Corporate Survival Guide

Career Advice from Einstein — Is This Your Miracle Year?

May 18th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

einsteinIn 1905, Albert Einstein wrote a series of papers that changed our view of the universe forever. Historians refer to Einstein’s 1905 as annus mirabilis, the miracle year. In one year, Einstein discovered the special theory of relativity, the quantum theory of light, and the groundbreaking equation E = mc2 (and these are just the highlights…read more about Einstein’s Miracle Year).

He did all of this while working a 40-hour week as a clerk in the Swiss patent office. For those in career transition, the most interesting part of this story is what Einstein was doing before 1905.

Einstein as Office Drone

I already mentioned that Einstein was working as a patent office clerk — not exactly a job suitable for a genius. Well, the famous physicist didn’t even land that clerk job on his own. A friend had to pull some strings for him because Einstein’s university grades were so low (one teacher famously told him that nothing would ever become of him).

Einstein was barely making enough money to support his wife and young child. And in 1904, he was passed over for a promotion to patent clerk second class.

Luckily, the young genius never gave up on his passion for physics. Whenever he had a spare moment during the workday, he would jot down notes and hide them in a drawer that he jokingly called his department of theoretical physics. read more…

Work Life Balance When You’re Out of Work

May 4th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

How can you suffer from work life imbalance when you’re out of work? Trust me, it’s easy. When you’re in career transition, you’re under enormous pressure to work, work, work. Send out more resumes, search through more job listings, reach out to more networking contacts. And in a competitive job market, you rarely get positive reinforcement or a sense of accomplishment.

I was talking about this issue with Tevis Trower and she thought it would make a great topic for her Life Works column on WebMD. Read my tips on work life balance when you’re out of work on WebMD.

And if you’re clinging to a job that you hate until the economy improves, here are some tips on maintaining balance and staying sane in that horrible, very bad job.

Are You a Super Commuter?

May 4th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

trafficjamHow many hours do you spend commuting to and from work? How much more time would you be willing to spend commuting for a great new job or client?

Long commutes can be stressful and exhausting. In fact, a British study found that commuters can experience more stress than fighter pilots or riot police do.  But sometimes you do what you’ve got to do to make a living.

In the current job market, are you more willing to sign on for a longer commute just to land a job? If you’re a consultant or entrepreneur, are you willing to commute further for the right client or business opportunity (say, cheaper office space)?

Let’s take it a step further. Would you be willing to commute to another city for the work week and see your family (and/or home, cat, etc.) only on the weekends? If so, a reporter for a major New York publication wants to talk to you. She’s doing a story about New York super commuters who have recently taken on jobs or work situations that force them to commute to and live in a different city during the work week.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, contact me at story @ escapefromcorporate.com and I’ll connect you with the reporter for your 15 minutes of fame.

Even if your commute is not quite that super, please  share your commuting horror stories and commuter sanity-saving tips in the comments. Or go ahead and gloat about your work-at-home commute from bedroom to desk.

Work Life Balance for Entrepreneurs — Tips from Tevis Trower

May 1st, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

tevisheadshotThis week, we welcomed work life balance expert Tevis Trower to join us on Corporate Escape Artist Radio. Tevis is a corporate escapee (she is a featured expert in my book) and the work life balance expert for Web MD. She is also the founder of Balance Integration, a company that provides yoga classes and training for corporations.

Tevis shared the story of her personal journey and offered lots of great tips on achieving greater work life balance (even though she prefers the term “happiness at work”).

She shared some special advice for entrepreneurs. Those of us who work for ourselves can’t blame “the man” for our burnout anymore — we have to take responsibility for maintaining our own work life balance.  That’s not often an easy task when you’re trying to build a business that you’re passionate about, especially in a challenging economy.

Listen to Tevis on Corporate Escape Artist Radio. (Corporate Escape Artist Radio is the fourth segment, starting at 11:30, but there is plenty of good stuff in the other segments as well)

Learn more about SolutionzLive, the BlogTalkRadio network that hosts our show, and all of their other great programs.

Learn more about the lovely and insightful Tevis Trower.

