(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)
A recent trip to Death Valley National Park provided a good metaphor for job seeking and career planning. How is that for a weird teaser? Allow me to explain.
When I first told my wife I wanted to visit Death Valley (since we would be passing by it on a trip), her reaction was, “Is he trying to get rid of me?”. Yes, Death Valley seems like an odd place to visit, especially in the late spring when normal temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit late in the day. And who wants to visit a place with that name, on purpose?
Her skepticism was reinforced when we arrived at the visitor’s center at 6:30 PM and the temperature was 111 degrees. Who deliberately goes to a desert-like terrain when the temperature is that hot in order to site see? But I knew sunset comes early there, so we set off for Zabriskie Point to watch the sun come down and the moon rise.
And that’s when we discovered that there is more to it.
So what are the lessons for job seekers?
1.) Death Valley has a Marketing problem. If they called it “Salt Valley” or “Surprise Valley”, do you think more people might readily consider visiting? While the moniker Death Valley might be at least partially true, it does not begin to explain all of the richness of the place. It does not come close to describing the experience. There is so much to the place than a barren, hot desert. It is awe-inspiring. It has varied landscapes. There is not Death around you, but the beauty of a great landscape to be discovered.
So might you have a Marketing problem. Might you have the same problem with your description of yourself? “I worked at ABC Corporation for 21 years”. “I am a data analyst with a strong attention to detail”. Does that stir the heart of a recruiter or hiring manager? Do you think others will want to consider exploring more about you or passing you by for the next person (or National Park)?
Do you describe your experience in a way that others would understand your value? Do you explain the things someone else could get out of having your skills? Is your description something that gets another’s attention?
2.) To enjoy Death Valley the most, sacrifices are required. We had to drive an hour from our Airbnb to get to Death Valley. So one day we got up at 3:30 AM in order to watch a sunrise and to beat the heat. Our reward? Death Valley at sunrise is amazing. Watching the surrounding mountains change colors from brown to a fire red to a greenish or a tan hue is such a great reward. And because we got there early, we walked on Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America, as the only two people. Here we were in the most iconic place in the Park, and we had it all to ourselves! By the way, it was also shaded by the mountains, so it was quite comfortable.
Like that early-morning trip, sometimes a career or career search will require a big sacrifice (awaking at 3:30 AM and driving an hour is no picnic). In our career, we have to do things we don’t like to do. We sacrifice. We wonder if what we are doing will have a payoff. We might not recognize the potential of a payoff, well in the future. Our sacrifice might lead to nothing, a total bust. But if you do your homework, think through the alternatives and weight the opportunity, you are making an informed decision.
Maybe just putting a plan down on paper seems like a burden. You have to “find the time” to do it. You “don’t know what you want to do”. Personal introspection is not easy. You might find that you have some skills gaps. You start understanding you are in the wrong career field (“now what do I do?”). You don’t want to think about the future.
What sacrifices are you willing to make for a great career outcome?
3.) Having a plan for visiting Death Valley really enhances the experience. We knew what we wanted to visit, in what order (to minimize driving), and when it was best to visit. That plan was great because Death Valley is huge. We could have wasted a lot of time driving. We also asked the Park Rangers for some advice. And I am so glad we went to Dante’s View like they recommended. It was a great end to the trip and provided a perspective on what we had seen over the prior day and a half.
Your own career plan can enhance your career experience. I like to tell people they need a career plan to know “what’s next”. You get to decide how detailed your plan is. But at a minimum, have your marketing plan in place is critical. What have you accomplished at your roles? What problems do you solve? How can you help an organization achieve their goals? Maybe you simply want to avoid the hottest weather. Or a gap in your resume. Perhaps you want to choose the sacrifices in you make in your career. Otherwise, others may impose sacrifices on you.
Like you, Death Valley has strengths and weaknesses. It has highs and lows. It has a beauty that is not apparent in the name and in its website. For those people that venture there, prepared, it holds a lasting value. Why not do the same thing with your career?