Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Willingness and Boundaries

I had coffee yesterday with a client about her new career as an artist.  The content wasn’t particularly important; the points were.

“Look,” I told her, “even though you’re in the career of your dreams, there’s still about 30% of it that you won’t like doing.  Every job has that, whether it’s administrative or marketing or the work you don’t like, those production pieces you churn out for the money.  You have to decide what you’re willing to do.

“Then you also have to decide what boundaries you’ll put around your artistry.  How many hours do you want to work at it a day?  It’s the rare artist who’ll stay at the creative task for eight or twelve hours.  If it’s four to five hours a day, put a fence around that time and defend it from incursion by your other responsibilities and the 30% that’s necessary to do.”

Another story.

When I learned a friend was dying a couple of years ago, I called another friend, the soul of pragmatism.  “What shall I do?” I wailed, “I hate being around death, but I feel like I should do something.” “Decide what you’re willing to do and not do.  Visit the hospital, take food, drive her to treatments; and tell your friend these are the things you can do.”  Willingness and boundaries.

Whether you’re out of a job or working at changing careers, your daily life is full and has its frustrations.  You have to know how much you WILL do to move yourself forward, and what your boundaries are. . .what you WON’T do.  You need to sit yourself down and have a heart to heart with the person you see in the mirror:  “What am I willing to do and not do?”  “What feels like the right thing for me to do?” (always an unerring pointer to one’s correct behavior.)  The heart and mind and path ahead are always clearer after conversations like this.

Your family wants you to spend as much possible time on job hunting.  Your soul needs time for yourself, and the family needs time with you.  If you’re seeking your NEXT, you also have a day job, a family and a dream of your possibilities.  You have to be deliberate about how you allocate your time:  your future, your family, you.  If you get real obsessive in one area or the other, bitterness often follows and it’s often because you’ve left yourself out of the equation.

Ask yourself willingness and boundary questions so you can feel at peace with your work and job seeking activities, to keep your hectic life in balance. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Tha Kid Came Home

He smiles through the screen door, with the “Mom, I’m home!” that always captured your heart.  He left home several years ago; but he’s come back because he can’t find a job.

Remember your own leave-taking?  You raced out the door to freedom.  In lean times, you ate ketchup sandwiches and Ramen; but you never returned home.

Well, THAT tradition’s changed.  USA TODAY recently reported that 62% of young adults get financial help from their parents who are increasingly becoming their landlords.

What do you do when The Kid comes home, unemployed, broke and discouraged?  How do you make this a successful but not cushy interlude for your darling battered by this economy?  Some young clients’ parents recommend:

1.  Set a time limit for the home stay, say, three months.  That can be extended, but it signals you’re a temporary rest stop, not an ultimate destination.

2.  Apply THIS Golden Rule:  He who has the gold makes the rules.  You’re not likely to set curfew for a 25-year-old, but you SHOULD have rules about helping with chores:  lawns, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.  It has to be the basis for staying.  “If you don’t do this, you can’t live here.”

3.  Apply this other fine rule: the payment of rent, even if it’s $20 a week.  It doesn’t cover the cost of The Kid being there, but it’s a reminder that life demands we pay our way.

4.  Require diligent job seeking.  Basement Boy is not allowed to huddle in his lair down there and tell you he’s job hunting on the internet.  BIG BOGUS PARENTAL FAKE-OUT.  Internet job search takes an hour a day.  He needs to get out the door.  His job is to find a job.

5.  Work SOMEWHERE: The mall, being a bouncer, room service delivery, fast food, pizza dude. . .the jobs that are always available.  One can get out of the habit of working.  It’s important to do SOMETHING.

6.  Communicate what other support you can provide and for how long:  Car or health insurance, gas, cell phones, money?  Do only what you can afford.

This should be a three- to six-month proposition.  As much as you all love each other, this arrangement tends to be hard on everybody: for the grown child moving home and not as a blazing success; for the parents, possibly quaking about their own job and retirement, taking on added expenses and rearranging their lives and space for this adored scion.

Your tendency will be to welcome, and sympathize, but to be too generous and vague about “the deal.”   You’ll regret that in a week.  Decide what feels right to you and what your family can afford, and communicate “the deal” and your expectations up front. 

Throw open the screen door, wrap The Kid in your arms, but get down to work at the kitchen table right away. Family respite visits, like business, succeed when clarity and expectations get communicated early.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Portrait of Career Success: Bill Homewood


For the next couple of weeks, laughter will be rising with the evening mists in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen as Twelfth Night opens this season of the Shakespeare Festival.

