• Mel Butcher

On Luck & Career Success

Recently, I was on the phone with a colleague when they launched into telling me about a job opening they have.

My colleague, a highly regarded wastewater treatment subject matter expert, shared that they were looking for someone with high technical acumen, preferably some design or applied system experience, preferably someone with a PhD. They're looking to hire someone who can be involved with R&D, but is a creative, outside the box thinker -- someone who thinks about the future of the water industry and where technology can go. They're also hoping to find a candidate that is an excellent communicator and can serve as one of the "faces" of the company's expertise.

You may be thinking - tall order.

I thought to myself, I know someone who totally fits those asks!

I'll reach out to her and see what she says.

Let's call my friend Erika for anonymity.

I get Erika for the phone and I describe the role to her. I go onto explain that this role is a rare type of position. And I explain why.

In the engineering consulting or even the equipment space, it is incredibly rare to hear about positions that:

  1. Include the combination of R&D and subject matter expertise with the desire for this person to also be client-facing, and

  2. Features working directly with an established SME who is actually eager to provide training and guidance, and has willingness to invest in an earlier-career professional over the course of years to grow them.

I mean I truly can't remember another time I've seen something SO COOL for a water professional that is passionate about technology, integration, pushing the envelope in treatment, and getting the support through their work to share it.

And to my surprise, my friend was resistant.

Now, before you judge Erika, let's understand her context.

Erika is a mother of young children. In this particular season of her life, healthy work-life integration is very important. Erika also started with a new company maybe a year ago.

In other words, Erika's resistance comes from fear of of the unknown (will this company and potential new boss understand my work versus family needs?) and fear of letting down the company where she is relatively new.

I said, "Erika, I'll only tell you my opinion if you want me to."

She said, "Yes, I want to know."

Here's essentially what I told Erika.

You work for a business. And businesses, *almost universally*, make decisions based on the needs of the business, not the needs of the people working for it. Be cautious of having commitment to a business that will not have the same commitment to you when the economy turns south.

If the industry you're working in took a nose dive for whatever reason, how dedicated will your employer be to you in that time of turmoil?

The flip side of that is, one of the most telling times to witness a company's dedication to its people is watching their behavior during the hard times.

And we saw this recently. The early months of the pandemic brought a tremendous amount of uncertainty to the professional services world. Many of our clients put projects on hold, uncertain if they would have the funds to proceed. And consulting firms, in kind, took actions too.

As I'm writing this, my day job (and where I'm trying to recruit Erika) is Carollo Engineers. I joined Carollo just before the start of the pandemic. I watched as Carollo leaders adapted to the challenges. And, to my knowledge during that tumultuous time, Carollo had no lay-offs, no furloughs, no forced vacation-taking, no cutting of benefits...

That's not something many firms can say about their experience and actions in 2020.

Now, my point is not that this is a reason for Erika to be interested in the role itself; rather, it is an important data point for considering one's dedication to any company.

The other concern that Erika brought up is also legitimate. The best way I know of to learn about a company's expectations in "work-life" is to talk to people who actually work there. If you don't know anyone at the company, seek out employees on LinkedIn and find a way to ask for an informal informational interview. You can get excellent tips for this in the book Reach Out by Molly Beck.

And there's an even bigger issue I want to highlight underneath Erika's surface concerns...


Ray Kroc is attributed for saying:

"The key to success is being in the right place at the right time, recognizing that you are there, and taking action."

Something like luck mixed with recognition and the "right" action.

I'm not convinced that Kroc's quote encompasses all pieces for success. I think that for each of us, there's some measure of hard work (dedication to one's craft and practice), along with the right place/right time factor, plus recognition and taking action...And an important influencer of being in the "right place at the right time," is your network.

It's simply impossible to predict when someone in your network can connect you to an opportunity that will change the course of your career or life for the better.

That's why it's important to have a network with both breadth and depth.

It's also important for people (like my friend Erika, and perhaps even people like you) to acknowledge that those opportunities may arrive before you feel ready. Consider:

Would the person in your network bring you the opportunity if they didn't already believe in you?


The last thing I want to say is this.

You are a professional. You have so much value to offer.

When someone offers to make an introduction that *could lead to an opportunity, it is worth having a discussion.

Just a discussion.

A discussion is not your commitment to the role. It's not even a commitment about your interest.

It is exploration. And it is yet another avenue for growing your network.

It is NOT a waste of the other person's time if it's not a fit (another concern of Erika's). By meeting you, the other person's network gets to grow, too.

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