CareerSherpas: Climbing the Mountain

When you’re on the way, it helps to share the load

Archive for March, 2011

Answering the Question: What Do You Do?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

I’ve always found the question “What do you do?” to be very difficult to answer. Not one of the jobs I’ve had, nor the direction I’ve taken my career, really fit nicely under any standard description. Sure I have a title that says something about a role I was hired to fill, but what I really do is a bit harder to capture.

At one time I thought I was unusual in this, but the more time I spend talking to people the more it seems common amongst knowledge workers. One of the groups I worked with on a day-to-day basis were call center representatives. Now you’d think that this would be a fairly easy to explain position that had fairly simple boundaries.

Am I right? How many variations can there be on answering a phone?

Well, when it comes down to it there are lots of things that you could be doing in answering a phone, quite possibly hundreds! It all depends on how you see the work and how much detail you think is needed to get the message across.

For example, a person could be part of a service group taking incoming or making outgoing calls. Once you cross that bridge, you could be talking about different tiers of service, whether you’re conducting advocacy calls, sales calls, coaching sessions, training calls or any combination in between. When people are aware of what they do and have some experience behind them, they tend to see more nuances in their work as well.

What sets people apart in answering this question is whether they know why they do what they do. The old story about two men digging a ditch comes back again and again, but still makes a great example:

Two men are digging a ditch and both are asked the same question, “What are you doing?”

The first man replies, “I’m digging this ditch.”

The second man replies, “I’m building a hospital.”

There are lots of things that come out of this story, but it shows a very clear difference of perspective of the value that the worker has of the work being done. The message for leaders and organizations is to guide employees to the kind of purposeful enlightenment of the second man.

If you think about it, both men are working in the same way in the same environment.

Which would you hire? Can you say what purpose your work has?

In any case, what do you do?

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and (periodically) attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Useful Resources: Consulting Firms

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Something to consider any time you’re either at an employment loose end or in need of knowledge to get something done is a turn to consulting firms. They offer a cheap method to finding (or becoming) talent for an organization to fill short or longer term gaps.

In my search I stumbled across this list of consulting firms. As always, your mileage may vary and different offices, recruiters and account reps within the same organization are likely to provide different levels of service.

Have any experiences to share? Share them in the comments below!

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and (periodically) attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Lessons Learned From the Job Search

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Peter Fitzgerald has been chronicling his process of navigating from losing his job to a new and brighter tomorrow. To read other posts from the series, see “Job Transition: A CareerSherpas’ Odyssey”.

As with any project, it’s crucial to take the time after the dust settles to consider the lessons learned in the effort. Assessing what worked and what didn’t work, what you would have done differently and what activities hit the nail on the head gives you better starting point for the next time around.

What Worked?

  • Networking: Keeping touch with people I know and doing my best to help them while I was employed meant that I had a great support structure when I needed it. Moving quickly to contact my network and ask for ideas made for leaps and bounds in the progress of searching.
  • Recruiters: Contacting recruiters was, as almost always, a big benefit. By being both selective and as good a candidate partner as I was able to made for very productive working relationships with a handful of good recruiters. This isn’t to say that I didn’t talk to more, but discerning which recruiters were reliable and working hard with them was a good use of my energy. Communicating what I was looking for and setting boundaries around what I needed to make a position work also made for much better opportunities.
  • Feedback: Both getting and receiving feedback made the time go faster. The best experiences I had were with the opportunities and recruiters who were most able to share feedback as it came in. Being able to share what was working and refine the types of roles where I had an interest and get leads on more!
  • Keeping Track: Making (copious) notes about what positions I had applied for, who I’d applied for them through, and what the next step and timeline was helped plan my days. It also helped to be able to see who had relationships and who didn’t since the groups who didn’t have the relationships were offering the same opportunities with the same few companies. (As a side note, the groups without relationships also offered the lowest rates for the same positions.)
What Didn’t Work?
  • Job Sites: Not a single nibble came from a position posted on any job site. Posting my information on two of the big names actually led to more noise from the body shops without actually helping the search. Your mileage may vary, but anecdotally I’m finding a lot of folks with much the same experience.
  • Free Resume Review Services: I’ve now tried three, and in each case was told that the industry standard was something completely different. I actually went through and built resumes following each of the recommendations and asked for commentaries. The result was that my original resume was deemed the most effective, although I’m still planning on cleaning it up. I have to admit that I have not paid to have my resume professionally re-done, but haven’t been instilled with confidence by the people I spoke with.

What Would I Do Differently?

  • Negotiate Before an Exit: Hindsight is 20/20. Even so, knowing that I was going to be kicked to the curb beforehand didn’t provide the motivation I needed to negotiate my way out. Next time I see the writing on the wall, I intend to be more proactive in talking my way through the layoff.
Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and (periodically) attempting to learn the bagpipes.