It was a year ago this month that Alexandra Levit began writing a column offering career advice for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, in 2004, she wrote her first book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. And before that, Levit said she spent three years doing public relations work for a large company. It was in that environment, she said, where she realized the hard-charging efforts that made her a success in college didn’t always translate to kudos in the workplace.
Now, with five books to her name, Levit has built a career doling advice to corporations, 20-somethings and The Wall Street Journal readers on how to find a little more happiness at work. On Thursday, Feb. 11, Levit will be speaking in Forest Park at a retail shop that caters to the self-starter, At Work Design.
“We’re going to talk a lot about relationships,” Levit said of her upcoming workshop. “I think that’s pretty much how the bulk of jobs are landed.”
Unemployment rates across the country are still averaging close to 10 percent, according to January figures released by the federal government, which means that millions of people have been forced into a transition they may not have expected. Julia Archer, the owner of At Work Design, 7500 Madison, also hails from corporate environs and understands the unease that often accompanies such changes – whether forced or voluntary. In 2009, Archer opened her boutique furniture and home-office supply store in Forest Park with the idea she could help people better their workplace surroundings. Playing host to Levit is a continuation of that, she said.
“When you’re suddenly out of what you’re used to, it’s important to have somebody put some context around it,” Archer said.
Both Levit and Archer live in Oak Park.
Levit does not offer one-on-one career counseling, but in her books and during speaking engagements stresses a conservative approach to job changes. If you’re currently employed, look for ways to gradually increase your responsibilities within the company while taking advantage of Webinars and other training opportunities outside of work.
Being unemployed adds a layer of urgency, but it may also be an opportunity. Treat the job search like a paying gig and spend eight hours a day researching pay scales, and whether you have the necessary skills.
“If you haven’t been happy with what you’re doing, look at this as a gift,” Levit said.
Levit also recommends keeping a realistic view of what jobs may be available to you.
“So many people get derailed shooting for the stars,” she said of the search for a perfect job. “There’s a reason it’s called work and not fun.”
Robin Sheerer is a career counselor in Oak Park and advised Archer during the transition from the corporate structure to becoming an indie retailer. According to Sheerer, regardless of whether a career change is forced upon us or sought willingly, the undertaking is largely the same.
Sheerer agreed with Levit’s advice to treat the search for a new job as though it is a job in itself. Sitting around in your pajamas and procrastinating only makes it harder to get going again.
Also, because so many people are looking for work these days, it’s important to be clear about what it is you’re looking for. Employers will sense that ambivalence and hire a more eager candidate, she said.
“They’re competing against people who do know what they want,” Sheerer said.
While Archer was working toward the opening of her store in Forest Park, she said it was extremely helpful to have Sheerer’s guidance, and sometimes for the simplest of tasks. Corporations tend to have very rigid protocols. Opening a business gives the entrepreneur total control of where to start and end a project, which can be both invigorating and overwhelming.
Archer said it’s also helpful to be reminded of your strengths. Her experience in design, and her enjoyment of style, led to the store’s opening. Sheerer helped her focus on those qualities, she said.
“It was allowing me to just listen to what I’m interested in,” Archer said of her work with Sheerer.