Little engine that could is job-hunters' model Persistence: Careers move forward on determination, not discouragement.

Working Life

March 30, 1997|By Deborah L. Jacobs | Deborah L. Jacobs,CHRONICLE FEATURES

Many job-hunters get discouraged when things don't go their way. Often they're waiting for that lucky break. Whether you're just joining (or rejoining) the job market or have reached a career plateau, it's easy to feel stumped when you've hit a roadblock.

At some point, most successful people have felt the same way. But instead of letting inertia set in, they try another tack. Eventually, it gets them where they want to go.

That's among the more important messages buried in "Women of The Street," Sue Herera's new book about female executives on Wall Street (John Wiley & Sons, 1997). Herera has gone to some famous and not-so-famous women in the financial community and asked how they made it.

Among them is Muriel Siebert, the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange; Elaine Garzarelli, who predicted the 1987 stock market tumble; and Abby Joseph Cohen, one of Wall Street's latest soothsayers.

Unfortunately, most of Herera's subjects are too guarded to supply much detail. Still, within this collection of 14 largely uninspiring mini-profiles are the stories of two women who shaped their own destinies. Their dogged pursuit of opportunity is a lesson for other women -- and men -- who might at times despair.

The first woman is Julie Stone, now a management consultant at Smith Barney. Many years ago, Stone was a single mother with a baby to support. Wanting to complete her education, she applied for a student loan, only to have a female loan officer nix her application. Why? Stone should be at home with her child, not going to school, the bank official said. Undeterred, Stone made her case to another loan officer.

"Being a single parent will be very difficult for me unless I have an education," she said. "How am I going to raise and educate a child if I can't complete college?"

That was just the beginning of a career path that took her from teaching at a community college to being a real estate broker and then to becoming a stockbroker in the late 1980s.

Another example: Elizabeth Mackay was just getting out of college when she applied for a job at an options firm she read about in the Wall Street Journal. "Your resume says that you're a psychology major. What makes you think you can do this job?" the company president reportedly asked when interviewing Mackay. Her snappy retort: "I can do anything I want to." She got the job, and the first break of her career.

Years later, when Mackay interviewed for a highly competitive spot at the brokerage house Bear Stearns, she didn't fare as well. After getting turned down, she heard a company executive speak at an industry luncheon. Determined to work at Bear Stearns, she wrote a financial strategy report and sent it to him with a note. It said, "This is the kind of work I do; I think it would dovetail with your economics work." A follow-up phone call got her an interview. Today she's chief investment strategist and managing director at the company.

It is true that neither of these women would have gotten far without decent credentials. Yet, as for so many people, that wasn't enough. It was persistence, self-confidence and determination that helped them reach their goals. Here are some steps you, too, can take to make your own lucky breaks:

Ask yourself whether something in particular is consistently tripping you up, whether it's a resume that never yields any nibbles, or interviews that don't result in jobs. Then focus on this weak spot and correct the problem.

Chart your own career path, rather than following someone else's formula for success. It's great to ask other people how they got their positions, but timing, market conditions and hiring criteria change. You might take a different route to the same end.

Always reach a little higher than what you think you can readily achieve. If you don't score a goal on the first round, you can always go back later and take another crack at it.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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