Career Ideas–Understand Failure

One of the most famous stories about seeing failure in a new light is about Edison.  A reporter is said to have asked how he felt about having failed in thousands of experiments trying to make a lightbulb. Edison replied, I haven’t failed once. I found 9,999 ways to not make the lightbulb.

Einstein too had many failures, including a critique of Neils Bohr’s work which didn’t take into account Einstein’s own theory of relativity. As a career coach (with plenty of my own “failures” along the way, including how I chose my previous career), I often deal with clients who see their careers or their current career as a failure.  Sometimes it’s because they just got fired.  Sometimes it’s because they are stressed out in the wrong job.  Sometimes it’s because they don’t know where they are going in their lives and already middle aged. To deal with such perceptions of failure with my clients, I need to do 2 things.

First, isolate what the failure really is, and see if the person is not overgeneralizing much about a mistake, blowing it all out of proportion, and leading to bad decisions such as suddenly leaving a job. For instance, when they say they never do job interviews right, I want to know what they mean by right and wrong. Maybe they just mean that they tend to answer one question out of dozens during the interview in a way that hurt their chances, something that can happen in the best of interviews. Maybe they mean they offended someone by their view on how things should be done. We can review these answers and see if they were excellent answers that just didn’t match with the particular interview.  These answers do not mean the person is a failure at interviewing and needs to go hide his head. In fact, interviews are two way streets where you are evaluating the employer as they evaluate you. With a two way process, the answer that “failed” with the interviewer may be the one that helped you realize this wasn’t the place for you.

Second, even if the specific “failure” or mistake was real and significant, the next question is not–Are you ever going to get interviewing right, but What did you learn. It’s hard to learn new things if you don’t see something as needing improvement, and when we see failure it really focuses our attention. So failure is success, as Edison realized, in that it is a core component of succeeding and learning.  In coaching yourself, look at your failures to see if you are overgeneralizing (for instance, I didn’t finish the project on time again so I’m never going to succeed in this job). Narrow down to what the problem actually was and then go ahead and see what you can learn and do differently from then on. With all that in mind, check out this video from Honda about failure and how innovation and change depend on pushing things until they fail in order to really learn something new.


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Text © 2009 by, Leonard Lang.  Feel free to pass on this article as long as you include the copyright notice and the link to

Career Coaching–It’s All About the Questions (mostly)

This week I spoke with a few people about coaching and how problems get solved in career coaching.  People asked how I work or what I would do as a coach if faced with this situation or that.  One wanted to know in detail about my processes.

It’s always great when people have these questions because it forces me to get clear again for myself as well as them about the process of coaching.  It’s also a great chance to overcome misconceptions people can so easily have about career coaching, if they’ve never experienced it.

The people I spoke with this week all got it that coaching isn’t therapy of any sort and knew that it was a tool to help people help themselves get out of ruts, get a vision, make a plan, do the plan.  What I did find myself talking about was how a lot of coaching isn’t me answering questions (though some of it is) but asking them.

After all it’s only by questions that the coach can even know what’s going on for the person in terms of their passions and interests and challengs and difficulties.  It’s also a way to help clients look at things from different perspectives.  My favorite is when someone says something like,

“I like construction except not full time so I’m thinking about some carpentry work which is pretty good.  Of course I’d love to have my own catering business, but that’s not going to happen so maybe what I need to do is…

And I just back them up and ask, “Why isn’t that going to happen?” In other words, I start uncovering the reasoning and feelings and assumptions that led to that resigned conclusion about something they’ve identified as a prime passion.  Usually, they have obstacles, but what they really love to do turns out to be very practical and possible.

Or sometimes it’s not–they aren’t going to play quarterback for the Packers at age 49 (unless their name is Favre and they keep making comebacks maybe), but I can ask more questions about what they love about catering, for instance, and find out that it’s about being involved with creating delightful things for people.  We can then go through questions and discussions to figure out what that might mean besides catering.

It’s really quite fun and engaging for the clients as well as for me of course.

