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Fortune's Anne Fisher

Career book review: Consider 'Annie' asked

Fortune's 'Ask Annie' Fisher

"If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?"
By Anne Fisher
William Morrow, 288 pages, April

(CNN) -- One of the things that keeps career consultant Anne Fisher's readers coming back is her cool, conversational style.

In "If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?" -- just being released -- she writes, "In the interest of clarity, I've divided (the book) into sections that roughly correspond to the chronological stages of a typical career (if indeed there is such a thing these days as a typical career -- but more about that shortly). However, this is a pretty arbitrary way of organizing these ideas, with the weird result that you may find something useful where you might not have thought of looking for it. ...

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"All this is simply to say," she writes, "that the best way to proceed might be to ignore the section headings in the Contents table and check out the chapter headings and the Index instead."

Then Fisher gets the jump on you: "But really, why read this book at all?" What a refreshing question. And she has an answer.

"We are caught up in the most turbulent and contradictory job market in at least 30 years. ... On the one hand, unemployment for the past few years has been about as close to zero as it can realistically ever get. ... Even so, by mid-1999, the U.S. work force had seen 16 straight months of layoffs -- more than at any time since 1993, and that was during a recession -- with each month's figures mounting higher than in the same month a year earlier."

And those comments on layoffs, of course, precede the staggering of the dot-com world and such recent high-profile announcements of expected job cuts to come -- Ericsson 3,300; Cisco, 5,500 to 8,000; WorldCom, 11,550; and Chrysler, 26,000.

'Reading and writing well, in plain English'

Fisher has integrated into her book lots of questions and answers from her popular "Ask Annie" column in Fortune, a sister AOL Time Warner company to the CNN News Group. As she suggests, sub-headings may tell you more about what you want to read here than the larger section titles.

•  "The Great American Stress-out," for example, might be a great read if you weren't so frantic with work that you could get to it -- it's in the chapter titled "Nobody Ever Told You It Was Going To Be This Complicated." (And no, no one ever did, did they?)

•  Hey, look at this one: "Help! My Best People Keep Quitting" -- got someone you'd like to hand that to as you walk out the door? It's in the chapter called "Now That You're the Boss ..."

•  Every IT worker's quandary is summed up in "The Skills Dilemma: Jack of All Trades or Master of One?" You'll find that in "Moving Up: How to Travel Vertically in a Horizontal World."

"There's something I'd like to get off my chest, and it's this: About 50 percent of the time, people who write me to complain about an uncooperative (or hostile or otherwise bothersome) co-worker sound as if they are no bargain themselves."
— Anne Fisher, "If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?"

Maybe her best moments, though, are in some of the most ground-level points she makes, the ones we all should think about more often.

•  Fisher makes the correct point, for example, that a lot of how-to literature on the market fails to tell you what employers really want. Let's say you're in a dead heat for a job in a group of four all-but-equal candidates. Here's what she has to tell you: "Even at bleeding-edge, high-tech companies, the aptitudes employers crave are much the same as in the Old Economy -- only, interestingly, somewhat more so. The Big Three: (1) a knack for problem solving and a certain dogged self-determination; (2) the ability to listen well and get along with other people; and (3) strong communication skills. Yes, this means reading and writing well, in plain English. Imagine that."

Notice she just did it in plain English, herself, to prove it.

•   Here's one to warm the synapses of the smarter reader and employee. And to get at it, she quotes Rainmaker Thinking's Bruce Tulgan, a frequent presence here at CNN Career. In this instance, think of yourself as a boss dealing with talented people, especially "twentysomethings, which is the age group statistically most likely to run out on you." Fisher and Tulgan suggest that finding out what a valued worker wants, however idiosyncratic it might be, gives you a bargaining chip with "exceptionally talented people" who are "often a little, um, eccentric."

'Reading and writing well, in plain English'

"Cater to their quirks," Fisher writes of Tulgan's approach. "'You want Thursdays off? I'm glad to know that. Here's what I need from you in exchange for that ...'" You get the picture. (And here's hoping you get Thursday off, too.)

•  One more. Some vintage "Ask Annie"-speak here: "I don't mean to keep harping on the idea of trying to evaluate your own performance as objectively as you can, but I'd be remiss not to bring it up just once more, this time in the context of interpersonal relations at work. There's something I'd like to get off my chest, and it's this: About 50 percent of the time, people who write me to complain about an uncooperative (or hostile or otherwise bothersome) co-worker sound as if they are no bargain themselves. To judge from how they describe the situation and their own role in it, in fact, it often seems to me that if I had to work with this person, I'd be pretty prickly, too."

"If My Career's on the Fast Track" works best as a sort of book of meditations on work life. While you can hear the stampede from the thing as soon as the term "meditation" is sounded, this isn't "meditation' in the sense of something devotional or somber, but more akin to reminders of things you feel you once knew.

As its subtitle says, the book is about "Surviving and Thriving in the Real World of Work." And such entertainingly plain English. Good read.

[watercooler]



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RELATED SITES:
Fortune
William Morrow at HarperCollins

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