Sunday, December 21, 2008


I was in the gym earlier this week, doing my walk/run on the treadmill. On treadmills to my right were a couple of people who worked in different parts of the same organization that has recently been laying people off. They were commiserating about the state of affairs at their work place and the person nearest to me uttered the line, “You start your day off stressed and it just gets worse from there.” His co-worker grimly laughed in acknowledgement.

Upon hearing this, I immediately thought about how difficult things must be for these two, and the thousands of others who are in similar circumstances. It feels like there is no end to the downsizings and layoffs and yet for those who remain, the work load just grows. I hear more and more people actually wishing for pink slips because the thought of doing the work of their former co-workers is more daunting and stress inducing than the idea of being unemployed with some severance and unemployment benefits.

I recognize that these are challenging times and that many people feel damned if they do get laid off and damned if they don’t. That sense of being backed into a corner just adds to the stress that’s created by our actual circumstances. To make matters worse, the decisions made by others to keep us employed or let is go only makes us more stressed.

In spite of this complexity, there is a way out. In simple terms it is this: Put your focus on what you have control over and let go of the rest. Yes, your work load is growing because there are fewer of you to do the same amount of work. Yes, you may be targeted in that next round of layoffs. And, yes, it is a very difficult time to be in a job or career transition. Inside each of those situations, there are some things in your control and some not. My advice is to put your attention on the former and do your best to let go of the rest.

You can begin by getting clear about those things over which you have control. This boils down to two basic ideas. The first is recognizing that you have a choice about how you see things, and though it may feel trite, your attitude determines to a great extent how stressed you’ll get by actual circumstances. Secondly, you need to realize that you can manage the unmanageable to-do list. This happens by taking time at the beginning of each work day to prioritize your list (getting help from others, as needed), and then taking on each of those tasks, doing the best on each one with the time and resources you have. Regardless of how far you get, you need to then take a brief time to acknowledge yourself for what you did accomplish and then go home and forget about work until the next day.

If you can develop both a positive mind set and an effective method for completing most of your tasks, you’ll find your stress will not only be much more manageable, but you’ll also find yourself, almost paradoxically, being more productive and much happier about your work and life along the way.

Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Staying in the Game

Steve Hernandez and I facilitated a transition workshop last week for a group of people that has just been laid off from a Bay Area company. In addition to the typical questions about resumes, cover letters, and networking, they were also expressing concerns about the state of the economy and how that will impact their ability to get re-employed.

I think by now everyone realizes that we are in a troubled economy and all signs are that the job market will get worse before it gets better. Though this may be discouraging or even depressing to many, and can dampen one’s sense of optimism about the future, I’d like to offer another point of view. The job market, whether robust and expanding or moribund and contracting, is always in dynamic motion. In other words, even in the worst of times, there are always opportunities to find work.

Because these opportunities are harder to see and access and the competition is more intense, there are several things you can do now to improve your odds of finding work. The first is getting clear about your skill set and recognizing how those skills are applicable in your own field and also in at least one alternative field. If you aren’t sure where your skills might transfer, I’d suggest you begin researching now to find that answer. In addition, and perhaps, most importantly, you must be able to articulate the value your skills can add for a potential employer.

In a tight job market, people who have connections have a real advantage. Even then, their odds don’t improve much unless they are willing and able to tap into that network and leverage those contacts into employment opportunities. Networking is always a good practice and during these times, it is especially critical, not only to open doors, but also to minimize having to compete for opportunities that are posted on the various job sites.

Finally, and perhaps the most important, is the need to be patient. A job or career transition is challenging in the best of times, but as we look ahead to the job market in 2009, patience may be your most valuable ally. Recognize those things over which you have control (making those calls everyday, staying hopeful, etc.) and let go of those over which you do not (the state of the job market, people who don’t return your inquiries, etc.) and keep moving. Remember, it may take longer than you’d like, but if you stay in the game, you will have a successful transition.

Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Job Market Update

The doom and gloom on the street and in the news with unstable capital markets has all employers looking at their hiring practices more carefully. The slow down started about 10 to 12 months ago with a gradual decreased in new job starts. Over the past month we have seen a sharp decrease in new jobs (roughly 30% drop from a year ago) as everyone is concerned about the recession. A year ago there were multiple opportunities (3 to 4 interviews in a week) to active candidates, today the same candidate may have one interview. There are exceptions to all of this but in general tougher times are here.

We see critical hires being made along with replacements to key positions that have been recently vacated. Only a few companies are growing and adding head count. Most are sitting back and waiting for a more predictable economy that will reduce the risk of over hiring and spending.

As 2008 comes to a close we predict a significant decline in newly created jobs between now through the end of the year. We do not see any significant growth in the early part of 2009 unless the following takes place.

1. Better than expected holiday season and better than expected Q4 corporate earnings resulting in more confidence that the worst may be over.
2. With better than expected results in Q4 a change in the volatility in the capital markets will need to take place if it hasn't already.
3. Companies who have been able to stay profitable will need to have the confidence that business will continue to do well and the investment in human capital will not result in layoffs 6 to 9 months down the road.

Companies will be conservative, there will not be great demand for talent all at one time but a slow and steady increase of jobs should take place from the February/March time frame if all goes well.

If you are looking for change now, you better work hard at it, once Thanksgiving is here there will likely be very few new jobs available through the end of January. If you are looking for career growth please be patient, your ideal job may present itself but if it doesn't in the near term you will likely see more options at the end of Q1 next year.

For the hiring managers or employers thinking that there is a flood of candidates on the market with ideal profiles think again. Employed candidates are cautious and only willing to change if the job really helps their career growth and move to a company that appears to be in very good financial condition. Candidates who may be part of a reduction in work force may be motivated but may not have all the skills you require. There is nothing wrong with developing people if they have the talent and satisfy most of the technical requirements for your opening. You could be better off bringing in a motivated person who will be up to speed before your ideal candidate becomes available.

Happy Hunting!

Bryon McDougall

Sunday, November 2, 2008


In sports, the most successful athletes and teams are usually the ones who can effectively make adjustments. The player who has multiple facets to their game, the one who can successfully adapt their performance to exploit the environment they are operating in, usually prevails over their opponent. I think the same can be said for business, and job search.

Clearly things have changed in the job market over the last three months. And chances are they will continue to change in the coming months. For those who find themselves in job search or career change mode during this time, having the ability to adapt to market conditions will be critical for their success.

Because our marketplace is changing, what job search parameters that worked for you in the past, may not necessarily work this time. In previous blog entries we’ve talked about adjustments relating to job search methodology and approach. Another key element to consider is changing your own expectations.

