home before dark

Related to an earlier post about consulting, I had an interview with a ‘traditional employer’ back in the mid-2000s. I’d had a long standing consulting relationship with the company and was even offered a position with them about a year into working with them. Once every six months there would be a brief flurry of interest about bringing me on board as a regular, full-time employee. The last time this happened, when I received an offer, I wasn’t ready to join for many of the reasons I mentioned in my earlier post: I wasn’t willing to give up the flexibility or decent hours that I enjoyed. Another reason I didn’t share with them was my general state of mental exhaustion with audit and Sarbanes-Oxley. I just couldn’t bear doing that full-time forever, and hoped to start transitioning more to finance and systems.

So we went through another little series of feints at one point and I was left feeling a little queasy. A new group had been formed in the company to do work similar to my area of specialty, but probably a little more technical than my usual ‘big picture’ work. I interviewed with two women, both of whom were very pleasant. I had spoken with one of them before as a consultant, but she didn’t remember me and I didn’t bring it up.  The other one I hadn’t met before, but she placed a great deal of trust on the recommendation from the woman I had reported to for the on-and-off couple of years I had worked with the company.

Both of the interviewees made cheerful – almost gloatingly so – references to how hard they were working and how much travel they were doing and how they worked weekends and late into the night. It made me a little bit sad and a little bit angry both at myself and at the culture I live in.

They were proud of spending so much time away from home. One of the women told me how important it was to get along with the team because you spend more time at work than you do with your family.  True, perhaps. But I thought ‘how sad for her family.’ When did that sort of thought process become normal? I think it is important to get along with your coworkers, but the way in which it was presented made it seem like it was a choice, and that the choice should be to focus on your colleagues even at the expense of your family.

Corporate professionals aren’t really compensated fairly. I wonder how you would feel if you calculated how much a Fortune 500 company makes in profit per year and then think about what your share of that profit was. If they have a good year, does your gross go up? No. If they have a bad year, do you get laid off? Maybe. The upside goes to the executives and the downside goes to the employees. I think half of the corporate workforce would like to say “hey, if I work hard and I’m successful, I want to be paid more.” I guess you might argue that’s what promotions do, but there are definitely plateaus there. I took a huge leap when I went from staff to management but once I hit management it definitely was a declining rate of increase each year. I make a lot more as a consultant, and if I work long hours I get paid overtime. If I work less, I get paid less.  If you’re a corporate employee on a salary, please do this exercise:  keep track of when you arrive and leave at the office for a month, and then take your monthly salary and divide by hours worked.  Include time spent at home checking email, too.  It’s the only way to be honest with yourself about what your ‘true’ salary is.

Are people just really good at hiding their emotions? I saw dozens of people in the office churning away at their work, seemingly content. Maybe they were just hiding it better than I am, but I wondered when exactly I lost that burning desire to claw my way up the corporate ladder – and to do it cheerfully. I definitely had it – I worked long hours and played the political games with the best of them for most of my early career. But somewhere in there my will to sell my life to my employers just died. I view my work as a distraction from my life, rather than the other way around. Article after article that I read tells me that unless my work and my values and my goals align, I will be miserable. That may be true, but a significant component of that equation is simply the number of hours you spend on work you aren’t that interested in.

What is the effect on young families? I really dread the consequences of generation after generation of kids growing up in America seeing their parents once or twice a week on the weekends. One of my favorite quips is that no-one ever wishes on their deathbed that they had only spent a little more time in the office.

 Does it matter if it ‘matters’? I have done my bit of mentoring and helping younger people become successful throughout my career, I guess. I have paid my taxes and earned enough to create a good home for my wife and kids, which took some effort after 2008. I don’t work for Halliburton or the Carlyle Group. One of the biggest disconnects I had with the big client I mentioned at the beginning of the article was my suspicion from my time working there that something was rotten in Denmark.  My suspicions were borne out in 2008, of course; just read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.

But I didn’t take the job offer, obviously, and after 7 years of consulting I still come home while it’s light out 99 out of 100 workdays. That may not be everything, but it’s something, and my hope is that for my kids it’s a big something.

a bird in hand, or two in the bush…

bird in hand

bird in hand

OK, think fast: two jobs. One pays $50,000 this year; it will have a steady raise keeping pace with inflation (more or less) for the next 20 years, but there will be no spectacular bumps up. The other job pays $15,000 this year. In 10 years it might give you the experience to make $100,000 per year – or, if you haven’t done that well, it might pay you $15,000.

