Getting Ahead–Are MBA’s Worth It?

As a career coach, I help clients figure out their career vision and dream career(s).   I often wind up reminding them that potential income is only part of that vision, and not the first factor to consider unless you don’t care how you actually will spend thousands of hours of your life.  That’s not to discount the money, if you will, but to make sure you don’t get misled by that factor alone.

But those of you who have a career all set may be considering how to move ahead or simply how to earn more money.  Many in management figure an MBA is the next step.  But is it?  In terms of raw dollars spent in obtaining it vs. dollars earned because of it, will it help or hinder you?  The Wall Street Journal just took a look at this question to see what your ROI (return on investment) would be from ponying up for an MBA at 27 US schools.   

They found out first, that it will cost you anywhere from $40,000 to $136,000 to complete your program.  No small piece of change no matter which school you chose.  The WSJ question is, whether the return after 5 years more than equals the cost.  This is not about quality of the degree, but quantity of the return.

It turns out that the best ROI was at Texas A&M (243%) and the worst at NYU (only 56%).  You can find the complete table here and the article discussing it here.


Art as a Career–Lessons from the Internet

Art and economic/business success CAN go hand in hand.   That career idea is being proven thanks to a new generation of internet and business savvy artists.  A NY Times article,Transforming Art Into a More Lucrative Career Choice, presents a number of entrepreneur artists using the internet to extend the reach of their art or artistic business, choosing a career in art without the usual financial struggle.

One way is through multiple income streams–the same idea promoted some might say ad nauseum by informercials and every internet marketing guru I’ve ever read (confession–I’ve read quite a few).   The article cites the case of Claudine Helmuth.  “She has an online store…  does custom illustrations for customers using photographs they provide. She licenses her artwork for greeting cards, calendars and other products. She has written two books about her techniques and has a third one coming out. She tours the country teaching both business and art workshops.” She also manufactures her own line of art products. 

I don’t know about you, but Claudine makes me tired just hearing everything she’s doing, but it certainly shows all the directions you can go into if you don’t limit  yourself to a simple model of what a career is.  

Often, I have career coaching clients who say they want to be a landscape architect or a sculptor or  further afield from art–a travel agent creating educational trips to little known areas or a caterer for world foods–and they think it’s just not financially feasible. They may be right–if they limit themselves to doing their work in the way they’ve imagined it or always seen it done.  But they may be wrong if they can harness the powers of the internet.  As with Claudine, that can mean, selling to a wider market or just getting know to a larger group that might publicize whatever you are doing thorough social networking, or having your art up and available instantly 24/7 in a virtual gallery publicized by all your friends and colleagues. 

It’s not just about the internet as invaluable as that can be.  It’s about looking at new ways to combine passions into activities you love that someone else will be interested in or need enough to pay you for your services and products. Whatever you want to do, don’t get stopped just because the conventional way of doing it doesn’t seem financially viable.  You may need “multiple streams,” and you may need partners, but you can often find a path to your career vision.


Choosing a Career You’ll Love

Choosing A Career is a daunting task for most of us.  We have all had to be our own career coach without any training, and we can have so many career ideas and not know if we could succeed with any of them, and if we did, whether or not we’d feel happy about that choice.  Of course, there are exceptions.

My nephew was one of those lucky people who always knew what he wanted. He started drawing and painting at age 2. I used to draw with him until he was about 6 and started imitating my way of drawing (not good) instead of continuing what he was doing. We led him back to doing what he naturally was doing, and today he is a visual artist and senior creative at an international design firm. Choosing a career was not that tricky for him.

Not so for most people, including me. I had many passions, but not so many career ideas, as I didn’t realize I could start with my passions to determine a career.  The good news in my case was that I can now apply what I learned to my current work as a career life coach.

So how do most people go about choosing careers? Having led career talks, programs and coaching sessions for thousands of people, I can tell you that most people look at where they can make money using the skills they have. Pretty reasonable, right? Hey, that’s what I did and I established a very successful communication company of my own that earned me a good living and gave me lots of free time. Perfect? Maybe not.

The problem was that I began dreading my work days and tasks more and more over the years. Something inside of me said: This isn’t really you. You’re wasting your time. This isn’t what you love. This isn’t how I want to really contribute to the world–even though the work was pretty good, and the clients generally pleasant.

