Work: How to Design Your Own Career

Today’s advice comes from Susanne Goldstein, an Ivy League-educated engineer-filmmaker-consultant-web designer-business strategist-career coach who has spent the past 25 years successfully inventing and reinventing herself. She has helped clients of every color and stripe be whatever they’ve wanted to be. Her book, “Carry a Paintbrush,” is about creating your own idea work situation.


“Carry a Paintbrush” author Susanne Goldstein

It seems like it’s becoming the wild West in terms of employment these days. What do you advise for women in their 40s who need to work but don’t seem to be getting anywhere by answering ads?
I’m not surprised to hear that women aren’t getting anywhere by answering ads, and unfortunately they’re not the only one suffering from this. Hiring managers today are inundated with online applications and getting noticed amongst hundreds of resumes is a real challenge. As well, more and more employers are using search-based tools to separate weed out applicants that are pre-determined to not qualify for the position. The criteria for this electronic weeding are known only to the employer and makes getting selected from the criteria-based instead of personal.

Additionally, a typical job search is framed around finding lists of job openings, identifying matches and applying. In this model, job seekers are always trying to squeeze their skills, wants, hopes and vision of their career into the mold of the job description.

Because of these two limiting factors, you need to turn this model of job searching on its head. I encourage you to ignore job listings and instead use sites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com and others, as a resource to read organization profiles and identify places where you’d be a good fit, the kinds of products and service you want to work on, and the types of people you want to work with.
From there you can find “in” people who can help you nurture the development of your career network and build lasting relationships with the people who are already doing the kind of work you want to be doing.

I call this process “Reverse Engineering the Job Market,” and it is extremely effective because a large percentage of hiring today happens when someone is directly introduced into the organization.

2. How does a person who has had a corporate job in a conservative place make a new job for herself?
Making a career change can be a daunting prospect for many. But with a strong conviction and a bit of creative framing, creating a new job for yourself can be a fun and exhilarating process.

Metaphorically speaking, I like to think that I always carry with me a Bucket of Paint and a Paintbrush. When I see something interesting that I want to learn about, experience, or engage with, I take out my Paintbrush, Paint a Door, open it, and walk through. By using a Paintbrush, you will begin to believe that creating anything you want is possible.

But before you can paint a new door, you need to Know Who You Are, and What You Want to Be. Through brainstorming and self-reflection, you can discover The Sweet Spot where your Passions, Interests and Skills intersect, and then begin pursing career opportunities at that Sweet Spot. By following this process, you will end up pursuing opportunities where your passion and energy will be infectious. People will want to get on board with your vision, and from there anything is possible.

3. What advice can you offer someone who wants to go into a completely new field? Can she even hope to make as much money as she was?
The short answer is, “yes!” The medium answer is “yes, and it might take some time.” This is the longer answer:

People often want to change fields because there is some sort of dissatisfaction in their current situation. Understanding the root of this discord is essential before moving on to something new. If you are in a field where you make a ton of money, but the hours are impossible and you feel like you’re not able to live the life you really crave, then you need to evaluate which is more important to you, time or money. If you are in a high-paying job where you aren’t passionate about the product being offered, you have to evaluate which is more important to you: money or doing something you believe in.

As you evaluate why you want to move onto something new, consider creating a “decision-making framework” that can help you better understand what is important to you, and help you determine what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

Once you’ve done that evaluation, you’re ready to make a move. The good news is that in today’s employment market, especially at the mid-high levels of management, companies are more and more open to lateral moves across industries and across corporate departments. Employers are looking for candidates that have well-rounded experience and can help the company to move to the next level. You may very well be that candidate.

Wherever you decide to jump next, make sure that you are moving into a position where you will be inspired to do your job every day. Without that internal passion and motivation, you might find yourself back where you started.

4. What are the other most important things a woman in her 40s should be thinking about when it comes to her career?
Each one of us has different needs as we enter our mid-career years. For some it is balancing motherhood and career. For others it might be a need to contribute. Each one of us is different, and there is no formula for what will make us feel whole. The trick is to know what makes YOU feel whole. Two important things to consider when thinking about your career are: 1) what kind of contributor do you want to be, and 2) what size of stage do you want to play on.

As your working life has developed, it is often the case that you find yourself pigeon-holed into a style of working that just doesn’t fit. Women in their mid-career years have enough life and work experience to know what makes them most happy, productive and successful, and it is time to apply that thinking to what kind of work you want to be doing for the second half of your career. Consider whether you are happiest and most productive when you work on your own as an individual contributor, with others as a team player, organizing others as a manager, guiding others as a leader or building something new as an entrepreneur or solo practitioner. These are a few of the many styles in which you can contribute to any organization or project and figuring out which one fits you best will help guide you as you consider your options moving forward.

It’s also important to consider the size of state that you want to play on—in other words, what size of influence or impact do you want to have? Some people are at their best when they are helping individual or small groups, where others can’t rest until their impact is felt on a national or global scale. Take a moment to think about the kind of impact you want to be having and look for positions that will allow you to do that kind of work.

As a woman in your 40s, know that you have an awful lot to give to any company or organization that you join. The experience and confidence you gained as you left your 30s behind are invaluable assets in your sure-footed 40s.

Vanessa McGradyWork: How to Design Your Own Career

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