What do you do?

I would argue this is at the core of your personality for many reasons. If I told you that I would give you $5 straight out, or we could flip a coin and heads you’d get $10 or tails you’d get $0, what would you choose? Investing works the same way: conventional thinking tells us that index fund investing is the way to go. You can’t beat the market! Hang in there – there has never been a 15 year period where the market didn’t go up! Be average – hope for the swelling tide to lift you along with the rest of humanity! Bet on the sure thing – take the $5!

So what does that tell you? Do you want to make money now or make money later? Would you take a job for free today with the promise of making more tomorrow? Or do you want cash in hand, thank you very much? Honestly, both are legitimate arguments. I’ve turned down two jobs in investment banking because they were bonus-based compensation and I knew that even though they might be worth 150% of what I was making from contracting, they also might be worth 70% of what I was making. You know what? That’s weak thinking.

Risk taking is fundamental for wealth building. I’m sure Warren Buffet would argue that he doesn’t take any risks: he studies exhaustively and then invests without concern because he’s done his homework. My grandfather did awfully well (until 2000) in the stock market, too, although he certainly didn’t have access to the type of research that WB does. It’s possible to take some measured risks and achieve success as long as your definition of success doesn’t mean being the wealthiest man (or woman) in the world.

I want to make money in the future. I’ve set up my lifestyle to make money in the future. I claim to want money in the present so I can retire now, but I spend a lot of time talking about making it now and coasting along on a decent contracting income without building my investments aggressively or a business or even my own knowledge (which deteriorates every day).

Here is the question: what’s the main thing you need to do? Invest better? Build a business? Or just continue to slowly build income and plow your increasing income – through maintaining your standard of living and putting the excess into savings – into slowly building wealth? One of my favorite reads is was Get Rich Slowly (I don’t feel it’s worth reading anymore), but do I want to get rich slowly? Depends on how slowly you mean…

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by “G” jewels g is for grandma

Control Your Financial Destiny – Be Your Own Boss

handshake

handshake

Most people are concerned about money. If you aren’t a millionaire, you are most likely part of this group. Money – we never seem to have enough of it and are always looking at ways to spend less of it.

For the average person, the concept of taking control of their financial destiny consists of little more than having a 401(k) at a job they most likely don’t care too much for. Few people take true control of their financial destiny.

One way to have greater control over how much money you have is to be an entrepreneur. While not the right option for many (if not most) people, being your own boss has been the key to financial security for a large group of people. If you are looking for a way out of the grind of your 9-to-5, you might consider being your own boss. While the risks involved are many, the potential payout is exponentially greater than anything most people will ever see working for the man.

Below are some pros and cons of being an entrepreneur:

Pros to Being Your Own Boss

  • It is easier to get a raise when you are in control versus being an employee.
  • Your entrepreneurial success is generally tied to how hard you work. When working as an employee, most times your hard work is not recognized. Employees that work hard are rewarded the same as those that do the bare minimum to get by.
  • There is no greater freedom from being your own boss, having the ability to do what you want, when you want, without someone telling you what to do.
  • The upside has a huge potential. If you are a successful entrepreneur, you can have huge financial gains that are beyond the imagination of the typical employee.

Cons to Being Your Own Boss

  • No certainty that you will succeed. As a matter of fact, most small businesses fail in the first 5 years.
  • Uncertain income can lead to a great deal of stress.
  • Most likely, you will have to put in a lot of time and effort before you see any results. A successful outcome is never guaranteed, even if you put in the time and effort.
  • You deal with everything, good and bad, which is something most employees don’t have to worry about.
  • You never really get away from your business. Even when you are on vacation, you are the person in charge.

 

Never As Easy As It Seems

Being a successful business owner is a lot of hard work. Period. Don’t believe anybody who tells you otherwise. There is no such a thing as getting rich overnight as your own boss.

Most people are not cut out to work for themselves. Most people should be employees, working for someone else. But, for the fortunate few that take the risks and become a successful entrepreneur, the potential payoffs are worth the pain it took to get there.

Take Control of Your Financial Destiny

While you are clipping your coupons and shopping for the best deal to try to stretch your dollars, just keep in mind that there may be another answer for you. Maybe you should take some time and consider if being an entrepreneur might be something that would be a good fit for you. Fortunately, you can explore your options while you keep your day job. You can even get your feet wet while you continue to work for the man, though doing so will be equivalent to working two full-time jobs, at the very least.

