“Sure! Let me get back to you on that.” As I hung up the phone, I wondered at how my work life had changed over the years. At the time, I was working full-time as the HR manager for a startup company, but the phone call was from another company in town looking for a few hours of HR project support. Related: Find Out How Much You're Worth To Employers All of my life, I have wanted to “do my own thing.” While my wife has known that since we first met, she has told all along that she never wants me to own my own business. Funny enough, I often have to remind her that I’m already doing it, just not in the traditional sense. If you have the interest and the availability, you could do the very same thing. Here’s how I made it work for me:

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You finally got your dream job. Everything is coming up roses. You couldn't be happier! Well, at least at first. Then, like almost everyone else, you start to realize the job wasn't everything you'd hoped for. Maybe the culture wasn't what you expected. Maybe your boss is hard to get along with. Maybe you've just lost sight of the reason you took the job in the first place. Related: 4 Things That Can Affect Your Career Choices Just like in any major life decision, you eventually start second guessing your career choice. So, how can you, as the song so aptly puts it, "bring back that lovin' feeling?"

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My friend and I were talking recently about how to research company culture before you start working there. In the past, we’ve both been burned by companies that looked good on the surface but eventually turned out to have a terrible culture of one sort or another. Related: 4 Reasons The Best Working Environments Are Multi-Generational Honestly, if it was fool-proof, people wouldn’t be suckered into it as often as they do. And since my friend and I (and others) actually work in HR/recruiting, we should know better than anyone how to unearth this stuff, right?

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Your legs wobble as you wipe a stream of sweat from your eyes. The fatigue is getting to you, and you're almost ready to fall over before you ever reach the car. No, you didn't complete a marathon, but you did just finish an interview. I might be exaggerating a bit, but for many of you out there, this is a feeling you're all too familiar with. I'm in HR. I've seen plenty of interviews from "this" side of the table. But it is so radically different to be an interviewee. I've started using the following tips to prepare for an interview just like I would a ten mile race, and I encourage you to give them a shot.

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This article is part of an exclusive month-long program on CAREEREALISM to help readers break free of The Golden Handcuff Effect. Click HERE to learn more about the Professional Emancipation Project, a.k.a. The P.E.P. Talk. In case you haven’t heard, this isn’t your parents’ job market. The world of work is changing radically, and for many, the changes are leaving them behind. With some effort on your part, you can become educated about the new challenges and how you can overcome them. In my experience, the evolving role of entrepreneurship is the most exciting. Plus, 54% of Americans age 18 to 34 want to start their own business, so I must be in good company.

Why You Should Create Your Own Job

Entrepreneurs have been around forever, but the mindset has dramatically shifted in recent years. It’s no longer focused on business plans, marketing budgets, and stacks of promotional materials. It’s about finding a customer problem and solving it better, faster, or cheaper than anyone else. With a laptop and a wireless connection, you can start a business in just a few minutes online. The key here is having the three components of a business in place: a customer, a solution, and a way to get paid. Like me, many others in the workforce are developing side businesses to allow them to focus on their passions and still keep one foot in the workplace earning a steady paycheck. Here’s a great example: a good friend of mine was laid off back in 2008. While he searched for work over the course of 10 months, he decided to make his time worthwhile and taught himself the coding language for an iPhone app. He developed his application and it is now in the iPhone store for sale. It will never generate enough to help him leave his day job, but every penny you earn from a source outside your main employer is a step toward freedom. Think working for yourself is risky? Feel free to play it safe like the 130,000 newly unemployed workers laid off last month. In other words, there could be more risk in depending on one organization for your income than in spreading your skills around. If the labels of “business owner,” “entrepreneur,” or “consultant” don’t fit, just think of yourself as a free agent. You can work for two companies at twenty hours a week or one company for forty hours a week. You get to make that call. I’ll freely admit that working as an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, but in a world of shifting work responsibilities, greater technological freedom, and unstable “permanent” jobs, it’s something we should all consider on some level. Again, this isn’t the entrepreneurship of 20 years ago. In my case, I started because my day job wasn’t providing the satisfaction of using my talents (writing, mainly). On the nights and weekends I run a web-based business, and it’s been an amazing experience. It’s also helped to make me a better employee, believe it or not. When I’m recruiting for job openings, I look for people with an entrepreneurial mentality. Those characteristics make for amazing employees and team members. They don’t have the “it’s not my job” mentality that seems to pervade the workplace. Entrepreneurs serve customers well if they want to stay in business. Who out there wouldn’t want to hire an employee with that mindset? "It’s easier to get a job when you have a job." Ever heard that phrase? The gist of it is this: when you have a job and you’re job searching, you are not as desperate. You are willing to walk away from poor opportunities. You know your worth and will not devalue that without good reason. That’s another piece of this self-employment puzzle. Knowing you have something to fall back on as a short term backup plan will radically change your thought process. You’ll be more confident in your abilities. You’ll learn new skills and grow your knowledge base. This may or may not have hit you like it hit me, but I’ll leave you with a closing thought: doing work that you love and getting paid for it will change your life. We’re all familiar with doing work that we don’t enjoy and receiving a paycheck. Been there. Done that. So let’s try something new. When you seize the opportunity to live out your passion in a meaningful way, it will change your perspective on yourself and your career forever.

