The Perfect Job

Nancy Nagel had assembled a respectable resume: She'd earned a history degree, worked for a political consulting company, and in 1993 graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. But "I wasn't clear on what I wanted to do," she says. While her classmates entered high-paying consulting firm and investment banking positions, Nagel juggled temporary jobs with a full-blown career search for a job that fit with her sense of social responsibility. Her patience paid off: She eventually landed a job as sales and marketing manager for Specialty Mill Products, which hires at-risk youth and adults to build furniture for hotels and low-income housing units.At age forty-nine, Craig Neal had an impressive career track record at socially responsible businesses, including Gardenworks and Rodale Press. For the past five years, he'd been publisher of the Utne Reader. Yet he, too, wasn't satisfied. "I finally realized I didn't have too many years left to do an experiment with what I think a business can be," he says. So he and his wife, Pat, founded the for-profit educational firm Heartland Institute in Minneapolis.In today's age of downsizing and restructuring, finding and keeping any job presents a daunting challenge. Yet finding the job -- one which you value and in which you are valued -- is even more complex."Most of us have an inherent need to contribute, to make the world a better place somehow," says Carol Cone, president of Cone Coughlin Communications in Boston. "We want to make a difference." And, increasingly, people are trying to do so through their professional lives. Yet finding a satisfying job remains a challenge."It seems like no one is satisfied with their jobs," says Valerie Frankel, a senior editor at Mademoiselle magazine and co-author of The I Hate My Job Handbook. "But it's gone beyond everyone wanting to make more money and work fewer hours. Now, we want to have jobs requiring more creativity and autonomy and, most of all, to be valued."Thus, the search. More people -- from recent graduates to mid-career professionals -- are revising their resumes, examining their priorities, and searching for the right career as if for the Holy Grail. "The light bulb has gone on, and there are an increasing number of people who want to work at progressive companies where they can affect lives of employees, improve communities, and basically make a difference," says Elissa Sheridan, vice president of planning and development at Business for Social Responsibility in San Francisco.They often include mid-career professionals who are abandoning their prior careers to take on new positions that promise greater satisfaction. "More of them want to make what they do in their outside world congruent with what is going on inside," says Diane Wexler, principal of career counseling firm Career Transition Management in Palo Alto, California. "There's an increasing need to bring the work life in line with their ultimate purpose." Wexler's clients have included a woman who left a lucrative, secure position at a Silicon Valley computer firm to return to school and pursue her dream of being a screenwriter.So how many people are looking for the job? Just ask Mike Brown at Patagonia, Maria Moyer-Angus at The Gap, Brian Lovejoy at Odwalla Inc., Andrea Asch at Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., or Mark Eisen at Home Depot. With titles like "manager of natural resources use," "director of product leadership," and "environmental assessment director" at businesses well known for their social responsibility, they have cool jobs at cool companies. And almost every day, they're asked the same questions: "How did you get your job?" and "How can I get a job just like yours?""I get dozens of resumes every month, dozens of phone calls, and tons of letters," says Brown, the environmental assessment director at Ventura, California-based Patagonia Inc.He and others say the first step for job-seekers is to evaluate their values, priorities, and needs. "Job seekers need to spend more time up front, examine their values and learn how to present themselves to prospective employers," says Gary Alpert, co-founder of Wet Feet Press, a San Francisco research and publishing firm that provides information to job seekers.Wexler agrees. "Most of us fall into our careers by chance," she says. "But over the years, things shift inside and outside of us, and there is a need to reassess values, interests, skills, and various aspects of the person."As a result, more people today have what she refers to as "composite careers," encompassing a wide range of jobs and professions. "Nobody who's graduated from college in the past ten years expects to have a lifetime career," says Frankel. "In fact, the average person has six careers over his or her lifetime. And they're often stepping stones to reach just the right one."SIDEBARCool Companies -- Cool JobsMaria Moyer-AngusDirector of Environmental Affairs The Gap Inc.What I do: I oversee environmental issues and plan for all of the company's policy-related work. I have helped put together an industry-wide initiative on packaging and recycling and helped the company look at paper consumption. Background: I got my degree in Chinese language and then worked for waste management and energy conservation firms. I also volunteered with environmental groups including Sierra Club and Earth Island Institute, where I'm now a board member.How I got this job: I worked for fifteen months as a consultant, and then signed on as an employee. They eventually realized that they needed someone in this position.Advice to job seekers: There's no substitute for experience. Read everything you can, and don't wait for an environmental position to open up. Rather, get in the company and create the position by finding partners, including senior management.Brian LovejoyDirector of Product Leadership, Odwalla Inc.What I do: I lead the effort to develop new products for fruit juice company Odwalla.Background: I graduated with an MBA from Columbia University, fully expecting to be an investment banker. After a dozen interviews on Wall Street I was disillusioned. I realized I wasn't like the people who were interviewing me. I then spent some time working on a Florida alligator farm (on a dare) before moving back to my home state of California.How I got the job: I contacted the company and learned it didn't have a marketing director. I said I would do anything to be part of the company, so I started by driving a delivery truck. Then they let me run a business unit, and later I slipped into the marketing position.Advice to job seekers: Find something that you can feel passionate about. Be willing to work for less money if the job provides greater satisfaction in the long run.Mike BrownEnvironmental Assessment Director, Patagonia Inc.What I do: I oversee our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our products and corporate activities. So, one day I'm looking at the impact of growing cotton with pesticides, the next day I'm working on paper issues, and the next day I'm looking at energy-efficient lighting for our retail operations.Background: I worked primarily in government doing technical assistance on pollution prevention for industry. At one point I worked helping businesses find alternatives that had less environmental impact.How I got my job: A mutual friend who made surfboards for both me and Founder Yvon Chouinard said we should meet. I eventually got a call from the company and they hired me to help them write a job description for my position. They asked me if I was interested in the job just as I was laid off from my government position.Advice to job seekers: More often than not a job comes via personal connections and networking. But any applicant needs to have a track record, demonstrating you know how to help companies improve their performance.Mark EisenDirector of Environmental Marketing, Home DepotWhat I do: I deal with a variety of issues related to the environmental impact of the merchandise we sell, as well as internal recycling issues related to our customers.Background: I was working in the retail industry as a marketing manager for a consulting company, trying to sell our store design services to Home Depot.How I got the job: I was laid off by my employer, but thanks to my prior contact with Home Depot I was able to create my own job there. I had recognized the growing environmental trend among retailers, and realized a home store was the perfect fit.Advice to job seekers: Try mixing two different skills, such as science and marketing. Also, don't expect a position to be waiting. Create one-pitch the company on why it would add value.Tom Van DykePrincipal, Progressive Asset Management Inc.What I do: I work in shareholder action under Portfolio Advisory Services, a branch of Progressive Assets Management. We allocate assets for large net worth investors and coordinate additional work like shareholder action. We also coordinate all the screening on investments.Background: I graduated from Duke, traveled, and worked on political campaigns. I then started raising money to close nuclear plants, and realized that socially responsible investing could work. I trained at Dean Witter.How I got my job: We eventually opened Progressive Assets Management so we could focus on socially responsible investing. I just followed what I believe in.Advice to job seekers: Get your training at a major brokerage house, and specialize in socially responsible investing. Then give us a call; we're looking to open offices throughout the United States.

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