Of course, there’s a lot more to coaching than questions.  It may include examples and models, can include advice, and in my case certainly includes many kinds of creative problem solving processes and activities.

But it’s imposible to do coaching without the question, and the bottom line question people are really asking me when they ask about coaching is this:


Can this really help me truly solve my career challenge?  Or is this likely to lead me to my ideal lifework or career?

To answer yes, the coach has to have a very pragmatic orientation, even when talking first about career dreams, as I like to do.   But it’s not possible for the coach to answer yes unless the client also says yes–meaning they have to be willing to commit to solving their problems, and to take the time to do the homework (I give lots of homework so clients move quickly on their own as much as possible). and be open to new ideas for their careers or job searches.

Check out a related career coaching post–I’m Smart, Competent–Why Would I Need  a Career Life Coach?




Obama’s Online Portfolio–Visual Resume

Yesterday, I wrote about job search and related visual resumes or portfolios online, and today I see from Allison Doyle of on Twitter that our new president, who’s team is always on the cutting edge of online things, has a visual resume.  You wouldn’t compare yourself to him in terms of background for a job search (unless you want to be president maybe), so no need to compare yourself in terms of all the videos and the depeth of his resume site from a tech perspective either.

WIth that in mind go on over to his visual resume.

The Emerging Social Media–Visual Resume/Portfolio Trend

As with everything else in the career and job search front, the expectations keep rising for what you can or should do online.  That’s apparently becoming true of resumes.  There are many sites to post your resume, usually with a variety of standard but helpful templates.  You also can easily post your resume with a URL that at least includes your name. 

Most sites still offer pretty standard looking examples and templates that seem helpful but not much different from resumes 20 years ago (except they are online).  But there are also newer options to consider like more dynamic pages, with more photos, live links, examples of your work.

Graphics designers and artists have quite a number of sites for portfolios, but to extend this concept to the rest of us is what’s emerging now.

Some call it the social media resume, though this can mean anything from listing your Facebook URL to extensive use of YouTube video links, audio, links to blogs and other profiles, RSS feeds and even the chance to track visitors to your resume through Google Analytics.

They blur the line, if there is one, between a qualifications resume and your own website or blog or page on Squidoo or HubPages.  In fact, people also use social media bios when not looking for work as such, but to have a presence for selling services, products, or just being ready for someone to notice.  People use their blogs soley for this, rather than ongoing posts.

Check out a couple of the visual or social media resume services for yourself here and here, for example.  Here’s a link to a brief blog post about what to be careful about when relying on social media for job searches. 

What do you think?  What’s your experience with online resumes, social media resumes?  Feelings about this trend?  Stories?

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Career Coaching Mantra–Dig Deeper For Your Job Search

I just read a good article in Fortune about job opportunities.  It spoke of possibilities in health care and green jobs, as everyone is.  But what is great about this article is that it illustrates a principle I keep repeating to my career coaching clients and in my ezine–Discouraged?  Then dig deeper.

Digging deeper means, as the article shows, that the horrible unemployment rate (7.2%) is actually much lower for college grads at 3.3% (hint for anyone wondering about the value of completing college).  By digging deeper, you may find such relatively encouraging statistics to replace the more depressing ones we keep hearing.

 It also means finding what is opening up even in fields that are otherwise depressed.  For instance, construction has over a 13 percent unemployment rate, but maybe if you are an expert in green construction–a rapidly growing field, you may be able to stay afloat and be in great shape as the economy takes off again.

The article also points out that unemployment may be hitting some companies very hard while others may be hiring.  You have to know where to look. Don’t assume every company in a field is in the same situation.  Dig deeper. It also points out that being able to move can give you a big advantage, especially if you an executive.   Not every city has the same opportunities for every field.  Dig deeper.  According to Fortune, “ researchers looked at metropolitan areas around the U.S. and found that out-of-work executives have the best chance of getting a new job in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, two cities where the ratio of candidates to openings is lowest (3-to-1). … Los Angeles is the most crowded (hence most competitive) executive job market, with a 7-to-1 ratio.”

