getting to the Next Chapter —

Turning Down the Heat

It’s funny how fine-tuning the smallest routines in my new life brings insights. Maybe you’ve discovered this too? After several months of re-patterning when and where I pray and journal in the mornings, I’ve figured out I prefer the kitchen (until it’s warm enough to return to the porch). I harbor an image of making my French-press coffee and then praying and journaling with a hot cup of joe steaming next to me. But here’s the reality. When I’m really praying and journaling with focus, the coffee sits untouched and gets cold. Can’t deal with my first cup of the day being reheated! The morning escapes entirely when I don’t even start the coffee until I finish my morning pages, but if I start the water when I sit down to pray, the whistling kettle distracts me. I know how dumb this will sound to many of you smart people but I just figured out my stove will boil water even if I don’t set it on HIGH. It can take 30 minutes to boil water if I set it on low! Who knew?
Speed has always been the looming directive in my life—and productivity matters, especially now when I’m bombarded by messages about entertaining myself and being self-indulgent because I’ve earned it. Resisting these “raisons d’etre” in favor of shaping a new and meaningful career for myself has made me crabby and impatient. Holding onto rigid ideas about time and timing closes me off from the things that can make this new life richer and more satisfying.
Two ideas that converged with my singing kettle today are: reaching out to one or two people each day via phone or e-mail is the antidote to the isolation of working at home. Connections are part of the life I haven’t had enough time for—what am I doing researching and writing at the computer 6 hours a day—and no wonder I have to force myself to do it!! I read an interview with Steve Martin, whose new book was recently released. He mentioned that after 2-3 hours of writing a day, he needs to get out. Wow. It reminded me that Colleen Mc Cullough wrote Thorn Birds in short sessions before she went to work each day. How did I forget that?
What both of these bring me back to is boiling water slowly. Rather than re-create the fast, pressurized environment of my last careers, maybe I can create a work environment that allows time for friends, family and fruitful products. Turning down the heat may be an important concept to apply to more than coffee.
What little changes have you made that reflect bigger insights in your new life?
Have you found specific ways to turn down the heat or let water boil slowly?

Sandwich, anyone?

Just came back from visiting my grandbabies who live way too far away.  They’re 1 year old twins now and I get to see them about 4-5 times a year.  While I always stay for about a week, it takes 4-5 days for them to warm up to me enough that we can really play and snuggle.  Holding their hands for patty-cake was a biggy this visit.   I understand but it’s still hard.  Our daughter would love us to be closer.  While at times that sounds great to me, most of the time, I know we each need our friends, our activities, our communities and they happen to be 1000 miles apart.

We visited with my local daughter and her husband over the weekend.  She lives an hour away and I probably see her once a month.  I try to be considerate of them, and not demand a lot of their time.  When we were young, our folks were all nearby but we yearned for time with our friends; our parents were obligations, to an extent, even though we had good relationships with them.  Time is tight when you’re 26!

So we each make our way, and try to make our time together happy and rich and emphasize as we did when we were raising them that it’s quality, not quantity that matters.

We bobble along this way  until we can see over the horizon.  My dad is 92 and we’re moving him from his home in FL to a senior community in MD to be closer to us.  He and my stepmom moved there 30 years ago, intent upon living their lives with their friends, in their communitiy focusing on the activities and lifestyle Florida could offer them.  We saw each other once or twice a year.  The kids grew up knowing that Christmas vacation always began with 2 days in the car.  We made memories when we visited.  We talked late into the night.  We also suffered through a lot of Vaughn Monroe records.  It was quality not quantity of time that mattered.

Now he’s alone and I really want Dad back.  His friends have died or moved away.  He has fewer outside interests.  He’s amenable to being here instead of there and  I’m regretting that it’s taken so long to convince him to come.  Now the emphasis is on quantity of time.  Looking back, I realize it all has quality!

How does this track with career transition?  I think relationships hold a bigger place in our heads and hearts as we get older.  So we balance the scales differently than we did when we were younger and the weight of many decisions fell on the side of career advancement. I’ve always read that being the sandwich generation meant being pulled in too many directions, maybe the sides of the sandwich are the buffers that prevent me from taking the inevitable ups and downs of career change too seriously.  Maybe they give me a perspective I wouldn’t have if I only interacted with other seasoned professionals like myself.   I need to remember I was transitioning out of  chaos and busyness that I disliked.  I need to hold onto the value of patty-cake and listening to Vaughn Monroe along the way.

next chapter

After coaching other people on making transitions for the past 4 years, I’m ready to take the next step myself. I’ve had one foot in and one foot out for a year and a half now; coaching one day and a couple of evenings each week. Many of you who are hard-core dual career folks know the drill; using lunchtimes to confirm appointments, weekends to update the e-zine, re-arranging things constantly, so that it all fits.

