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Opportunity Decisions, part 3:
What's Useful to Know

Gabe Heilig

Founder, Action Resumes—Pentagon

Here are some fundamental facts I’ve observed that can help you in creating a career and an authentic, personal solution path for yourself. I don’t have a formula, and I don’t know anyone else who has one, either. Reality doesn’t come with an instruction manual, or with guarantees. We have to figure it out for ourselves.

That’s why it “takes a village” to raise a child. No one has all the answers, not even for themselves, in most cases. We all need a little help from our friends. But before you launch yourself into making Opportunity Decisions to drive your professional life forward, it’s good to look back at some fundamental facts and work them into your thinking. We’re all at liberty to organize our thinking and the facts we use to support our thinking and decision-making, and do this in any way we decide is right for us.

Here are some facts that I’ve noticed about people and their careers.

1. Most people are bigger than their jobs. They are bigger than their jobs ask them to be, and very often they’re bigger than their jobs allow them to be.

The sad fact is: many people actually shrink themselves in order to present themselves to their bosses as “good employees.” They quickly learn: If they suggest ideas for new ways to do things, their bosses ignore them, afraid that if staff members look too good one of them will get the promotion the boss wants for himself.

So workers “dumb themselves down.” They have more to offer, but no one seems to want it. But I think this is horrible. Why shrink yourself for a job? Why not grow your own value, invest in your own value—and look for someone who sees it?

Whoever that is, that’s the kind of boss you want.

2. Your credentials matter less than your effectiveness.

Ask yourself: Would you rather hire: a 21 year-old with a degree in computer software, who’s entering the job market for the first time—or a self-taught 21-year old software geek who’s been producing results for that same 4-year period?

Most employers these days care much less about your classroom grades than your hands-on skills. Most workplaces are not about taking tests and repeating information. They’re about something quite different. They’re about professional savvy, emotional intelligence, knowing how to be effective working in teams—and then, occasionally, going “beyond the beyond” to show everyone that you’ve got what it takes to get the job done.

3. P eople are more alert and creative when doing work they want to do.
“Follow your bliss,” mythologist Joseph Campbell advised. He knew that it’s more constructive to follow one’s inner calling than to obey one’s self-doubts—or be blocked and bounded by someone else’s doubts, whims or orders.

4. Multiple income streams are better than one.

A friend of mine owned a small, very successful ad agency. A few years ago, his firm landed a major client: The Marriott Corporation.

Sounds terrific, right?

Well, it nearly ended my friend’s career.

The folks at Marriott soon had commandeered all my friend’s time. Things went excellently well until a new executive at Marriott decided to try out a different ad agency.

My friend lost his business. He had trusted so much in this excellent relationship he had built with the people he knew at Marriott that he didn’t consider that one day someone would come along and upset his apple cart.

Well, people whose jobs are their sole income are in precisely this situation. If you are depending for your economic survival on one source of income—your job—you may want to think again. Trusting your job security to an employer is a risky bet.

What’s better?

Trusting yourself and your skills. That’s better. And knowing how to maneuver with them through the cross-currents of a volatile economy.

5. Rather than looking for a job, identify the problems you want to work with at this point in your career. Then find people who own those problems and have the authority to get them solved. They need help, and they know it.

Why go through a job application process managed by HR people who don’t own the problem? Why not go straight to the people with the problem? Bring them an informed conversation about the problem, and they’ll create a job for you, valuing your initiative as well as your knowledge about these problems. No HR people will be involved, and there’ll be no other applicants for the job, either. You’ll have that opportunity all to yourself.

Because you created it. You didn’t wait for it to appear on a job board.

6. Conversations are open-ended. A pplications, like jobs, are pre-defined.

Which would you rather be in: a pre-defined space, defined by someone else—or a space you define? Most of us would rather explore new parts of our minds, rather than get caught in someone else’s “cubicle thinking.” And that’s often what a pre-defined job is: a cubicle the size of someone else’s thinking.

Ready to think for yourself?

That’s the question Life is always asking us. .

Gabe Heilig has coached ~5,300 people in advancing their professional lives. He can be reached at gabe@ideadesign-dc.com.