Thank goodness for that nagging voice. It forced me to rethink what I had done and led me on the journey to what I am now doing–helping people in finding and choosing a career they will love….without the pain and hassle I went through.

Be Your Own Career Coach

How did I do it? The secret lies in NOT starting out with skills and finances. Instead start out with who you are, what you love and what you value as well as what your skills are. That’s the first big step in generating new career ideas. Leave finances and realistic planning to the last and what I consider the fourth step. (More on the steps in other postings. Or check out my Guide to Lifework book for a complete program.)

The second step in becoming your own career coach is to take those key values and passions and skills and find out what you can do with them. That’s an exciting and creative process in itself, but when you realize what you want to do is teach or start a travel business or be an engineer, you can create focus and clarity with a LIfework Summary Statement that answers question 2–WHAT do I do for my career.

These statements look like:

I teach kids in the inner city how to read so they can go on and succeed in their dreams.

I help a large marketing firm organize and plan projects in a team effort to produce the most creative and effective campaigns with the least problems for our clients.

I help couples find peace and reconciliation after a divorce through couples counseling and workshops held at churches.

These are actually pretty elaborate statements. Yours can be simpler. It just has to work as a guiding tool for YOU.

Then you are ready for your third step in choosing a career–determining exactly what your day to day world will be like. So you’re a teacher–is that in a Montessori school in Chicago or a charter school for languages in a rural area? Are you working mostly on budgets by yourself as a planner or in a team? You need to paint a compelling picture that will excite you and lead you to your dreams. This stage can also include finances–how much will you earn.

Now, you are ready for all those practical elements of a plan. Your fourth question is: How Do I Succeed in making this vision real?

That question is answered with a step by step action plan relying on and developing a community of support (mentors, idea people, advisors, emotional supporters as well as some creative ways to look at your own thinking to make sure you don’t get down or stuck.

So choosing a career that you’ll love is a matter of just answering 4 questions. OK, that will take time. But I can tell you speaking from my personal experience as well as the responses of all kinds of clients, if you do it this way, you’ll not only wind up happier, but also enjoy getting there as well because it’s fueled by your desires, dreams and passions. Good luck.


Find out more about this topic, plus how to use mindmapping to help you with this process at Choosing A Career–3 Questions.

© 2008 Leonard Lang

Taking the Stress from Career and Job Networking–Help Others

The NY Times published an article with career ideas about how to deal with the “no reply” problem when job hunting–that is, when you apply for a job or have an interview and just never hear back. The author, Michael Melcher, recommended a few things to deal with the job hunt in these tough times.  These tips included realizing others may be a lot busier than you are, lessening dependence on the internet and basically getting out and being with other people so you are not isolated on the internet all day.

Being with others can be crucial.  One of his tips around this was to make connections for other people.  Melcher writes, “Whatever barriers you are facing in the employment markets, you are probably in a position to others in their job searches, whether through advice, referrals or just being a friend. Helping others make progress is a good way to remind yourself that you do have an impact on the world.”

Good points.  But what can you do?  Should you wait until someone asks for help?  Not at all.  I generally find that my career coaching clients have greater success if they are active about making connections for others and not passively waiting to be asked to help.

For instance, at any networking event, instead of focusing primarily on telling others who you are and what you offer, a technique to really get remembered is to listen carefully to others and find out what career help they are seeking.  Jot down that information and let the people you are talking with know that you will be looking out for good connections for them. Then, go ahead and look out for good connections for them as you meet and mix. Even doing this for a few people, you can become the hub of the event instead of another person needing something.

Of course, it’s great when you others return the favor, taking your lead. But that’s not your focus.

This also reduces anxiety and stress many people have about what to do and how to act at networking events.


© 2008 by Leonard Lang


Choosing Your Career? Or Is the Wrong Career Choosing You?

How can a career be choosing you?

Most people do it most of the time. “Office manager wanted—3 years exp. min. BA, prefer bilingual in Spanish and English” and you ask yourself if your 2 years experience might be enough or your 7 years might make you overexperienced and if your rusty Spanish is good enough.

That’s trying to fit you into some preset category regardless of your values and passions. All you are looking at are resume categories for experience and education. In that case, the career is choosing you. You are trying to fit yourself into the right checkboxes. Do that throughout your career and all your job changes and you will increase your authority and expertise and income. But will you be happy in your work life? Will you really be choosing your career and setting up a career vision to pursue?

