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This is the text of an article I wrote which was published in the Sunday Gleaner in Jamaica on 23 April 2017.

The article is one in a series sponsored by the University of the West Indies, highlighting the relevance and value of an education in the arts and humanities.

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It came as no surprise when I told my parents that I wanted to study foreign languages at the University of the West Indies (UWI). My father, an educator specialising in physics and mathematics, and my mother, a career civil servant in the financial stream, always encouraged my sister and me to excel academically and develop our talents in a wide range of extra-curricular activities. They believed that this was how we would find out what we really wanted to do in life.

During my years at Immaculate Conception High School, I learnt foreign languages easily and excelled in history and English language and literature, where essays and term papers were frequently assigned. I was at ease meeting and speaking with foreigners in Jamaica, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, and these experiences piqued my curiosity about foreign cultures and would later serve to complement my love of languages in a way that would benefit my career.

The sweeping social and political changes in the 1970s during my teenage years gave me the burning desire to ‘do something’ to change Jamaica and the world. By far, the best years of my life were spent at UWI, where I pursued a bachelor’s in language and linguistic studies. Like my batchmates, I was ‘in my element’ learning from an interesting mix of professors from Germany, France, Spain, El Salvador, Haiti, Colombia, and Guyana. In the course of study, we were required to research foreign and local issues and to express our opinions in all of the foreign languages we were studying. We were graded for accuracy in grammar and vocabulary as well as for depth of analysis and critical thinking.

I remember my father telling me that although it was important to master the foreign languages, it was even more important for me to master the skills of critical, innovative thinking, effective communication, and the ability to quickly adapt to new business situations in order to be a successful applicant for a job. I gained all this and more during my time in the BA programme at UWI.

Beyond the academic training, there were other experiences at the UWI that were to shape my view of the world and my career. Along with my classmates, I was deeply involved in organising student-exchange programmes with the Universidad AutÛnoma de Santo Domingo, French Students’ weekend retreats, German Days, Foreign Language Students’ concerts, lectures, and language club activities with visitors from various embassies in Kingston.

Immersed in a sea of intercultural experiences, our minds were opened to diverse political thought and philosophies. As much as we learnt about other cultures, we also taught others about our own.

SOUGHT OPPORTUNITIES

Along the way, I met many people who questioned the value of studying foreign languages and an arts degree. Instead of trying to provide them with the ‘right’ answers, I actively and eagerly sought opportunities to put my training to work. I was a liaison aide at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference and the Organization of American States General Assembly, which were hosted in Jamaica. I spent my summers as an intern at the Jamaica Tourist Board. Many people I met had studied the arts and humanities and told me how they had forged successful career paths in business, government, and international relations. I realised then that the options were many and that my proficiency in foreign languages gave me an advantage.

After university, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in the Protocol and Consular Division. There, I had the opportunity to translate official documents and serve as the interpreter in meetings with very senior officials. This is where I learnt about the main issues of the day in international politics, trade, travel, tourism, and law. I observed first hand how language and communication in all its forms played into business deal-making and international relations.

With this experience, I gladly accepted new challenges to serve in the Economic and Foreign Trade Divisions in the ministry and represent Jamaica at international conferences in the Caribbean and the Americas. I witnessed the emerging trends in globalisation and the increasing role of the private sector in international trade.

I decided to do an MBA in international business and marketing at the University of Miami, where at that time, the focus was on preparing a new generation of global business leaders. This degree opened doors to a career in the private sector in Jamaica and then in Montreal, Canada, where I currently reside. My academic training in languages at the UWI continues to be of great value. I communicate daily in French, which is the language of business in Montreal, the largest city in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

My desire as a teenager “to do something” for Jamaica and the world has morphed into a career in marketing in global institutions. In the various roles I have played, I have been involved in the creation of multilingual marketing communication programmes, international trade finance and credit-risk assessment, and the development of global brands, while managing teams of persons with diverse backgrounds.

Over the years, I have been, and still am, a committed volunteer, where my training in business and in the arts has been considered to be of added value. I currently serve on the board of directors of the YWCA-Montreal, an organisation whose clientele consists of a large number of immigrants who are being equipped to become fully integrated into the society. I have been invited to write articles and speak in English and French at churches to youth groups and professional associations, mainly on topics related to personal and professional development in a multicultural society.

In a world where technological innovation is held as the gold standard for progress, and where students are encouraged to pursue purely technical degree programmes, it should never be forgotten that technology is only valuable if it meets people’s needs. Often, my colleagues and business associates who do not have any formal training in the arts and humanities express appreciation for the broader perspectives and recommendations that I have brought to technical projects, particularly with regard to clients’ needs.

