Choose to be Good

archer with great aim; hits bullseye

Do you remember the first job you dreamed about having? It may be far removed from where you find yourself today. My mother told me the first job I expressed admiration for was garbage man when I was four-years old. The first job I recall saying I wanted to have was driver of a Coca-Cola truck. The big, red truck that rumbled down our street every afternoon on the way to the Coke warehouse captivated me—I wanted to be in the driver’s seat!

My interest in garbage collection and truck driving waned. In its place I developed an interest in marketing. The way I came to it was unusual. As a teenager, I often skimmed the help wanted ads in the newspaper. The practice started by chance (I think the classified ads followed the sports section). The number of ads for sales and marketing jobs caught my attention even though I was not a job seeker. I asked my father why there were so many ads for these positions. He pointed out that no matter what a business did or made, it had to be sold. Sounded like job security to me!

Today, I am still in marketing, having spent more than 35 years learning, working, and teaching in the field. The last 18 years have been in higher education as a professor, a far cry from the garbage man or truck driver I envisioned for my career as a young boy.

Your Choice

As a new academic year begins for me, I am keeping a quote by Abraham Lincoln in mind. My goal is for this year to be the best ever in my higher ed career. A lofty outcome, for sure, and one that will only be reached by striving each day to be good at what I do. It will not hinge on one event or project, but small actions I take to become a better teacher, researcher, and colleague. Lincoln’s words offer encouragement on two fronts:

  • You can choose “whatever you are.” While I drifted away from my aspirations to be a garbage man or Coca-Cola truck driver, we desperately need people to take on those roles. Moreover, you can be happy regardless of what you choose to do for work. I am currently reading The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha. Early in the book he points out that many of us mistake how to achieve happiness. It is not a linear progression that takes us to happiness. So, instead of this:

Great Work > Big Success > Happy

we need to choose happiness at the outset and go on the journey from there.

Happy > Great Work > Big Success

The good news is we get to choose. Sometimes, we make the wrong choice. If that is your case, choosing happiness first could make it easier to shift the work you do and how you define success.

  • You control whether you are “a good one.” Note that Lincoln does not say we must “be the best” or “rise above everyone else.” We only need to be good at what we do. Why is that important? I believe many people fall in the trap of comparing themselves to others and feeling so inferior that it paralyzes them. “Why bother blogging or building an online presence, I will never be like Seth Godin (or whoever the people are that are the stars of your field).” These far out comparisons do nothing to help us. They hurt us by discouraging action and in turn, improvement. Not only will we not become the best, but we hurt our chances of being as could as we could be.

Whatever you are, be a good one. Abraham Lincoln quote

Get Started

The opportunity create value for the audience I serve does not require me to be the best at what I do. Students do not care how many research articles I publish or in which journals my research appears. The number of blog posts written or Twitter followers gained are not indicators of being good. Yet, we often chase such vanity metrics as if it was a competition.

Choose to be a good one of whatever you are. It is completely within your control. In order to get to good, step back and ask yourself what behaviors will help move you in that direction. Then, do it!


Your College Degree Doesn’t Mean Much


It is an exciting time on campus at my institution, Middle Tennessee State University. More than 2,500 students will graduate in three ceremonies today and tomorrow. It is a joyful time for graduates and their families. It is a significant accomplishment for students who persevered through exams, presentations, and assignments with a dysfunctional group. Congratulations! Now here is something else to know: Your degree does not hold much value.

The headline seems heretical coming from someone who earns a living in higher education. How can I say a college degree does not mean much? It certainly costs a lot in sweat equity and of course, money. A former boss introduced me to this idea about the value of a degree during a job interview. I was dismayed and disgusted at the time, but later I understood.

What Does It Mean?

It was during my first meeting with my future boss that he proclaimed “your degree doesn’t mean much to me.” I was taken aback. As a first generation college graduate, I was proud to have a bachelor’s degree on my résumé. How dare this man disparage my education!

