Sunday, December 20, 2009

It’s a Process, Not an Event

Two people whose blogs I follow religiously – you know about being religious; you may not check in regularly, but you are faithful – are Tom Peters and Seth Godin. These are thought leaders in their fields and often have posts that change the way I think. Two recent posts really hit home.

I often work with clients to create profiles on It’s become a reality that social networks, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, are critical to building and maintaining one’s brand – differentiating oneself from the rest of the pack. Many of my clients – especially those of a certain age – don’t quite get this yet. They may reluctantly post a profile on LinkedIn and then ignore it. Social networks are online communities. Like most communities, they require participation to be effective. You can’t just show up; you’ve got to contribute. Most folks just want to show up; have a presence on LinkedIn, and expect the world to beat a path to their door. They get discouraged when it doesn’t happen. They’ve posted their profile, but no one seems to care.

Another group may be more active. They troll LinkedIn, extending invitations to connect. They get pretty excited when their invitations are accepted and their connections build. “Oh yeah,” they’ll say, “I’m on LinkedIn. I’ve got over 100 connections.” The problem is they’re still not contributing; they’re just collecting.

Godin recently posted about the reason social media is so difficult for most organizations. He noted that it’s because social media is a process, not an event. Events are easy to manage; processes build results for the long haul. The same holds true for individuals and their participation in social media. Posting a profile is the event, but effectiveness comes from the process of contributing. LinkedIn has groups to join and Q&A sections to participate in. Contributing to both raises one’s profile in LinkedIn and sets one apart from the millions of other, more passive, profiles on the network.

So, having encouraged you to contribute to the social media community and be involved, virtual participation isn’t enough. Peters hosted guest blogger, Karyn Polewaczyk, who in her post Meeting Up: The New Black, reminds us that we shouldn’t confuse the importance of virtual contacts with the value of face-to-face interactions. There is no substitute she admonishes us, for presenting our “best, polished self in realtime. Social media is the fancy awning that hangs from a building; human interaction is the bricks and mortar.”

Part of the process of networking is getting in front of people; actually connecting and building relationships. My friend Peter Larson notes that it’s all about relationships. The people with whom you take time to build relationships will most likely be the folks that help you find your next position. They will have an investment in your well being and will want to see you succeed.

So the process of building relationships occurs both in social networks and face-to-face. It’s not an “either or”, but a “both and.” Be active in and contribute to your social network community. Meet face-to-face with those to whom you’re connected. Build relationships.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Heal Thyself

A couple of weeks ago we addressed the need to Know Thyself; this week, we will address the need to “Heal Thyself.”

During the last week, I’ve been struck by comments about how the long-term unemployed are struggling emotionally: A colleague shared that a client of hers appeared to be exhibiting symptoms of clinical depression as a result of his year long unemployment. A client of mine revealed that he and his wife were about to engage in family therapy, as they were having difficulty adjusting to a more limited lifestyle based on the significantly less income he has earned over the last year.

I’ve addressed this in past posts – one on core beliefs and another on feelings, beliefs and behaviors with the help of my wife, Camille. However, the comments by my colleague and my client have really brought these issues home. How can we as consultants and coaches help our clients facing tough emotional issues related to their changes in employment? Again, relying on Camille’s expertise as a therapist and spiritual practitioner, my sense is that these folks need to help themselves. We can suggest changes in behaviors; point out how feelings and beliefs are affecting intentions; and let them know they are not alone; but it is up to the client to take charge and make the necessary changes to get back on track.

These changes may include – like my client and his wife – seeking help from mental health experts. Career consultants can offer strategies to improve the job search, but we’re not typically qualified to address the issues that affect our clients’ mental and emotional health or financial issues. We can suggest that clients might need to seek the advice of a therapist or other advisor; but it is up to the client to take the appropriate action, to make the call.

Similarly, mental health therapists and other advisors can make suggestions, point out issues and behaviors and offer changes. However, it is up to the client to execute on their advice. They have to do the work; they have to take the initiative.

Some behaviors can be changed without the help of a therapist. For example, simply pushing yourself away from the computer may be a first step. Instead of cruising the internet, get out and meet people. Attend a networking group with people in your profession. Focus on those groups that don’t attract only other unemployed people. There is no sense in hanging out with people who will feed your current emotions. Most professional organizations hold local regular meetings. Seek them out; learn what is happening in your profession. Find out who the leaders are in your profession in your region. Connect with them and ask for their insight on the profession and advice on the companies you should focus on.

Volunteer. Get out and work with groups that serve the down and out. If you want to feel better about yourself, work with those who are worse off. Believe me, there are folks who have it tougher than you. ‘Tis the season for helping; pick an organization and offer your help. No doubt the organization will be happy to have you.

Take a class. Learn something new. Exercise your brain. It doesn’t have to be related to your career, but it could. Pick something that you’re interested in and will challenge you. And hang out with your classmates; discuss what you learned in class; do your homework together.

