New Year, New Job, New You: Interview with Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit is a top career and workplace expert who has written popular books such as They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, How’d You Score That Gig?, and Success for Hire. She writes a career column for The Wall Street Journal and her latest book, New Job, New You, is already getting a lot of hype. I was thrilled to get a chance to talk to Alexandra about her new book and pick her brain about career advice.

Natalie: Can you tell readers about how you got into your current career as a career expert?

Alexandra: My second act started mostly by accident. The transition from college to career was extremely difficult for me. I watched as people with half my work ethic got promoted ahead of me, and my first boss hated me so much I thought I had killed her mother in a past life! I was so miserable that I used to crawl under my desk, getting my brand new Nine West suit impossibly wrinkled, and bawl my eyes out. I knew things had to change, so I started taking personal development classes. When things finally started moving in the right direction, I wanted to share what I’d learned with other twenty-something employees.

I went out with the idea for They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World. The book was acquired by a small publisher, and I was fortunate that it sold well. I was doing better in my marketing communications career than I ever had before, but the next thing I knew I was being asked to write for respected media outlets and travel around the country to speak. The success of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, which was originally intended as a side project, had established my platform as a career expert.

Natalie: I’ve been reading New Job, New You and I think it’s a great book for this time of year since people often strive to make changes in the new year. What’s your advice for the people saying, “next year is the year I’m going to make a career change!”

Alexandra: The problem with most career-related New Years resolutions is that people make them on a whim and then, once the moment has passed, quickly lose their excitement and motivation. Instead, consider your resolution carefully over a period of days and weeks and then write down the answers to these questions: What are you going to do, what steps will you take throughout the year, and how will accomplishing this resolution make your career better in 2010 than it was in 2009? Two additional tips:

  1. Set micro goals: There are lots of theories out there on how to set goals, but I advocate the SMART approach of identifying goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. For instance, instead of setting an empty goal such as “change my career,” which sounds lofty and overwhelming, how about devising something more concrete and manageable, such as “conduct ten informational interviews in the marketing field by June.” Break large goals down into shorter-term micro-goals so that you aren’t taking on too much at once or spreading your attention too thin.
  2. Create a to-do list: When we’re busy and frazzled and it’s all we can do to keep up with our daily work responsibilities, career development goals are the first priorities we typically give up. Ensure that you don’t allow this to happen by creating a goal to-do list every week. Even if a goal isn’t achieved in its original timeframe, keep putting its action items on your list until you complete them.

Natalie: What are the biggest challenges people face when wanting to change careers and how can they overcome those challenges?

Alexandra: Even confident people stay in unsatisfying jobs because they feel safe, and because they’re afraid of making a bad decision. But in the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, though, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing, like e-mailing a networking contact or attending an event – that moves you a bit closer to your big picture goal.

Another challenge is being deterred by a lack of experience. In developing a resume and other promotional materials for the field you want to pursue, think about how your current skills and talents apply to the responsibilities you’ll hold in the new job. For example, knowledge of project management, client relations, information technology, and sales will take you far in most types of careers.

Natalie: I thought it was interesting that of all the people you asked why they wanted to change careers, the number one reason was to become self-employed. What does it take to successfully transition from working for a company to working for yourself?

Alexandra: A lot more people are interested in self-employment given the recession. They say, ‘We can’t trust corporate America, look at these crooks running the place, I’ll be more successful on my own.’ That is not always the case. You have to be a certain type of person to make it work. Not everyone wants to worry about where their next paycheck is coming from, and wants to be thinking about their work 24/7 (at least in the early years). It’s a lifestyle switch you have to think carefully about. If you do decide to take the plunge, self-discipline is critical to success. No one will be looking over your shoulder, so you need to be internally motivated.

Natalie: What is a day like “in your heels?”

Alexandra: I wake up around 7AM and along with my husband, get our toddler son ready to go to daycare. I work the typical business hours from around 9-5PM, doing interviews, writing book chapters, answering e-mails, meeting networking contacts, etc. I give my son dinner and a bath when he gets home, and then we read and play until it’s time for bed. My husband and I eat dinner together around 8PM, and then I’m usually working for another hour or two unless there’s something irresistible on the TIVO (like Lost, Fringe, or Big Love). Since I work from home, I wear heels less often than ever before, which is probably a shame since I’m only five feet tall!

