I'm qualified, get me out of here

I do have one or two little subscritions to a few "junk"-ish mailing lists, some of which purport to sell courses, seminars and various other webinars telling people all kinds of things - but mainly "get rich quick" schemes, pseudo self-help gimmicks, and finally online marketing as well as various kinds of business advice for would-be entrepeneurs.

It is, suffice to say, reasonable to expect that such entrepeneurship has always existed, although in recent years its moved away from graduates running consultancies, to what quite frankly now is rank amateurs giving - at about 10 times the cost - the same advice you can get from a book.

I am a big fan of What color is your parachute, a simple but effective book which effectively reteaches job seekers not only how to find a job but how to figure out what they are looking for in the first place. I discovered it during a very educational 13 weeks of unemployment in London in 2001, during which the main challenges were keeping a roof over my head and food on the table for 2 meals a day.

Some time ago I came across one of the worst co-workers I've ever worked with - a guy who alternated between bragging and whining - doing some training for a well known online service. I nearly gagged. The guy came to work smelling of alcohol, whinged about nearly everything, took 8 months off to sort his messy personal life (created by himself) off while a coworker ended up working 60 hour weeks to cover for him - for no reward. And now he is running a consultancy while the poor ex coworker faces an uncertain future in redundnacy next month.

Meanwhile, another co-worker, a good guy I have to say, that I like a lot personally, is running a fairly successful training consultancy, but frankly has no real world commercial experience in the area of expertise. Its not even a case of somebody doing MBA without commercial experience. Its like somebody teaching an MBA without having worked in business or gained any accreditations.

The second case is actually running a reasonably good course, but honestly, there isn't much there that isn't available for about 20% of the cost from a book or freely online if you spend a little time searching. Its amazing how many people are being taken in.

Then there is worse - the old fashioned "get rich fast" schemes. Almost quasi religious stuff promising great success if you will it. Some time back when I told a friend that my idea outcome from my own redundancy in June is to have a job offer to start the week after I finish. My friend told me, having been to loads of these self-help services, that I needed to "believe" that was going to happen in order for that to happen.

What a load of total and utter codswallop.

The reality is, is that there are a load of barriers to being employed. First you have to seek out the opportunities, make yourself known to them, wait for them to come back, hopefully get an interview, and hopefully, translate an interview into an offer.

The reality is, that YOU do not decide who gets the job, the employer does. There is a degree to which you can influence their decision making process, but ultimately, a good chunk of this is outside of your immediate, short term control. Just as you cannot will yourself to be a vet in 3 months, you cannot overcome barriers like hot competition and lack of accreditations or weak skills overnight. In fact believing in yourself without being properly equipped is only going to do you damage, as you fail to notice the obstacles you need to overcome.

So this is my simple advice. The one and only system I do believe in is David Allen's GTD - simply because its more about tasks than goals, and about immediate action than worthy goal seeking. I like that a lot of what happens in Allen's process is emergent rather than directed, and that offers a lot to people who are kind of unsure where they are going right now, or who have a lot of ideas but are not sure where to take them.

Basically it falls into this:
1. Make a list of things you'd like to achieve, get done or where you'd like to be
2. Now for each of these, make a list of the obstacles that prevent you from achieving these right now
3. Now for each obstacle, put together the best solution to overcome it, and how long it will take you to overcome that obstacle. Finally, put down rough odds on "how easy" that will be for you to successfully accomplish within that time frame. For example, say you want to become a fully fledged Meteorologist. For this you need a degree in Maths or Physics. You cannot do this in 3 months - it will take 3 to 4 years. So the first barrier is time. Secondly you need to pay for study - so there is another obstacle. Think of ways in which you could finance this, from part time work to available grants. Lastly, consider finer tuning, such as your own aptitude for Maths, how likely you are to get a degree and more "hard" barriers such as restrictions on hiring into the civil service.
4. If you find something you'd like to do, but there are insurmountable obstacles - such as age, finance - basically "hard" facts that cannot be altered or worked around, think about feasible alternatives. So in the above example, say you cannot reasonably finance a degree course. Now if you look up Met Eireann you'll see they also have jobs available for Meteorological officers that don't need degrees - there is a feasible alternative already. And there are others.
5. Always have a plan B. And C. And D. If your "ideal" situation is not working out or there are "hard" barriers such as layers of decisions to be made by other people that might be difficult to influence (as psychological manipulation and bullying are simply wrong, and unfortunately a key tool of the self-help charlatans) consider feasible alternatives. In soft systems thinking for group problem solving we call this searching for accomodations. Or trade-offs in other words. When other people's choices are going to determine your outcomes it is simply unethical to launch into the bullying tirade so beloved of the self-help charlatans (they call it "persuasion" - I call it harassment). What is ethical is giving people choices and complete freedom to make them with full and accurate information.
6. The big thing is to be willing to review failures and learn from them. And have plenty of alternatives and check out each one - SWOT analysis is helpful, as is PESTLE and STEEPLE. These techniques will give you a list of barriers you need to overcome before reaching the objective.

David Allen suggests making a list of about 45 goals and seeing which ones hang around. These are the ones you need to concentrate on. But basically, what I suggest is to actually treat these as little projects, just as a project manager would. Break them down into constituent part, find the hard bits and assess what you need to do to overcome the barriers. This will help you to realistically assess your goals, and find ways to get there. For free! Please feel free to print this off for your own or your friends use. Let me know if any of it was useful.

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