One usually enters the job market with a basic set of parameters of what they are looking for when it comes to role, industry, salary, growth opportunity, location, etc. When the perfect storm hits, all of these things may come together. When that happens, obviously one should seize that opportunity. That perfect storm is more likely to happen in a robust job market. However, right now we’re looking at modest job growth over the next year, thus that perfect storm is less likely to hit. Or, it certainly may take a lot longer than it did a year ago. Plus, now unlike the last two years, their may also be more individuals in transition competing in the market for that perfect job you want.

Given these circumstances, on way to give yourself a more competitive advantage, and shorten your job search is to adjust your own expectations. You may want to reconsider the parameters of what is the “the perfect job.” Perhaps what you choose to pursue now, in the short run, could be the job that is most perfect considering current market conditions.

I’m not suggesting that one settles for any form of employment. But if the job is close to the mark, not perfect, but good enough, it may in fact be the best you can do for yourself right now. And by relaxing some of your requirements for role, salary, industry, and location, you may be giving yourself an edge over your competitors who are turning down reasonable opportunities, because they are holding out for that perfect job. Unfortunately for them, they may be holding out for a while.

--Steve Hernandez

Visit Alchemy Career Services:

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

I just finished reading The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni (who is most well known for the best selling The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) and found it particularly interesting, given the times we are in. What do you think he has identified as the three signs of a miserable job?

He says the three signs are: Anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement (a word that you won’t find in any dictionary). He says about anonymity that “People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority.” About irrelevance he says, “Everyone needs to know that their job matters to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment.” And finally, about immeasurement, he adds, “Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.”

Not everyone will agree if these are the right or best signs of a miserable job, but they are thought provoking and serve as a reminder that each one of is ultimately responsible for a sense satisfaction (and lack of) in our jobs and careers. Certainly, there are many things about our work that are annoying and beyond our control, but even on the worst of days, we can find ways to be happy and fulfilled. The challenge is keeping things in perspective and not letting the “miserable” aspects of a job dominate our attention or allowing ourselves to get too caught up about things over which we have little or no control.

I try to guide my clients to find for themselves the proper balance between control and acceptance, and then use that awareness and understanding to move forward in their work and lives. Some days this is easy, and others it is hard and daunting. However, by paying attention to how we see and interpret the ebb and flow of our work lives, we can choose how best to respond and react to those circumstances. This, I believe, is the way out of a “miserable” job or career.
Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Transition in a Wobbly Economy

As the Presidential election nears, the questions on most people’s minds are: “What’s going on with the economy and what can be done to ‘fix’ it?” For people in job search or career change mode, this translates into, “How are my chances affected by the state of the economy?” There is no doubt that these are important questions, but I believe people in transition should focus their attention and efforts in a different way.

Instead of looking at the macro data and trends (the downward move of the stock market or the unemployment rate, for examples), I believe it is more important than ever to look carefully at what you have to offer in the way of skills, accomplishments, energy, and how you can add value for a future employer. Your ability to clearly and confidently articulate what you can bring is the key differentiator and determinant in if and how you move toward your aspirations.

In times of downward change, where competition for positions is likely to be intensified and where employers are going to be very choosy, you must be crystal clear on who you are and what you have to offer. I often have my clients develop and rehearse a “mission” statement that includes why and how they do what they do and how those are of benefit to a potential future employer. This is then followed by a detailed analysis of one’s best and most liked skills, ranked in order of importance for you and potential employers.

It is also incumbent on you to make networking core to your transition strategy. We have written about this before, but in a downward economy, who you know (and who you can get to know) will make the difference in how you work your way through your transition. I recommend setting a weekly goal of at least two networking meetings, one with someone you already know and one with someone new.

And, of course, your interview skills must be sharper than ever. A good interview begins with the recognition that your mind set, that is, your ability to be positive and confident, is as critical as what you say in the interview. Furthermore, you must fully prepare and practice if you are to be a successful interviewer. Preparation includes: Researching the organization you will be interviewing with; developing a clear agenda of what you want to say in your interview; recognizing that you can guide the interview in ways that serve you. Practice is also essential, both to calm your nerves and to work on those areas that might present you with particular difficulties (for example: Why did you leave your last position? Or: What makes you the strongest candidate for this position?) .

Transition is difficult in a struggling economy, but you can turn things in your favor by focusing on those things over which you have control. As noted above, these include: Being clear about what you have to offer, networking regularly and consistency, and becoming an excellent interviewer. Let us know if you need assistance on any of these. Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, September 28, 2008

BE PROACTIVE IN YOUR JOB SEARCH--contact organizations directly

As the Bay Area job market slows down, it’s going to be even more important for job seekers to practice proactive job search strategies. One of the most effective proactive approaches I encourage my career clients to pursue is contacting organizations directly.

When I compare job seekers who struggle to get interviews with those who maintain a strong level of interview activity, I usually see a difference in their approaches. The ones who struggle tend to be more passive about their search. They rely heavily on job boards, and then versus customizing their resume to match the opening, they send the same resume in for jobs they see posted. Usually they aren’t sure who even posted the position, or who is receiving their resume. They are completely dependant on the recipient of their resume seeing them as a fit for the position.

They may also have their resume with a few recruiters. Working with recruiters certainly enhances one’s exposure to the market; however, one still must wait for the recruiter to decide which, if any job, they want to contact you about. That’s as far as most job seekers usually go.

I believe looking at job boards and working with recruiters is a basic necessity for your job search. However, you shouldn’t stop there. The people I work with who tend to have the most interview activity, certainly use job boards and recruiters, but also spend time working with and expanding their network. Linked In, , is probably the most popular networking tool out there.

The most significant edge I see in successful job seekers utilizing is reaching out to organizations directly. A few weeks ago, I showed a career coaching client of mine a web site where one can find companies in different locales within the Bay Area. When we visited a few of the company web sites, she was amazed that jobs she was qualified for were posted on the company websites, and not posted on mainstream job boards. Doing a little homework, and finding leads that the average job seeker is missing can feel like discovering gold.

For more information about how to target and identify prospective companies of interest, as well as learning what to say once you’ve contacted them, check out Alchemy’s Career Services practice:

--Steve Hernandez

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Finding Time for Networking

The following is a composite of clients I have known over the past couple of years:
James, currently in the midst of a job search, began his story with, “A few years ago I made a horrible decision . . . and I’m still paying the price today.” The decision involved staying at a high paying job that he disliked, instead of returning to his home town to take lower paying, but much more satisfying job. In the intervening time, he has gotten divorced and relocated to the Bay Area to work 10 hours a day at something he considers, “very disappointing.”
As you can imagine, he is frustrated, angry, and even embarrassed. He claims he has no “time” to change his situation. After listening to his story, I asked how he has been conducting his job search. He answered, “Craigslist, Career Builder, HotJobs, and trying to connect with headhunters” who aren’t returning his calls, because his resume, impressive in many ways, shows no real focus or direction.
We talked about the importance and necessity of networking and he vehemently responded, several times, that he had no time for this activity. I then asked him to step back from the job search to analyze how he spends his time each day, and to his surprise, he found he has 30-90 minutes of “discretionary” time each day. Once he got over his shock and apologized for his “stubbornness,” he recognized that even if he used a minimum 30 minutes a day for networking, in a month’s time, this would create options that would not be possible through posting resumes and responding to job openings.
We then focused on where he could begin his networking. He swore to me that his key connections, of which he has dozens, were “old” and hadn’t been contacted in years. We spoke about how he could approach these people (“I know it’s been a long time, but I want to let you know that I’m in a transition period in my work life . . . and I could use your help and advice . . . . “) and once he had his “script” worked out, we finished our session by having him create his “Top 20” list of people to contact in the weeks ahead. And even if he calls just half of those people, think about the doors that might open for him . . . .
Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Ease your transition back into the job market.