The P.E.P. Talk

This article is part of our P.E.P. Talk Series. Over the next month, some of the brightest and best authors, business professionals, and coaches are coming together to share their valuable advice for breaking free of "The Golden Handcuff Effect" so you can take full ownership of your careers and experience Professional Emancipation. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ben Eubanks

Ben EubanksName: Ben Eubanks Twitter: @beneubanks Personal Website/Blog: www.upstartHR.com Bio: Ben is an HR professional and blogger located in Huntsville, AL. During the day he works as an HR specialist for a startup defense contractor. He spends his evenings blogging about leadership, people, and culture, volunteering with local nonprofits, and playing with his new twin girls. While still early in his career, his passion for helping others is apparent in what he has helped create, including the HRevolution conference, a social media mentoring program for HR professionals, and numerous eBooks and articles. Before he started in the HR field, he worked to help people build their careers into something they could be proud of. Now he helps employees grow and develop their careers from inside the company. What's your favorite career related quote? “A fondness for power is implanted, in most men, and it is natural to abuse it, when acquired.” (Alexander Hamilton) What's your favorite part about being a CAREEREALISM-Approved Career Expert? I have a passion for helping people find a career that they love, and this is a great way to reach many people who are seeking assistance. Articles written by this expert: 4 Tips from an HR Insider Second-guessing Your Career Choice? Wow! Was that a Marathon or an Interview? Can I Be Fired for This? Discrimination at Work Not Necessarily a Bad Thing 14 Ways to Research Company Culture Join The Crowd: Create Your Own Job
Discrimination at work isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I overheard a conversation the other day between two employees at a local restaurant. One of them said, “I am so sick of our boss. He is always discriminating against me for coming in a few minutes late or not getting my work done as fast as Joe.” The second employee turned to the first and said, “It serves you right. Show up on time. Do better work. It’s not really that hard.” I held my laugh in until I was out of earshot, but it seems like I hear this kind of thing more and more. People feel like they are entitled to a job or that all kinds of discrimination are bad/wrong/evil. Not true. See, we won’t discriminate against you for your age, gender, etc. But work performance? I can discriminate against you all day long. “Discrimination” isn’t a blanket defense for poor work habits. Just an FYI. Ben Eubanks is an HR professional by day and an HR blogger at upstartHR.com by night. You can reach him in the usual ways, including e-mail, Twitter (@BenEubanks), and LinkedIn. Read more » articles by this approved career expert | Click here » if you’re a career expert Photo credit: Shutterstock
The following is a Q&A segment between one of our readers and CAREEREALISM-Approved Career Expert, Ben Eubanks - a human resources specialist. This article series is called "HR Says." Question Is it "illegal" for employers to ask a person for the year they graduated from college? Isn't this asking for a person's age? Using 22 and the numbers of years since graduating, one can determine one's age. During a recent interview (a NYSE listed company, over 4,000 employees, etc.), I was asked what year I graduated from college. The interviewer stated my actual age and said, "I thought you were XX (he stated an age that was 8 years younger than my actual age)." Then he went on to say he shouldn't have said that and he could get sued over that. He ended by saying, "We have people of your age working for us." By the way, I didn't get the job. Also, I have encountered a few online job applications (again, large companies) where it was mandatory to enter the year you graduated from college. I didn't receive calls from these companies regardless I met or exceeded the qualifications they were seeking for the advertised position. I realized these companies that required me to enter my year of graduation could have received applications from individuals better qualifed than me. However, since these companies could calculate my age (I am 50), it makes me wonder since there are companies that do “discriminate” either inadvertently or intentionally based upon a person’s age. If these companies didn’t ask for my year of graduation from college then I would have thought there were better qualified applicants than myself or I was overqualified for the position. How long I've been driving? I encountered a website that asked me how many years I have been driving. Is this legal to ask? I applied for an executive sales position at this company. A company car is not one of the benefits of this position nor will I be driving a company vehicle for this position. However, the online application asked me how many years that I have been driving and it was a mandatory field. Answer Dear Legal Eagle, This is one question that I hear a lot. I have to couch my answer with an "it depends." Most of the questions like this are not illegal, however, they open the door to accusations and doubts (like yours) and companies would do well to steer clear of them. Let's look at what is and isn't protected... It's illegal for companies to discriminate against job seekers on the following qualifications:
  • Age, disability, sex, race, nationality, religion, genetics, and veteran status
Some state laws might add more protected classes to those set by Title VII and subsequent laws. It is not illegal for companies to discriminate against job seekers on the following criteria:
  • Previous job performance, level of education, skills, amount of experience, etc.
That type of discrimination is a good thing. That's what helps a great candidate get chosen over a lesser one. Now, the gray area comes in when an interviewer asks a question that might touch on one of those protected classes. For instance, asking about graduation dates isn't against the law, but if you can prove it was tied to age discrimination causing you to miss the job opportunity, then the company can be held liable. I have to say most interviewers are just clueless about these kinds of questions. They don't ask them with the express intent of disqualifying you from the position. They might just be genuinely interested in you as a person (Hey! When did you graduate? Do you have kids? Where do you go to church?). However, even if the interviewer decided not to hire you later for some other reason (wrong skill set, poor fit, etc.), they put that doubt in your mind when they asked that wrong question that touched on your age. Whenever I run into a web application that requires information I do not want to give, I try to get around it by entering "will discuss" or "flexible" if I can. Companies use these automated systems to help them manage a large volume of applications, and it doesn't necessarily mean they will use something against you. Interviewers are just like all of us. They have to start somewhere, make mistakes, and learn to ask better questions. The problem most people have is their livelihood is dependent on that interviewer making a fair and honest judgement about the candidates. Good luck with the interviews! Ben Read more » articles by this approved expert | Click here » if you’re a career expert Photo credit: Shutterstock