Then, as I moved into this year, complete with immobilizing snow storms, the other shoe dropped. I felt the itch to write again. I started and was lucky enough to have my first on-line article published by More magazine. It made me bold. I approached a friend and we began writing a play. Writing – being a writer – changed my focus. And coaching clients were calling at the same time! I think when we are on the right path, God clears the brush. I realized writing and coaching are two vital pieces to the portfolio life I wanted to live. They are like the Technicolor scenes in Wizard of Oz, and my job…well it was definitely shades of grey by comparison. It was time to take the leap!

So…I’ve resigned from my consulting job, effective mid-September. I’ve been very open about what my next chapter includes. Now here’s the freaky part. Despite the fact that I intend to really WORK as a coach and writer, some folks are congratulating me on my “retirement”! I can’t even find words for how jarring that has been! I looked it up—“retirement” means: “giving up work, withdrawal from business or public life, retreat, sequestration.” Please note it’s not folks who are a lot younger who seem to need to put me in that box. It’s folks who are themselves over 55. Do we really NOT believe we have the right and capacity to do challenging, exciting, fulfilling things after 55? I can’t help but wonder how many of us are mired in this internalized oppression. No doubt, our youth-mesmerized culture will challenge us to prove we bring something unique to whatever new career or creative endeavor we choose, but we won’t overcome that challenge unless WE believe to the tips of our toes that we do!
My intent, at this point is to share some insights about my journey through this transition—and I’d love to hear yours.

What are some of the insidious ways your dreams for a next chapter get undercut?
Who has been supportive as you’ve tried to transition to your next chapter?

living in your own little Idaho

I’ve been looking for opportunities to make a difference this morning. Pretending (or not) that there are great opportunites out there and I just need to find them. What I’m struck by is how boring websites and facebook pages for nonprofits truly are–I don’t mean the BigGuys with their direct streaming video and thousands of fans and twitter followers–I mean the local organizations that might really need your or my talents–where they really might make a huge difference! Now don’t get me wrong– they’re perfectly competent; they describe mission and services and opportunities to volunteer and donate,but they’re BORING. There’s nothing that compels me to act. And the bigger problem is they’re written for other nonprofit people, so there’s that capable administrative insider code going on, that frankly, I don’t need to learn for our first “date”. I wonder how many of these groups track who uses their webside and how. I wonder how many track outcomes. Now there’s a task!

What can you learn about your next position from a blizzard?

Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to do at least some of our regular work at home during a major storm like today’s—and those of us who are old enough to remember those work days before computers and network connections are grateful BUT how does the prospect of more than one day like today, pounding out products alone at home leave you feeling?   Productiveand in control?   Ready to run screaming to an open
Starbucks?  Like you ran in circles all day?  It’s a good clue as to what kind of work or volunteer environment you need to be happy!  Pay attention to your inner cues!

Retiring? Reinventing? or Falling off the Edge of the Earth?

I have a vision. It involves the thousands of talented and savvy federal women who are ready to or thinking about or who have recently retired from federal service.  I’ve worked with these women and I’ve been amazed at their skills and perseverance and their ability to accomplish impossible goals for their agencies. As I talk with my friends who fit this description, I find they fall into two camps—those who yearn for the freedom to come and go as they wish, to pursue hobbies and do absolutely nothing if they so choose and those who feel some apprehension about ending their careers—who may feel like they’re about to fall off the edge of the earth.

What I’m not hearing much about are women who have a passion to create real change in their communities—whether through a paying job or through volunteer activity – and could now take the leap and actually make a quantifiable difference without all the limits of federal programming.
The media is full of stories about women executives from the private sector who dive in with both feet to post-retirement work to change the world and I can’t help but wonder where my federal sisters are.

I know from my own experience that it isn’t that we “checked the box.” It’s not work that’s finished! I can’t believe that federal service has stamped out our passions for the many causes that still need champions. Do we feel we have nothing more to offer? Have we become cynical about whether change is really possible? Are we just so burned out that we’re ready to escape to the lifestyle equivalent of white noise?

I’m really curious and I invite you to weigh in! What are you doing to change the world now that you’re out of the bureaucratic box?  What am I missing here? What would it take for you to commit yourself to a cause that’s important to you for a day a week or more? What would you need to make that a worthwhile exchange for your time?