The boss followed his statement about my degree with an explanation. He said “To me, it shows you are trainable. We will train you in our systems and ways of doing things.” I was still miffed by his statement about the value of my degree, but I understood his point. That encounter occurred 27 years ago. It is still the most salient exchange in a job interview I have ever had.

The belief that a college degree does not mean much is a viewpoint to which I have come around. The issue is that many graduates see their degree as being akin to a golden ticket. They feel entitled to a certain salary or position because they earned a college degree. In that regard, a college degree does not mean much. It is not a “fast pass” to the front of a line… although not having a degree can exclude you from the line.

There is Value

Before you begin questioning me, or worse, the value of having a college degree, let me state that it is definitely worth the time and investment to earn. On one hand, there is tangible evidence of the benefits of a college degree as measured in dollars. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median lifetime earnings for persons with a bachelor’s degree is almost $2.3 million compared to $1.3 million for persons whose highest education level is a high school diploma. Obtaining a college degree opens doors by equipping graduates with necessary skills. At the same time, a degree serves a gatekeeping function to exclude persons without a college education.

The most valuable aspect of a college degree is not the deliverable (the diploma). The most valuable aspect of earning a college degree is the transformative process students go through to complete their academic program. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss the role soft skills play in shaping your personal brand. The tendency might be to associate a college education with learning hard skills (e.g., computer programming languages or generally accepted accounting principles). Hard skills are taught, but what many employers long for are employees with solid soft skills. What are some soft skills? They are intangible abilities such as:

  • communication (oral and written)
  • leadership
  • teamwork

You can take college courses pertaining to many soft skills like communication and leadership. More importantly, students have opportunities to develop soft skills in the classroom, in extracurricular activities, and in their social lives.

You need not choose between focusing on developing hard skills or soft skills because you need both to shape the makeup of your personal brand (one of the three Ms of a personal brand along with meaning and message). Think of hard skills and soft skills as complementary pieces for your brand. Consider these statistics as reasons to pay attention to developing hard skills and soft skills:

  • Hard skills get you in the door—69% of human resources professionals say that they look first at an applicant’s hard skills to determine if they are viable candidates.
  • Soft skills get you the job—56% of human resources professionals say the most important abilities in new hires are soft skills, especially interpersonal relations.

Leverage Your Value

My former boss was wrong—a college degree does mean a lot. However, it is up to you to unlock the value. The degree itself is a commodity, with many variations of the product issued by higher education institutions across the country. It is up to you to differentiate our brand with a mix of meaning, makeup, and message unique to your identity. Leverage the benefits of earning a college degree to add value to your brand and stand out from millions of other people that have the same credential.

Values: The Compass to Guide Your Career


“Maturity is achieved when a person postpones immediate pleasures for long-term values.”

– Joshua L. Liebman


The ideal starting point for understanding your purpose is to identify values that guide your thoughts and actions. Values are the principles that serve as motivation for every decision you make. Like a compass, values give direction in making judgments about what is important (and unimportant), what is right (and wrong), and what brings you happiness (and unhappiness). Making decisions that align with personal values can affect the outcome of virtually all major life decisions whether it is the city you choose to live, the friends with whom you spend time, or a partner or spouse who you commit to be with long term. Many instances of dissatisfaction or unhappiness with any of these decisions can usually be traced to a choice that does not align with one’s values.

Values Inventory

Career choice is another life decision that should be made with careful consideration of values. After all, you are choosing how to invest your physical, mental, and creative energy to your work. You want to feel that you are committing your professional efforts to an organization that places similar emphasis on principles that are important to you. To assist in examining how your principles match up with career considerations, evaluate these four categories of career values:

  1. Intrinsic values – Motivators to engage in activities because you find them interesting or enjoyable; examples include feelings of independence or making a difference.
  2. Work content values – Specific tasks performed on the job that are enjoyable or play to your strengths; problem solving, serving others, and using creativity are among values in this category.
  3. Work environment values – Working conditions that create a positive work setting; opportunities to learn, generous benefits, and fair compensation are examples.
  4. Work relationship values – Characteristics of interactions that matter to you; open communication, teamwork, and diversity are examples of work relationship values that are weighed in determining the fit of a career or employer.

