February 2012

Musical Chairs In the Job Market:
Is 'Career Planning' an Oxymoron?

By Julie Swaner

Has this current job market made you consider the possibility of changing careers? Are you concerned about your right livelihood but also bored with what you have been doing? Are you feeling nervous, agitated, and restless about your world of work? It may be time for a career change.

However, this change may usher you into a new world of work that consists of short-tenure gigs. These last few years have been marked by volatility, risk, and job insecurity. And the U.S. labor market is increasingly becoming more akin to the game of musical chairs—a byproduct of globalization, economic stagnation, changing market forces, and an acceleration of instantaneous change. The future employment picture suggests an increase in freelance and contract work, and part-time jobs. When business can change overnight, risk and opportunity are more difficult to assess. Uncertainty is the constant paradigm, where only the nimble and the agile will be the survivors in this tumultuous, competitive market. Reinvention becomes paramount; we have known for some time that the average American worker isn’t just going to have one career for his or her lifetime anymore.

Fast Company proclaimed that “the future of business is pure chaos.” The trick here is to thrive rather than just survive. But how do you do that? There are no perfect role models or blueprints for success that will work for everyone. Nick Corcodilos, author of a newsletter called Ask The Headhunter, has one great suggestion that has inspired me: It’s called The Library Vacation™.

Corcodilos urges that travelers on this library vacation pack a suitcase for one. A new career choice is a very personal decision and must be inner-directed and self-directed. Someone else can’t point you in the right direction. So put on those hiking boots, buckle up, and find the way to your new career future. This is what Corcodilos says:

    The best way to find a new path is to let your motivation lead you. Leave your skills, college degree, experience, and credentials behind. You can haul them out later, when you need them. For now, they only limit your aspirations. Take time to explore what drives you.

Destination: Off the path, and don’t substitute the Internet for a library. His methodology consists of taking at least three days to spend at the library—obviously, a week would be better. First, visit the periodicals, but avoid anything to do with job-hunting or careers. Start with magazines such as Newsweek, Rolling Stone, or People and with some newspapers, both foreign and national. Then proceed to the various specialty industry publications. Utilize the librarian to help scout additional resources. During this time, you must follow your gut, your intuition, and various instincts that drive you. After you have identified an industry that is of interest to you, explore those companies that shine in that industry. Start analyzing those companies, and read in depth about what makes them great. These articles will mention names of key people. Jot those down. Ask yourself: “Can I see myself working in this industry or this company?” Don’t worry about your skills at this point.

Blaze the trail with your bare hands. At this point, you can explore who you are and what your strengths are. Start writing a plan. What would you do at this company? How would you survive? This is where your creativity and problem-solving can flourish. Corcodilos suggests that you outline how you would manage the first day, the first week, and the first month on the job.

Mix it up with the natives. With a phone or email, it’s time to take those names and make a list compiled from your research and start talking to them or their assistants. You want more insight about their company, products, technologies, and issues. As you develop these relationships, these insiders can suggest education you might need and introduce you to others within the organization.

Corcodilos says:

    As you develop knowledge and insight (and possibly expertise) through your research and new friends, you will become progressively more attractive to the companies and people you call. They will regard you as a sophisticated novice rather than as a confused job hunter, and they will be more likely to advise you and help you get the meetings you need to get hired.

Commit to this path, or find a new one. Continue on this path if it feels right. Otherwise, take another one.

To change paths, you must change yourself. Skills may be easily learned or acquired as needed. The failure for career changers is their limitation to understand the day-to-day tasks and functions of the new career that they seek.

And the library vacation is not career counseling. This approach urges you to go outside of your comfort zone into unknown territory for exploration. This is where you put your limits aside and create a plan to examine the world of work in a new way, and it’s a vacation from job-searching and finding a job. The only rule, according to Corcodilos, is that “you must drive your interest until it dies, or until it gets you to your destination.” Yes, it’s hard work, but it is much less frustrating than trying to find a job.

Other books that might help you in this process:

  • Talking your Way to the Top, Gretchen Hirsch
  • How to Get your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less, Milo Frank
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini

Confused about your career choices? Take the Library Vacation™, or call me.

Would you like the entire article by Corcodilos? Contact me for that.

Return to home page

Need help with a career choice for you? Contact Julie Swaner, director of Alumni Career Programs at the University of Utah, (801) 585-5036.

The mission of the Alumni Association is to support the University of Utah’s pursuit of excellence by forging and preserving lifelong relationships with alumni, students, and the community.