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What My Workshop Attendees Asked

By Marty Nemko

Every month, I do a workshop called “Smart Yet Stuck.” Here are paraphrases of my responses to attendees’ questions:

“After a short time on a job, I get bored and either leave or they tell me to leave. How can I stay stimulated?”

A few jobs provide plenty of novelty, for example, journalist, teacher, librarian, and consultant. But your desire for nonstop newness may be unrealistic. Most successful people, even those in relatively stimulating jobs, accept that they must follow through on routine matters. Barbara Sher, author of Refuse to Choose, encourages people to embrace their dilettantism but I’ve found that is usually a prescription for failure, both in and out of work. It leads people to accomplish little and think of themselves as imposters, jacks of all trades, masters of none. At the risk of sounding like a depression-era Calvinist, accept that work is rarely as much fun as play.

A technical writer asked, “I hear that a great way to land a job is to cold call potential employers that are not advertising a job. That terrifies me. How much will it hurt me if my job search doesn’t include cold calling?”

As a writer, it’s not much of a problem. Just email prospective employers writing samples or a link to your website containing those clips. It does help to follow up with a phone call because employers are more likely to reject an email than a human being, but if your writing samples are good and you send them to enough on-target employers, you’ll probably land a job even if you don’t pick up the phone.

But what if you’re looking for a job in which providing samples isn’t helpful. These tips may help you overcome cold call reluctance. If your reluctance to cold-call is grounded in fear of sounding stupid, rehearse with a tape recorder or friend. If you worry you’re unworthy of being hired, ask yourself whether you should acquire more skills before starting your job search. If you fear imposing on potential employers, remember that you wouldn’t be reluctant to stop a stranger to ask for driving directions. After all, it only takes one minute of the person’s time. Cold calling a potential employer is a no greater imposition. After the one minute it takes to pitch yourself to an employer, if he doesn’t want to talk with you, he can always say so.

I want to make six figures but know I’ll never be a doctor, lawyer, or corporate executive. What options are there?

Consider low-status careers, where competition for high-paying jobs is less vigorous. A surprising number of waiters, plumbers, and owners of dull-normal businesses such as sandblasting, mobile home park maintenance, and used truck part brokering, make six-figure incomes. Commission salespeople who are not cold-call reluctant often make six figures, especially if they sell big-ticket items such as boats, planes, commercial real estate, long-term care insurance, investment services, or machines to corporations.

Is it a good idea to hire a professional to write your resume?

That’s okay as long as the resume writer spends enough time with you to tease out the accomplishments that would most impress your target employer and writes your resume in a voice that truly reflects who you are. An effective resume must also convey that it’s telling the truth. Alas, many resumes contain exaggerations and outright lies. Specificity increases credibility. So, pepper your resume with quotes from your evaluations or from colleagues or customers. Also include, for each previous job, a “representative problem solved.” In a few lines, describe a problem you faced, how you approached it, and its positive resolution.

How does one become the #1 candidate for a position?

If you’re a star, you become #1 simply by trumpeting your achievements and credentials in your application and interviews. If you’re a more average candidate, your best chance is to create chemistry with the hirer. How to do that? Use a human tone in cover letter, resume, and interviews. Also, ask questions of the interviewer. Listen for his hot buttons and ask more about those.

I’m 55, been a stay-at-home wife my entire life. My husband died and now I need to work. I have to make a good income if I want to keep my nice house and lifestyle. I’m scared no one will hire me.

In some fields, your age will be a plus. For example, most people like to buy products from people near their own age. So, you might try to get a job selling a product to older customers: long-term care insurance, retirement homes, architecture services.

You also might ask yourself whether your quality of life would improve if you sold the house. That would give you a big chunk of change. (She lives in California and owned her home for a long time so she has a lot of equity in her home.) Then buy or rent something small and live less materialistically. Then, you wouldn’t need to make so much money and so could consider jobs you find more intrinsically rewarding, for example, something creative, or work for a cause you believe in.

What’s the key to career contentment?

Gratitude. Don’t forget about all that is good in your career and life. Most grasses, even more prestigious ones, aren’t much greener. Contentment largely comes from within.

Of course, I’m not saying you should accept a career in a clanging, carcinogenic factory with a screaming, micromanaging boss. Indeed, look to improve yourself and your organization, but only by focusing mainly on the positive are you likely to find lasting contentment.

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