Entrepreneurs control their financial destiny. They don’t spend their time clipping coupons or shopping for a deal. They spend their time building a business that will give them the financial freedom they yearn for and deserve.

You have the choice if you want to be an employee or if you want to be the boss. Choose wisely, as the decision you make will greatly impact your financial future.

About the Author:

Guest post by Marshall Davis of Business Service Reviews, a website that reviews products and services that help entrepreneurs start, grow and maintain successful small businesses. His new interview series, Talking Small Biz, will shed some light on how different entrepreneurs are finding success in their chosen field.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by buddawiggi

3 Things I Wish I Was Told As A College Freshman


Today’s guest post comes from Jenny. In her own words: “I am currently a junior in college and living in New York City. Going through the job recruitment process now has made me reflect a lot on the past 3 years of my life. Here are some things I wish I had been told on day one:”

Pick a major you love, not necessarily one that is related to the career you think you want.

There is a very simple reason for this: if the subject is something you enjoy learning, you will inevitably be good at it and that will lead to a high GPA. From experience, I can say that GPA has been the very first factor used by both large and mid-size firms when screening applicants’ resumes and thus is a deciding factor in landing your first internships and full-time jobs. It is to your dual advantage to have a high GPA while studying what you enjoy.

But what if I am a biology major and want to go into the financial services industry, you ask – shouldn’t I major in economics or finance, such as with the degree at this university? Not at all.

See, with all of the competition in today’s job market, companies have grown to love the “story hires”. These are people who have a story as to why they have decided to change their career path or explore other options and that makes them more interesting to employers and well-rounded as individuals. I know for a fact there are people working at one of the top investment banks on Wall Street right now who actually have medical degrees and used to be surgeons.

You can major in whatever you want, as long as you are able to talk about “transferrable skills” you acquired along the way that are relevant to the job.

Have a 5-Year Plan.

Although this is not Soviet Russia under Stalin, it is important to have an idea about what the next 5 years of your life will look like. I was blind-sided when my junior year of college rolled around, summer internship recruitment season was in full swing, and all of sudden all of the interviewers expected me to know exactly what location, what division and what group I want to work in. I felt like I had to decide the rest of my life in just 2 weeks.

Very often when young adults start college, they are advised that they should use this time (all 4 years) to explore. Though I am in no way against this, I do believe that “exploring” should be done in a specific direction. Because at the end of those 4 years, everyone will want the same thing: a job to start their career.  The people who have done the research, know what to expect, and have a clearer sense of the direction of their career are in a much better position.

Take a few minutes to plan what classes to take when, which school clubs may be good to get involved in, and start talking to upperclassmen about their experiences so you know what to expect.

Start Talking to Upperclassmen About Their Experiences

Upperclassmen are a seriously under-valued and untapped resource for underclassmen. These are people who were just recently in your shoes and have survived it unscathed and that much wiser. Why not ask them about it?

A lot of times first-year (and second year) students are intimidated by upperclassmen and tend to shy away from interaction, let alone asking for advice. I remember I used to think upperclassmen were so much smarter and so busy that they could not possibly relate to me. Well, with time I have learned that all it takes is some courage to ask a question and the rest works out. You would be surprised how incredibly willing people are to give advice if you just ask for it.

I recently adopted a freshman buddy in this way. I was at an event and this girl sat down next to me, we started talking, and she later asked for my telephone number so that she may call me if she needs advice. I gladly gave it to her and now she texts me whenever she has questions.

The next time you’re in class, at a club meeting, sporting event or a company presentation, approach an upperclassman and ask a question. They were in your shoes just a year or two ago and can give you so much information about the right classes, professors, clubs, and internships that you would never be able to find on Google.

Jenny is a undergradute finance major attending college in New York and a first-time contributor on brip blap.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by lethaargic

are you selling your life to your employer?

profit and loss statement

profit and loss statement

 

When I was a young buck, fresh out of accounting MBA school, I had a prestigious job working for one of the (at the time) six biggest accounting firms in the world. It was a small office, but it was the second biggest of the six in the city I lived in at the time. It was a well-respected firm and I was lauded by my school, friends, family and peers for landing a position there.  The future was so bright, I had to wear green accountant’s eyeshades.