It’s not that you shouldn’t look at job postings or shouldn’t pay attention to your skills or ignore what organizations want and need. Not at all. Those are critical. It’s just a question of when.

If you want a career you’ll love, an authentic or true career, you need to first determine your career vision. Second, map out a basic plan to succeed with your vision. Then you have the background and knowledge to see what jobs to apply for now, whether as stopgap measures as you earn money for education (for instance) or as learning opportunities to enjoy now and move you toward your final career vision.

Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was once asked by a TV interviewer why we needed his book. After all, the interviewer pointed out, everything Covey was saying in his book could also be found in all the philosophies and religions of the world. Cover didn’t argue. He agreed, and added, “but I’ve put these ideas into the right order.” In the same way, you need to look at job postings, but make sure you do it in the right order—after you know your career vision and direction.


© 2008 by Leonard Lang


Can You Help Your Career Success with Affirmations? You Decide.

This is one of those career ideas I have been at times for and at times against (or at least not actively in favor of) over the years. But recent research seems to indicate that if done properly (as below with music and images), affirmations can be a positive aid, setting off a string of positive networks in your brain.  It’s less about the meaning of the words and more about the emotional triggers–just like political or commercial ads, only for your benefit.

So here’s a YouTube video with some career success affirmations that may help you even if just a little to get in a state of mind to help you with anything from choosing a career more meaningfully to just feeling more confident. It’s only a minute and a half.  So give it a try if this interests you or you love affirmations.   BTW–I have no connection with laserdirect in case anyone is wondering.

Success Affirmations for Career Change by laserdirect


The Happiness Factor in Choosing a Career

Choosing a career based on what other people enjoy is a very tricky business. Your career ideas may not match with what most people think. But statistically, you can get a sense of what seems to be bringing people more happiness at work. Looking at that might point you in some good directions and offer career help.

To find that out, you can turn to a career survey by the University of Chicago from 1988 to 2006, the most comprehensive survey ever to examine satisfaction and happiness at work. What did they find?

Less than half, or 47 percent of people said they were very satisfied with their jobs and even less reported they were very happy—only one-third.

“People looking for jobs that bring satisfaction and happiness should concentrate on professions that focus primarily on serving other people,” summarized the University of Chicago’s website

“The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching, and protecting others and creative pursuits,” said Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey (GSS) at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Specifically, clergy were the highest percentage of very satisfied as well as the highest percentage of very happy people at work.

Professions with lower social prestige such as roofing (a mere 14% very happy and 25% very satisfied with their work) and some manual labor fared poorly in these measures generally. But physicians and lawyers were not in the top group, either, perhaps due to the stress in their lines of work.

So what does this tell you?

Not much in one sense—your career ideas and dreams are yours. Letting statistical norms define what you want to do in career choosing is very limiting and damaging. After all, even among the roofers, some were very happy. That happy roofer could be you if that’s what you love to do.

But there is something fundamental about the conclusions too. Service–doing something that has a positive impact on others. Creativity–having a chance to use your own skills in fresh, nonroutine ways. Social prestige–feeling appreciated. These are often important in people’s career choices. The key, I would suggest, is that you can see most jobs and careers as being of service without having to be in a “helping”profession like clergy or teacher. If what you are doing helps others, it can feel meaningful and be of service. If you have some chance to improve whatever you are doing–incluidng working in shipping or being a roofer–then you can use your creativity. And the ultimate sense of prestige and appreciation CAN come from within and from those you most love, rather than what society has decided.

In short, the study is interesting and helpful, if you don’t take it too literally. After all, we don’t all need to be clergy or avoid becoming roofers.

Need help determining how to choose a career? Contact me for more ideas and info about career coaching or check out Guide to Lifework or the other books available through this site.

© 2008 Leonard Lang



One True Career?

Do you have only one true career? And if you miss it, will you be doomed to unhappiness at work, or a gnawing feeling you should have chosen a different career?