The Collapsing Corporation and Rise of Virtual Distance

March 19th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

We’ve been hearing a lot about collapsing corporations lately.  Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, author and Professor of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, says Virtual Distance may be to blame for many of today’s corporate problems.

Last night, I heard Dr. Lojeski speak at a lecture sponsored by the Project Management Institute.  She has spent the last several years studying the concept of Virtual Distance™, which she defines as  “the perceived distance between two or more individuals when their primary method of communication and  coordination is not face to face.”  Her research shows that our increasing dependence on technology for communication (even with those in the cubicle down the hall) and outmoded vertical corporate structures have led to failures in efficiency, collaboration, engagement, and innovation.

She is not proposing that we outlaw telecommuting, email, and conference calls. Instead, Dr. Lojeski has  identified some techniques for minimizing virtual distance within an organization, regardless of the geographic distance between team members. These include building in face time at key points in a project and forcing focus during calls (shut down your email and step away from distractions).

Most importantly, she believes that techniques for managing  successful virtual teams must be people-focused, not technology-focused. The technology enables, but there is no innovation without engaged human beings.

I must say that I agree strongly with that philosophy. And because  I value the flexibility of being able to work from just about anywhere in the world, I’m a big supporter of any research that will help make remote workers, telecommuters, and road warriors more effective.

Virtual teams are here to stay.  And if they are managed well, they can help companies achieve serious business and productivity benefits.

However, I do find that work relationships develop more quickly when I have already met someone in person. That’s not to say that I don’t have close and valued clients and colleagues that I’ve never met face-to-face.  I do, but it usually takes a bit longer to bond when you only communicate via phone and email.

Ask any sales guru — they always try to score an in-person pitch meeting because they know it will improve their chances with a prospect exponentially.

So what do you think? Does virtual distance make the heart grow fonder or is it a productivity-killer? Have you found successful techniques for maintaining strong relationships with virtual team members?

For more information about Dr. Lojeski’s research, check out her latest book, Uniting the Virtual Workforce (and look for her upcoming follow-up, Leading the Virtual Workforce, later this year).

National Procrastination Week

March 6th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

procrastinatingdaydreamingDid you know that it’s National Procrastination Week? I received a press release on the subject last week, but have been putting off writing about it for days. :)

Even the people behind the press release (the National Association of Professional Organizers) weren’t 100% sure if we should be celebrating procrastination this week or working on eliminating it from our lives.

Either way, it’s a good time to think about why we procrastinate and whether we’re sabotaging ourselves by putting off important tasks. After all, procrastinating can lead to major stress, late nights, and missed opportunities.

Based on my own personal experience and what I’ve observed with my career coaching clients and workshop participants, the following are the main reasons behind our bad procrastination habits:

1) We put off unpleasant or difficult tasks. This one is pretty obvious. The solution here is to re-evaluate to see if you can delegate, get some help, or find a different approach that isn’t so off-putting. If that doesn’t work, try to focus on why you’re performing the task and not the tedium or pain of the task itself. Think about the bigger goal of a payday, a cleaner house, or a happy and grateful friend.

2) We procrastinate when we’re afraid. If you keep putting off a project that is important to you, it may be because you’re afraid of failure or equally terrified of success. Sometimes it helps to acknowledge what you’re afraid of and get clear about your worst-case scenarios and the alternative, which is to never even try.

3) We procrastinate when we’re swamped. This is an issue that comes up regularly for me. I get so busy reacting to other people’s immediate deadlines and expectations that I neglect longer-term and more important projects. Sometimes you have to say no or at least “not right now” to clients or friends. I try to build time into my schedule for important projects that require my attention but aren’t due tomorrow. Even taking an occasional 15 minutes to jot down ideas can help to keep you on track.

4) We procrastinate when we’re overwhelmed. Sometimes, we put off important projects because we just don’t know where or how to start or we’re overwhelmed by the number of options. Get serious about breaking your task down into small steps and do something (anything). Pick an approach and try it out. Don’t let yourself stay paralyzed.

