It’s Not Just Luck: Increasing Your Odds for Early Career Success

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the University of MN Alumni Association to partner with friend Carleen Kerttula to deliver a webinar last week on setting yourself up for early career success. I have attached the link for anyone interested in listening when you have a chance. Thanks to friend and UMAA officer Jon Ruzek (@JonHigherEd) for the opportunity. The talk starts at about 4:40 mark.

Move over Martyrdom: A Working Mom’s Tips to Sanity

Phil Profile_2012-crop2I want to introduce you to my friend and colleague Maggie Tomas. Maggie is an outstanding career center director and skilled advisor. I asked her to begin contributing to this site because I think she has a distinctive voice when it comes to working mothers and their careers. I hope you appreciate her voice. And her posts are almost as long as mine, so there’s that…

“They will be happy if mom is happy.”

Words that chamaggie & girlsnged my life. They came out of the blue, from an unexpected source, at a time when I was struggling with one of the more weighty decisions of my life.

Should I go back to work? The question ended up turning on my own understanding of fulfillment. But let’s back up and start at the beginning and see if there’s anything to take from my own experience… Continue reading

Career Choices: Putting Yourself in the Right Environment

square peg 2A recent New York Times article “A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D” hit on an important point I think many people overlook in considering career choices. Namely, “what am I well suited to?”

In my experience, I see too many people who try to fit their square peg into a round hole career-wise. Professor Richard A. Friedman (clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College) points out is that in many cases the lack of fit is literally hard wired into us.

“Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.”

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Career Decisions: Renewal and the Power of Choosing to Stay

green shootsSometimes, almost leaving makes you appreciate what you have even more.

Just recently, I had an opportunity to consider a new role in another organization. The process of working through the decision to stay or go personally and with my family required a fairly exhaustive analysis and a good deal of introspection.

We decided to stay.

In the aftermath of taking what was a fairly emotional family decision I have felt a sense of renewal and clarity at work. I am more encouraged about our prospects, recommitted to several ambitious goals and find that many things that had been irritating me don’t bother me as much. Or at least I’m more patient with them. Why?  Continue reading

Career Exploration Part 3: Phil’s Recent Journey

fish bowlsThe prior two posts (pt 1, pt 2) in this series laid out how to determine motivation, define potential pathways and then make progress.  At the risk of being self-referential, I’ll lay out my own journey over the last 3-4 years to show how I have applied these principles to two different journeys. The first is my current job which I would characterize as a “lateral” move and the other is a start up I am working on that I would put in the “divergent” category.

I find it helps to be specific in giving examples. But as always, please be creative in recognizing these as principles, not rules and apply them as makes sense in your life.

As a reminder, the steps in questions are:

  1. Determine motivation: Why am I seeking change?
  2. Define pathways: What are three “alternate realities”?
  3. Get going!: How do I start?
  4. Make progress: How many bridges do I need to build or cross?
  5. Choose: How do I make quality decisions along the way?
  6. Repeat.

Lateral Move: Assistant Dean

About two years ago, I moved into my current role as Assistant Dean for MBA programs at the Carlson School of Management at the University of MN. In some ways it was an obvious move but in others, not so much. Continue reading

Career Exploration Part 2: Test Alternate Realities & Build Bridges to Your Future

fish bowlsIn my last post I laid out a process first few steps to take in finding new opportunities. In this post I’ll offer some advice on how to get going on the ideas you generated.

First a reminder of the process:

  1. Determine motivation: Why am I seeking change? (Part 1)
  2. Define pathways: What are three “alternate realities”? (Part 1)
  3. Get going!: How do I start?
  4. Make progress: How many bridges do I need to build or cross?
  5. Choose: How do I make quality decisions along the way?
  6. Repeat.

Continue reading

Career Exploration Part 1: Build Alternate Realities to Explore

fish bowlsAuthor’s note – As usual, this post started small and has become a multi-post monster. What began as the concept of “alternate realities” that I often use as a frame for discussing how to move forward in a career search blossomed into how to think about exploration more broadly. So we’ll spend a few posts in the coming weeks on some core ideas and a methodology for how to systematically lay out and begin building future opportunities.

Ever wonder how some things just work out professionally for a friend or colleague? Have you thought about why interesting opportunities seem to pop up for them, often times “non-obvious” ones? Are you looking to find more fulfillment but are reluctant to just jump into something you don’t understand? Continue reading

Learning Through Failure

paper trailI think in life, it’s important to try to do things you might “fail” at. Whether it be trying a new personal skill (for me lately skiing) or a new idea at work.

I was reminded of this and how our culture doesn’t necessarily strike the right tone on this recently as my two boys debated a t-shirt.

My son Teddy (5th grader) was recently wearing a t-shirt with the caption “helping kids fail since 1998”. His 3rd grade brother Sammy tenderly observed how “stupid” that t-shirt was. A very sophisticated exchange ensued. Sam’s basic point was “I don’t fail” and “Why would you brag about failing?” Teddy got very animated in explaining the irony of the caption and how science works, but Sam was not going to be moved.

Setting aside the brotherly “love” involved, the boys were arguing a fundamental point both about how we view and run our lives and also how we work and lead. Continue reading

Career Management: Painful Lessons


Sometimes we learn from warm, positive reinforcement. Sometimes we get direct, clear feedback about what needs to improve. And then there are the times when you get indifferent silence. What follows is a brief example of learning that painful lesson and taking something away from it.

I just ran into a student who thanked me for one of these painful lessons that I inadvertently taught them.

The student in question is a very nice guy, had seen me give a few talks about management consulting and the Consulting Enterprise I used to run at the Carlson School of Management and knew a few of my students. He had connected with me personally and through those friends and I’d agreed to meet to discuss the Enterprise and careers in consulting. Continue reading

Success Destroyers: Failure to Commit

200517785-001I see a lot of people get hung up trying to get career decision making “just right”. This is usually an obstacle to success, particularly early in your career. As the saying goes, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Here are a few thoughts on why and how to get unstuck.

Reality #1 – Not choosing is choosing: Make no mistake, deferring choices is often passive decision making. A friend of mine refers to as “the fallacy of infinite possibilities”. In it, we wait and wait for just the right thing but in the end are left without much because while we waited…life happened. Opportunities pass by. Windows close.  I see many people let “good” opportunities pass by waiting for “perfect” ones. Maybe I’m not enough of a dreamer, but in my experience you often don’t even know enough early in your career to know what perfect looks like. Which leads to… Continue reading