If you aren’t familiar with the work-life structure of the big accounting firms, a little background is in order. I’ll refer to them as the Big 4 (today there are four – during my professional career one has disappeared – Andersen – and two have merged). In the Big 4, the corporate culture is up-or-out. What does that mean? Nobody remains in static positions. There are three basic levels: staff, manager and partner. Staff and managers have a number of subdivisions, but a new joiner will progress, inevitably from junior staff to senior staff to junior manager to senior manager to junior partner to senior partner. You either get promoted on schedule or you are pressured to leave… or fired.

Everyone works hard in the Big 4. I have worked until 6 am, showered and gone back to work. I have worked week after week, 12-14 hour days every day including Saturdays and Sundays. The deadlines are unmissable and the pressure is enormous. The staff and seniors are typically devoted to no more than a few clients at once, and they have very little discretion in which clients and which areas they work. Managers have more latitude, but typically take on far more responsibility. They are responsible for training, mentoring, reviewing and organizing the staff on the project, and at the same time they must manage the clients’ expectations, pursue collections and billings and meet firm expectations on landing new business. Partners’ responsibilities are intense; mistakes on their part can destroy the firm. They must be technically proficient in accounting principles, “rainmakers” and office leaders. The days of the cheerfully drunk partner who shows up for golf and cocktails are long, long gone.

Staff and managers work exceptionally hard, though. I had a decent salary compared to my peers but I also worked 100 hour work weeks. My hourly wage was approximately $9 per hour as a staff person. Babysitters in New Jersey typically demand a minimum of $10 per hour. By the time I was a manager things weren’t much better – when I jumped to private industry I received a huge pay raise for nothing other than getting out of the grind. Had I stayed until I was a partner, I would have received a partnership income in the (I guess, depending on the market and a million variables) range of a quarter million per year. Retirement at 50 would have been achievable with a partner’s pension. I always knew I didn’t want to stick around to make partner. My intention was to stay two years then bolt – but then I stayed another – and another – and the next thing you knew I realized I was facing a big choice.

The Big 4 payoff is like a lottery, like many other industries – consulting, financial services, you name it. You make partner, you get rewarded for those awful hours and those long busy seasons. If you leave before then, you have been suckered. You gave up a lot of hours at minimum wage to build someone else’s firm; someone else’s client relationships; someone else’s partnership share. I spent years toiling at an awful salary to strengthen my firm and enrich the partners.

Don’t work like this for an employer.

I regret those hours now. I have a good consulting gig, don’t get me wrong. Leaving at 6 pm is a late day for me. I have few responsibilities and very little pressure. But if I had taken my 20s and poured those 100 hour work weeks into my own business, or even a small firm where I could have shared in the growth, I would have benefited enormously – more than just having a six-figure salary. I do have a fearsome resume to show for it; people in my field generally know what it means to have been in the offices and firms and fields and industries I was in, and it makes a difference in landing consulting jobs now. But I built no assets for me.

So the point is this: if you are working insane hours, stop and figure out your hourly wage. Stop and ask yourself: if I quit today, or I quit 3 years from now, will my resume look much different? Am I building something for someone else or for myself? It may be that you’re happy with your position as an employee – but if you’re working past the 9 to 5, you’re donating your irreplacable time – YOUR LIFE – to your employer, free of charge. That’s an awful nice present. Think about whether you’re happy giving it. You could probably spend a lot of those spare hours – which can never be replaced – doing a lot of things for yourself.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by word_dancer51

how to succeed at work


Years ago, after a month of unemployment when I was, for all intents and purposes, a professional writer I found that I started to miss my corporate consulting gig. I missed the contemplative time I had during my long commute.  I missed the fear I felt as I walked into the lobby, past heavily armed police officers with assault weapons.   I missed the early morning routine of standing in line before being run through a gauntlet of metal detectors and passing not one but three security checkpoints.  The bitter instant coffee.  The fluorescent lights!  And the meetings, oh the meetings!

That’s enough sarcasm for one post. I started missing the big checks, but it took a while.  If nothing else during that time period I saved $400+ on commuting costs a month.  I got my final load of dry cleaned clothes from the cleaners, and I didn’t need to buy my lunch once because I’d been too lazy to pack one the night before.  I had more time to spend with my kids and for the first time in years I’d actually slept until 7:00 am (until Little Buddy careened into our bedroom).  I’d managed to start exercising again – albeit not on a regular schedule yet – and at that point I would have called unemployment an unqualified success.

