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Career Coach: No Fooling

In celebration of April Fools, the Career Coach looks at all the wisdom written about foolishness and applies it to career matters.

This month that begins with April Fool's Day is an apt occasion to consider all the wisdom written about foolishness. Here's a sampling to consider this April Fool's Day and the rest of the year:

Abraham Lincoln observed, "It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time." In politics, you might get away with fooling some people, but don't try to fool anyone in the animation and visual effects business. Don't misrepresent yourself on your résumé or put others' work in your portfolio. The business is much too small to get away with lying on your résumé or padding your portfolio with work you didn't do. One prominent producer/director was approached by a candidate with a gorgeous portfolio. Imagine the surprise of the producer/director when he viewed his own work in the portfolio of the candidate.

Marcus Tullius Cicero found that, "It is the nature of every person to err, but only the fool perseveres in error." If you keep running into the same obstacle, try a new approach. Perhaps you've sent your résumé and demo reel to three dozen employers and have received absolutely no responses. Instead of sending the same materials to another three dozen companies, get feedback from someone.

Benjamin Franklin tells us, "Wise men don't need advice. Fools don't take it." No one welcomes unsolicited advice. But if you ask someone for an opinion of your work, don't argue with the assessment or get defensive. Take notes and give their comments some thought. There may be some ideas that are useful to you.

Publius Syrus advises, "Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage." Don't be fooled into badmouthing co-workers, former colleagues, or bosses. Avoid speaking ill of former supervisors during interviews, even if asked. You might be perceived as a difficult employee if you gripe. Don't get known as a complainer by people who might help you find work some day. If you have a legitimate complaint, think of a solution to the problem and present both to a person who can do something to help.

Robert Burton called those with a short-term view, "Penny wise, pound foolish." Sometimes it will make sense to consider taking a lower paying job if you will learn more and grow. Building your skills and experience is a wiser choice than taking a job where your possibility for learning is limited, even though the pay may be better. When weighing job offers and opportunities, consider what you will learn as well as what you will earn. Building skills and relationships that will sustain a long career may be a wiser choice than earning some short-term dollars.

"He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever." Chinese proverb.

People are afraid they will look foolish if they ask questions. No one expects you to be an expert when you begin a job. Each company has its own ways of doing things, so take advantage of being the new kid on the block and feel free to ask questions about policy and procedures. Even if you have been on the job awhile, it's better to clarify directions than to make assumptions.

Thomas Tusser predicted, "A fool and his money are soon parted." When you land your job, don't spend your money splurging on that long coveted BMW/Bali vacation/Botox treatment. It's better to save your money until you have enough stashed away so you could meet your living expenses for 6 months, as it may take you that long to land a job if you are laid off. Living expenses include your rent and utilities, food, transportation and taxes. Remember to put money away for the job search too it costs money to find a job (résumé printing, demo reel duplication and postage and transportation and grooming costs hair cuts, clothing).

Frankie Lymon and M. Levy asked in their famous song, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" You are going to meet some wonderful people at work. You might even meet a future spouse. Be cautious. Before jumping into an office romance, find out what the company's policy is regarding romances among co-workers. Companies often have policies against personal relationships between supervisors and employees, to guard against sexual harassment suits. If a long-term relationship develops it could require one or both of you to change jobs or lose your job altogether. If it doesn't work out, will you still be able to work with that person? In any case, when it comes to on the job romance, use discretion. If Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher can lose his job over an office romance, it can happen to anyone.

"Cato used to assert that wise men profited more by fools, than fools by wise men; for that wise men avoided the faults of fools, but that fools would not imitate the good examples of wise men." Plutarch.

That all sounds like Greek to me, but what they were trying to say is, some people learn from their own mistakes, wise men learn from the mistakes of others, but fools never learn. Those who observe the mistakes of others and avoid repeating them will avoid wasting time and effort. Often things are done at work or in organizations because they have always been done that way. This doesn't mean that tradition should be followed religiously. Perhaps that meeting on Monday isn't necessary. Perhaps that procedure is obsolete. Take time to analyze your job and if there are ways to improve what you do, try to implement them.

Alexander Pope believed that, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Many innovations have changed the world which others thought foolish. A portable phone that takes pictures? A computer in your own home? A car that runs on gas and electricity? Others may think you a fool to quit a solid company to join a start up, but taking risks can lead to great rewards.

William Shakespeare declared, "Thus we play the fools with the time." A sign in a Lockheed plant during WWII read, "Waste anything but time." Don't fool around and waste time. This is your most precious commodity. Use it well. When you're at work be diligent. Make the hours count. You'll accomplish more and advance more quickly.

Seneca exclaimed, "What fools these mortals be." We are all mortals, and life is short. The most foolish thing you can do is work all your life at a job that makes you miserable. Your job is to find work that is fulfilling, challenging and worthwhile and devote yourself to doing it well. Anything else would be, well foolish.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter/hiring strategist and career coach. Her most recent recruiting clients include Paramounts feature film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Toybox, a Canadian visual effects company. She speaks regularly on career issues at colleges and universities.