Introducing Mid-Life Career Change 3.0: Realistic, Timely and Driven by Solutions

careerchangeboxGet ready for Career Change 3.0 

Are you using Version 1 of your word processing software?

Or browsing with an aging version of Explorer?

Or talking on a land line with a cord and a rotary dial?

I bet your answers were, “No, no and  hell no!”

But most people are still using outdated versions of career change and career strategy,
based on beliefs going back to the 1950s.

Introducing Career Change Version 3.0

Your parents or grandparents changed careers with Version 1. This version operated like a computer program. You’d enter your interests and aptitudes (based on a pencil and paper test) and out would come a list of job titles. Too bad you couldn’t get excited about becoming a florist or a funeral director.

Version 2 was a little more sophisticated. You might take some assessments but you’d really get into heavy-duty navel-gazing. You’d ponder questions about what to write on your tombstone and dream about your ideal career … which seemed very far away.

Version 3 changes the way we think about career change.

  • Nobody gives a hoot about job titles.
  • Research shows that most people don’t change careers in a linear fashion and what’s more, they never did. We replace “vocational aptitude” with “joyful serendipity.”
  • Your career change is all about creating, managing and capitalizing on serendipity.
  • You’ll probably get coached or seek out consultations – not counseling, unless you’ve also got personal issues.
  • Your next career might be a business, a sabbatical, or a totally different role in the corporate world.
  • Sometimes the BEST way to figure out your career challenge is to focus on some other area of your life.
  • Contrary to popular belief, a geographical move might transform your career.

“Same career, same job, new challenge?”

“But what if my strategy isn’t about finding a new career …I’ve got to choose between two offers, decide whether to accept an offer in Outer Montana, or deal with this totally ludicrous performance review.”

You’ll still get better solutions when you work within the Career Change 3.0 model.  The old advice to, “Play the game and follow the rules” might still apply – as long as you recognize that you’re playing a new game with rules that might have changed as recently as yesterday.

If you’re SERIOUS about making changes, decisions or moves … 

To begin, claim your free report, Career Change Secrets Most Coaches Won’t Tell You. It’s designed to help mid-career professionals take their first steps to making any kind of change. You’ll see why the old myths don’t work now (and some never did). And you’ll learn more about me and how I work with clients like you.

If you’d like to work with me one-on-one, please visit this page to learn how I work. 

Finding Balance

3d businessman in suit ready to take risky stepsWhen people begin to investigate career change, often they don’t want a new career at all. They love their career — but they also want time for creating a life outside work. As a lifetime leisure-seeker, I’ve created ten tips to help you get started on the quest for “more time in your life — and more fun.”

1. Decide where leisure ranks on your list of values. Are you giving up leisure to buy something with less value?

2. Use fifteen-minute chunks to chip away at large projects, especially those you dread completing.

3. Buy leisure time. Hiring a teenager to mow your lawn may give you an hour or more, depending on the size of your property. For a price, your pet-sitter might be persuaded to take Fluffy to the vet and Fido to the groomer.

4. Stop doing things that nobody will miss.

I once worked with a manager who stopped answering requests for reports from “senior management.” When a vice president asked, “Where is your report?” he would prepare one on the spot. Most of the time, nobody noticed!

5. Go beyond “no.” Define the scope of your “yes.”

For example: “I will be happy to help as long as I can do the work on Saturday.”

6. Conserve energy by completing tasks you dread. Procrastination can be exhausting.

7. Ignore the ghosts of, “Everybody else is participating.” Chances are everybody else is miserable — or isn’t doing it either.

8. Prioritize your energy boosters. Meditation, journal writing and exercise will increase your energy and miraculously add hours to your day.

9. Grab a large block of time each week to do exactly what you want. Two hours? A whole afternoon? An afternoon in an art museum (or an evening at a basketball game) will often unravel the knots that keep you going in circles. >

10. Call for outside help if you’re still controlled by the “should” monitor. Find a friend, counselor or coach — someone who can offer you an objective insight and clarify priorities.