Of course, digging deeper can give you info that is not encouraging, but still necessary.  For instance, if you assume hospitals are steady places for jobs because medical care isn’t a luxury (and please tell that to your legislator this session), insurance pays claims, etc.  But hold on.  All the VPs I talk to even here in Minnesota with a great health care environment, are upset with the layoffs they were forced to make.  This includes nurses and is due to a lot of red ink on the books.  One friend of mine was a successful manager at a hospital for over 30 years and was laid off. 

I’m not adding that to discouarge you (and especially not into going into nursing or managing in health care which are still expanding fields over the long term).

What I do suggest is that generalizations and headlines often depress us or mislead us without intending to.  If you are want a job in a particular field, dig deeper than the usual classifieds and headlines about it.  Go find where the openings are–the specific companies, the specific cities, the specific niches in the industry–and seek results there.

Good luck with your virtual shovels!

© 2009 Leonard Lang and .  Feel free to reprint this article as long as you include this entire copyright notice. 

Remember to sign up for my free creative problem solving and career ideas ezine for more articles and special offers.

Keep Writing those Cover Letters

So with all the brevity online with Twitter and emails, maybe the wordy one page or multi-paragraph email cover letter is as archaic as the typewriter.   An online resume is more than enough, right? 

No so, according to study developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm.  The firm interviewed 150 randomly chosen senior executives at top coporations.  Executives said cover letters were very valuable (23%) or somewhat valuable (63%) and only 14% said not valuable at all.

In addition, your competitors are sending cover letters, as 80% of the execs said cover letters were either very or somewhat common.   

You can check out the the full news release on the OfficeTeam site.

Career Idea–Get Grateful, Get Happy, Get Effective

Eric was 16 and knew it all so had no reason to participate, apparently, in a journaling class I was teaching.  We got along OK, and respected each other, but he wasn’t exactly a great contributor in attitude or ideas to the group.  But after I gave one assignment to the group–he came back the next class and participated instead of just joking or hanging out in the back with his crew and interrupting.  In fact, he wanted to tell everyone the incredibly good experiences he had because of the assignment.  Probably half the class had good experiences they told, and the others just hadn’t done it.

I’ve taught journaling classes to 10 year olds and seniors and most everyone between.  I’ve taught them to improve your health (yes there’s good evidence for that), to be a writer, and to explore your spirituality.  But this exercise that Eric liked is some kind of universal that works with everyone who gives it a try no matter why they are journaling. I also use it sometimes with career coaching clients

The activity is simple, fast, and easy–what more can you want?  In the version I give, I ask people to keep a gratitude journal for 5 minutes a day at least 3x a week for the length of the course, which varies. 

It may sound obvious to some of you or corny to others, but it makes people happier, more relaxed and more energized in my experience.

In recent years, I’m finding support for this very old idea in very new research.  Here’s a nice summary of some of it from PsyBlog.  I was surprised to find that there were better results form doing this just once a week vs. daily or 3x as I had recommended. 

The key I find when I’ve used the exercise (myself and with others) is to make sure to pick things that you actually feel grateful for and don’t get caught up in what others may say you SHOULD be grateful for.  If everyone says you should be grateful you weren’t hurt badly when someone totalled your car and you’re just feeling angry–don’t list that in your gratitude journal.  You might consider it, but don’t put down what you should feel.  Do put down even small things that you are grateful for.  You’ll know the difference.

Why is this a post in my career ideas blog?

Simple–if you’re getting stuck lately (or any time) on lousy economic news, lousy work or personal news and getting pessimistic and unhappy, you are not going to be effective in finding a new job, deciding a career or even being your best at work wherever you are now.   On the other hand, if you can find things that are positive in your life that you actually feel grateful for, you will change your mindset   Or rather, thinking gratefully has a cascade effect and automatically changes your mindset. 