You only need two things to succeed at your job. It doesn’t matter if your job is working retail, corporate consulting or even just being a stay-at-home parent.   Everyone has “a job.”  The vogue these days (at least in most of the blogs I read, which are a bit of a self-reinforcing bunch) seems to be to look down on jobs.  I have written my fair share of articles expressing that view.  Yet everyone has a job.  Some people are luckier than others:  their job pays more, or allows more free time or comes closer to the definition of an avocation than it does to the definition of a job.

The two things you need to succeed at your job are:

  1. the basic skills necessary for the job: You can’t be a plumber if you don’t know how to unclog a drain.  You can’t be a lawyer if you can’t pass the bar.  But you CAN be a good consultant if you can solve problems and present that solution clearly.  You can do many jobs quite well with just the basic skills necessary for that job.   If you can clear that minimum threshold with your skills, you can succeed… if you also have thing #2.
  2. a (net) enjoyment for what you’re doing: Forgive me for being an accountant.  The idea of net enjoyment is probably peculiar to an accountant, but it’s an accurate description of a basic condition:  the positives outweigh the negatives.  Every undertaking in the world, be it a corporate job, an entrepreneurial endeavor or a family picnic has SOME positives and SOME negatives.  The balance in one direction or the other is often quite clear, but sometimes it is close to balancing.  The trick is to understand those close-to-balancing situations.  Are you in a position, work-wise, where the positives outweigh the negatives?  If not, do you see that situation reversing itself in the future?  And if not, when are you quitting?  Every day you have to make that assessment, considering the long tail of your work over the last few years, or even over your entire life – has it been, net, a good undertaking?

If you don’t have the basic skills for a job (be honest with yourself, but chances are you do since you’re doing it already), or you don’t have a net enjoyment for what you’re doing, I don’t think you’re going to get far. People who are highly skilled but hate their jobs don’t get far.  People who are incompetent and love their jobs don’t get far, either.  People who are moderately skilled and like what they do for a living can often do quite well.  I don’t think they will be millionaires, necessarily, but they should be successful at that undertaking.  Make sure you can assess your own skills, and your TRUE level of enjoyment for your work, and you’ll be able to make an accurate judgment as to whether you’ll succeed eventually – or not.

photo credit: Chovee

Steve Jobs wouldn’t hire Steve Jobs

Here’s an absolutely fantastic career/work idea I got via This Week in Tech:  Steve Jobs would not have hired Steve Jobs.  There are multiple reasons.

  1. Steve Jobs wouldn’t have wanted to go to work for a big corporation like Apple.  He was an entrepreneur.
  2. A strong CEO like Steve Jobs wouldn’t have wanted to hire someone like Steve Jobs who wanted the #1 job.  He wanted to be firmly in control.
  3. People wouldn’t have wanted to work with someone like Steve Jobs, because he would have been too focused on becoming the #1 guy.

The list could go on.  I thought the point was brilliant.  On This Week in Tech they were discussing whether there was a guy like Jobs at Apple and they pointed out – quite rightly – that there most likely couldn’t be a guy like Jobs at Apple.  That kind of guy would exist outside Apple.  He wouldn’t want to be part of Apple – he’d want to be part of a small startup.

Here’s a relevant point:  after Walt Disney died, the Disney corporation spent decades trying to do “what Walt would’ve done.”  Guess what?  They couldn’t figure it out, and nothing good ever came of that thought process.  Eventually Disney reinvented itself as a media company that had – as a side business – some of Disney’s theme park/animation business.

This could be applied to almost anyone:  are you a startup person, or a corporate power-struggle person?  There are skill sets suited to both, and reasons to be proud of both, but they don’t overlap at all.  The kind of skills that make someone successful in their own business don’t make someone successful in a large corporation – they can actually hurt.  And a corporate employee might be lost as a small business owner.

I don’t like Apple, to be honest, but I admire Steve Jobs:  not as a “visionary” but as  businessman and a marketer.  He figured out how to sell a product and sell it well.  He was not a visionary like Ted Hoff or Steve Wozniak, who actually INVENTED personal computers.  He was a master marketer.   But marketing is a large part of making a product come alive, and how companies succeed.  Understanding why Steve Jobs wouldn’t hire Steve Jobs is a good way to understand how companies transcend the marketplace and become exceptional.  Companies don’t hire entrepreneurs or innovators:  they hire good workers.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Annie Bannanie 06

how I became Russian

Patrick, of Cash Money Life fame long ago tagged me to give my best financial move in college.  I posted this long ago, but it’s worth reposting.  How I came to become a Russophile is an interesting story – I think.