5) We procrastinate when we’re focusing on the wrong things. At times, we procrastinate because we’re trying to force ourselves to do things that we don’t care about. We’re trying to live up to others’ expectations or present the right image, so we set goals that we have a hard time getting excited about. If you find yourself repeatedly procrastinating a task, ask yourself if it’s really something that will carry you forward or if it’s only on your list for reasons of ego or appearances.


Read some more advice on avoiding procrastination from people who are paid to be organized.

Will You Be My Mentor?

February 25th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

glennclosestalkerIf you’ve ever had a great mentor in your life, you know how valuable and rewarding a mentor/mentee relationship can be. But how do you find and “land” a great mentor?

Do you straight-up ask someone that you admire to be your mentor? That’s a bit like walking up to a supermodel in a bar and asking her (him) to be your fiancee.  You can come off as presumptuous and a bit stalker-y (“I will not be ignored, Dan”). After all, mentorship implies a long-term nurturing relationship. What if your potential mentor just isn’t that into you? Awwwwwkward.

However, I have had lots of great experiences with mentors and know that it’s worth the effort  to find a good one.  So when Jessica at UpMo.com asked me to answer some questions about the care and feeding of mentors, I had lots to talk about. Check out our Q&A on mentorship.

I wrote about my test drive of UpMo.com, a new online career and network management tool, a few weeks ago. It’s still in free beta if you want to try it out yourself.

Do you have advice to share on the subject? How did you find your most influential mentor? How have mentees approached you?

Career Lessons From The Oscars

February 23rd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Philippe PetitIf you stayed up late to watch Slumdog Millionaire win the Academy Award for Best Picture, you may be kicking yourself this morning  for wasting 3+ hours of your life on endless musical numbers and montages.

But I’m here to tell you that it was time well spent. You can learn some valuable career lessons from this year’s Oscar ceremony if you can look past Hugh’s pancake makeup, the ginormous rings sported by both Brad and Angie, Whoopi’s dress, SJP’s cleavage, Zac Effron’s hair, Bill Maher’s bitterness, and the cute little boy in the tuxedo.

Oscar Career Lesson #1: Anything is possible.
Don’t be afraid to dream big in a world in which Slumdog Millionaire, a low-budget (comparatively) film about the slums of Mumbai, can sweep the Academy Awards. Slumdog triumphed over all of the blockbuster Oscar-bait flicks with all-star casts. It just goes to show that talent, dedication, and the right collaborators can take you all the way from the slums to the Kodak Theatre.

Oscar Career Lesson #2: Follow your passion.
The Best Documentary winner, Man On Wire, is also a fantastic reminder that crazy and impossible dreams can come true when you follow your passion. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. This miraculous achievement took months of planning, practice, and stubborn dedication to an unrealistic goal. Passion also drove the Slumdog filmmakers to persevere with telling their story in the face of Hollywood rejection. Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black gave one of the most touching speeches of the evening when he talked about his passion for sharing Harvey Milk’s legacy with today’s gay teens. Find a career that taps into your passion and you may have a similar moment of triumph. You’ll certainly enjoy a more meaningful and fulfilling work life.

Oscar Career Lesson #3: Everybody loves a comeback story.
Mickey Rourke didn’t end up taking home the Best Actor statue, but his comeback story has been an inspiration to film fans across the country. Like John Travolta before him, Mickey is a media darling, praised for his unlikely return from obscurity. What can you learn from Mickey? Even if you’ve suffered career reversals and setbacks, don’t give up on your dreams. Overcoming obstacles only makes you stronger in the long run. Keep working, keep looking for opportunities. If crazy Mickey Rourke can make an inspiring comeback, so can you.

Oscar Career Lesson #4: Reputation is everything.
Let’s face it: nobody saw The Reader. Not even Hugh Jackman. But Kate Winslet still won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of a German woman accused of Holocaust crimes. By all reports, her performance was great (I haven’t seen it yet either). However, we all know that the great Kate didn’t earn her Oscar with The Reader alone. After years of consistently strong performances and Oscar nominations, the Academy decided it was Kate’s time. Her reputation and past work gave her the edge over strong competitors including Meryl Streep (already recognized repeatedly and deservedly) and Anne Hathaway (her time will come). So remember to work hard and put in your best effort with every project. You are building your reputation and your personal brand with everything that you do. Eventually, all of that effort will be recognized.

