One day last year I fielded two phone calls, coincidentally within 90 minutes of each other, that span the range of what I do. More specifically, they span the range of attitudes I encounter.
The first caller, who had previously sent me his résumé for review, was an unemployed white-collar worker with a disturbingly choppy career and an even more disturbingly disjointed résumé (naturally). Our discussion, as much as I tried to guide it constructively, quickly became a ranting session for him, blaming everyone and anyone for the mess he was in. The more I asked, the more he went on, and the more he went on, the more his story contradicted itself, conflated his issues, and exposed gaps that he had tried to close by … well … lying about dates and employers. My instinct and my professional inclination to help prevailed—and I took on the task of working with him.
Big mistake. His negativity knew no bounds, and I soon became the next target for him to blame. In 25 years as an independent career coach, I now have exactly three unsatisfied clients like this. Three. Of thousands. I have decided I will never take on a client like this again. He didn’t need a coach; he needed a counselor—and I should have told him. A bad attitude, I always say, is like a flat tire; you go nowhere until you fix it. And with an attitude like that, failure is inevitable. He should have taken corrective action years ago, but he didn’t, which brings to mind my country cousins’ old adage: When you fall down a well, if you don’t immediately begin the effort to climb out, everything will always look like “up” to you—plus your tuchus is wet.
The second caller was a completely different story. Another white-collar professional, this mid-career sales director began with this statement: “I need a coach,” and then explained in strong, positive terms that he’s employed, doing well in a high-level job with commensurate income, but because what he’s doing lacks meaning, he’s not happy with who he is, and he wants that to change. (I get more of these calls than you might think.) He asked pertinent questions about the process, my approach to coaching and how we go about the assessment, goal setting and execution of the plan. Not that he had anything to complain about, really, but he also took full responsibility for the effort to be made and for the ultimate result, whatever that might turn out to be. With that attitude, success is inevitable.
I tell you these stories to establish a message that comes in the form of four maxims, four affirmations and four actions. They speak for themselves, relieving me of the obligation to expound.
The Four Maxims
1. Unattended over time, opportunities get smaller and problems get bigger. There is not—nor has there ever been—an exception to this rule, which, career-wise, is exceptionally hard and fast.
2. One step in advance is longer than 10 steps to catch up. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, in baseball games, the team that scores first wins 67% of the time. Take the first step. Score first.
3. When opportunity knocks, it doesn’t wait around very long for your answer. Opportunity is for opportunists; the rest are left behind.
4. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is today. Once you realize that you need to take action, take it—no matter when. When planting trees, it’s never too late.
The Four Affirmations
1. Understand and agree with the four maxims.
2. Face them full front and head on.
3. Accept that this takes time, but that you can shorten the span.
4. Be ready, willing and able to do absolutely everything it takes. No excuses. No blaming.
The Four Actions
If you are aligned with the four maxims and four affirmations, then I can …
1. Coach you, because at this stage in my career—and life—I will work only with clients like you.
2. Help you on the strategic, tactical, and even existential levels.
3. Hold you to our plan because I know you will hold yourself to it.
4. Help you paint your future, short-and long-term.
That’s a typical day in the life of a career coach. Interesting, no?
Career coach Eli Amdur provides top-notch one-on-one coaching in job search, résumés, interviewing, career planning and executive development. Reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.