Steve at the Hermitage in St Petersburg

(me, in St. Petersburg, circa 1997)

Learning an “exotic” foreign language, and how it changed my life.

If you read this blog, you probably know that I’m a Russophile. I lived in Moscow for several years, I can read/write/speak Russian fairly comfortably and my wife is Russian. Even more:  I have been interested in Russian long before I “knew” Russian or Russia.  Key the computer geek theme music: I mentioned that I was a finalist in the International Science Fair: I wrote, in Basic on a Tandy Color Computer with a cassette-tape drive, a very primitive artificial intelligence program that reliably translated English into Russian, grammatically correct. I even had to develop the Cyrillic font. I did all of this after buying a Russian grammar book at a public library for $.10 and using it to set it up – I didn’t know Russian at all.  Pat, pat, pat on the back, Steve.  Score one for geeky computer boy.  The US Army liked my program, gave me a commendation and took the code.  What happened with it after that, I dunno.

Anyway, after the ISF my interest in Russian waned. I always joke that my ancestry is German with a little German mixed in. Even though the Original Blap Ancestor ventured to the new world in the 16th century, my paternal ancestors clung to German ways and traditions and language. And I mean they clung. To the best of my knowledge, my dad was probably part of the first generation of Blaps to speak English at home rather than German. So in high school and college I had a strong motivation to take German, and I did.  I loved it.  I had a great teacher, and I spent a summer semester in Germany as an exchange student.  To this day I speak, read and understand German quite well.

But I always liked foreign languages in general. I took French and Latin as well and decided in my sophomore year that Japanese would be a good challenge. Keep in mind that this was the mid-80s: Japan appeared to be well on its way to becoming the dominant economic power of the 21st century. We know now, in retrospect, that Japan’s economy tripped and stumbled and has never really recovered, and China and India are now careening past it, but at the time it seemed that Japan might become an economic superpower at a minimum and THE economic superpower if everything fell right.

I decided to take Japanese. It was a new course at the University of Mississippi, where I went to school (yes, we had Japanese courses in Mississippi) – only one class was offered. So on registration day I woke up and strolled over to the registrar only to find that it had filled up in minutes and no slots were available. I was disappointed, but I still wanted to take a language. I thought Spanish might be useful, but boring (I didn’t care for French when I learned it – romance languages don’t appeal to me). I skipped through the catalog until I saw Russian and remembered my little project at the ISF four years earlier. And best of all, it was at 10 am so I could sleep late – back in college I had yet to discover the benefits of waking up early.

Russian was fantastic. The teacher was a guy straight out of PhD school, passionate about the subject and the culture. He invited his students to his home, showed us Russian movies, introduced us to actual Russians (quite the novelty in the Deep South in the 80s, let me tell you – we were in the midst of the cold war and that was amazing) and managed to get Russian food. I loved the intellectual challenge of the language – a different alphabet but more importantly a language completely removed from the European languages’ interrelationships.

So why was this a good financial move? I’ve already mentioned it in 8 steps to a six figure career, but here it is in a nutshell: it gives you instant credibility as a smart person (deserved or not). Employers and contacts and almost everyone I meet expresses shock that I can speak Russian, read it and write it. I don’t think it demonstrates much intelligence, personally. Language acquisition is more of an inborn skill, I think. But I do think that learning Russian demonstrated some intellectual curiosity and the fact that I stuck with it indicates some intellectual discipline. I have benefited hugely in my career from knowing Russian. It meant that I was plucked out of obscurity as a junior staff member of a Big 6 (now 4) accounting firm and hurled into the middle of the mid-90s Russian economic explosion. It opened up opportunities I would never have had as just another staff person.

But that’s not the biggest part of it. Without developing my Russian skills I wouldn’t have met, pursued and married my wife. Maybe if I had taken Japanese I would have lived in Japan, developed a fondness for all things Japanese. Hard to say. But I do know that the decision to learn Russian set in motion the life process that brought me to where I am today: with a wife who is focused on the same things I am, personally and financially. So that’s actually the single biggest reason why that was a great financial move.

So what was your best move?

we are all consultants now

In trying to understand the way jobs are evolving, particularly for white collar professions, I find two phrases quite useful:

  • We are all between job searches.
  • All jobs are now contract consulting jobs.

