September 2001

Volume VII   Number 3           

Do What You Love 


The headline of the front page of the Staten Island Advance said, quoting the dead fireman’s brother, “He did what he loved,” referring to his six-month career as a firefighter, which ended when the 27 year old apparently had a heart attack while fighting a three-alarm fire on Staten Island. 


The quote got me thinking about how wonderful it  is to do what you love for a career.  Then it occurred to me that many people do what they do because of circumstance that becomes habit, which, over time, becomes -- perhaps -- love.


Most of us do jobs that involve different activities.  As a career counselor, when I take a career history, I am listening to my clients describe in some detail the elements of their jobs: what parts were most enjoyable and what parts less so.


There are three essential components that need to be assessed.  The first is authenticity.  How are the demands of the job aligned -- in synch -- with a person’s personality?  I recently worked with two physicians. The first, a very intense, academically-oriented man who chose rheumatology as his specialty.  This is a highly technical area, very difficult to manage clinically.  The second physician told me openly that she picked dermatology because it had few emergent situations and was, as she put it, “on the surface.”  Each was happy with the clinical path chosen, and each identified with the role but had issues with the challenging politics of medical practice.                             

This is frequently the major reason authentically grounded people come for coaching.  “Why can’t I just do my job?” they ask. They don’t see that the political components are very much a part of the job. No one in professional school is taught -- formally -- the interpersonal skills needed to deal with the range of conflict situations that arise regularly in the workplace.


The second essential component is autonomy. I am interested in how much need there is for the person to have control or to perform a work role on his or her own. Typically, people with high need for autonomy go into professions such as law and medicine, where they can practice alone or in small groups.  One of the frustrations of older pro-fessionals is how much their practice has changed.  The top-tier MBA programs are the only academic programs I know that actively encourage team-work and cooperation by requiring team projects in many courses. Yet, even among my many MBA-degreed clients, I still see a strong need for autonomy. When they complete the “ideal bosses” part of the assessment, the overwhelming major complaint is a boss who micromanaged. 


In helping clients assess which of multiple offers to accept, one key issue is how much autonomy do they need.  Recently, for example, a young lawyer decided to stay with her current firm after being shown her potential office at another firm, which had a more prominent reputation in her specialty.  The new firm had five other associates in her area, and they all shared a common space.  She was the sole person at the old firm and had her own office.


Finally, there must be a level of accomplishment in the “doing” of the job. This is particularly true when a job is highly rooted in intellectual (as opposed to physical) activities -- which means there is some degree of “newness” to activity.  For me, each client is “new”; his or her concerns are unique and different, even if, in its aggregate, the issue is the same -- career satisfaction. For people who are in transaction rather than process work, for example, traders on Wall Street, the complexity of the trade appears to have that “newness” that leads to accomplishment.


In helping in career transition, I am looking at authenticity, autonomy, and accomplishment in career history to help optimize the chance that my clients can do what they love.



The Economy  --  Fall


A slow Friday before Labor Day got busy when two different clients got two offers each.  The opportunity to compare and contrast offers with both of them certainly pepped up my day.  The one thing both clients had in common was that the length of time it took from first interview to offer was several months. This is definitely a trend -- employers are taking more time to hire, in part, because the economy is continuing to weaken. 


The economic trends seem mixed. Career- transition firms have experienced an increase in referrals, which is good for us; but, if our clients take longer to get transitioned, that’s not good --  either for them or for us.  Some of our younger clients have no experience with an economic slow-up and are bitter and disbelieving that the “new economy” got old so fast.


Fall is usually a time when hiring picks up, and we remain optimistic that this will occur.  



Crossing the Border to a Vacation on the Quiet Side 


This summer, having decided to not go as far afield as last year’s South African trip, we drove to Bar Harbor in Maine, took a ferry to Nova Scotia to see Cape Breton Island, and returned via Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. 


We had very good weather, stayed in some lovely old inns, and ate the best lobster ever. Acadia National Park is, in its quiet way, the East Coast equivalent of Yosemite and Yellowstone.  We took a carriage ride through land that was donated by the Rockefellers, who were responsible for much of Acadia.


As a first time traveler to “the Maritimes,” I was reminded of Scotland, both by the landscape and by the people, who, while unfailingly polite, had more anti-American sentiment than any place I’ve been.


Perhaps the bleakness of the long winters gets into their psyche and their assessment that we Americans have it easier than they do is not without reason.  It was a beautiful and peaceful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.



Books I’d Recommend


Impact Hiring:  the Secrets of Hiring a Superstar by Frederick W. Ball and Barbara B. Ball, Prentice Hall Press, 2000, $26.00.


My G&S colleague and his wife have written a sequel to their excellent Killer Interviews. This book focuses on the interview -- from the corporate rather than the individual side of the interview process.  The book takes the reader through the need to develop an interview system, prepare all interviewers, and establish manage-ment ownership and accountability of the process.  It describes building partnerships with candidates and, finally, negotiating a win/win solution. 

The book contains many examples and vignettes, which make real their clear feeling that so many employers do not give enough attention to human capital acquisition.  “The demand for top talent is moving in the opposite direction from supply.  Studies have shown that there will be a 15 percent decline in 35-44 year olds over the next fifteen years. Outstanding interviewing skills are no longer for the senior executives alone, but for anyone in the organization who might be part of an interviewing team.”