What better time to ask a Royal Shakespeare Company actor to reflect on his career success?  Bill Homewood, whose audiobook of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones was released in the U.S. this month (, was with the RSC for fifteen of his thirty years on the stage.  He lives in the South of France, where he owns an equestrian ranch and trains dressage horses.

Q:  What made you successful in your career?

Don’t fight the tart in your heart, I tell aspiring actors.  You are essentially a show-off, or you wouldn’t want to do this for a living. I’ve been a performer from my earliest days:  an actor, director, singer, playwright, all over the world.  (In other words, follow your passion.)

Worship at the shrine of Good Practice.  Good preparation means a good job. My father, a minister, would put me in the pulpit during my youth to read aloud from Shakespeare, drilling on voice and elocution till I got it right. I got my work ethic from my mother, who’s 89 and still manages a good-sized, pristine vegetable garden.  My wife and I have 27 acres in the heart of Languedoc wine country; streams, woods, orchards, olive trees.  Hard work, but magic.  (Be a maniac about quality.)

Work hard in pursuit of your aspirations.  My agent had 40 or 50 clients.  Her day in the office might total six hours, meaning she would have about 9 minutes a day for me.  I, however, had 24 daily hours to devote to getting work.  And I did.  (To see Bill’s career results, visit

Hustle. I created work.  I wrote shows, hassled casting directors, directors, producers.  Every night I made lists of things to do for my career the next day, and my diary was marked in advance with projects to be achieved on particular dates. (Success depends on your drive to advance yourself.)

Be in charge of your next opportunity.  I trained at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London as a concert and opera singer and classical guitarist.  I’ve presented games shows on BBC Children’s Theatre and sung ballads as a cabaret singer.  I moonlighted between shows with the RSC in New York at an Italian restaurant (and earned more money than I did onstage with the RSC!)  (No job, company, or system will take better care of you than YOU.)

I have a restless spirit, an inability to sit still. Often in my dressing rooms, I have written dozens of commissioned stage plays and screenplays.  I have taught acting and, in America, have been a guest artist at 65 universities.

I never think of myself as “successful.”  “Success” in worldly terms has never been a motivation for me.  I never feel fulfilled, as there is always so much to do.  Fulfillment is always tomorrow’s promise. Today’s hope is, eternally, tomorrow’s happiness.


As you create your career, talk to people you see as successful, like Bill Homewood.  Learn their stories.  What drove them?  How did they overcome obstacles or recover from failure?  Someone’s heart pages will always teach you more than any book can.

Monday, August 13, 2012

You Just Lost Your Job. Now What?

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch column, August 12, 2012)

Pink slip.  Cardboard box.  Security escort out of the building.  Now what?  Here are practical suggestions for you:

1.  Get everything owed you.  Employers sometimes “forget” severance or vacation pay or health benefit information.  Study any information you receive, including the company policy book.

2.  . . .and then some.  Do you want to file a charge against the company?  Talk to a lawyer, but these are protracted dog fights.  Most people move on.

3.  Mourn.  A layoff is a body-blow, even if you hated your job.  Work is your identity, it supports your family. Whether your mourning is to drink or glower in a dark corner, set a time limit – a day, a week. Then force yourself to start looking.

4.  Organize family and finances.  Have a family conference.  How long can you survive without work?  A week?  Six months?  Where can you economize?  Who else has to get a job?  Such conversation will spare later bitterness if your search takes longer than originally thought.

5.  Create a work space.  Grab a room – or the corner of one - that will be exclusively yours.  Equip it with computer and phone.  If documents are hither and yon, so will your efforts be.

6.  Decide your NEXT.  Is your same job available in another company or must you consider a career switch?  Who needs your skills?  A competitor?  Decide what you want and what value you bring an employer.

7.  Tell everyone.  Swallow your pride and your bile, and tell everyone about your search and the job you want. Get leads from friends and colleagues and follow up on them.  Caution:  Your former employer may have been heavy handed with you, but avoid splashing around verbal acid.  Your listeners understand, but still want you to keep a stiff upper lip.

8.  Get help.  Were you offered an outplacement firm?  USE IT.  If not, try free resources (in the St. Louis area):

Go! Network

Businesspersons Between Jobs

SLATE (St. Louis City)
(314) 589-8000

Workforce Development (St. Louis County)
(314) 679-3300

State of Missouri Career Centers
1-888-728-JOBS (5627)

Missouri AFL-CIO Dislocated Workers Program (
(573) 634-2115 x119

9.  Have a posse.  You are now one of the Coffee Shop Set.  Smart seekers join an accountability group that meets regularly to help each other reach their next job.  It’s one of your best tools.