Bonus tip: Remind yourself every day: Very few people on their deathbed say, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office,” or, “I should have done more dusting.” Will you be one of the few?

Seven tips to deal with a negative performance review (and ace the next one)

perfreviewcoversmallQ. “I wasn’t happy with my last performance review.  Should I dispute the review? Write a letter for my file? Talk to a lawyer? Or just let it go?”

A.  Most professionals feel you should offer some kind of response.  But whether to respond, and the way to respond, will depend on your company’s culture, the unwritten message and your own career goals.

In some cultures, anything but glowing praise will be viewed as negative. In others, tough reviews are the norm.

Often your boss will be expected to come up with at least one point of constructive criticism. After all, nobody walks on water.  But if you’re being attacked or unfairly criticized, you must explore further.

Sometimes you’ll win more points by taking the review in stride than by fighting.  But in some cultures, a single negative review means you need to start job-hunting right away.

2. Calculate your boss’s strategy.

Sometimes your performance report has nothing to do with you or your performance.  Your boss might honestly want to see you leave the company or make sure the next promotion goes to someone else.

Your boss may be a new hire who is still learning your company’s culture.  She may combine good intentions with weak implementation.

Or maybe your boss wants to get your attention: he’s dropped hints and you’ve ignored them.  Or he wants to help you progress but doesn’t know how to communicate tactfully.

3. Listen for unwritten messages.

Does your company have a category where a low score means you’re headed for disaster?  Does your boss try to tell you, “It’s a great review!” when you know otherwise?

Suppose you’ve been getting terrific reviews – and now you get slammed with a truckload of criticism.  Maybe you really did have a bad year. Or maybe there’s an agenda you need to understand.

4. Get the facts without getting defensive.

 Ask your boss to explain each criticism.

For example, if your boss said your project was delivered late, get dates and times.  If you’re criticized for interpersonal skills, ask for specific instances.

But give your boss a chance to save face.

Anyone can make mistakes. An overworked, harried boss can skimp on her own data collection.  You can say, without confrontation, “My records show I managed six projects, not four. Can we go over this point?”

5. Delay your response.

Ask for a second meeting, explaining calmly that you need time to think. Use the time to collect your backup file. Consider a consultation with an outsider: career coach, consultant, human resources professor – even a lawyer if the situation warrants.

Do not discuss your report or your decision to seek help with your peers. Ever.

6.  Back up a rebuttal with facts, not emotion.

Assemble your own evidence of performance. Collect letters of appreciation, dates and times of project completion, statistics showing how you helped the company.

Often simply placing a rebuttal letter in your own file will defuse the impact of a negative evaluation.  When you’ve had a strong track record, your company will ignore an occasional negative, unless someone has introducedå a new agenda.

Your boss may be ordered to grade on the curve, i.e., assign some employees the “low” category even if everyone’s doing great. And, being human, he may assign those ratings to those who are least likely to speak up.  A strong, carefully written rebuttal will clarify your strength of purpose.

7.  Avoid jumping to conclusions – or to a new job.

When clients ask, “Should I look for a new job?” my answer will be, “When you work for any organization, keep yourself marketable. Maintain your network. Identify reputable recruiters and build ties with them.”

It’s rarely a good idea to share your career change plans with your colleagues or boss until you have a written offer in hand.  And it’s rarely a good idea to accept a counter-offer from your present company. (Over half of all workers who accept a counter-offer are gone within six months, one way or another.)

But if your company wants to send a “Go Away!” message, they may be happy to give you a good reference that reflects your real contribution.

If you’d like to work with me to discuss a performance review, see

You can also purchase this ebook:

Career Strategy: When you win by walking away

quittingbook“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Maybe you’ve heard this line before. I disagree. Sometimes winners are the ones who walk away.

Thinking of leaving a program, course, job or career? Here are some ways to frame the decision.