In my career coaching practice I work with many clients who have had significant time away from the conventional workforce. They work with me seeking assistance on re-entering the marketplace after a long hiatus. Sometimes they’ve been away as long as twenty years.

In most cases they’ve been out of the workforce for an extended period because they’ve been stay home parents. I’ve also had clients who took time off to care for sick relatives, extended sabbaticals to travel, or recovery from serious illness. Now, because their personal/life circumstances have changed, they find themselves seeking work in a new world of work. That task can be especially challenging in a tenuous job market, such as the one we’re living in now.

When I work with clients who are embarking on a job search after a long hiatus, one of the first things we delve into is skills identification. We make lists of what technical skills they have. We also spend time talking about their intangible qualities as well (communication/interpersonal skills). I ask questions like, what types of things are you good at? What subject matter do you know well? In what areas do you have unique expertise?

What we’re trying to accomplish is identifying what skills and experiences this person has that may be valuable to employers in today’s marketplace. Sometimes it’s easy to find connections. Often it’s difficult, especially if the individual has been out of the workforce for more than five years. In these cases, depending on what career field they seek to enter, additional training, education, and new exposure are necessary. It can be a long process.

With these realities in mind, it may be prudent to try and stay connected to the workforce during your hiatus. Clearly, if you’re taking a long sabbatical traveling around the world, this advice is not feasible. However, if you’re going to be taking time off of work, and living in or near a marketplace where you might eventually re-enter, staying connected to it as much as possible is a good idea.

What can you do to stay connected during your hiatus? You can try and work part-time in your field or one that is related. You can you take classes to stay updated on the latest software or technical pronouncements in your field. You can you get involved with professional associations that keep you connected. You can you do volunteer work that keeps your skills sharp, or teaches you new ones. You can incorporate professional networking into your lifestyle, wherever it may fit. And finally, as you get closer to potentially having to re-enter the workforce, you may want to consider working with a career coach to assist you with your transition.

Alchemy’s Career Development Services works heavily with individuals struggling with the challenges of career re-entry. For more information about our services, contact

--Steve Hernandez

Friday, August 15, 2008

"How's the job market?"

The most commonly asked question in any interview is “How’s the Job Market”. I believe the question when asked to me is more or less a question that will provide some assurance or expectation of how I will be able to help the candidate or client locate the right company or person. Regardless of the job market the best people and companies succeed. I have been in search for 16 years and like to comment about what is always in demand and then mention what we currently see in demand for Accountants and Finance people.

Candidates success is largely due to consistently managing career growth, continued development of working knowledge and having the proper career expectations. The better businesses make sound decisions on direction and how they hire to meet their product and service demand. What changes are the number of opportunities available based on current economic conditions. Currently the economic conditions are volatile and so are the number of jobs available. Many of the jobs available today are not open because the company is growing. Why is a company hiring? That is should be your first question to understand if the role is right for you. Finding the right job is a challenge. Because everyone has a different goals and backgrounds it is best to talk with many people including career counselors, friends, mentors, family members and recruiting professionals to help identify the right situation.

What is always in demand are technical abilities that are up to date. In addition companies will always need people to run the basic functions to ensure corporate governance and compliance. Anyone who can do and be capable of managing is also key to job stability and are always attractive to hire. Lastly all of us need to show some individual growth regardless of the growth of the business you work in. Stagnation (doing the same thing year over year) is not attractive to almost all employers. The issue here is accepting change and challenges. This is something that does not need to happen each year but in order to move to a new job or company a track record of improvement and change will be necessary to be attractive to any potential employer.

We have many opportunities for CPA’s who have backgrounds in technical accounting particularly in International Accounting Standards, FAS 123R, in addition to SEC reporting and Revenue Recognition experts. There has been a recent increases in openings in Internal Audit and a sharp decline in the number of Financial Planning and Analysis roles. Overall we have seen a 5 % decline in the number of opportunities from 3 months ago, this is consistent with the economy and capital markets. If you are having a hard time locating a job now, keep the faith and continue to push as August is typically one of the slowest hiring months of the year due to individual travel and business priorities. We believe that we will see an increase in the number of jobs available in September and October based on cyclical activity although there will be few jobs available this September/October than a year ago.

If you have questions about your career path or the market I can be reached in the Pleasanton office 925-227-0700 x203

Happy Hunting!

Bryon McDougall

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Importance of Culture and Context in the Career Transition Process

I recently facilitated a workshop for the leadership team of a small organization where the focus was on understanding how culture and context intersect with the roles people play in their organization. I was reminded that people in job or career transition also need to pay attention to the culture and context of potential employers and to make the connection between their skills, values, and goals with that culture and context

To begin with, when doing research to determine target employers, it is vital that you learn about the nature of their business. It also is important that you are clear as to how each prospect matches who you are and how you work. Paying attention to potential fit as you move through the transition process will enable you to establish a clear sense of priorities as you decide who your future employer will be.

Furthermore, as you go through the interview process and are thinking about potential employers, it is in your best interest to assess what it will be like to work there once you get and accept an offer. Saying yes to an offer just because you need the job or because your skills are a good match is rarely enough to ensure that you will be happy or successful in your new endeavor. You need to think very carefully about what the actual, day to day, experience of working there will be like and I recommend that you talk with potential co-workers and colleagues before accepting an offer.

Finally, once you’ve said yes and started work, you must quickly learn about the culture and how things actually get done in your new environment. Your ability to adapt to and work within the norms of your new culture will have a lot to do with getting off to a great start, and will also determine how your job and career will blossom over the ensuing months and years.

Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Interview Process

I work with many clients to prepare them for the interview process. Whether it’s for an initial phone screen or the multiple rounds for this: Since most of us interview infrequently and only out of necessity, our interview skills are usually rusty, at best; because the perceived stakes are high, our anxiety and expectations often trump our typical competence and confidence; and, because it’s not always clear what the interviewer is looking for, we aren’t sure how best to respond to their inquiries.

