I had the great opportunity to catch up with a good friend and colleague who has successfully changed careers and is now helping others do the same. Mary Stern and I worked together when we were both with American Hospital Supply and later the Baxter Healthcare organization.
Mary Stern, former VP of HR, is living in Santa Barbara after many years in the Midwest. She is enjoying the adventure of shifting from corporate leader to consultant and now author. It may seem like this is a huge change, however, Mary is used to change. She always has helped her colleagues and clients transition their businesses. While at Baxter, she helped leaders move from U.S.-centric mindsets to global ones. When Baxter faced yet another important transformation, Mary decided to transform herself as well, retiring from corporate life and then diving into something entirely new.
From millennials to boomers, we are all rethinking how to bring more meaning to our work and manage career transitions, if not now, then in the future. Mary took a full year to evaluate the “what next.” But often we don’t have that much time to evaluate. I was so intrigued with Mary’s journey, that I asked if she could share her insights.
Sherry Benjamins: Tell me, how did you determine that you wanted to write a series of children’s books after leaving Baxter?
Mary Stern: I was always a nature lover and enjoyed spending time out of doors with my amazing grandchildren. When my first grandson was five years old, I wanted to help him love reading as much I do, so I created something special for him. He would be the star of my children’s book, and in 2008 we published the first in The Cowboy Dog Series. Book two came in 2009, with my second grandchild as the hero; my last grandchild is the star of book three, which was completed in 2011.
Sherry: How fun that must have been! Were there surprises for you in this process?
Mary: I did not realize how much work it would take to find the right team—illustrator, editor, book designer, printer, web page designer, PR and marketing person and a distributor—to pull it all together. Any team needs to function well, and I was surprised how similar this was to teamwork in corporate America. What I learned was that skills of inclusion, clarity, and communication all pay off. The publishing world was also more difficult than I imagined. It is competitive, and I understand that, but there is very little collaboration and it seems cutthroat at times.
Sherry: Following the children’s series, what made you decide to write a book about job search with so much already published in this area?
Mary: The short answer is that this book is quite different. I have looked and researched extensively what is out there. With a whole career in HR and in helping others in career change, I wanted to create a resource that was a step-by-step guide. That’s why I called it 6 Steps to Land the Job.
So many of those I coach say, “I can’t find the jobs.” There are jobs, I would tell them, but people are just not sure how to find them.
Sherry: We know this is a very challenging job market at all levels. What are you seeing that can immediately help someone who says, “There are no jobs?”
Mary: I wonder how many people take the time to evaluate what their interests are and share that with their network. I see people focusing on the activity of job search without identifying the result they are aiming for. We want immediate gratification, and given the time pressure, I can understand why we go there first. However, doing the research and focusing on a quality, thoughtful goal is important. I know the market is tough, no question. However, if you determine what your field of interest is and how you might enter that arena, you might be surprised where that takes you. Networking is key. You must successful network to find the right resources and connections. Of course, part-time work somewhere might be essential while you are figuring this out and building your connections.
Extroverts understand the value of connecting and social media. Introverts might struggle, so I suggest preparing for the “Three Questions Strategy.” Prior to a networking event where you are meeting someone for the first time, be ready with three questions, such as: “What speaker did you like at this event?” Or “Tell me about what brought you here.” Or “Have you joined other groups like this?” That will help you start making a connection and learn more about them.
I encourage you to share Mary’s book with someone you care about who is in job search. She starts with “tell your story” and emphasizes evaluating what you want and where you must make some choices. We know from research that money, although important is not always the most powerful motivator. You also have the opportunity to learn and grow, have impact and set goals, as Mary suggests.
From Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, to Clayton Christiansen’s book, How Will You Measure Your Life, there is more focus now on getting to “happiness” than ever before. Take the time to think about that for yourself, and then share this book with a friend or dive into the 6 Steps to Land the Job. It’s never too late! Also, check out Mary’s sites for her books: www.cowboydogseries.com and www.6stepstolandthejob.com.
There is no rush in figuring out your passion:
Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn at age 49
The Hurt Locker came out when Kathryn Bigelow was 57 years of age
Millard Kaufman, co-creator of “Mr. Magoo”, wrote his first novel at age 90
Ang Lee screened his first big movie at age 38
Van Gogh’s most famous work was created around age 35
Georgia O’Keeffe was famous for clay objects in her 80’s and continued ‘till 98 years young.