I truly believe that my foundation in the arts, more specifically the degree programme at the UWI, has led me take an analytic approach that presents diverse opinions and perspectives of various stakeholders, which is critical to understanding and successfully meeting clients’ needs.

With a career spanning more than 30 years in Jamaica, the USA, and Canada, I know that I will never retire. There is so much more work to be done to make the world a better place. I am truly grateful for the education in the arts, which has shaped my view of the world and has served to support all my professional pursuits. The knowledge gained and the skills that were honed in those early years are still relevant and of value in a changing world and will continue to equip me to contribute to building a truly integrated global village.

– This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the arts and humanities on the individual’s personal development and career path. Please send feedback to fhe@uwimona.edu.jm

 

Visit camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

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Several business people wander through a maze looking for a job

When I published the article “You’re hired!”…and it took me a year, I had no idea that I would be looking for work three years later.  Back then, I had just concluded an intensive search after my position in a stable, global financial institution was abolished, ending a successful career that progressed nicely over 16 years.

When I accepted the offer for a permanent full-time position the following year, it was not quite the dream job I was looking for, but I was convinced, and still am, that I was forging a new path to take me to the next level.  In fact, I deliberately disrupted myself.  It was a newly created job with the mandate to develop and deliver a marketing strategy for products I had never marketed before.

Two years in, there were budget and staff cutbacks.  I sub-consciously knew that the time to move on was fast approaching.   Last summer, my position was eliminated.

Although it’s cold comfort, I realize that I am not alone.  I’ve met many mid- and advanced-career professionals on the job search trail.  I see the struggles to remain positive, diffuse anxiety and stay the course.  My career transition experience has given me some insights on stumbling blocks that can potentially derail a job search and how to avoid them.

  1. Other people’s stories are theirs, not yours

During my networking, I’ve met many people who’ve “been there, done that” and they tell their stories of how they got through it.  The Winners, who took only 2 to 4 months to land on their feet; the Whiners who give very detailed explanations as to why they won’t ever get hired (age…, conspiring former bosses and colleagues…, no one hires in summer… etc.) and the Copped-Out & Lucked-Out who boast about the luxury of being able to retire early so they avoid looking for a job.

Then there are those who haven’t “been there.” They have never lost their jobs.  They are really Secretly Scared that this could happen to them, while they hint that they pity you and don’t envy you.  There are also the Helpers and Hinters who in an awkward effort to provide good advice, actually end up saying exactly what you don’t need to hear (“You’re doing something wrong, otherwise it wouldn’t take so long…”) or they send you job postings that are no match for your skills and experience.

It’s so easy to buy-in to other people’s stories.  Comparing your experience with other people’s stories is a waste of time and energy.  The truth is you need to own your story.

Instead of trying to explain your story, make a commitment to yourself to be clear on what’s best for you.  Only you can make sense of your life’s journey.  Only you really know the things that motivate you and ultimately matter to you.  Very few people will understand your story.  Most people are trying to figure out their own story and others don’t have the time or are not really interested in listening to yours.

The temptation to set low expectations and settle for less becomes real when you compare yourself with other people. It takes courage to say “no” to seemingly good opportunities in order to say “yes” to the very best.  You are not a loser if you haven’t found a job within a given timeframe or if you made it to the final interview but didn’t get the job.

Even if you don’t have the financial independence to prolong your search, if you accept a position out of necessity, remind yourself that you can work while continuing to search for your dream job.

  1. The corporate ladder is an obsolete metaphor

Job seekers, who have progressed over many years in one company, tend to be overly concerned with titles, organizational structures and status.  In most progressive organizations today, dotted lines, flat organizational structures and collaborative team environments are the norm.

I agree that people should look for challenging work that fits their experience and expertise.  But looking for a job with a title that fits into the next step on the corporate ladder can prevent you from finding enriching opportunities for meaningful work that expand your talents and capabilities.

The truth is that we are living in a new corporate world order where the corporate ladder is fast becoming an obsolete metaphor.

Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In, encourages professionals to forget the corporate ladder and consider careers in terms of a jungle gym. You can venture down different paths and explore numerous possibilities on the way to achieving your goals, just like trying to climb to the top of a jungle gym.  It took me quite some time to get this during my career transition four years ago.  I am glad I did, as I ended up finding an interesting opportunity which has broadened my experience not only professionally, but in my volunteer work and social life.

  1. Being stuck really sucks!

Following on my two earlier points, getting stuck can happen very easily if you can’t define what you want or if your definition of what you want doesn’t fit in the new corporate world order or with your values.

I’ve come across a few people who are stuck within a destructive ‘my way or the highway’ mindset, hanging on to what was and what will never be, taking job loss personally and feeling victimized.  When corporate priorities change, it so happens that some jobs are no longer needed. That’s why no one should take a layoff personally.