To insure you do the best interviews possible, I recommend the following: First, be very clear about the messages you want to communicate during the interview; secondly, develop a full complement of compelling stories that give credence to each of these messages; and, finally, know and be able to clearly articulate the value-add that resulted from each of your stories.

In regard to messaging, whether you have a long career or are just starting out, each of you have one or more underlying themes that describe you, your career, your motivation, passion, talents and skills. This is the “glue” that holds a career together and your ability to articulate these themes will help you to make a coherent and convincing case as to why you are a strong candidate for the job for which you are interviewing.

Even the best messages, however, are insufficient if you don’t have the right stories to back them up. For every major theme you offer, you must have several stories that provide the necessary evidence, and these stories should also show your range of motion, adaptability if you will, and paint a picture for your interviewer that you are both capable and confident with what you bring to the table. I encourage my clients to develop as many “accomplishment” stories as they can when preparing for their interviews.

Finally, and perhaps most important in today’s job market, is your ability to know and clearly articulate the added value for each of your stories and accomplishments. This value add may be a quantitative or qualitative change, or some of both. Whether easy or difficult to put into words, you will have a distinct advantage in the interview process if you can consistently speak about the results you achieved in your work.

Steve Hernandez and I do a lot of interview coaching. Feel free to contact either one of us if you need help in improving your interview skills. Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Monday, July 7, 2008



In working with my career coaching clients, one of the most difficult challenges is helping them to figure out who they really are, and what they actually want in a career. They have an especially hard time figuring this out when they are tasked to stop paying attention to external influences, and try listening to their own internal voice. Usually, they end up rediscovering themselves on their way to figuring out a new career.

Thinking about WHO YOU ARE can be difficult. Life’s experiences take us down many roads. When it comes to jobs and career, decisions are often made randomly, through happenstance. Most of my career change clients would say that they either fell into their current career by chance, or were pushed into it by external influences.

Thus, at certain stages of our lives, we may have had strong ideas about who we are, and what we wanted, but as a result of influences from family, friends, college, economics, military service, marriage, children, moving, health, and other random events, we can easily lose ourselves through the course of adaptation. I’m not saying that adaptation, change, and randomness are necessarily bad things, but often our values, interests, and dreams get packed away with the hope that they’ll resurface when the time is right. That time may very well be when one feels the push for a career change.

This push may present itself with the feeling of not being quite sure what type of career you belong in, but knowing for sure that you don’t belong where you are. When you feel this way, you should ask yourself a few questions: WHO AM I? What are my values? What interests me? What types of people do I like to spend time with? What am I good at? Then, depending on how you answer these questions, ask yourself where this person would be most happy. If you’re not sure, it might be time to contact a career coach.

--Steve Hernandez

Learn about Alchemy's Career Services Programs

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What is the Process?

When potential clients call, they always want to know what the process of career coaching is. Embedded in their query are three specific questions: “What will we work on?” “How long will it take?” and, “What results can I expect?” These are critical questions to ask before embarking on a career coaching process, not to only to understand what you are in for, but also to know whether the process will be worth your time, effort, and money.

The first question, what will we work on, is person-specific. What this means is that the work is adapted to your needs, your style, and your readiness. So, when you first contact me, I will ask to know about your most urgent or pressing questions and issues. For example, are you early in a job search and needing to learn techniques or are you further along and stymied by specific parts of the process? Are you wanting to make a career change, and if so, are you clear about your new direction or do you need helping in deciding among competing possibilities? I will also want to understand your style and temperament. Are you an extravert or an introvert? Are you aggressive, assertive, passive, or shy? Are you a linear and concrete thinker or are you more organic and intuitive? And, I will also build your readiness into the equation, so I will be exploring your motivation, your sense of urgency, and adding my assessment of how disciplined you are likely be in the process. All of these factor into what we will work on, how we do the work together, and of course, is subject to adjustment throughout the coaching process.

The second question, how long it will take, which I addressed in a previous blog entry, is indeterminate because much of the process is beyond your control and mine. In general, however, I work with clients for 3-5 sessions before they have enough clarity and structure to move the process forward on their own. Sometimes, one session is enough, and other times, many sessions won’t do the trick. Once I sense that your momentum is self-sustaining, we will be done with our work. I do, however, often continue to meet with clients on an as needed basis to help get through stuck places, waning motivation, or to deal with specific issues, like negotiating a job offer or dealing with a problematic work situation.

Finally, you can expect to achieve close to a 100% success rate, meaning that you will get your issues and questions resolved. There is a large caveat, however, and this has to do with your willingness to stay with the process long enough to achieve those results. This implies that you are both the owner and driver of your career development (I’m your guide and facilitator) and that you develop the patience and persistence to see it through to the finish. When I’m asked about my success rate, I answer that the process works for everyone who is willing to give the necessary effort.

Let me know if you have additional questions about career coaching. Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Monday, June 2, 2008


I recently read an article at called Today’s Accounting Crop: Spoiled Rotten? The theme of the article is centered on how CFOs and senior finance professionals view the career expectations of today’s new accounting professionals entering into the corporate job market. Though the content of the article speaks specifically to the accounting and finance profession, I think the points discussed apply to many professions within the Bay Area job market. Actually, not long ago my brother-in-law who is an executive level engineer with a major technology company spoke to me about how he thought today’s junior engineers enter the job market with unreasonable expectations about career growth.

Many senior managers remember when they got started in their careers, they accepted the unofficial requirement of starting at the bottom and working their way up. By contrast, today’s junior professional wants it all now! The impression is they expect high pay, significant responsibility, and rapid career growth the minute they walk in the door.

Generationally, most of today’s senior management professionals are usually Baby Boomers, and in recent years Generation X folks have also moved into this group. When both of these generations entered the job market for the first time, the world of work, and career expectations looked a bit different than they do today. One needed to start at the bottom, take less pay, work long hours, and perform tasks that were less developmentally stimulating. If one did well, they would eventually move into a role of greater responsibility, with good pay, and strategic significance. People also tended to stay with organizations longer. Even though it may not have been reality, there was a sort of unwritten contract that if someone did good work and stuck around, the organization would take care of them.

In the1990s things changed. People changed jobs a lot more frequently; companies got bought, merged, consolidated, re-organized. Employees learned very quickly that organizations could no longer make guarantees of long term job stability. Baby Boomers and Generations Xers had to learn to evolve to this new world of work. For today’s new professional it’s the norm. They approach opportunities with shorter term goals and expectations. They look to gain as much substantive exposure as possible in order to enhance their long term career sustainability. They are just as committed to hard work as baby boomers and generation Xers, but they expect a more immediate return on investment for their efforts.

When it comes to hiring, to overcome the generational divide and attract talent, Baby Boomers and Generation Xers should be careful not to compare or frame their own early professional experiences, challenges, and agendas, with the goals, and expectations of today’s junior professional. At the same time, today’s entry level professional should be aware and appreciate that most senior level decision makers entered the job market at a different time, where longer term commitment to the organization, and more gradual pragmatic career progression was the norm.