To put it simply–it makes you happier.  But here’s the point even some of the researchers may not be noting–it makes you happier by CONNECTING YOU TO YOUR OWN LIFE.   That kind of happiness will always get you more creative, more engaged, and more hopeful, too–which is what I saw in Eric. 

Who knows?  It might even make you happier with your current work when you thought you had to leave, and that might rub off on that annoying boss or colleague.  Well, optimism is good too.

© 2009 Leonard Lang.  Feel free to reprint if you list the copyright and a link to this site,



Keeping Difficult New Year’s Career Resolutions

Here’s a common career question I get as a career coach and an answer I wrote a couple of years ago at that start of the new year that has helped my clients and ezine readers get clearer about what they need to do.


CAREER QUESTION:  I tend to pick difficult New Year’s resolutions (begin a new career, double the size of my business, make lots more money, meet a romantic partner, lose a zillion pounds) and wind up just dreading them and feeling as if I have failed.  Do you have a creative way to overcome this stuck point, other than just abandoning these kinds of goals?    

ANSWER:   What’s your deeper goal?  If your resolution was to lose weight, is your deeper goal to be healthier?  Then find many ways to meet that goal, not just the one way represented by your specific resolution.   In other words, give yourself many paths for success in getting what you really want, and with the small successes you will feel encouraged to continue as well with the more difficult original resolution.

The idea here is to meet your deeper, underlying desires and needs and not get stuck with something you feel overwhelmed by, as if that’s the only path to fulfilling your desire.  Get more ways to move forward.  With even small successes, you’ll have motivational fuel to get beyond the stuck point of your original, difficult resolution as well. 

Say you want to lose weight.  Ask yourself why?  Maybe it’s to become healthier.  Then find other ways of becoming healthier that may have nothing to do with weight, such as by taking a vacation (reducing stress, improving health) or meditating.  Or by eating healthier, even if you eat the same number of calories and aren’t on a reducing diet.  Don’t drop the specific weight loss goal if you feel it’s important.  Find ways to make that happen too, but add other small (and large) ways to succeed with your deeper desire.   

Or say your resolution is to switch careers.  Ask why you want to switch careers.  Maybe to do something you are more passionate about.  Then think of new ways to enjoy your favorite passions more hours of the week.  If you can’t incorporate, for instance, your passion for the outdoors and hiking into your work, maybe you can take a walk in a park during lunch or before or after work.  If one passion is making fabulous meals, then do that and maybe even get paid, such as catering your friend’s 40th birthday party.  Continue to look for a better career that you might feel passionate about that includes the outdoors and hiking or includes cooking, but with the idea that this is now just one way to meet your larger goal of feeling more passion in your daily life. 

© 2006–2009 Leonard Lang

I’m Smart, Competent–Why Would I Need a Career Life Coach?

Here’s a very fast 3 question quiz to help answer that question:

Being smart and competent will certainly help you during coaching, but it doesn’t tell you whether or not you need a career life coach.  That boils down to 3 questions:

1. Are you eager to go to work, usually feeling passionate and fulfilled in your job and career?

  • If you answered no, go on to number 2. 

2. Do you know what new career/job you would like instead?

  • If no, think about coaching.  If yes, that’s great, and now go on to 3.

3. Are you making progress toward you ideal career as fast and effectively as you’d like?

  • If no, think about coaching.

If you answered yes on 1 OR 2 AND yes on 3, you probably don’t need coaching.

© 2005–2008 by Leonard Lang

Creative Ideas to Avoid Layoffs and Find Career Niches

The New York Times reports that companies are recognizing the value of retaining good, proven employees even during the recession.  Instead of relying solely on layoffs, some are trying other approaches that cut down on labor costs while making sure that employees can hold onto their jobs.  This also means that the company doesn’t lose reliable workers who know their business.

It’s not from any warm and fuzzy feelings that organizations are doing this but because companies today measure the productivity and value of their employees more carefully (or think they do), and recognize that they can’t afford to lose good workers. 

“A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules. These employers are still cutting labor costs, but hanging onto the labor,” reports the NY Times article. 