Choosing Careers–Not a one time thing

Not if you are a man I’ll call Tom. Tom, in his late 50s came to my class. Unlike some midlife career changers, he had no complaints about his current work. When he completed college, he became a high school teacher for about 15 years. Choosing a career helping kids learn worked out very well for him. He loved it. But after 15 years, he had more career ideas he wanted to explore, other passions to turn into careers. He decided to move on. He loved cars and opened up a car detailing company. That succeeded. He loved that too. And almost on schedule, about 15 years later, he was ready to start work on choosing his third career, which is why he came to my class. By the end of the class, he had decided he was going to go into a home remodeling business with his son. Third true career.

Lots of people change jobs and careers all the time. But his story was a great example of someone consciously choosing a sequence of authentic and passionate careers that were meaningful to him.  Multiple career visions.

Choosing careers that don’t exist…at least for you?

You might say, that’s fine, but every time you think about choosing a career you’ll love, you get depressed because you know it’s impossible, so it isn’t about any sequence of passions but not being able to get any to materialize. Maybe you want to open your own travel agency and can’t get the money, or you did open it but couldn’t get enough business. Maybe, you are like one woman who asked me a question on a call in show where I was responding as a career life coach. She HAD found her ideal career, and she had been living it. She was a farmer. Her problem was that an illness had made it impossible for her to continue farming.

In these cases, the lesson of Tom is relevant. You are a mix of lots of passions, and the world is so complex, there are so many ways to express those passions that any one career idea–even if it doesn’t work out or no longer works out–can be altered and leave you fully satisfied. In other words, you are a complex being with so many ways to express yourself that you don’t have to fear being shut down. You can almost always generate new, passionate career ideas.

You can look to other passions as Tom kept doing. Or you can find out what you most loved about being a farmer or becoming a travel agent, or whatever it is, and try to find a different way to express that in a work setting.

For instance, it turned out that the farmer also loved kids, so she could write about her experiences as a farmer and even about overcoming her illness and disappointments for a motivational and educational kids’ book. Maybe what the potential travel agent loved about opening an agency wasn’t booking standard flights to Chicago and San Diego, but helping people find exotic adventures.If so, maybe our travel agent could talk to an existing travel agency and see if they might be willing to offer a specialty in exotic travel that he could run. Maybe he didn’t really want his own agency with all those headaches anyhow. He just wanted to do something out of the ordinary. Or he might decide he could fulfill his passions another way by serving as a tour guide to unusual locations.

In short, yes–do look for what you really want to do and go after it with great enthusiasm and persistence. Don’t give up easily.At the same time, you have to be flexible and creative to find the best and most realistic ways to express that passion and contribute your talents and gifts to the world.

Career Ideas 101–Occupational Outlook Handboook 2012

If you’re looking for career ideas, and especially if you’re looking for some concrete info to help in choosing a career, here’s an incredible resource.

Inspiring? Not so much. But it’s an unbelievably complete resource for finding out the nitty-gritty facts (presented in a very readable format by the way, not as statisitcal lists) about pretty much every occupation you can imagine–and many you probably never thought about before.

I’m talking about the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. Yes, it sounds like the ultimate cure for insomnia, but it’s actually a way to find out (according to the BLS website):

  • the training and education needed
  • earnings
  • expected job prospects
  • what workers do on the job
  • working conditions

For people curious about what some jobs entail and the education required, this is very useful. For students just looking to browse through careers to see what might interest them, it’s also helpful but more difficult to use online as there are so many listings that it would be hard to just randomly be clicking around.

In short, this is a wonderful resource. It is no substitute for the internal work you must do to succeed in finding your best or ideal or true career(s). That’s all about understanding yourself, your passions, your values and your skills. Other articles on this blog talk about those elements. This article I just wanted to make sure everyone reading this blog would have access to bottom line information you need to help make realistic career plans.


Home Runs or Singles–Succeeding with Your Career Ideas

Yankee baseball legend Mickey Mantle stood third on the all time home run list when he retired, having hit 536 pre-steroid era home runs as the key player on a frequent World Series winning team. Unfortunately, he also had a prodigious number of strikeouts (15th on the all time list now and first when he retired).

After he ended his baseball career, he claimed every time at bat he was looking to hit a home run. Although I’d take this with a grain of salt, his big hit “strategy” worked quite well overall, in spite of the big whiff failures.

Outside baseball, we also hear about the same big hit strategy all the time. In fact, it was in the news recently in the field of medicine and bioengineering.

