Archive for September, 2008


Up until now, I haven’t really talked much about the economic issues of 2008 and their impact on your career. For most college students and/or white collar workers, it’s actually been a mixed bag.

Your economic group is reasonably isolated from mortgage foreclosures. Although we all hate to pay $4.00 a gallon to fill up our tank, there is a “silver lining” behind the skyrocketing cost of oil. The aggressive US capital gains tax rate and the well financed venture capital industry makes us the best positioned economy in the world to commercialize alternative energy technologies (see – $4.00/Gallon Gas, Innovation, and Your Career).  From my perspective, the high cost of energy could turn out well for most Career Secret Sauce readers.

Last week things changed.

I was giving a talk on my new book in Massachusetts and presenting my usual laundry list of career impediments that Gen Y college graduates will be facing after graduation. Suddenly, one of the members of the audience almost jumped out of his chair and shouted “It’s actually much worse than that, an entire industry just vanished this week.”

Although it may be temporary, he’s right. The Invest Banking job market did effectively collapse last week. There are a few big outfits left, but they’ll all likely be acquired or fold up shop in the coming weeks.

If you work in this industry and you still have a job – congratulations, my best wishes go with you.

Just because you “dodged the bullet” this week, doesn’t mean smooth sailing ahead. Companies that shut their doors abruptly and layed off thousands of employees have planted “career time bombs” down the road for you.

Whenever you have this kind of wholesale terminations, companies invariably throw great employees out along with the average ones. All of these people will be feverishly looking for work and many may end up talking to the company you work for. They’ll be willing to take pay cuts and do whatever it takes to get a pay check. These people will soon be competing for the same career opportunities you’re chasing, but they’ll be hungrier.

In order to protect yourself from this onslaught, you might want to go back and check out my May 25, 2008 article The Ultimate Career Secret Sauce for Economic Downturns or Become a Cost Cutting Crusader. These pieces contain some good advice for building job security in troubled times.

If you’re one of the unfortunate thousands who find yourself “on the street” and don’t want to fight it out with your unemployed brethren, consider a modest career change. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try your hand at accounting, human resources, information technology, or even sales and marketing. This is great time to make your move.

Finally, if you’re still in college with a dream to become well paid investment banker, you may want to think again, especially if you’re a junior or senior. If you’ve worked internships, now is the time to call your contact and assess the damage. Probe about job openings after graduation. If you’re an underclassman, get started now on working internships with the few solid companies that remain.

Regardless where you’re at in your college education, now is the time to do some soul searching. Why do you want to be an investment banker in the first place? If it’s just for the money, now may be a good time to take a look at other career options.

But, if you truly love the idea of crafting and closing huge financial deals, then get ready for some tough times. The industry will shrink; Gen X’ers and baby boomers will be taking pay cuts and demotions to save their jobs. You’ll may be competing with someone who has 10+ years of experience for that entry level job.

My advice is simple, work as many internships as possible. Be the perfect employee, be willing to do anything that needs to be done, finish every assignment quickly, stay late, and ask for more challenging things to work on.

You’ll make a great impression and you’ll be lining up a potential job offer following graduation.

And if you can’t find an internship, you probably won’t find a job, so you better start working on your career “Plan B” while you’re still in school.



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In the 2007 movie – Evan Almighty, God (played by Morgan Freeman) tells Evan (played by Steve Carell) that the way to change the world is one Act of Random Kindness (ARK) at a time.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve discussed several ways of achieving your Career Defining Moment including: Being an Agent of Change, Helping the Sales Force, Making a Killer Speech, and Being a Customer’s Hero. All great tips for career success, but not exactly secrets.

On the other hand, my final tip for finding your Career Defining Moment is not at all obvious; in fact it runs contrary to most people’s political instincts for getting ahead in the working world.

My last piece of advice for finding your Career Defining Moment is to regularly seek out opportunities to grant a coworker an Act of Random Kindness, such as:

My Silent Savior — Back in 1983, I spent a little time on the strategy team at Prime Computer. The job really wasn’t my cup of tea. There was virtually no action, just a lot of research and pontification. The big event was the fall board meeting, where each strategist stood up and preached to the Board of Directors about some burning issue facing the company, rattled off a few alternative strategic options and then made a recommendation for dealing with it.

This was before the days of PowerPoint and I was about halfway through my overhead slides when I realized that I was missing one of the key ones. I went to the next slide and did my best to avoid the look of panic. There was a woman on the team that I had never been too crazy about—Ellen. But fortunately for me, Ellen picked up on my anxiety, went over to my stuff, found the missing slide, and gracefully handed it to me just in time for me to lay it on the projector without missing a beat. Ellen had saved my presentation and my career. It’s been decades and I’ve never forgotten it. She won a fan for life.

Stop A Beating In Progress – The closer you get to the sales function on your company, the greater the intensity surrounding success and failure. There is no moment in corporate America more charged with emotion than management’s realization that a forecasted major sales order may suddenly be lost.