Alchemy Career Services conducts workshops on generations coming together in the workplace.

--Steve Hernandez

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How Long Will It Take?

One of the most frequent questions I get about career coaching is “How long will it take?” I’m tempted to respond with, “It will take however long it takes.” While true, this is not a helpful response to a sincere inquiry from a person needing information on how much longer they will have to deal with the pain or anxiety of whatever transition they are going through.

The reality is there is no way to say how long coaching will take. There are three reasons for this. First, if your issues or questions are simple and straightforward (for example, “I need to update my resume,” or “I need to practice for an upcoming interview.”), I might be able to accurately answer that it will take a session or two. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that even these direct questions can open up other areas of discussion (for example, “I keep getting stuck on the interview question, ‘What are my career goals.’”). If your questions and issues are more complex (“I’m unhappy at work and don’t know what to do about that,” or “I’m applying and interviewing for jobs I’m qualified for, but keep getting rejected.”), we may need to meet for several or more sessions and even then you may still have significant work to do.

The second reason for the indeterminate length of career coaching has to do with the discipline you bring to the process. Obvious though this might be, the impact of career coaching does not happen in our sessions, but rather results from the action steps you take when you aren’t meeting with me. It has to do with the regularity of your out of session work, the lessons you learn from that work, and your ability to apply those lessons as you move forward. The more adept and disciplined you are, the quicker the process will move.

A final and less obvious reason, but at play no matter what’s going on for you, is that most of this process is not in your control. There is also a great deal of non-rationality in the process and given the vagaries of the current job market, you can do everything right and get poor results, and conversely do everything wrong and get lucky. Many people, even seasoned professionals, get frustrated by this aspect of the process and often act out in unprofessional ways (Instead of the follow up inquiry, “I’m checking to see where you are in the hiring process,” becomes an exasperated, “Why didn’t you contact me on Friday as promised.”). Recognizing that you have limited control is a key to moving through the process both more quickly and more smoothly.

Regardless of how long it takes, the career coaching process can help you to feel more hopeful about your future, as well as teaching you strategies and techniques for achieving your goals. Feel free to contact Steve Hernandez ( or me any time with your questions and inquiries about career coaching.

Mark Guterman

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Quarterly Job Market Update

Last quarter my update was more or less status quo when compared to the previous quarter in regards to employment opportunities in the Bay Area. Most people I talk with were asking about a recession which translates to companies thinking there are more people available and people thinking few companies are hiring. At that time we did not see any effects on employment from the overall economic condition. The layoffs in the Homebuilding, Mortgage, Real Estate and Airline industries has increased the unemployment rate but has had no material effect on the candidate pool for CPA's, MBA's, IT and HR professionals.

Three months ago Alchemy had the same number of opportunities available compared to the previous six months. But the number of jobs we have available now compared to my last blog entry have come down slightly (less than 5%). We see slower growth across the board although some companies are growing quickly. The companies that are growing more quickly and have a market presence may be seeing more candidate applications now than at anytime in the previous 6 months. If you are trying to get into one of these high flyer's your are in a very competitive situation. The slower growth businesses are focused on more critical hires and may try to reduce costs and get by with what they have in an attempt to increase profits or to prepare for what might happen with the economy in the coming months. Don't be surprised if these companies are highly selective as they are not typically in a rush to make a decision. This will likely change once the capital markets become less volatile and the economy has an over all sense of stability. The need for additional human capital will be more evident and the number of qualified people will likely not change.

There are many good jobs available, if you are in the market and know you want to move now is a good time. Corporate hiring typically slows down from the beginning of July to early September. The slow down is due people not being available to interview and managers waiting until their vacations are over before bringing in new people to the team. If you wait you may find that there may be fewer options and the options you have will not come to offer stage for weeks after your initial interview.

I hope this helps, please reach me if you like to talk about your current situation.

Bryon McDougall

Sunday, May 4, 2008


A few weeks ago I listened to a program on NPR called America's Labor Challenges The program was primarily focused on the economic landscape of today’s American workplace. It talked a lot about the financial disparities between corporate senior management and the average worker. It also focused much attention on the decline in worker benefits, and the challenges today’s worker will have laying the foundation for a fruitful retirement. The program offered useful, thought provoking information, but painted a dismal future. After listening, I felt pretty discouraged.

Later on, on my way home from work, I listened to NPR again. I heard more depressing information about our economy: job loses, retail store closures, increased real estate foreclosures, rising gas prices, inflation, etc., not an uplifting way to end the day.

While I was listening to this program in the car, I thought about how many other people in the Bay Area, and the entire nation, were also hearing the same information. I then thought about how this information, combined with all stresses in both our work and personal lives, can feel so overwhelming. It was certainly weighing on me. So, I shut off the radio, and turned on my iPod instead. To me, that action represented an effort on my part, though minor, of intending to be happy.

The events I just described motivated me to write about how being happy at work, or in life for that matter takes effort. For most people, happiness in any capacity usually doesn’t come knocking on the door. We have to make efforts to attain it. When it comes to our work lives, environment, demands, and market conditions can make it especially difficult to find emotional satisfaction. This makes me think of that saying, “if work were fun, it wouldn’t be called work.” What does that mean? Perhaps we agree to this outlook, so we don’t have to accept the challenge of intending to be happy while at work.

The next time you’re having a rough day, and are feeling cynical about work and the system we live in, here are a few things to think about, that may help you feel better about your circumstances.

n You could be living in a third world country where just having a job is treasure.
n Does the work you do stimulate you, challenge you, make you feel good about yourself? If so, hold on to that. Doing the work you do, makes putting up organizational annoyances worth it.
n Is your work meaningful? You may have to put up with many ridiculous roadblocks on the way to trying to get your job done, but in the end, what you do has a positive impact on the world. That’s why you do it. Focus on that.
n Does your work enable you to make a good living, so you can afford life in the high priced Bay Area? If so, hold on to that.
n Does your work give you the flexibility to pursue meaningful activities in your personal life? If so, hold on to that.
n Are there people at work who you consider friends, who make you laugh and feel good about yourself? If so, reach out to them in your times of crisis.

The point of this list is to say that despite all the challenges and work-related misfortunes that we might encounter, there are always ways to make ourselves happy. We just need to have the intention. However, if you look at the above list, and see nothing that applies to you, it may be time for a change.

For more information about job change and career development, visit:

--Steve Hernandez

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What’s It All About, Mark?

Several weeks ago, I connected with a friend and former colleague after more than a two year absence. When she responded to my e-mail asking how she was, she told me about her 48 year old brother who had died suddenly of a heart attack several months ago. She gave some of the details and concluded her story with the line, “What’s it all about, Mark?” Her question was particularly poignant because her work and life, from an external view, are filled with success and meaning. Her question brought up a couple of things worth considering.