“Whoa, wait a minute!” you might exclaim. “I have a steady job!  I’ve been there for 5 years, and I’m a full-time employee with a load of benefits!  There’s no way I could consider myself as a contract consultant, and I don’t plan to search for a new job anytime soon!”  Well, I have news for you are:  you should, and you will.

We are all between job searches

The average person born in the later years of the baby boom held 10.8 jobs from age 18 to age 42. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S.  That’s people a little bit older than my age group (I’m early Gen X).  The rates are even higher for milllenials.  So think about that:  the average person changes jobs approximately every two years.  That’s the average, which means that many people change jobs more frequently than that.  Even if we discount the “can’t hold a job” types, it’s a safe bet to make that most people will change jobs within the next few years.

Anecdotally, I’ve met a number of people who worked for a company for 30 years who suddenly find themselves back in the hunt due to downsizing, sale of the company, mergers, etc. It’s simply unrealistic to assume that with today’s rapid changes in technology, high unemployment and global competition that employers will be loyal to older, higher-salaried employees.  They won’t be.  So even if you’ve held that job for years, there’s someone there who will do it cheaper, and maybe better.

All jobs are now contract consulting jobs

This is a point I’ve heard made by a lot of career coaches.  It’s not so much that structurally we are all contract consultants.  I happen to be a contract consultant, which means I lack a lot of the benefits of an employee:  I don’t get medical insurance partially paid for by an employer, I don’t have 401(k) matching funds, I don’t have vacation time and I don’t get a company car.  I do get time and half pay for overtime, a much more flexible schedule and I get paid substantially more than my full-time colleagues, meaning I can take care of those other ‘lacks’ with the far greater gross salary I get.  But the benefits are just a smoke screen, and easy access to them is one way employers try to distract you from the reality of your job:  you are not in business for your employer; you have to think of yourself as being in business for yourself, even if (especially if!) you are a full-time employee.
My average contract runs about 9 months to a year. As we noted above, the average employee changes jobs every two years.  Do you think the need to define yourself as a ‘brand’ isn’t important if you change jobs?  You need to create the same selling proposition if you’re an employee that a consultant does.  You aren’t someone who can afford to latch onto one good company and then throw yourself into that company’s business to the exclusion of your own career.  You need to network and sell just as aggressively as a consultant.  Nobody has the time to take time off from preparing for the next job anymore.  I’ve seen it happen too often:  people who get comfortable at a job and let their network fall apart.  They don’t stay abreast of changes in their industry.  They don’t think about keeping an eye out for the next job, and then WHAM!  Here comes a downsizing after the company missed earnings in the latest quarter.

Conclusion:  Always think two steps ahead

It’s said about great chess players that their greatest ability is the ability to think multiple moves ahead. A grand master isn’t looking at her opponent’s move and reacting to that: she’s looking at that move, her move, her opponent’s potential counter moves and so on for 7-8 moves into the future.  That’s how you need to think about your job.  Don’t just find “the next job” – think about how that could position you for the next job.  Think how it’s going to look on a resume five years from now.  And don’t think you won’t move on.  You will.  I’d be willing to bet that almost no-one who’s an employee reading this post who is less than 40 years old will retire working for their current company.  But I am willing to bet that anyone who learns these new paradigms (1. We are all between job searches and 2. All jobs are now contract consulting jobs) will prosper in the challenging job markets in the years ahead.

 

the best time to start a new job search? today

milton

How is this for your dream job? Awful, boring, mundane work, lots of travel to uninteresting box buildings located in bland office parks, pay that’s not competitive, poor benefits, long hours and uncomfortable, privacy-obliterating cubicles that smell like Windex.  Sounds awful, doesn’t it?  Piling on further, though, let’s throw in a few broken promises for promotions and raises.  Top it all off with a boss who dislikes you.  He doesn’t invite you in his office, he doesn’t ask you to meetings and routinely complains about your work to you and your co-workers.  I can’t imagine a scenario that would be much more dehumanizing, but what’s truly depressing about it is how so many people endure this office-of-horrors for weeks, months or years without trying to change it.

