Maureen Rogers, Career Coach
I learned the other day that Pink Slip has been named to a list of "100 Career Coach Blogs to Get You Through the Recession." The outfit that named me to this list fills a rather particular niche: it's dedicated to Construction Management Schools. (I was going to write "peculiar" niche, but it's not all that peculiar. My brother Tom, after a long and distinguished career in engineering - he was the lead construction engineer on Camden Yards ball park in Baltimore, among other things - became a professor of construction management at Northern Arizona University.)
The site, however, is peculiar. You can only search for schools via zip code, and my zip code yielded page after page of on-line degree programs.
Arguably, nothing can be much closer to your zip code than online, which is actually - at least virtually actually - in your zip code. Nonetheless, I was surprised that after a few pages, the programs were more online than construction management. My favorite was the New England Culinary Institute, which was founded with the "vision" to:
...create a unique educational institution based on the medical school model of "learn-by-doing" training in real-life situations.
First off, I will acknowledge that there are some foods, both cooked and baked, that do seem to involve some level of construction management. And if there's any field where 'learn by doing' matters, it's in the kitchen.
But wouldn't "';earn-by-doing' training in real life situations" - at least when it comes to things-culinary - be more or less accomplished by following the recipes in the Joy of Cooking or watching how much butter Paula Deen adds, then going to the kitchen and doing it for yourself?
What surprised me in the list of schools that came up was that the first-ups weren't Northeastern and Wentworth, both of which offer construction management and both of which I could take the T to, or even walk to in nice weather.
But, I should not be looking this gift horse blog recognition in the mouth - even though I am way down on what is actually a quite interesting list, and am lumped into a generic category of "News and Updates." And even though I clearly don't perfectly fit the career coaching bill. Never mind career coaching in construction management, other than 'go talk to my brother.'
Nonetheless, having been more or less designated as a career coach, and recognizing that in both blog life and real life, I do provide career coaching from time to time, I thought I'd provide some now. So here goes.
The other day, I was talking to an old friend who is clearly in an unhappy place professionally.
Because of the travel requirements of his previous job, he took a lesser-title, less-responsibility position in another firm.
Not being on the road has been great - my friend has two pre-school children, so the travel was very tough on his family - but his present job has left something to be desired. My friend feels - likely with some justification - that he could be doing his boss' job. Or the job of his boss' boss.
That he is title-less probably wouldn't bother him so much if his boss or his boss' boss at least acknowledged that my friend has expertise and experience in this area, and were willing to tap that expertise and experience.
Well, this ain't happening.
And - without knowing the entire situation, but having probed around a bit - here's what I think about the why.
His boss, and his boss' boss, are both about the same age as my friend. And both have significant, alpha-male-ish career ambitions. While they may see my friend as a resource, they're more likely to see him as a) not really having any expertise or experience that they lack; and/or b) as a threat. Why ask my friend's advice, let alone give him a seat at the grown-up's table with a lot of visibility with the higher ups? Where's that going to get them?
My friend, of course, could use a manager like me. I was generally happy to give those who reported to me the opportunity to "present up" and have exposure, where possible, to the higher reaches of the organization. This was because I always felt that this would make me look like a brilliant, accomplished manager. Maybe my friend's boss and boss' boss haven't figured this out yet. Maybe all they see is that, if they bring my friend to the party, someone might think 'what are we paying you for?'
This is all complicated, of course, by the fact that all three of these guys are the same age, etc.
I'm sure if my friend were my age, and clearly not looking for career advancement, his boss and his boss' boss might be more than happy to at least tap him for advice. They would not likely invite him to attend the "big meetings", because someone there might think, 'hey, the old geezer has all the answers; what are we paying you for?' But not being invited to the big meeting wouldn't bother him at all. If her were my age. Which he is not.
The situation is no doubt further complicated by the fact that my friend does not have a particularly good poker face. So, I'm quite sure that through tone of voice, body language, and all the rest, he has communicated his frustration and resentment to those around him.
So here's my career coaching for my friend:
- As long as you're at this company, work very hard to un-malcontent your malcontent-ment. Without becoming a simpering fool, zen yourself into a 'butter wouldn't melt in my mouth' posture and attitude. No more public seething. (Especially since you've told me you believe you're getting a reputation as a prickly pear.)
- While you're smiley-facing it with your boss, grab every crumb of an opportunity to add value and make sure that you completely shine. Even if the task is beneath you, don't do anything half-assed. (And, by the way, I'm not recommending that you suck up. I'm recommending that you suck it up.)
- You've told me that your boss is a nice guy, even if his boss isn't. Thus, your boss might be okay if you were to open up about your frustrations and how you wanted more challenging and visible assignments. Do not do this in a pissy or aggressive way that will get your boss' back up by leading him to decide that you think that you're better than all this (and maybe, by extension, even better than he is). You even might want to you acknowledge that you understand that there may be no room for you to advance given the current structure, etc. By acknowledging that you appreciate that there are limitations to advancement, and giving implicit recognition that you won't be getting his job anytime soon, he may be happy to provide you with more challenging and visible assignments. He might, however, be even happier to off-load something on to you.
But you don't want what gets off-loaded to be crap, right? You have enough of that floating your way already. So, watch for the cues that he's getting overwhelmed, and volunteer to pitch in on something that you'd actually like to do (and/or that will actually get you to do something new). No, this is not likely to get your the advancement and visibility you crave, but it is likely to help ensure that when you need your boss to act as a reference, he'll be willing to do so. And, given that your boss is likely to get wind of organizational changes and reshuffles before you do, this could be an internal reference for a new position that's opening up.
- If you can't suck it up, step it up. I.e., step up your search for another job. Yes, an opportunity may come up in your current company. But the longer it goes without something good happening - and, yes, I know, you've been passed over once by the boss' boss, who used to be your boss - the more you're going to let things eat at you. And the more you're going to look like the disgruntled worker who's smart and talented but not worth the aggravation. (Remember, once the incompetents get taken down, the next batch that lands on the lay-off list are the pissers and moaners.)
Yes, the economy is crappy, but you are smart, capable, energetic, and have a good network. Get going.
- Bad as things are, do not take a lateral move just to get out, unless it's to take a job reporting to an old gaffer like me (or someone who's leaving to purse their career in anthropology or to be a stay-at-home mom or dad) who is bringing you in explicitly as part of a succession planning. You really should be looking for a job with your old title and level of authority - just one that doesn't put you on a "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" schedule. You've made one downward move, but that shouldn't look all that terrible. Just be prepared to explain that you took your current position in order to get experience that, while it taps some abstract skills from your old job, really let you learn an all together new and different function. (Note: this doesn't have to be 100% true, just 99% plausible.)
The above was pretty long winded, so I'll be a good coach and break it down to a couple of X's and O's:
- Suck it up
- Work a bit longer and a bit harder than the next guy
- Start working your network for your next job. Which, of course, you've already begun doing. I'm keeping an eye out for you.