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:
- 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.
- 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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