I know that it can be a drag to be out of work and pounding the pavement can be tough.  But here’s the upside:  going through a career transition can be the best opportunity to reorient a career.  On reflection, many people thank their lucky stars that they had the chance to move on, rather than stay stuck in a career that was no longer meaningful.

Most successful careers rarely ever follow a smooth, upward north-eastern trajectory.  Compromises and disruptions do occur along the way.  The truth is that compromises can be beneficial.

Speaking from my own experience, the job with a lower salary with less formal influence may just be what you need to gain more relevant experience in a changing world, while applying your past experience in a way that is beneficial to the organization and to your career in the long run.

 

Take ownership and responsibility for your career transition

The world is waiting to embrace talent and you have a fair shot to offer yours. Don’t let people, old ideas or a closed mind derail your job search.  The power to shape the future resides within each of us. That’s why it is important for every job seeker to take ownership of their career transition.

When you can clearly articulate to potential employers, who you really are and why you care, they will see that the value you bring to their organization is far greater than what you know and what they expect you to do.  This sets the stage for you to find meaningful work and for your future employer see you as a true partner, stakeholder and contributor to the organization’s success.

 

You may find the following articles helpful –

Career mistakes you must avoid@Deepak Chopra MD (Official)

Forget the Ladder; Try the Jungle Gym: What Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Says You Can Do for Your Career Right Now – Maggie Malon

It’s called a life, not a life sentence!  How to move forward when you’re feeling stuck@Michaela Alexis

 

Camille N. Isaacs Morell is a proven marketing strategy and business development enabler. She is passionate about inspiring people to make decisions that support business success.  

She currently seeks opportunities to contribute to the success of enterprises and non-profit organizations with direct responsibility for developing the marketing strategy to support business development and stakeholder engagement.

See the BIG picture…Focus on what’s important

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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I could have high-fived everyone in sight as I walked away from a career that lasted 16 years in a stable, global financial institution.  After being promoted five times, to five different areas in the company, my senior management position was abolished as my key responsibilities were centralized to the company’s global head office.  Getting the separation package affirmed my own conviction in the previous two years it was time to forge a new career path.

The nearly twelve months it took me to accept a job offer for permanent, full-time work, proved to be an enriching journey, filled with new experiences.  Most importantly, the experiences changed some of my commonly-held beliefs that have been ingrained in the minds of many mid-career and senior executives.

  • Pay attention.  Be prepared to change direction. 

When you’ve done all you can do and what is right, and stuff happens, it’s usually a good sign!  You’re being led in a better (read: different) direction, and it’s all good.

During my job search, I did all the right things.  I built a data base of all my skills and experiences, from which I customized my CV for specific job opportunities.  I optimized my social media presence by expanding my LinkedIn connections, networking on-line and off-line, writing blogs, tweeting.  I actively engaged in volunteer work, explored opportunities in my home town and out of town, etc, etc, etc….  but after seven months, the doors closed on several very good leads, in each case for reasons beyond my control.   The appointment of a new vice-president who needed to rethink the structure of the department, unforeseen budget cuts, corporate policies that gave preference to the internal candidate – these were some of the show stoppers.

When I realized that I had exhausted opportunities in the companies I targeted, I made the decision to change my direction and explore new possibilities.  Free-lance consulting and a change of industry were two, new options I decided to explore.  When I began to invest most of my efforts in these options, I was amazed at how quickly consulting opportunities began to materialize and as did invitations to job interviews in companies I had not previously considered.

  •  “Titles are inevitable, and they’re even respected, but they’re merely a credential”

In the words of Mike Lipkin, “Hierarchy is so boomer. The new reality is about heterarchy – where leaders and followers are interchangeable depending on circumstances.”

Job seekers who like myself have climbed the corporate ladder over many years in one company, tend to be overly concerned with titles, organizational structures and status.   While I agree that we should look for challenging work that fits our experience and expertise, the truth is, the corporate ladder is an obsolete metaphor.  In most progressive organizations, dotted lines and flat organizational structures give way to the optimal use of talent in collaborative team environments.  This is where there are many open doors providing new and enriching opportunities for people wanting to do meaningful work.

  • Go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated.

Like most job seekers, I faced a several disappointing rejections.  What I have come to realize, is that when faced with unemployment over an extended period of time, there was the temptation to talk myself into situations that were not the right fit, even though I had the qualifications and experience for the job.  I had to remind myself a few times, that in order to flourish, I need to be in an environment conducive to my personal growth and enrichment.  Finding the right fit required the clear definition and uncompromising commitment to my values and life objectives.

  • Networking is not just for job-seekers.