(1) Are you a misfit?

Example: Carly Fiorina quit law school for a secretarial job and never regretted the move. She was a misfit for law but found her niche in business, ultimately becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

(2) You know the ax is going to fall. Are there gains from resigning in lieu of waiting to be fired?

Some experts say no. Carly Fiorina refused to let H-P soften the description of her departure. “The Board fired me,” she announced.

Sometimes you really can create a positive impression by resigning. But you may lose severance and benefits by leaving voluntarily, so consultations with a lawyer and/or accountant may be appropriate. And often everyone can read between the lines anyway.

(3) Do you need an extra burst of energy to reach the finish line?

Often success comes just past the point when we’re ready to toss in the towel.

For example: You’ve completed all the requirements for a degree except the dissertation. You’re no longer interested in your topic. Quitting can make sense if you’ve got a great job that fills all your time. Quitting makes even more sense if you’ve chosen a school with a so-so reputation.

But a graduate degree can open doors to teaching, writing a book and certain types of consulting, so I wouldn’t bolt too soon. I’d negotiate for a new, more relevant dissertation topic.

(4) Will quitting actually help your resume?

My acquaintance Lionel accepted a low-paying admin job in a non-profit organization. He quit six weeks later: “If I leave now, I can just omit this job from my resume,” he reasoned.

Frankly, I was horrified. Lionel’s savings were dwindling and he had no prospects for future jobs.

Lionel was right. A few weeks later he had moved to a part-time job where he could display his talents. Six months later he was on the payroll of a company with upward potential, as a full-time, satisfied employee with benefits.

(5) Can you wait too long to quit?

Following a scary bout of unemployment, Nancy accepted a low-level clerical position with a stodgy financial institution. The move was supposed to be temporary but she got comfortable. Five years passed.

Nancy needs to find a way to quit. If she stays, she’s vulnerable to layoffs, takeovers and bad bosses, because she’s no longer marketable. Nancy’s first step is to construct a safety net so she can take a big leap while she still can.

Bottom Line: Each decision is a judgment call. No responsible career consultant will advise you to quit. My rule is, “If you need to ask, the answer is no.”

Highly recommended: When everyone tells you, “Never quit!” check out this book from Amazon.

Career strategy: Change of boss means change of job?

careerchangecircusLast week I was chatting with a colleague about the topic of changing bosses. During my own career, I’ve had the experience of getting hired by “Paul” only to arrive and find “Jim” in charge. It’s rarely easy.

I wasn’t alone. In her wonderful (but sadly out of print) book, Thursdays Till 9, advertising superstar Jane Trahey described her first copywriting job at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. She too arrived to find a new boss in place and, as she writes, “I was all hers.” Fortunately, the boss left after a year or so and Trahey soon took her first steps to running the show.

So…what if your boss changes soon after you arrive?

redcheckboxSome people come equipped with easygoing personalities.

Most people like them and they know it. Godzilla could be their next boss and they’d do just fine. Their new boss will probably keep them on because of the likeability factor. It helps if they’re also really good at their jobs, but I know at least one person who thrived simply because everybody liked him and he was just a good guy to have around.

redcheckboxAt the other extreme, managers try to hire employees who will fit in to their organization.

“Jim” feels a spark when he talks to applicant “Harry.” They’re from the same city, fraternity or college. They both follow the Lakers. Or they just click.

On some level, Jim realizes Harry’s a misfit but hey, he’s willing to take a risk. Maybe he knows he won’t be around long and wants to leave the company a farewell gift — someone who definitely can’t be his successor.

And six months or a year later Harry’s working for Julie. Julie soon realizes Harry’s a misfit and (consciously or unconsciously) decides Harry needs to go. Julie needs to look good in this job and can’t afford any loose cannons, which misfits often turn out to be.

redcheckbox Finally, some new managers will decide to bring on their own team, for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

They may be facing a tough situation so they want to get familiar faces around them – people they’ve worked with on previous jobs, so they know who can be counted on. Some honestly believe they need to make some changes in order to establish their authority. Some decide to reorganize the department so they need to hire people with different skills and strengths.