The first is that her inquiry and the related questions of “Why am I here”” and “What meaning does my life have?” are profoundly human questions that we all grapple with at various times in our lives. Are they challenging questions? Yes. So tough, in fact, that many of us choose to deal with them only when forced to during times of duress, pain, or crisis. Do they have certain, final answers? No. And this makes many of us feel lost or life has little or no meaning because we can’t find answers to them.

I understand the need to answer life’s “big” questions, but it’s important to remember that it is in the asking and the struggle with the questions themselves where our sense of significance comes from. Virtually all spiritual traditions remind us that the questions can never fully be answered, but we can choose to engage them with our full being. As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke said, “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in foreign tongues . . . . Live the questions raw.”

The second thing that came up for me is the importance of staying connected and just how challenging that can be. We get so busy and caught up in the urgencies and dramas of the day that we simply forget about the importance and power of our connections with others. In moments of quiet we think, “I should call or e-mail so and so,” and the thought passes, time passes, and before we know it, we have lost contact with the very people who add richness and meaning to our lives. In more pragmatic terms, job and career transitions are much easier and smoother if we stay connected to the important people in our lives. Perhaps, it’s time to call that one special person we haven’t talked with in a long time . . . . Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Listen to others, but stick to your own career plan

Job search candidates and career clients of mine often ask me how much they should be making, and what level within their organization they should be at, given their experience. These are important questions, because generally salary and growth are two of the top five biggest reasons people change jobs. In previous blog entries I’ve encouraged people to do research, find out their worth in the marketplace, as a tool for career planning.

At the same time, is the information you’re given by third parties about what you should be making, or what position you should hold within your organization, enough to influence your career decisions. The point I’m making is how much stock should we put in other people’s opinions, when it comes to our own career planning?

As a recruiter, I run into this situation all the time. People often say things to me like “my friend, (who is in the same career), makes 10% more than I do, but my experience is much stronger then theirs.” “I want to get to the salary level where I should be.” Or, they might say, “how is it that is my old colleague is now a director, while I’m still a manager, yet I have more years of experience managing a team?” I usually respond to these types of questions, by saying it all depends.

Why people who have similar backgrounds and years of experience don’t stay on the same paths for salary and position growth depends on many factors. It can depends on their exposure, their performance, the relationships they’ve build, timing, market conditions, industries they’ve worked in, and luck. People forget how far a little luck will take you.

With these points in mind, yes, it’s still important to network, know what your peers are doing, how much they are making, and where you stand within your field. At the same time, it’s also important to remember not to put too much emphasis on comparing yourself to others. Everyone has had different experiences; they bring different talents to the table; and they’ve had different degrees of luck! Heed the information you receive, yet remember your career belongs to you. Your path is unique. Stick to your plan. Make your career choices based on what’s best for your individual values and goals, not what your peers say you should be doing. Staying true to your own career plan will bring you much more happiness in the long run, even if your friend with less talent makes more than you.

--Steve Hernandez

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Designing Your Future: Re-Visited

At the beginning of the year I wrote an entry that focused on the three competencies necessary for “Thriving at Work in 2008.” I want to re-visit and discuss more fully the second of these, Designing. My reason is that most of us pay attention to designing our futures only when we are worried or anxious about the present, and in my experience this is not the most effective way to manage a career.

Designing is the ability to picture and create a future built around our talents, values, and aspirations. We need to be designing our future, not just when needing to change jobs or careers, but as a consistent and regular part of our work lives. The skills needed to develop this competency include: Values clarification, goal setting, gap analysis, decision making, development planning, and market research. When fully developed, this competency leads us to a sense of clarity and confidence, enabling us to be fully ready to move into the future.

To begin with, how well do you know or understand your talents? Talents are those qualities and gifts each of us is born with that may or may not have nurtured over the years. However, as we build our work lives around our talents, we find ourselves not only being more successful, but work feels easier, more natural, and we more often experience a sense of “flow.”

Next, how clear are you on your values? When you think about what’s most important to you in your work and career or what gives you a sense of satisfaction at the end of a day or week, can you identify and articulate what that is? As you come to know and claim your values, you are to likely to derive both meaning and satisfaction from your work, and future job and career decisions will be easier to make.

Finally, what do you dream about and what can you really see yourself doing in the future? You may have chosen your job or career path for pragmatic or security reasons, but perhaps it’s time to sit down and ask yourself what it is you most want to do with your work life. Even if you don’t change anything about your job or career, I believe it is worthwhile to ask yourself now and then, “What do I most want to do with my work life?”

We are offering a new, two session course, Thriving in the Changing Work Place, that focuses on how to develop these competencies and the attitudes that support them. I’d like to invite you to join us so please check out the web site for specific times, locations, and fees.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Networking--a useful tool for updating your resume

A few weeks ago I talked about the importance of understanding what your target audience wants to see before you update your resume. However, if one hasn’t looked for a job in several years, and is updating their resume for the first time after a long hiatus, where do they go to find out what their target audience is looking for today?

The suggestion I make to the above question is networking. Before you send your resume out into the world, you should gather information about what’s happening in your profession. A good place to start is with the friends and colleagues you’ve stayed in touch with from previous jobs. Reach out to them. Find out what they are doing. Ask what they are seeing in the marketplace. Find out what types of skills and backgrounds are in demand. What industries at hot? What types of companies are hiring? How much are people in your niche making? Ease into your networking by first contacting people you know will respond and keep your search confidential if appropriate.

Next, ask your close contacts for leads of people they know. These folks will expand your network, and because they don’t know you, they are more likely going to give you objective, unfiltered information about the marketplace and your overall value within it. You can also talk to recruiters. They are a good source because of their knowledge of the marketplace and information about local salary ranges. Be careful about the confidentially factor. Ask your colleagues for referrals of credible recruiters. They and the ones at Alchemy Search Partners are most likely to be helpful and keep your search confidential if you’re currently employed.

There is also a lot one can do on line to gather information. Monitoring the job boards is a good idea. Seeing what jobs are currently posted in your marketplace will give you a sense of what types of backgrounds and skills are in demand, and you’ll get a picture of who is hiring. Another useful place to go for networking and information gathering is Linked In, Linked In is a great tool for professional networking; one just has to be willing to reciprocate when it comes to giving others information to help their career along.

There are also a few web sites one can visit to gather statistical data and job descriptions: and The data at is more general and skewed by region, but it could be helpful for grasping basic job descriptions and getting to a starting point on salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just want is says a statistical website, but it can offer valuable information about job growth and demand within your field.