The best career outlook in any organization can be randomly and suddenly taken away through restructurings, mergers, acquisitions and divestures that are regular features of the corporate landscape.  No one in the workforce can take job security for granted.

My biggest take-away from my job search is that it’s up to each person to continuously develop skills in marketing themselves and building networks – gainfully employed or not.  The world of work has changed and will continue to change.  Self-motivation and the ability to recognize opportunity in changing circumstances are essential.  Building a strong network of professional, community and social contacts is the key to getting a job, managing your career and making a career transition when the job is no longer there.

See the big picture.  Focus on what’s important.  www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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September is a month of change and new beginnings.  Invitations to conferences and networking events resume after the summer break.  Students go back to school – some in new grades, others in new programmes and yet others are off to university.    I was quite pleased to accept an invitation to give the key note address to recipients of BASF scholarships a few weeks ago.  There they were young, very intelligent university students, bright-eyed and eager to succeed in their course of studies in preparation for the brave new professional world that they will face in a few years.

 I spoke about the importance of networking and that it is necessary to start networking now and not wait until the final semester before graduation.  My 15-minute presentation was based on three important facts –

  1.  On average it takes 5 months to get a job in Canada. For senior white collar jobs, it is generally longer – anywhere between 6 months to a year.
  2. 70 – 80% of all jobs that people hold have been obtained through personal recommendations or referral.
  3. In 1994, it was estimated that the average person would change jobs around ten times in their lifetime. By the year 2000, it was estimated that the average person would change careers three to five times in their lifetime. And only God knows what the estimate is in 2012!

 So what are these facts this telling us?

 The ability to build a strong network of professional, community and social contacts is the key to getting a job and managing your career. Networking is the key to keeping the job and networking also is the key to making a career transition when the job is no longer there.  The number and variety of people in your network play an important role in your ability to explore an expanded range of career options, shorten the duration of your job search and enrich and support the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in your career.

 The BIG picture

No one should overestimate their education, professional experience and knowledge of any sector of the economy.  This is because we live in an information age where technology has democratized information – anyone can access information through the internet easily and quickly and can use that information to innovate and invent new ways of doing business. On this point, I believe that many long-standing employees and seasoned professionals are still missing the mark by not building and maintaining a solid network of business contacts.

 The way we do things, the products we own and services we use are in a constant state of change and always under the threat of obsolescence and innovation. Change and innovation force organizations to adopt new directions at the drop of a hat. When this happens, some jobs get abolished and the description of others becomes expanded, requiring broader skill sets. Knowledge and training also adapt to change. The knowledge anyone gains from a university degree, educational programme of any kind or on-the-job experience, could also different in another 5 years or less!

For me, networking is a necessary and integral component of my everyday life.  Networking has opened me to sources of information on changing market trends, and yes, to emerging and new career opportunities.  I have come to realize that in today’s world, people must learn how to be self-motivated, how to recognize opportunity in changing circumstances and develop skills in marketing themselves.  We’re challenged in this economy to enhance our skills to make us flexible and ready to transfer from one career to another.  This, in my view is the BIG picture.

A few important lessons I’ve learned about networking that I focus on:

  • Inviting some of my connections to networking events helps to expand and enrich my network and the network of the people I invite to these events.  It’s all about introducing people to other people and making useful connections.
  • Preparing for each event makes it easier to connect with new people.  Getting information on the general profile of participants or of specific  participants beforehand helps me to identify potential topics for discussion, adjust my “elevator pitch” and set realistic expectations and goals for the number of people I expect to meet.
  • Being willing to offer help by way of referrals, new contacts and information resources tends to lead to stronger and meaningful connections.  When I focus the conversation on getting to know the other person and their interests usually leads to more productive discussions and interaction.
  • Following up by connecting on social media, such as following on Twitter or commenting on blog posts, connecting on LinkedIn and other networks are essential for successful networking.  Making notes on business cards on the person’s interests or expertise and sending an article or an invitation to an event that I believe the person would like help to support on-going contact. 

 A final word –

I’ve also learned not to be alarmed if some people don’t have time to talk or don’t respond to follow-up e-mails or calls.   I believe that this is because many people are very focused on discovering their own talents and abilities or are trying to find their footing in their career.  Then there are others who are self-aware, but are fully engaged and focused on being successful and so, they won’t have the time to network with people who they don’t perceive to be of valuable assistance or who can help them achieve their goals.   

 That said, I’ve learned that there’s always going to be a small but very important number of like-minded people who have much in common and want to network with each other.  In this way, unfilled needs are uncovered in areas of interest and in emerging trends.  Networking is one of the best ways for people to align their attention, time and talents with these unfilled needs and position themselves to take advantage of opportunities or create opportunities that lead to success.

 See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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