Oscar Career Lesson #5: Life is short.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Kodak Theatre (or in my living room) when Heath Ledger’s family accepted his Best Supporting Actor award. The world lost a gifted young actor at the height of his powers and Heath’s family lost a beloved son, brother, and father. It must be some comfort to know that Heath Ledger left a legacy through his work, his spirit, and his lovely young daughter. However, the tragedy of his death reminds us that life is indeed short sometimes. We can’t count on living to the ripe old age of 82 like Jerry Lewis, who was honored with a humanitarian award last night. So don’t put off the things that really matter. Don’t wait to pursue that dream or spend time with the people that you care about.

Did you learn any other important lessons from the 2009 Oscars?

Career Fitness — Pump It Up

February 18th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

officetreadmillIn this job market, many factors are outside of our control. However, there is one thing that you can control: your career fitness. HR expert Peter Weddle wrote a great article on this subject for HigherEdJobs.com and his advice is relevant for those in any industry — whether currently employed or job seeking.

Jobs may come and go. Your company has all the power when it comes to your job security. However, you don’t need corporate approval to achieve career security, which Weddle defines as “your ability to find employment consistently and always in a job and with an organization that will enable you to express and experience your natural (and best) talent.”

You do this by building your expertise, expanding your network of contacts, increasing your versatility, and taking care of yourself. So if you’ve been spending all of your time applying for jobs and tearing your hair out over unresponsive hiring managers and bad employer decisions, it may be time to take a step back.

Looking for a job is hard work and requires persistence, thick skin, and patience. As a job seeker, you are not in control over most of the process. That can understandably be frustrating and exhausting. So it’s important that you make time for career fitness activities like taking classes, joining professional development organizations, and volunteering for pro bono projects. They will not only make you more marketable, but will help build your confidence as well.

A career fitness regimen is just as important for those that are currently employed — especially if you are staying in an unfulfilling job only because the market is currently so dismal. You want to be ready and qualified when a better opportunity comes along.

Achieving career fitness will not only help you land a better job now, it will position you for greater career security in the years to come.

As Weddle puts it: “The tide will come back in and, when it does, you can be ready to reset your course — you can be primed to reaccelerate your momentum in the workplace — if you are swimming with something on. If you have prepared yourself by building a fit career.”

I recommend reading the entire article for more advice on improving your career fitness.

Super Bowl Ad Sneak Peek — CareerBuilder.com

January 30th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

careerbuilderkoala21Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about football. It’s also a chance to check out all of the crazy new big-budget ad campaigns.

So what companies are willing to fork over millions for Super Bowl ad time even during a recession?

Companies like Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi are in.  And so is CareerBuilder.com.  For the fifth consecutive year, CareerBuilder.com is debuting a new ad campaign during the Super Bowl.  Here’s a sneak peek.

What do you think? The campaign was developed by Wieden & Kennedy and has that touch of  dark humor that we’ve come to expect from CareerBuilder.com ads  (read my review of last year’s campaign). The visuals certainly capture the torture of being trapped in a bad job. Plus there’s a koala bear wearing Lumbergh glasses (see above).

But if nobody’s hiring these days, how can CareerBuilder.com afford a Super Bowl ad? Well, maybe the hiring outlook isn’t quite as grim as we keep hearing.  CareerBuilder.com Chief Marketing Officer Richard Castellini has encouraging words for job searchers:  “Our recent job forecast found that, despite a tough economy, 14 percent of employers say they will be hiring full-time employees in 2009 and additionally, 19 percent say they plan to increase their online recruitment spending.”

Today, I got two emails  from people announcing moves into great new jobs, so maybe Richard and the koala are right.

As part of the new ad campaign, CareerBuilder.com has also launched a new online tool called the Anonymous Tip Giver. Click on over if you’d like to provide some anonymous  “constructive” criticism to your boss  or co-worker via an emailed video clip starring an alligator or a zombie. You can write your own tip or choose a premade one. If your biggest office problems involve annoying ring tones and tuna breath, they’ve got you covered.  I just sent one of my coworkers the news that he smells like an old cabin. Burnnnnnn.