There are many resources one can use to gather information about demand within their chosen career field. However, I still go back to grassroots networking; talking to people, as the most productive way to jump start your job search. For more information on these topics, reach out to Alchemy Search Partners at

--Steve Hernandez

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Selling Yourself in Your Interviews

A current client has been wrestling with how to sell herself in her interviews. She is torn between the story she believes is the most true about her (that she is hard working, dedicated, and committed to doing the best work she can at any given point in time) versus the specific accomplishments that have come about as a result of her efforts. She prefers to tell the former, but as she goes through her interviews, she is beginning to realize that potential employers seem to be more interested in and tuned in to the latter.

It may be obvious that her best approach is to tell a combination of her own perspective and while at the same time being clear about how her work adds value for her employer. She, herself, may not put as much stock in the actual numbers, but she is becoming increasingly aware that unless she willingly communicates these numbers, she will always be at a disadvantage in the interview game. So, our coaching has helped her to tell stories that begin with: One of the things that makes me good at my work is my dedication to always giving my best effort in everything that I do. A recent example of this includes a project, where I . . . and then she goes on to detail the specific things she did that lead to a measurable result.

Regardless of how one forms and tells their stories, the strongest and most impactful ones will have at least three elements in them (in no particular order):
A brief and clear description of the steps, skills, and behaviors utilized to accomplish the task;
A report of the results achieved, in value-added language whenever possible;
A statement about how the two above make you unique and stand out from others who may have similar skill sets and achievements

By telling your stories in this way, you will have a much easier time selling yourself in your interviews. You will obviously need to give plenty of thought to crafting, and even rehearsing, these stories and the more stories you are prepared to tell this way, the more likely you will do well in your interviews. Best wishes in your job search.

Mark Guterman

Monday, February 18, 2008

Updating your resume after a long hiatus

In my previous blog entry, I described the current Bay Area job market as transitional. I say transitional because we’ve yet to feel an across the board slow down in hiring. However, economic indicators point to a slow down at some point in the near future. How significant, we won’t know until we’re living in it. With that point in mind, I’ve encouraged those who seek to make a job change in 2008, to do so earlier in the year (now), versus later.

One of the first things one has to do in order to get a job search started is update their resume. This can be a challenging, especially for those who have not looked for a new position, or have been out of the job market, for a while. When I work with folks in these situations, the main challenge they encounter when it comes to updating their resume is where to start. What items need to be added? What items should be left off?

To me, one of the best guides to keep in mind while crafting your resume after a long hiatus is to consider who will be receiving it. Who is your targeted audience? Once you determine that, you can then anticipate what kinds of skills and experiences they might be seeking from prospective candidates.

I believe, even a general resume, not necessarily targeting a specific position, should still have a theme to it. Before you sit down and start writing your resume, you should have a career objective in mind. What type of position do you seek? What types of companies/organizations do you what to work for? Who will probably be reviewing your resume first? Do you know the backgrounds of your audience and what they look for? Ask yourself these questions, before you start typing; answering them will help you establish a starting theme. Updating your resume is not just about chronicling your work history. If you’re not sure of the answers to these questions, then the best way to find out is to conduct research and start networking. These topics will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Alchemy’s career services practice can assist you in preparing your resume.

--Steve Hernandez

Friday, February 8, 2008

Job Market Update

In my first Blog I promised to update our readers on a quarterly bases on how the job market is doing. The difference between now and last November is that the deaded "R" word (recession) comes up in every interview and I am expected to give some insight as to what it means to each candidate.

Here is what is going on in the Bay Area for Finance, Accoutning, HR and It opportuinties - There is no slow down....yet. We have more opportunties to talk about with our candidates now than in November of 2007. It appears that there is a strong demand for candidates for senior staff positions in all functional areas and there is a slight decrease in Director and Manager roles. In addition there is a continued demand for technical roles in Accounting and fewer jobs that focus on planning and analysis. Many industries we support - Financial Management, Hightechnology and Biotechnology are healthy and continue to grow.

A survey discussed hiring trends for the first quarter of 2008. In it 29% of employers were looking to increase head count, only 7% were looking to decrease, 60% were anticipated no change with 5% unsure.

We did see a slow down in December. We feel the slow down in hiring was not due to economic factors but the fact that hiring managers and candidates were not available during the holidays.

During the last recession the Bay Area was behind in the curve in terms of when the recession impacted or job market. If you think we are headed into a recession and you are looking to make a change, now is the time to do it before your choices of opportunities become more limited. If you are bullish take your time, I will update you on the market in a few months.

Happy hunting!

Bryon McDougall

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Job Change is Simple and Not Easy

Even when you are completely ready and motivated for what awaits you, the change process is stressful. Add to that the often non-rational aspects of a job search and it should come as no surprise that changing jobs is often not as simple or as easy it looks.

With this in mind, there are several things you can do to ease your way through the job search and minimize your stress:

· Take steady and regular steps in the process and work at a pace that is right for you. Each of us has a rhythm and pattern that works best for us—find yours and stick with it.
· Take care of yourself. During times of stress, we often forget to do this. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and eat well.
· Be sure to spend time each day to appreciate yourself, those around you, and for what you have.
· Reward yourself when you have had a particularly productive day, conducted a great interview, or have made contact with a key connection.
· Take “time outs” from the process, as needed, to re-energize yourself.

Another aspect of managing a job change is to see the trajectory of your entire career and to recognize that this is but one part of a larger journey. This change, whether big or small, needs to be seen in the context of your entire life (and relative to what’s most important to you) and of your career (think of past changes, future changes, and how you have and will successfully navigate those). Keeping this job change in perspective will help minimize any stress you are feeling.

Changing jobs is a fairly straightforward process, but it is often accompanied by a fair amount of stress. By following the guidelines above, you will have a much smoother journey and be much more likely to achieve the goals you’ve laid out for yourself.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Job search in a transitional market

I describe the current job market conditions in the Bay Area as transitional, because we’ve yet to feel the full impact of a slowing economy from a hiring perspective, yet economic indicators point to a slow down in employment in the coming months. When I ask my recruiter colleagues, both inside and outside of my firm, how things are going, I receive similar responses: things aren’t as robust as last year, but they are still busy working on searches for key roles.

What I’ve seen personally in the last six months is a decline in demand for senior management to executive level positions, while the demand for middle management and senior-level individual contributors has stayed consistently strong. What does this mean for the 2008 job seeker? Stay tuned, because as employment is a lagging indicator for the health of a local economy, I think the Bay Area employment climate will evolve in the next six months. However, there are things one can do to take advantage of the current transitional employment situation. In the coming weeks I will share more thoughts about job search in a transitional market.

The point for this week is DON’T WAIT! Right now, I believe it’s prudent to seize viable opportunities as they come. If you were planning on waiting until the middle of the year to make a job change, due to a slow down in the market, a viable opportunity may not be available to you in the next six months.

If you are currently in the middle of a job search, and waiting for that PERFECT opportunity to surface, you may want to rethink your parameters. Get it, while the getting is good. Given that it looks like the Bay Area economy may be slowing down, that PERFECT position may take longer to obtain than you initially thought.