If you are a manager who’s been asked to trim costs, please consider these more creative options.

And if you are out of work, but understand these kinds of issues, there’s a BIG opportunity for you to succeed if you can carve out a niche as a workforce saver who can still save money. 

In other words, as I tell my coaching clients who want to just hunker down during a recession and avoid working on their real career dreams—with any big changes in the economy (good or bad), comes big opportunities for anyone who knows how to keep organizations succeeding in the new circumstances. 

So if you are creative and alert to the idea of opportunity, this recession, as awful as it’s proving for many people, does also provide new niches to pursue if those match your passions and skills.





Which Career Is Best–Career Ideas for Artistic Student

I wasn’t happy with the other answers I saw to a career question on Yahoo this week, so I answered it. It was from someone apparently just starting to look for a career, someone with lots of artistic interests who didn’t want to be focused just on making money. Since it is the most foundational of all career questions, I thought I’d share my answer, slightly expanded, with anyone coming to this blog too.

Q: How do you know what career is best for you?

As a career coach (in Minnesota but working nationally), I often work with clients who are doing great financially but are just miserable in their careers. They light up when they start following their passions instead. So I can say that beyond the cliché, it’s generally true that following your passions WILL make you a lot happier than following only the money.

So what to do? For now, why not pursue all or many of the artistic passions you mention by taking classes if you are about to go to college (or are in college)? Now is your chance to experiment and learn about these arts and about yourself.

Keep your eyes open–notice what specific things you really love to do, not just dance, for ex., but what kind of dance you like and what role. Choreographer or performer? Part of a group, couple dancing, soloist?

Notice where you are willing to be persistent and not mind “failures” vs things you only like when they are going well. That will clarify which are more likely for day–to-day work and which are more appropriate for your hobbies. I think keeping a log about what you like is great too as you’ll start noticing patterns that will help you decide on a major.

Get help from others while in college or taking classes instead of being a passive student. Talk to teachers, other students, and people in these arts for a living (informational interviews) to see what careers look like from the inside. That way it will be easier for you to decide.

In other words, do follow your passions, noticing what really suits you and isn’t just this month’s whim.

How to Choose A Career–Tips from the MBA Application Process

Here’s a career idea that can be another aid in helping you choose a career, even though it is intended for a more narrow purpose (where it’s also useful).

Yesterday, I posted links to a Wall Street Journal study about the finanical value (or lack of it) for an MBA.  Here’s what I think is a very cool follow up.  It’s from the University of Virginia B school, but here’s the thing.  What she’s saying on this video is is ALSO relevant to ANYONE thinking about career choices in general–not just about MBA programs.

For instance, she talks about asking people who know you when they’ve noticed that you were most excited or most frustrated in the past few months.  She suggests that applicants use this as a way of writing a good MBA application essay (and not bore the heck out of the readers). 

But don’t be fooled.  You can also mine this information to help you find what you have real passion for doing and what is challenging and what is just not your cup of tea. 

Others can’t tell you what you should be doing. Tests can’t tell you.  Even career coaches, all knowing as we (think we) are, certainly can’t.  However, people who know you CAN give you concrete examples of what they’ve seen that can help you get clearer about what kinds of things you consistently love.  It’s up to you (with the further support of friends, family, and possibly career coaches) to see how to tap into those situations to decide what kinds of careers match those situations. 

In other words, you are a detective and these are clues about your happiness.  Sure, the exact thing that you were passionate about may not be the career you will choose (say teaching your girlfriend how to ski).  But it may well give you info about how much people interaction you want, how much you want something where learning or teaching is important, etc.

So watch the video and see if her essay suggestions spark some good thinking on your part or that of your friends and relatives.

If you want me, your friendly career coach, to write more about how to use your passions to determine your career, post a comment or send me an email.  

If you want some info about career coaching, also send me an email or check out my business site

So here is the YouTube video from Sara Neher, Darden’s Director of MBA Admissions (University of Virginia)