Notice that control over outcomes that relate to these four career values categories resides in different places. Intrinsic values are yours- no one else dictates what is important to you except you. Work content values are inherent in a particular job and can connect with your intrinsic values. For example, a career as a copywriter responsible for creating content for web pages and social media might be appealing because of the variety in assignments or the challenge of meeting tight deadlines to complete client projects. Work environment and work relationship values are influenced by an organization’s culture, which are shared values, beliefs, and behavioral expectations among the organization’s members. Organization culture can mesh with or oppose an employee’s intrinsic and work content values. The copywriter who places importance of using her creativity to solve a client’s marketing needs (a work content value) might feel that value is not being fulfilled if her ideas are frequently rejected because “that’s not how we do things here.”

Strike a Values Match

Because work environment and work relationship values are influenced heavily by organization culture, it can be difficult for you to determine how well your values match with the company. However, there are ways you can look into an organization’s culture when researching prospective employers. Indicators of a company’s values include:

  • Mission statement – Does it contain a statement about values? Also, many organizations go beyond a mission statement by identifying the organization’s values. How closely do the organization’s mission and values match with values important to you?
  • Philanthropy – What social causes or nonprofit organizations does a company support? Corporate philanthropy can be interpreted as a statement of a company’s values and priorities.
  • Physical environment – If you have an opportunity to visit an organization’s facilities or offices, are there visible cues about culture and values? One indicator is the layout of work spaces- Is it a maze of cubicles that isolates workers from one another, or is it a more open layout that promotes interaction and community among employees?
  • Employee Impressions – To learn about an organization’s values, go to an information source that is embedded there: Employees. Ask employees about their experiences through questions as “What attracted you this company?” and “What do you like most about working for this company?” Their stories might resonate with what you seek when you make a commitment to an employer or raise concerns about whether the organization shares the same values as you.

Values represent what is important to you; your challenge is to find happiness in the mix of intrinsic, work content, work environment, and work relationship values.

Be Different: Have a Career Development Plan


Image Credit: Flickr- Extra Medium (CC License)

If you take car trips to new or unfamiliar places, a map is an essential travel accessory. Whether it comes in the form of an atlas, a fold-out map, or a smartphone app, we need a map to plan our journey. What are the different routes that can be taken? Which route is the shortest distance? Is there a route that will be more memorable than others because of scenery or attractions along the way? If you are driving from Dallas to Denver, you probably would not just hop in the car and start driving in a northwesterly direction. You need a plan to get where you are going or you will likely never get there.

Career Maps: A Rarity

The map analogy came to mind as I read an article on Careerealism in which results of a reader survey about career development plans. It was a simple, one-question survey in which readers were asked “Do you have a career development plan in place?” with the obvious answer choices of “yes” or “no.” Results of the survey may surprise you (or they may not):

Career Development Plan Chart
Image Credit: Careerealism (

Two-thirds of workers do not have a career development plan, a map that outlines a route to their destination. Reflecting on this statistic, I identified three reasons why such a large number of professionals do not have a plan: 1) No destination, 2) no chosen route, and 3) no mapping skills.

No Destination

A map is not as useful if a destination is not known. Simply put, where are you wanting to go? One reason for not having a destination is the inability to answer the question of where do you want to go. Setting goals or objectives is crucial to managing a professional career like a brand. You need milestones to reach, or you will remain where you are. In today’s dynamic business environment, five-year goals may be more challenging to set and attain, but they still serve a purpose of orienting you toward where you should be going. Complement long-range destinations with intermediate milestones such as two-year and one-year goals that are intended to move you closer to the five-year destination.