So bottom line, it’s a combination of personality, fitting in and just plain luck. If you’re an edgy personality and/or a maverick, you have to be more cautious and stay more marketable than your more easy-going, easy-fit counterpart. But if someone new arrives, you do need to assess the situation and decide what your next step will be.

If you’d like to talk over your next step, check out the Career Strategy Session. We’ll explore your options and chart out your action steps in a single session. Clients tell me they’ve gotten more out of this one session than three months (or more) with traditional career coaching.


Midlife Career Change: Like Dating Again After A Long Marriage

????????????????????????????????????????????Many people realize they need time to find a romantic partner and you probably can’t just hire a matchmaker.

Amazingly, seasoned professionals expect career services to match them with their soul-satisfying work within a few hours. These tips come from my ebook, Your Twenty-One Day Extreme Career Makeover.

Outside your comfort zone

When you are undergoing a career change, you step out of your comfort zone. By definition, a comfort zone is, well, comfortable. Once you felt in control of a high-powered career. Now you have neither control nor career. It’s frustrating and scary.

When you break up a relationship, you also step outside a comfort zone.The more you had, the more you feel you have lost. You wonder if you will find another partner. Dating is scary and frustrating, and you don’t know the rules, especially if you haven’t done it awhile.

Forget quick fixes

Most modern professionals wouldn’t dream of consulting a matchmaker to find a new mate. They wouldn’t expect to get a list of their five ideal mates, chosen from a few thousand possibilities. They realize they need time for grief and self-discovery.

Faced with a career change, the same people head for counselors, seeking instant answers and easy fixes.

“I want to know that I’ve made the right decision,” people tell me. “And I want to get answers now.”

Sophisticates who scoff at match-making eagerly sign up for aptitude tests. I can’t speak for match-making, but every day I talk to people who are frustrated with the results of their expensive vocational tests.

If you’re an adult with significant work experience, these tests typically show you are very well suited to your own occupation. That’s like saying your soulmate will strongly resemble the spouse you just left.

Co-Create your new career

And, the second time around, you probably don’t seek a mate with “cute looks, great dancer, gets the juices flowing.” A divorced friend evaluates potential mates on “likelihood of taking out garbage” and “coexistence with my cat.”

When successful people contemplate career transition, they soon realize they don’t care about whether a career will “use my math skills” or “let me work with fashion.”

They talk about autonomy, travel, and life purpose — and they realize they have to co-create these qualities in their chosen careers.

Most people reach career goals the way they meet their soulmates: they’re open to meeting people, they’re having fun, and they’re not desperate. Rarely, outside fiction, does someone say, “I need to get married in three months,” and achieve a long-lasting, happy marriage.

“It’s worth the wait…”

People who have learned not to be afraid of solitude can wait for marriage, and people who can handle the displacement of transition will probably find their soul-satisfying career.

Second marriages often are built on a more solid platform than first marriages, and second careers can create lives that are far more meaningful than their predecessors. Yes, it takes time, but it’s worth the wait.

Handling criticism on the job

Many years ago, when I was a college professor, we had a dean who could be more than a little temperamental. Department heads would come out of meetings swearing and upset. They rarely stood up to the dean. (If you’re not familiar with academic hierarchy, deans are like directors and department heads are more like section leaders or managers.)

manshoutingOur department head was an easygoing guy who had seen combat as an Air Force pilot. He used to come out of meetings whistling and he would laugh about them. He said, “This guy’s nothing compared to the flight instructors I had during my training.”

One of the strongest indicators of career success is the ability to respond to criticism, rejection and even harsh, hostile remarks, whether they’re justified or not. Some people easily let critical remarks wash over them. Others have reactions ranging from anger to depression. A few – very few, fortunately – make headlines when they respond with violence.