I’m not talking about leaving corporate life for a blissful career as a social media guru or cheerful organic tomato farmer. I’m not talking about stalking through the cube farm with an AK as a solution, either.  I’m just talking about taking a stab at another job for a minor increase in happiness.  I see people lower their heads and return glumly to work after being dismissed, humiliated and almost broken every day.  I tend to get a lot of miserable employees complaining to me about their situations (since I’m not an employee, I’m “safe” to talk to).  When the picture gets as grim as described above, the conversation almost always plays out like one of those dream sequences in which you watch the monster running towards you, but your feet remain planted in concrete – something terrible is coming, but it’s inescapable:

Glumkins: “I hate my job, I hate everything about it.”
Me: “Too bad.  You can’t transfer or anything like that?”
Glumkins:  “No, I’d need help from my boss.”
Me: “Well, life is short and it’s not worth putting up with a situation like this forever.  Maybe you should think about quitting.”
Glumkins: “No!  The economy is terrible!  Plus I have a mortgage/2.3 kids/credit card debt/a new car payment/etc.”
Me: “Yeah, but since you’ve been looking for a new job for a while, you’re bound to have some leads…”
Glumkins: “I’ve been MEANING to start looking, but I’m just so busy – plus it’s hard to interview, my resume is outdated, I have this big project here…”
Me: “You hate your job, your boss hates you, you have no future and in all likelihood you’ll be the first head on a platter when the layoffs come… and you aren’t actively looking for a new job?”
Glumkins: “But nobody’s hiring!”
Me: “Nobody’s breaking into your home at night while you’re watching American Idol and offering you a job, if that’s what you mean.”

Why is it that people wait for a good time to look for new work? Why, if you were in a terrible job like the one I’ve described above, would you worry about how “difficult” it might be to sneak away for an interview?  Why would you give a second’s thought to trying to stick it out?

I suppose an optimistic person might hope for their boss to quit and Sandra Bullock to swoop in and become the chirpy, best-buddy boss in a romantic comedy.
Yep.  That happens almost everyday, according to the movies.  When I see employees stuck in a dead end job, I feel badly.  I try to help by offering advice or encouragement.  When I see the same employee sit on their hands month after month without looking for a new job – but talking on the phone about last night’s episode of CSI – I want to knock the stupid out of them.

If you aren’t keeping a What-I-Done-Did file, start now
.  Update your resume.  Sign up for LinkedIn.  Get on Twitter (and yes, I’m getting as tired as everyone else of oh-so-important-Twitter but hey, if you can’t beat ’em…).  And most importantly, start looking!  One of the worst feelings you can have related to your career is a sense of powerlessness – a lack of choice.  If nothing else, a job search gives you back a tiny bit of control and forcefeeds a drop of hope into your system.

We all know Milton from Office Space. We all laugh at him, but sit back and look in the mirror.  If you skip washing your hair for a few days, dress like a doofus and mumble a bit, could you fit the part?  I could.  But if so, go grab that red stapler and flee for the hills as soon as you can.

would YOU take a pay cut?

El obrero
In discussing contract consulting rates with two recruiters in the past, I was forced to face an interesting question – is a recession the time we should be willing to accept reduced rates (or salaries)? Can you justify making 66.67% of what you once made, just to keep making money?  Or is it better to grit your teeth and keep searching for – at least – pay equal to your previous position?

This question first of all depends on whether you’re in a position to weather a long downturn. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, this question is answered with a resounding “yes.”  If you have some money set aside, you may be able to hold out longer for a better rate.

But what about taking that lower rate when you move on to the next job? Do you think the excuse that “it was just a filler” or “I just needed to keep working” will work to explain the pay cut to the NEXT company you work for?  Do you think the next company will bump you back up?

And what about titles, or responsibilities? Does it appeal to you to work your way back up the line?  For most people it is not desirable if avoidable.  Nobody wants to be the 40-year old supervised by a 23-year old.  No-one.

It’s not always easy. I know plenty of people who, for one reason or another, have had to make the decision to scale back in their careers, either salary-wise or responsibility-wise (or both).  People do it out of fear or desperation or sometimes simply out of a desire to work, no matter what the level.  It’s admirable if it’s done out of a position of self-confidence or honor, and heartbreaking if it’s done out of desperation.

Many people may see this as an analytical question:  should you accept an X% reduction in pay during economic hard times? I think this is a question that can only be answered by the individual in each case – what is your balance of pride versus need to work versus will to work?  Can you be effective knowing you’re working as hard (or harder) for less?  Can you make do? In the end, it’s not something a career blog or a coach can help you with; you need to know whether you can handle the reduction, and live with the consequences.

photo credit: Libertinus