No Route

Some people may have a destination in mind for their career, but they have not laid out the route needed to take in order to get there. This scenario sounds more like a dream than a plan. The idea of setting a route to reach a five-year, two-year, or even one-year destination can be intimidating, particularly if your destination is a great distance from where you are now. But, remember the answer to the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” Applying the concept of the 3Ms of personal branding (Meaning, Makeup, and Message), think about how focusing on each of these areas can contribute to advancing your career and moving you toward your destination.

No Mapping Skills

One characteristic of a map that we take for granted is that someone has already done the hard work for us by creating and publishing the maps. All we have to do is figure out how to read it and decide on the route to take. When it comes to your professional career, the same luxury does not exist. No one has designed your career map… because no one other than you can and should do it. You must be willing to determine a destination and plot a route to get there.

Even those commitments are not enough- sharpening your mapping skills is a must or your career journey will inevitably encounter dead ends and wrong turns. One of the most effective techniques for becoming more proficient at mapping is to learn from others. Whether you seek out a mentor, network with other professionals, or commit to a daily discipline to learn, you can have significant impact on career management by becoming more confident and experienced in mapping your journey.

Be Weird and Plan

Financial planning expert Dave Ramsey says when it comes to personal finances, normal is being broke. In professional career management, normal is not having a plan. Be weird and set a plan for where you want to go, how you will get there, and what fuel and supplies will be needed for the journey.

Overcoming Resistance to a Sales Career

As a person who has spent all of his adult life working in marketing, I am sold on the critical contributions salespeople make to an organization (pun intended). Despite my strong feelings about the value-added impact the sales force makes, this quote from a recent USA Today story still stopped me in my tracks:

“Sales representative is the second-hardest job to fill behind skilled trades.”

In an economy that still has not fully recovered from the jolt it felt five years ago, how could such a vital position have an employee shortage? It is not a matter of businesses shrinking their head counts in sales departments. Rather, it is a gap in trained candidates to step into sales roles to help drive business growth.

Why Avoid Sales?
Over the years, I have had many students come to my office to discuss career paths. Many of them were marketing majors, and a surprising number of them quickly announced to me “I want to work in marketing, but I don’t want to work in sales.” That pronouncement is at the same time eyebrow-raising and troubling to me as a marketing educator. My reaction is that I feel I have failed to persuade students on the merits of sales as a career path. So, what are reasons behind their reluctance to pursue a sales career?

  1. No understanding– Many students misunderstand how salespeople go about their job duties. Images of cold calling or door-to-door selling are just too uncomfortable for some students- they cannot envision themselves in that role. The reality is that B2B selling involves less of these activities and more emphasis on relationship building and problem solving. Once students realize that is what they would do in a sales position they are not as terrified.
  2. No confidence- I sense that many of the students who share with me their aversion to sales is attributable to a lack of self-confidence. They do not see themselves as aggressive or dare I say, pushy, enough to succeed at selling. And, if compensation is going to be tied to how much is sold, lack of confidence can be a huge obstacle to overcome.
  3. No need– Some students look down on selling and salespeople, thinking that is a position beneath them. A no need resistance to a sales career often is a no understanding or no confidence reason in disguise. These students need to be educated on the importance of sales to an organization as well as career paths that can be taken beyond an entry level position.

There is Always Room for One More
When I was a teenager, I had what would be thought of by many people as a weird habit: I read Help Wanted ads in the Sunday newspaper regularly. I could not help but notice that there were more ads for salespeople than any other type of job. I asked my father why this was the case. His response resonates with me to this day: Regardless of what a business does or makes, someone is needed to sell it. That statement guided me toward becoming a marketing major in college. And, it is a piece of wisdom I share with my students.

There is always a place in an organization for someone who can generate revenue (i.e., sell). Employees add value to a firm in different ways: Some help save money by managing processes while others support revenue generators by performing administrative services. But, as companies look to break free from the shackles placed on them by economic conditions in recent years, employees that can connect with clients, build relationships, and close deals are in greater demand than ever before.

USA Today – “Bosses Lament: Sales Jobs Hard to Fill”