DEAR J.T. & DALE: I started a new job six months ago. In the beginning, I loved it. They gave me total control of my projects. But lately, I’ve noticed they are coming to me and asking me to make changes that I don’t agree with. I’ve pushed back, but they told me that while my work is important, it also has to drive revenues. I don’t think I can stay working here if this continues. I’m someone who likes his creative freedom. How do I explain this to potential new employers? – Zac
J.T.: I don’t think it’s wrong for your employer to ask you to make changes to ensure that the work you are doing is profitable. Did you know it costs, on average, 130-140 percent of your salary to cover the cost of taxes, benefits, et cetera? Your employers are your customers; you need to make sure they are happy with the return on their investment. It’s likely that if you leave this place, you will find the same problem at the next employer, especially if you want to increase your salary over time – the more money you make, the more you need to prove your worth. I wouldn’t advise you to leave; I’d find a way to work within their constraints and still be creative. That’s a skill set that will help you in the long run.
Dale: Yes, a critical skill of the innovator is finding creative ways to get around uncreative people. But there is a bigger issue here, Zac, the one J.T. is getting at: the inevitable limits imposed by the marketplace. “Creative freedom” is the snow leopard of business – you know that such a thing exists, but you’re never going to see it. You might think that you’ll be free when you can go out on your own and be your own boss. Nope. Then you have lots of bosses, called customers. OK, you say, well you’re free when you’ve done such great work that everyone trusts your judgment. Yes, but only briefly. In Hollywood, for example, there’s a two-flop rule: You make a hit movie, and then you might just achieve creative freedom – until you have two flops in a row, and then you’re out of luck/backers. Knowing that, can you really ignore the revenue demands that come with audience numbers? So, what do you do? You make a game of it. You welcome the accounting numbers as the scoreboard of your creative guile. If you make the numbers sing, your managers will hum along. That’s when you can almost see the snow leopard.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I want to change careers but can’t seem to find any company that will give me a chance. I’ve sent out hundreds of applications. What can I do to get a shot? – Fiona
J.T.: The problem is thinking that applying online will get you a job. I saw one study that found that only 3 percent of people who apply get a call, and that includes people with experience in similar jobs. The only way to change careers successfully is to focus on networking. You will have to show people how you can make up for your lack of experience. This can be done when people get to know you personally and can see how you can leverage your skills and abilities to be successful in a new career.
Dale: Even so, you may need to do the career two-step. Every hiring manager wants to make a logical hire, and that may require redirecting your current career to where it overlaps the one you aspire to. Let’s say you’re an accountant, but after binging on “Mad Men” you decide you want to become an account exec at an ad agency. That’s a tough leap. So, you make a logical one and focus your job search on an accounting job with an ad agency. From that new job/old career, you’ll get to know the business and the people. Eventually you’ll be able to get yourself assigned to an account team working with a numbers-oriented client. And that’s when you’ve completed the career two-step.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.