I remember sitting in a meeting with my old friends Jim Meagher, Gary Sherman, and a salesman named Larry Healy. Larry was working on a big order with Bath Iron Works and something had gone wrong. Jim was being a tough manager and giving Larry a good old fashion (verbal) beating. The BIW sale was a huge corporate effort, with dozens of people involved; many of whom Larry had no control over.

Then Gary did something I’d never seen before, he interrupted Jim and told him “I’m not going to sit here and let you beat up Larry for something that’s not his fault.”

I didn’t know Gary very well, at that point in time, but I was struck by his courage, compassion, and the fact that what he was saying was true. Gary became a hero to me that day and I have since given him numerous references and gone out of my way to promote him to anyone looking for a great sales manager.

Welcome A Stranger Into Your Home – When I was working for Prime in Europe, I managed a partnership with a group of ex-Citibank software developers. The Managing Director of their company was a fellow named Ernst Hennche.

My wife, one-year-old daughter Natalie, and I were temporarily relocated to Wimbledon and didn’t know a soul. Ernst and his wife Mabel went out of their way to introduce us to London and greater England. They invited into their home for dinner, introduced us to friends, and even found a fantastic nanny to look after Natalie so Susan and I could enjoy some free time.

Undoubtedly, they were generous people who truly liked us, but Ernst also knew that the Prime Partnership would become his own Career Defining Moment one day. Specifically, he knew that we’d invariably hit a bump in the road and that I’d have to fight to keep the strategy on track. By reaching out, in a very personal way, he won my support. Indeed when the going got rough, I did end up putting my career on the line for him.

Doing the Right Thing is Always Right!

When God told Evan that acts of random kindness were the way to change the world, he was really saying it’s simply the right thing to do. We often look for clever ways to get ahead, get a raise, or elbow out an adversary at work. The truth is, it’s not that complicated. Management generally wants leaders who develop the people around them.

The best way to do that often begins with a single unexpected act of random kindness.

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Summer’s Over :(

I know, the summer equinox is still weeks away and most schools are already in session, but as far as I’m concerned, summer ends on Labor Day.

It’s quite cruel. The September weather here in New England is often the best of the year. Warm dry days and cool nights; lots of sun and few clouds. I think this is true in most of the country

Too bad everyone’s in school or work and can’t enjoy it!

Just like those sunny Monday’s that follow rainy weekends, it’s tough spending your days stuck indoors looking out at picture perfect weather just to bring home a pay check or get an education; but that’s the nature of the world we live in.

The History of Labor Day

Contrary to the present practice, the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on a Tuesday, September 5, 1882, as a New York City holiday.

The First Labor Day Parade

In l884, the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations and, in l885, Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Of course, nowadays, Labor Day is more about back-to-school sales and the beginning of the fall sports season than it is about celebrating the joy and agony of labor.

For The Working Class Hero

It’s one thing to celebrate Labor Day on Monday with a barbeque and few beers; it’s another thing to get excited about being back at work on Tuesday after the last long weekend of the summer comes to an end.

But there’s a lot to celebrate. In 1850, the average worker put in 66 hours a week. Today it’s 34.6, which is almost half. Add to that, the average life expectancy in the United States as recently as 1901 was a mere 47 years. That didn’t leave much time for weekends and retirement!

So for you working class heroes of 2008, I suggest that you take a moment and savor what you have and how much it’s improved.

I would also suggest that you step outside your “Tuesday Blues” and appreciate the company that gives you a paycheck. Remember there are millions of people around the world who have no job and thus no paycheck. Make a minor mind shift today and focus on doing something special to make the company you work for better and stronger. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for your career.

Back to School Daze

I also have a few other Labor Day suggestions for those of you still in college. First of all, do not underestimate how difficult it will be to land the job you want after graduation.

I am personally aware of a number of 2008 graduates from top schools who are still struggling to find work. They have abandoned the goal of finding a great job and are now focused on avoiding the dreaded “move home” to live with their parents.

If you’re a Senior – Now is the time to put your classes and grades on the back burner and focus on getting a job offer before you graduate. The best way to do this is through an internship, but at this point, you must pursue every avenue you have. If you’ve never interned, September 2008 is virtually your last chance to avoid postgraduate unemployment.

If you’re a Junior – You should focus on finding the right company for you. There is an old saying “you must kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.” This applies to finding your first job. By interning at a number of different companies in your junior and senior years, you find out what kind of company suits your nature. If you do a good job at every internship you work, you may also have multiple jobs offers before graduation. Make it a point to get your fall internship confirmed this week.

Finally, if you’re an Underclassman – You should start working exploratory internships this month to make sure you really want to spend your life in the career you’ve chosen. There is simply no way to figure out if you’ll really like the vocation you’re pursuing without working at it for a while. Even just a few days will teach you volumes about the reality of a given career.

Career Secret Sauce Update

Following last week’s mention at sandhill.com, Career Secret Sauce has also been featured on the Arizona Small Business Association (ASBA) web site and Jobing.com. Jobing.com is the nation’s largest, locally-focused provider of employment media, founded by an HR professional for HR professionals. Jobing.com is a unique online community that provides the forum, resources, and technology to connect employers, job seekers, and community organizations.

Next week – back to Career Defining Moments…

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