Dealing with criticism, along with frustration tolerance and likeability, are among the skills you rarely learn in business school, but they predict career success more than many other qualities. Yesterday’s New York Times featured on article, Learning To Love Criticism by Tara Mohr, on the way women handle criticism, nothing that women receive more personal attacks and often do not respond well to any type of critical remarks.

Mohr says, “Many women carry the unconscious belief that good work will be met mostly — if not exclusively — with praise.” Realistically, good work is often taken for granted; praise can come across as a little patronizing, even as a substitute for genuine work. For a long time managers were told that women (and many men) responded more to appreciation than to tangible rewards.

As women become stronger and men become more open about expressing feelings, perhaps some of the gender differences will become smaller or disappear altogether.

Read the article here and tell me what you think.

Great Career Advice: "Not What I Expected"

woodsignpostsQ. “Hi, Cathy. I just took a job that represents a big step up in my field. As part of the package, I was promised a 10% bonus after 6 months. But it’s been nine months, I haven’t seen a dime and my boss changes the subject when I bring it up.”

A. Believe it or not, I hear these stories often. Clients raise concerns whenever they embark on relationships with employers, contractors, suppliers, partners or clients. Here are a few suggestions (and readers may contribute more).

(1) Before accepting a position (especially if you have to relocate), you need to know three things.

(a) What are industry practices regarding bonuses, assignments and other conditions? If your company deviates widely from current practices, you need to know why.

(b) What is your company’s reputation as an employer or contractor? A history of broken relationships should raise a red flag.

(c) Will you get what you need to be effective? Territories for sales reps, labs for scientists, staff for executives, and so on. Don’t let anyone sabotage your success before you start.

(2) Ignore promises of bonuses unless they’re in writing. If missing a bonus would be a deal-breaker, hire your own attorney to review the contract before you sign. Make sure you understand any terms and conditions.

(3) Once a written promise has been broken, raise questions immediately. Deal directly with whoever has power to act.

“Fred,” an accounting student I met in graduate school, was scheduled to teach a course for a local university. A few weeks before classes began, he inadvertently learned that he had been displaced. Someone else had been hired (presumably cheaper).

Fred bypassed the department head, who had no power. He called the Associate Dean, saying, “Ken, I’m really sorry to bother you with this. I know how busy you are. But I’m afraid we have a contract. How would you like to handle this?”

Fred kept his questions polite, even diffident. He told me the Associate Dean muttered a few swear words, followed by a few phone calls. Fred was soon back on the schedule.

(4) Decide ahead of time if you are prepared to escalate.

If your polite questions are ignored, it’s time to go into a legal huddle. Make absolutely sure you understand what was promised. Was this bonus contingent on a condition?

Your lawyer should be the one to advise you now – and no one else. You probably won’t need to consider lawsuits or courts. Most companies will settle.

(5) Don’t ask your career consultant for legal advice and don’t ask your lawyer for career guidance.

In my experience, many lawyers will not understand how their advice may impact your long-term career goals.

My friend “Ruth” negotiated a settlement with a company following a major dispute. Her lawyer warned, “You won’t get a good reference.”

“True,” Ruth explained patiently, “But that’s not important. In my field, my portfolio gets me jobs.”

You probably need to start job-hunting as soon as you question a broken promise – but not always. And even if you remain quiet, you need to consider the hidden story.

And your lawyer can’t be a sounding board as you express your frustration and ponder your next move.

Bottom Line: Nearly all of us learn about broken promises from experience, at least once. I believe it’s better to lay the groundwork before beginning any business association.

Inevitably you’ll forget to consider at least one important element of any deal. But over time you get better and often an hour of consultation can save months (or years) of misery later on. The career consultant helps you figure out what you need; the lawyer makes sure the contract delivers.

I cover a lot more in my irreverent job hunting guide .

Online Education For Mid-Life Career Change

When executives and professionals think of mid-life career change, they often consider a return to school. We’re often programed to associate career development with formal training, and that’s not always a bad thing.

