March   2000
Volume XII Number  3                                  

“I took the road less chosen, and that has made all the difference”

 This paraphrase of Robert Frost’s well-known line  introduces the theme I wish to explore in the millennium newsletters.  In previous years, we’ve looked at change and control.  The idea for this topic came from my Franklin Covey planner, which uses a monthly theme for the quotes on each day’s page. March’s theme is choice.

When I work with individuals, whether in executive coaching or career transition, I listen very carefully to their life history, which includes choices they have made. The way people deal with that “fork in the road” often tells me much about the person.


The dictionary tells us that the word “choice” is both a noun and an adjective. The first noun meaning is “the act of choosing”, for which the synonym is “selection.”  The second is “the power of choosing” and the synonym given for that is “option.”  The subtle difference between the two are important because it defines why choice is often both difficult to make, and, paradoxically, easy to make with little  forethought. 


The earliest conscious choices most people relate are those around extra-curricular activities, summer and after-school jobs, or in the choice of a foreign language in high school. What I listen for are three distinct attributes:

  • ·         How much was the decision influenced by parents, teachers, and friends?
  • ·         How conscious was the decision and what was the process — how objective/subjective was it?
  • ·         How satisfied with the decision was the person? A track record of satisfaction with decisions makes for easier future decisions and vice versa.

The next major choice point comes in how the person decided on which college to attend.  Here, another dictionary definition of choice is relevant: “a sufficient number and variety to choose among”.   Many of the people I see have come from middle class or higher socio/economic levels, where parents are themselves college-educated, and consequently there are few limitations placed on the choice.


The “choice” is much more limited for those whose parents had little or no knowledge of higher education, or who attended a high school with less sophisticated guidance counselors. College selection is also relevant to the three points above: namely, who influenced, subjectivity and self-evaluation of outcome.


The college experience offers other choice points Perhaps the decision about major is the most obvious.  Others which can be explored are fraternity/sorority membership, courses, jobs, internships, and extent of involvement in extra-curricular activities.


The first job choice out of college, graduate school choice, change in job or job location, function or industry, to stay in a direct line role  or become a manager – all these choices are perhaps the most revealing.  There are usually patterns in people’s choice processes which they themselves are unaware. As we explore the choices together, it’s very gratifying to see people understand their pattern, in part because what may at first seem haphazard (or to use our C word from 1998 – uncontrolled) is more purposeful –- and in control – and adds to their self-esteem going forward.


Communication Choices


One of the direct contributions that internet technology has made for our world of choices is, of course, e-mail.  Questions of the appropriate use of e-mail have yet to be decided, either by Miss Manners, or by the courts.


I am intrigued by the growing use of e-mail in the job search process. Our Norwalk office, for example, uses e-mail to send resumes for candidates because they think the hard copy looks better than a fax. Candidates report that  an e-mail follow-up to an interview is responded to more often then voicemail. I recently received a blanket e-mail from a successful job searcher who had met  me (and about fifty others from the cc list) telling me about her new job at a 


This has me concerned.  While I am impressed that people are actually writing to each other again.  For example, my son Jeff, has never written a letter home in four years at college, yet he e-mails us at  least several times a week.  I am worried that there is a certain distance created by the loss of at least audio contact. Interpersonal distance is a job seeker’s enemy, in most cases. 


Yet how many people routinely answer their phone at work?  About two weeks ago, on a Wednesday afternoon, I made 82 phone calls to a portion of my mail list.  I try to “clean” the list every two years, and, if I connect with voicemail, or a support staff,   I can confirm the listee. Only 4 out of all my calls actually answered their phone themselves.  I was so surprised when that happened, I was momentarily speechless, which my targets all understood.  They’d had much the same experience.  So phone contact is also problematic.


Finally, the impact of age, industry and even the idiosyncratic must  be considered.  For example, one of our candidates is under consideration for a business development spot with an internet service provider.  He came in the day before to practice interviewing, telling me he’d answered an ad on the net.  What I immediately noticed, which he had not, was his ISP -- the hiring company!


Sure enough, all five interviewers wanted to know his experience in using their service. So I guess we’ve added another “affiliation” to the list of things for job-seekers – choose your ISP carefully.

G&S Adds Diversity Practice



We are fortunate to have recently added Jeff Greene to our Search practice, a part of Stanton-Chase International. Jeff has several years of experience in helping major corporations identify candidates at both beginning and experienced levels who will broaden their professional and managerial ranks.  If you could use some help in the area of diversity, give me a call – I’d love to introduce Jeff.

Books I’d Recommend


“TIS” by Frank McCourt, New York, Scribners, 1999, $26.00.


After reading an excerpt from this book in the New York Times Magazine, I received this book for a holiday gift. McCourt’s second volume in his autobiography picks up after Angela’s Ashes, with McCourt arriving in America in his late teens. 


I must admit to a certain ambivalence in recommending the book. There is a darkness of sensibility which shows up in other Irish-American writers (O’Neil immediately comes to mind) that tends to make me put the book down, saying “enough already.”


However, the author very clearly tells us points at which he made choices, which further influenced the direction of his life. His major vocation in the time covered by the book is as a high school English teacher, first at McKee Vocational High School on Staten Island, where I live, and then at Stuyvesant, where both my children graduated. 


It is in talking about teaching that McCourt is at his most positive:


“I announced my great discovery, the similarities between Bugs Bunny and Odysseus, that they were devious, romantic, wily, charming… This prompted me then to ask the simple question that caused the class to explode, ‘when you were a child what did you watch on Saturday mornings?’…An eruption of Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and on and on….I threw out pieces of chalk…  ‘Put them in categories. This is your mythology’….. If you were sixteen you probably spent three years of your life before a TV set.”