Finally, and this point goes back to what I said about not waiting to get started, plan for a longer job search process. As demand slows, so will the availability of opportunities, thus it may take longer to identify the right opportunity for your next career move. Thus, you may want to start your transition process sooner, and plan for it to take longer.

For more insights about the Bay Area job market visit:

--Steve Hernandez

Friday, January 18, 2008

Age Discrimination in the Job Search

In response to several clients who are in their 50’s and in anticipation of our upcoming workshop, Job Search for the Over 50 Crowd, I’ve had some thoughts regarding age discrimination in the work place. As an older Baby Boomer (I’m 59), I understand that age can be a real issue in the job search.

First of all, age discrimination, like many other types of discrimination, is a real phenomenon. It is often masked when we hear about being “overqualified” or in never having our calls and inquiries returned. And, yes, it is illegal, and yes, you can choose to fight and complain and even sue someone over it. In the big scheme of things, however, I believe that the best way to deal with age discrimination is to make a convincing case that your age is a non-issue.

This begins when you develop the attitude that your age doesn’t matter and that for you, it’s an irrelevancy in the job search. This means that you approach everyone in your job search with an open mind and open heart and that even when you experience obvious discrimination that you not let it affect your approach or mind set.

Once this attitude has been established, you will want to be able to tell your story in a clear and compelling manner, making no apologies for being somewhere for many years, having the same job for a long time, or using that terms and language that might be trendy. Instead, you focus the particulars of your story around the value that you consistently add with your work, your depth, your wisdom, your consistency, reliability, and your flexibility. And of course, you must have examples of each of these.

Finally, it comes down to the fact that most people get hired based not just on their background and competence, but on the relationships and connections they have built over the course of their careers. As someone over 50, you may have a real advantage here if you have been diligent in building and nurturing relationships. If you have not been consistent about this, now is the time to begin. Networking, which is key to a good job search at any age, becomes a key strategy for those over 50. I recommend regular informational interviewing, even when not actively looking for a new job, including talking with people who are in your field, people who are not in, but near your field, as well as anyone else who has ideas, information, advice you would find useful.
Best wishes in your job search.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pay Attention! Don't get caught off guard at work.

I recently met with someone who had been laid-off after working for roughly 15 years with the same employer. His job search is moving slower than he anticipated, mainly because his skills and experience are fairly specialized, primarily specific to the organization he worked for. He’s now at a point where he’s anxious about his prospects, and feels he may now need to take any job that will accept him, versus pursue an opportunity that suits his career goals.

In expressing empathy for his situation, I commented that I understood his angst, disillusionment, and frustration, at being thrown into this situation so suddenly after providing his organization with 15 years of good work. His response to my comment surprised me. He said that he actually “saw his lay-off coming a year-and-a-half ago.”

He worked at a divisional office for a national firm, so about a-year-and-a-half ago he started to see corporate enact policies that decreased the autonomy of is local branch. He saw reorganizations reduce his staff and scope of responsibility. He began to see closed door meetings that he wasn’t invited to. Finally, he witnessed his biggest advocates in the organization be forced out. All the signs were in front of him, that his job was in danger, yet he didn’t act.

Over the years, I’ve heard of many situations similar to this one. I’ve seen people read the signs and act, and I’ve seen many do nothing. I believe the reason people often choose not to take action, even though they’re sensing trouble, is because change is stressful. Most people find change of any sort unpleasant, especially when it’s as emotionally taxing as job change. Thus, even when one’s work situation becomes uncomfortable and seems to be deteriorating for the worst, they may carry on and simply hope things change for the best. Sometimes they do. But, if they don’t, one can quickly find themselves in a difficult job search situation -- especially as the economy slows.

To avoid this situation, the first step is to pay attention. When you see signs that indicate things are going in a negative direction, take steps to ensure that you’re not caught off guard. What could those sign look like? Perhaps you see reorganizations that keep decreasing your responsibility and importance to the organization. Maybe your relationship with your boss has become strained, and instead of improving, it’s getting worse. Have you been passed over for promotion on more than one occasion? Have you become a “lame duck” within your organization? Do people care about what you think? Are you not being invited to key meetings that effect your department? A big distress sign is when you see people coming and going on interviews within your department, and you’re not being told what position they are interviewing for.

Also pay attention to signs that indicate larger scale organizational instability: decreasing revenue, or funding; reorganizations and lay-offs in other departments; heavy consolidations, mergers and acquisitions within your industry; an economic climate that adversely impacts your industry.

At the same time, I’m not suggesting that one should “jump ship” at the first sign of adversity. I believe it’s commendable to stick with an organization, especially one that has taken care of you, through difficult times. Taking action to protect your career doesn’t necessarily mean starting a full blown job search. If one is sensing trouble at work, there are things one can do to prepare for the worst case scenario, while still doing good work and investing in your company’s future.

Here are examples of proactive activities one can do, before it’s necessary to take extreme action: update your resume; network with peers and professionals outside your organization; make sure you’re aware of what skills and experience are currently in demand within your professional space; become aware of who is hiring within your industry; gather information, talk with recruiters, but make sure you’re comfortable with their commitment to your confidentiality.

-Steve Hernandez

Learn more about Alchemy’s career service programs:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Thriving at Work in 2008

Happy New Year!

This is a time of potential and possibilities and you might find yourself wondering: How do I make this the most successful year of my career? I believe that it happens when we focus our attention and develop ourselves in three areas of competence.

The first competency is Performing, which is the capacity to do whatever is in front of us as well as possible and to recognize that what we do now has impact on the future. Performing is the key to insuring that we are consistently adding value with our efforts. The skills associated with performing are: Taking initiative, knowing your job/field as well as possible, creative problem solving, written and verbal communications, conflict resolution, team dynamics, and discipline. When fully developed, this competency results in excellence and a sense of mastery.

The second competency is Designing, which is the ability to picture and create a future built from our talents, aspirations, and values. Designing needs to be practiced, not just when we need to change jobs or careers, but as a consistent and regular part of our work lives. The skills needed to develop this competency include: Values clarification, goal setting, gap analysis, decision making, development planning, and market research. When fully developed, this competency results in clarity and confidence.

The third competency is Changing, which is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and our capacity for changing our minds and behaviors when necessary. Our ability to change is how we navigate successfully from the present to our designed future. The skills needed to develop this competency are: Understanding of the change management process, keeping your resume and interviewing skills current, networking, intelligent risk taking, and listening. When fully developed, this competency results in agility and resilience.

Each of the competencies is important, but we thrive when we are tending to all three. By paying attention through formal or informal study, development, and practice, you’ll not only do better, but you’ll find yourself feeling better and more able to handle whatever the future holds for you. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2008.

Mark Guterman