10.  Get out.  Spend time putting together your resume and cover letter, your contacts, your script for networking calls and the clear statement of what you’re seeking.  You’ll also research jobs, but after a few days, get away from your computer.  Go to job seeker workshops, meet your posse, have networking lunches.  But get out of your dungeon.

11.  Cobble it.  Job prospects are better now, but searches still take awhile.  You might need to cobble together part-time jobs.  The first days can be brutal at less-than jobs; but we can get used to anything.  Just do it, and hurry back to your career field when you can.

Stay diligent and actively engaged, and you’ll succeed.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What should my cover letter say?

Note:   I think cover letters are important. Some recruiting folks tell me they never look at them. Others say they’ll soon be a thing of the past. Know your industry and what it expects; behave accordingly.

If you do one. . .

Think of your cover letter as your main selling document. Your resume summarizes your educational and work life. Your cover letter focuses on the job in question and matches your skills and background against what the company said it needed.

Do not prepare a generic cover letter to send with the resume. It looks sloppy, careless, and lazy; it gets you the same casual attention you gave the letter. The body of your cover letter can have several paragraphs that are more or less the same, but you must make each one specific for the job you're seeking. (This is another commercial for not sending out hundreds of "over-the-transom" resumes.)

Here's the basic format:

1. Dear [use a real name]
2. Here's why I'm writing
3. These are my experiences that match the ones you're seeking
4. These are my skills that prove I can do the job
5. Here's how I'll follow up
6. I look forward to meeting you

1. Dear [person's name]. Always have a name. It keeps you from sending a "Dear-fill-in-the-blank" letter that will get no attention.

2. Paragraph 1. Say why you're writing the letter, such as "I'm writing. . .

"in response to your ad for a               ,"
"at the suggestion of Bob Owens in your traffic department,"
"to request an informational interview"

3. Paragraph 2. State what their need (or probable need) is, and how you match it:

"Your ad indicated you're seeking three to five years' experience in a manufacturing environment. In my first position after college, I was a process engineer with. . . ."
"Here are the qualifications you specified, and how my background meets them:

• Recruiting. After graduating from college, I became a national recruiter for my sorority.

• Labor Relations. Our plant has two unions, and I have assisted the Director by preparing data for contract negotiations. . . .etc."

You get the picture. Whatever the job requirement, you state it and you match your experience to it. If you don't have it, don't say it. Employers can tell when you're stretching the truth, i.e., you collated training manuals rather than creating them.

4. Paragraph 3. The skills paragraph. This is where you discuss your skills and capabilities. Say what the skill is and back it up with a proof of it from your experience:

"People skills. At the plant I have responsibility for employee relations with our hourly employees. I also work with our top plant management as well as visitors from our headquarters."

Talk about the skills you think they'll need: Technical, communications, management, fund-raising, etc. In other words, round out the picture of you as the perfect combination of background and skills.

5. Paragraph 4. Talk about the next step. If you don't and simply drop the letter in the mailbox, prepare to be disappointed. You may get no response at all! Yes, it's rude, but that's what happens. Keep responsibility for your progress toward an interview. Don't say, "I look forward to hearing from you." You might not!

Try this instead: "I will call you next week about scheduling an interview." And then do it.

6. Paragraph 5. Kiss. Kiss. The last paragraph, something nice, like "I look forward to meeting you."

A few final pointers:
•     Proofread and spell-check before you mail it.  The company sees this as you putting your best foot forward and judges you accordingly.

•     Put your cover letter on stationery, the same paper as your resume.

•     Give yourself a letterhead: Name, address, phone number (home and mobile), e-mail. Word processing software makes that easy, or ask a copy center to do it for you.

•     Create a "tickler" file for follow-up. An accordion file folder with a space for each day of the month, 1-31. If you write your letter on the 12th, then follow up about five days later. Put a copy of the letter in the folder marked 17, so you can follow up on the 17th.

I believe that covers the cover letter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Of Work-Life Balance

A note to twenty-somethings:  Don’t go for work-life balance.

Another note:  In this economy, you could be in a not-my-career McJob:  bartender, bouncer, room service delivery guy, retail rat.  This blog is less true for you right now.  You’ll see why in a second.  Also, if you’re married, this may not feel true for you.  That relationship changes the ambition mix.


If you have just begun your career, don’t don’t don’t tell potential employers or your boss that you’re seeking work-life balance, if you want them to view you as a hot-shot.

The twenties can be an unsettling decade.  You’re on your own, physically and practically.  If you’re like many these days, you probably haven’t married.  You’re not sure what you’re about, what you want, or what you’re capable of.  But you wear your best false-self face, you’re full of bravado and bluff, and you say you have the ambition of a presidential hopeful, only you're not a political joke.