Natalie: Thank you Alexandra!

***To win a copy of New Job, New You, leave a comment on this post before January 8th and let us know about your career plans for 2010***

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7 thoughts on “New Year, New Job, New You: Interview with Alexandra Levit

  1. My career plans for 2010 are to stay organized. Many people people make resolutions and as Alexandra points out, don’t keep them because they are hard to achieve. My strategy for the new year is to start fresh – clean out my office, clean up my RSS feeds, update my Twitter account (following and followers)…and just stay super organized. Lots of advice out there, but this is what works for me.
    [rq=1678405,0,blog][/rq]alexgorbokon: G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S ed cals.

  2. I love this blog! So many like-minded women entrepeneurs on here! I am inspired to upgrade my art/design business ( with more products and to be much better with bookkeeping which is not my best skill. Just like everything else, you must do a little bit every day and also have an organized system in place. I am already forming habits such as reviewing my bank accounts first thing every morning rather than my email, having it set as my internet home page helps a lot to remind me to stay right on top of things. I also live in Maine and work with horses, two challenging avenues to make money…..let’s face it horses were meant for royalty for a reason! But I have also started my own blog about the training I do with my horses and hope to have a successfull blog like this someday!! Thanks again for such a great blog!
    [rq=1685905,6,blog][/rq]Training Douwe-Part 1

  3. In about an hour, I am going to meet with my business coach, Jennifer Davidson of Reality Check Coaching, to brainstrorm how I am going to bring my authentic self to my new website. I am a financial planner specializing in privately held women owned businesses. i am thrilled to bring my own values into my practice which include community involvement and philanthropy. After that, i am meeting with my friend Della Rae to set up my side business, Contact Kim, which is a personalized matchmaking service. I have learned (the hard way!) that the best way to grow one’s business and expand all possibility to “Take on the World” is to find great advocates (and friends) who will be honest with you about EVERYTHING, including dress, voice and approach.

  4. Thank you, Natalie, for an insightful interview with Alexandra… and Alexandra, congratulations on yet another wonderful book that no doubt will help many, many people in 2010 and beyond!

    I was particularly struck by this question from Natalie: “I thought it was interesting that of all the people you asked why they wanted to change careers, the number one reason was to become self-employed. What does it take to successfully transition from working for a company to working for yourself?”

    During 2010 – this is something I’d love to explore in my writing & speaking work, specifically understanding more about the personal finance habits of successfully self-employed women… and what all working women can learn from them.

  5. Thanks for another great post, Natalie. I agree with Alexandra that the worst enemy in discovering meaningful work is inertia. I got “stuck” a few years ago in an industry that wasn’t taking me anywhere professionally. Just got too comfortable and stayed too long. Through a series of (seemingly) fateful events and a lot of calculated risk-taking and a healthy dose of stubborn determination, I am now doing work (design and marketing communications) that I love. It took a lot to get here, but it was so worth it. It’s completely changed my career (and my life) and has opened up a path that I wasn’t able to see before.

    In 2010, I plan to push even further into my new career, learning everything I can, finding challenges, learning from my mistakes, and becoming great at what I do.

    I really enjoy your blog, Natalie — keep up the good work!

  6. Having left the inertia behind (by leaving my job) I plan to use 2010 to discover a new direction. This includes making new contacts through friends, informational interviews, networking events, etc. Also I plan to work with a career coach to discuss what some good options might be.Overall, my plan is simply to be open to and available for new opportunities.

  7. I love hearing about other people’s plans. Thank you for sharing! I’ve been busy working on my strategic plan for 2010 and some of my goals are to improve She Takes on the World and expand the site with more content and feature posts by successful women. I will also be launching The Women’s Business Academy to help women launch successful businesses. I’m super-pumped for the year ahead!

    The winner of the free copy of New Year, New You is Alex Gorbokon. Best wishes for 2010! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to be part of your success.
    [rq=1822634,0,blog][/rq]Female Athletes Taking on the World

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