DEAR J.T. & DALE: The past few years, I’ve been hopping from bad sales job to bad sales job and now my résumé looks like Swiss cheese. Going from job to job has also ruined my self-esteem and taken a toll on my marriage. A career counselor was of no help, telling me I would excel in sales or acting. Ugh. Any advice? – Alec
J.T.: The fact that a career counselor told you you’d be good at sales or acting implies that you have a charismatic presence. Yet, your track record indicates that it doesn’t serve you well in sales. In order to get back on track, you need to identify a problem you’re passionate about solving. It doesn’t have to be as big as “world peace,” just something in your life that you could get behind improving. Then, see what types of jobs focus on dealing with this problem. Why do it this way? Because you need to find something you care enough about that when times get tough and you want to quit, you won’t. In short, find your “why” and you’ll find your way.
Dale: What J.T. is suggesting is one half of a creative way to sneak up on your passion. When most people ask themselves “What am I passionate about?”, they can’t come up with anything, or they merely resort to a common ardor like “basketball.” That leaves them with a vague sense of being a bland loser. However, tie your interest to your “why” and you have a new set of career options. If you love basketball and are not an NBA prospect, ask yourself what problems basketball solves. Well, there’s fitness and then there’s the learning of teamwork, and so on. So maybe you want to work for an organization that emphasizes fitness and learning, while making use of your sales skills. That might lead you to consider going into fundraising for an organization like the YMCA. That’s one on the list. Then you keep repeating the process, finding new options by following your interests into their light.
J.T.: I’d suggest that you read an excellent book called “Be Unstoppable” by ex-Navy SEAL Alden Mills. Mills overcame incredible adversity – like being told at age 12 that he had severe asthma and should learn to play chess – and went on to crack the code to career persistence. He’s not only an inspiration, but offers a process to employ your “why” to refocus your career.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am applying for a master’s program that requires a minimum GPA of 3.0. My GPA is 2.8. This is due to several bad grades in my first year, during which I had three surgeries. Should I explain this in my cover letter? – Amy
Dale: How I hate these silly numerical requirements. They masquerade as high standards but are merely slothful screening.
J.T.: But there the requirement sits. Dealing with it in a letter might be a little too late. I would contact the program and ask who you can speak to to get clarification. Tell them: “I want to apply to the program, but I have a 2.8 GPA due to having had three surgeries in my first year. If I take out those grades, my remaining years were a 3.4 average. Is there a way to still be considered?” I’d hate to see you apply only to be rejected because you didn’t approach it the right way or, even worse, because they make no exceptions. Better to get clarification first.
Dale: Good luck getting some bureaucrat to grant an exception in advance. I would just list your GPA for your sophomore through senior years with an asterisk (like, 3.4*). Then, in a footnote, you can say, “I consider this my ‘real GPA’ because … surgeries, etc.” Then, if all goes well, you can explain again in person, long before anyone bothers to check your transcripts.
J.T.: Hmmm. That might work as a backup, but only if you can’t get an approval in advance. Talking to someone upfront might even give you an edge, making your application stand out.
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.