Know this about your twenties, and into your mid-thirties:  You will never have as much energy or drive as you have now.  This is the time to go for it.  Companies want your ambition, your ideas, your take-the-hill attitude.  They’re dropping their fifty-somethings like a used tissue (they used to be twenty-somethings) in favor of you, who are – BTW – cheaper than the older guys.

If you’re not in a career job, you will likely seek WLB.  You’re not in it to win the next job; you don’t want it.  You’re marking time till you can find what you want.  Personally, because I believe we develop good and bad habits no matter what we’re doing, you SHOULD give your mall job your all.  You’re getting yourself in shape for your career opportunity; you don’t want to take (and have to break) a WTF attitude to your growth job.

Most of you will change once you marry and begin having kids.  You may be more focused and less haphazard about your job, but part of your heart will never fully report for work again.  Your personal life will matter more.  You’ll have beautiful children and carpool and aging parents, and you’ll be desperate for free time.  Plus, a boss or two will have screwed you over so you’ll realize the company doesn’t take care of you.  You will also have taken  another measure of your ambition.  If you’re still gunning for the top job, you’ll still be driving toward it, and hiring baby-sitters and carpool drivers.  If you’re not,  look for work-life balance THEN.

I don’t care what the company’s official line is about its work-life balance policies.  It's not true (as you will also learn about company pronouncements).  Let the suckers talk about WLB.  If you have ambitions, be about drive and dedication and working weekends.  And make your social life part of your work life:  golf with the boss, a fishing trip with your banker, dinner with your customer.  THAT’s work-life balance for the ambitious.  But this is the time for you to go go go!

As the sergeant said to his men in WWII, signaling they could take a break,  “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”  For you it means:  Don't take the break.  Use that drive while you have it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is It Age-ism?

A client sent me an article about age-ism in IT, when the 30-year-old hotshot becomes the 50-year-old has-been in the lightning world of innovation.  What struck me was how this keeps getting presented as a new problem.

When I was 30 and at Monsanto (and a hot shot, if you'd asked me), we in Human Resources worried about the plight of the over-50s. . . who we viewed as solid performers but not promotable, and who were at the top of the salary range.  What could we do to take care of them?  Ten years ago, after Y2K, I was doing career continuation workshops for older IT workers who'd gotten bounced from their companies after that crisis had passed.

Bottom line:  This is a universal and persistent  and age-old problem of an employee getting older and bumping against a system's value boundaries. Before you're 50,  you're a new product in the market; you have promise; you're cheap to hire.  After you're 50, your employer knows you in depth, good and bad, you're an expensive commodity and you might have settled into a knowledge rut And who wants to work 70-hour-weeks once you have a real life?  You have institutional knowledge, and while you're right about its importance, the company doesn't value it.

When I was cradled by a company that promised us everything and took care of everything, and a lot of years separated me from 50, I expected the company to DO something about those 50-year-olds.  Today the corporate landscape has dramatically changed.  Companies abdicated that care-taking mentality decades ago.  It's "every man for himself," although - curiously - people are still surprised by the way the company treats them after age 50, as if that hire-and-develop-youth practice didn't apply to them.  It comes from being terminally unique; that is, we believe the rules apply to others, not to us. 

You call it age-ism.  Your employer calls it being "mean and lean," saving money by "getting some new blood around here."  Translation:  Younger, cheaper, faster, fresher.  It's why unions were born, frankly, and why seniority is so treasured there, because companies have ALWAYS left older workers in the dust, given the opportunity.  Seniority helped older workers keep their jobs.

Absent the protection of unions, what are you gonna do? 

(1) If you're in IT and over 50, you'd better be in a classroom seat or at a webinar on a regular basis.  If you're in any other profession, you still need skills building.  (I can't tell you how many clients firmly inform me they are NOT going back to school. . .at a time of their career when knowledge freshening is a MUST). 

(2) You'd better be preparing to change jobs or careers because that's when companies move against employees, after age 50.  If that doesn't happen, hoorah.  You've probably increased your value to the company by what you've learned.  The shame of this change is that the 50s is actually the greatest decade, if you're in a job you like.  You're most creative and productive and at peace with yourself, and having fun. 

(3) Don't rest on your laurels; don't coast.  Few companies value loyalty or longevity.  They're running too fast to give you a break. 

Age-ism it may well be.  Thirty years from now the same thing will still be going on.  My point is that making that charge, becoming bitter and resentful doesn't help you a whit.  Be more interested in how to STAY interesting to the marketplace.  If you don't, you'll pay a high price - literally - for your inaction.