Today you don’t even have to leave home to find a new career. You can go online for career change. In fact, there are so many opportunities for online education, it’s hard to sort them out.

You can take a MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) program from a major university; you’ll usually (but not always) get top notch teaching from leaders in the field. The leaders in this area are EdX and Coursera. Personally, as a recreational learner, I like Coursera: you get longer videos rather than the more intense training of EdX. EdX often requires more outside reading and student involvement.

You can take specialized MOOCs to beef up your technical skills, such as Udacity, or the paid (low-cost) version at Udemy.

You can just go online and help yourself to recorded lectures from universities like Yale and UC Berkeley. You can sometimes find them on YouTube and you might find courses at websites like (which gets outdated sometimes).

Finally, you can get degrees online from universities of all levels. For instance, you can get a library science degree from U of Arizona or an MBA from Syracuse – online with just a few on-campus visits. You can attend a university that’s entirely online.

Of course, online education comes with pitfalls, especially if you choose degree programs. I put together an ebook to help you choose a program that will help your career (rather than just drain your bank account and possibly your credibility).
Learn more here.

And if you’re ready to get serious discuss your own career change, check out this program. Clients tell me we get more done in one call than they usually accomplish in a month or two with more conventional career consulting.

For an overview, watch this video:

Thinking about leaving? Keep the thoughts to yourself.

Thinking about leaving your job for a new one? It’s rarely a good idea to share your dissatisfaction with anyone on the job – boss or colleagues. Use your own phone and email. Give the company exactly the amount of notice you’re required by the policy manual.

In some companies an internal transfer requires pre-approval from your boss. That’s the only exception.

Here’s a good article (it’s the second question answered) from the NYT Workologist. Click here.

If you’d like to discuss your career plans, see

Your First Step to Career Change

jobsearchCareer change often begins with a statement. “I hate my current job. I want a totally different environment. What are some steps I can take to make a move?”

Alas, many career books give a false impression. They suggest that career change proceeds at an orderly and very linear pace. Typically, you are advised to take these steps:

* Look inward to find out who you are.

* Identify your strengths.

* Find a career that matches your strengths.

* Apply for jobs in those fields.

* Live happily ever after.

Of course, an experienced career consultant will tell you this is hogwash. The best guide I’ve found is still Herminia Ibarra’s book, Working Identity. The book’s getting old and out of print but you can find it in libraries and online bookstores.

As Ibarra explains, most career change begins by looking out – not in. Here are the steps:

Come up with a few ideas that might work for you.redcheckbox

Investigate those fields.

Use your network to explore your idea.

Get referred to other sources of info.

Hit a few dead ends and realize your dream job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

 Investigate more fields.

Talk to more people.

Run into an old friend at an airport lounge in the Los Angeles area. He says, “Gee, we’re looking for somebody to take a job in our Chicago office. You’re in Chicago. Interested?”

 Your friend dashes off an email from his laptop. He tells you to call a certain number. You shake hands. You get on your plane for Portland. He gets on his plane for Tokyo.

A few days later, you call the number. The job isn’t anything like what you’ve been looking for. But it sounds intriguing. You go on a few interviews that feel more like social chats with a bunch of old friends. Before you can return a call from your career coach, you’re on a new payroll.

So do you have to take a fatalistic approach?

Not at all. You can give serendipity a little push.

Keep moving. Talk to lots of people. Instead of calling strangers for “interviews for information,” use your network. Apply for LOTS of jobs. Develop confidence and radiate a positive, optimistic outlook.

I’m not being woo-wooey. More research shows that we like to be around others who are confident, energetic and upbeat. The more people you meet and the more friends you make, the more likely you are to hear the magic words, “Gee…maybe you’d like to consider our company.”

And the rest, as they say, will be history.

Teach Your Intuition to Send You a Text Message (Not a Post Card):

No need to do this on your own – check out the Career Strategy Session here.