Doris Taylor, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota and her team stripped cells from a rat heart and replaced them with baby rat stem cells, getting them to grow into a “bioartificial” heart. The potential for “growing” parts of damaged organs or even entire organs customized to the individual is enormous. Other researchers are hitting themselves in the head (or so they’ve reported) for not thinking of the relatively simple idea that was used.

In a radio interview, Taylor noted that from the start she was going for a home run. She said that she didn’t want to wait 20 years to accurately understand step by step all the science underlying the procedure to know if it would work and why it might work or not. She wanted bold ideas to try out and then see what happened.

So should we all be inspired in our lives by this home run approach? Should we try out bold ideas and watch the results? Does this idea apply to our careers and problems? Or is it just something to read about after the fact for the lucky few who succeed?

I’d suggest the question is not whether to have a home run strategy or not, but when to use one. If a single is all that’s needed, if in your career all you want is a raise in pay or respect from your boss, go for that—not for a new career or job. That may seem obvious, but it’s not. I’ve had people in my classes come in for new career ideas and new dreams when their old ones were just fine. They had already hit a home run in determining and educating themselves for their career. They only needed a single right now to make their particular job better or to land a better job, but their frustration had confused them about the best strategy—about which of the 4 foundation questions (see they needed to answer.

You can also be confused if you have been told or learned that trying for what you really want is naïve—if you’ve learned that all you should ever do is go for singles. That’s an even more common problem I see in coaching clients and class participants. One time to use the home run metaphor and strategy is when you are first determining your main career idea—going for the biggest and most satisfying career, one you really would love to have.  Your authentic or true career. If you don’t, you will be putting a lot of energy into better-than-nothing (BTN) careers and jobs—careers that have some value but not enough to fully engage and challenge you or feel meaningful and satisfying enough.

If you are thinking about strategies for achieving that authentic career vision, you may want to at least include home run plans along with more careful ones. That means including options that involve more risk and more unknowns along with more cautious and known step-by-step processes. (Certainly the heart researchers were moving meticulously in their experiment once they decided on the big experimental concept). If you can do a mix of these single and home run approaches, you will truly be an all-around career “hitter.”

Let me
leave the final words to home run hitter who was named greatest athlete of all time in 1999 by Sporting News and athlete of the century by the AP that same year.

“How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can . . . I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” Babe Ruth

© 2008 Leonard Lang. All rights reserved

Career Confidence and Your Highlight Reel of Success

Whenever taking on a new major project, such as choosing a career, it is best to be optimistic and confident. Sure, there are times when confidence can become arrogance and blindness, but if you know your project or career ideas are valuable, then confidence counts.

It’s also common among successful people. A recent Business Week article by Marshall Goldsmith illustrated this: “I once asked three business partners to estimate their individual contribution to the partnership’s profits. Not surprisingly, the sum of their answers amounted to more than 150%”

The author indicated that this was a good thing, as it fits into the profile of successful people. Having surveyed more than 80,000 people in his business programs, he found that “80% to 85% rank themselves in the top 20% of their peer group, and about 70% rank themselves in the top 10%. The numbers get even more ridiculous among professionals with higher perceived social status, such as physicians, pilots, and investment bankers.”

What does this mean for choosing a career and career planning? I’d say that if you are already super- confident like this, you might want a reality check with people you trust. But for most of us who are likely to have doubts in anything big and new we might be trying–such as trying out new career ideas–we need to recall our past successes and realize we ARE building on them even if we are applying those lessons to a new field.

Goldsmith, for instance, recommends reviewing our “highlight reel” of successes and thinking how that applies to what we’re doing.

Now if you dislike your current career, you might think you have no highlight reel to use in deciding what new career you want. But have you succeeded in making other big decisions–what college you went to, what city or neighborhood you live in, who you married, whether or not to have kids? You may not always feel great about everything you’ve chosen, but you certainly have successes you can review.

From them, you may well realize how you made a great decision and apply some of those processes to new projects or new career ideas. You may realize that the key was simply to get information and then see how you felt about it, and then decided. Or you may say that there is no model to follow, but you can still say–I’ve succeeded in these tough times and decisions before so I simply recognize I can do it again.

So upload that highlight reel on your own inner YouTube channel and be ready to view it when you are feeling a bit uncertain about your ability to find that great career which will benefit you and those around you.

Leonard Lang