So, if you’re feeling depressed as a result of the loss of your job; if you’re feeling paralyzed and can’t get out of the rut you’ve found yourself, help yourself by getting help or helping others.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Know Thyself

In preparing clients for interviews, I emphasize that if they can answer three key questions, they will set themselves apart from their competition. These questions are asked in some shape, manner or form of all candidates in almost every job interview:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What is your management/leadership style?
  • What is your greatest strength?

Your responses to these three questions demonstrate self knowledge. They show that you know what it is you do and how you do it. If you can articulate this, you’re far ahead of your competition. Most of us have difficulty with these questions. We don’t think about our value to an organization; we just do our job. The problem is, if we can’t articulate what it is we do well, how can we expect a prospective employer to figure it out? Or our current employer? They don’t have time to figure out how you can fit in their organization. It’s your primary job to be able to articulate your value to them. And yet, most of us wrestle with these questions.

So, how do you respond to these questions? The secret is in knowing what interviewers really want to know when they ask them; why they are asking these questions to begin with. They want to know what makes you unique; why they should hire you rather than the next candidate.

Tell me about yourself is usually the first thing that comes up in an interview. It’s your opportunity to set the tone; it’s your opening statement. You have the opportunity to let the interviewer know who you are and what you do best. Hint: It has nothing to do with your family, hobbies, or when or where you were born. It has everything to do with your value to the organization. So, it behooves you to know what they’re looking for and how you fit.

What is your management style? This refers to how you do what you do. Are you a collaborative leader? An “open door” manager? A hand’s on manager? How do you manage your team? You should know. You should also know, that regardless of your management style, the interviewer is really interested in knowing if you can make decisions. Can you step up and make the necessary decisions to keep things moving forward? This is a key factor in managing a team.

What is your greatest strength? This shows what makes you unique; what it is that separates you from everyone else. Sital Ruparelia, one of my favorite career writers, has a recent post, on Career Hub. He provides a guide for determining your unique talent (your natural abilities and your unique way of expressing them). You need to know your strengths and how they positively impact an organization. This is not necessarily about being organized or detail-oriented or honest or a having a strong work ethic. Lots of folks have these attributes. Your greatest strength – your unique talent – is about bringing value. What you do and how you do it that sets you apart from everyone else. Are you someone who can quickly sort through the details to recognize the heart of a complex issue and marshal the resources necessary to successfully address and resolve that issue? If so, that sets you apart from other, equally talented candidates.

So, as the Oracle at Delphi advised, “Know Thyself.” Know what you bring to an organization that sets you apart from everyone else and be able to articulate it clearly and concisely. Tell your story.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

End of the Plugger?

A few weeks ago, Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, published a column entitled “The New Untouchables.” Friedman noted that the new untouchables of today’s economy were those with the ability “to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work…” Those who waited for work to be assigned were the ones at risk of being let go and will be the last to be hired when jobs start to recover.

Stephanie Klein, President of The Boomer Group, commented that Friedman’s column “spells out the end of the ‘plugger’.” This is an interesting insight. When I think of my clients that are getting activity – interviews leading to job offers (yes, people are getting jobs) – they are the people who are working their butts off and demonstrating to potential employers that they can help the company realize – and monetize – new opportunities. Those folks who just want to do what they’ve always done, and wait for work to be assigned to them – the pluggers – are less successful.

Interestingly, the same holds true for companies. Companies looking at the current situation as a way to identify and take advantage of new opportunities are moving forward. Companies that are hunkering down, that are down to bare bones, not so much. They are waiting for something to happen rather than take initiative and identify new opportunities for business. These “plugger” companies that have prevented their “untouchable” workers from working smarter to find new opportunities will lose these talented people as soon as they find new places to land; thus, putting the plugger companies at even greater disadvantage. As noted a couple of weeks ago, the war for talent will be a critical factor in this recovery.

The “new untouchables” will be at the heart of the talent wars. As Friedman says in his column, “those with the imagination…to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies – will thrive.”

So are you a plugger or an untouchable? If you’ve been a plugger, can you bridge the gap to be an untouchable? Can you articulate the value you bring to a potential employer? Do you know what your value is? The challenge for pluggers is that many have been well rewarded over their careers for “plugging away.” Now they’re being asked to shift their paradigm; to tell another story about themselves.

Similarly if you’re an untouchable; you still need to articulate your value. If you’ve been an untouchable in a plugger company, the story you need to tell is one of potential, of future value. You’ll need to seek out the untouchable companies are and tell them the story of your potential; how you can help them achieve their next levels.

So shed your "pluggerness." Demonstrate value; don't get left behind.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Core Beliefs

Last week we explored our reactions to the challenges of a tough job search. This week we want to look at core beliefs – what’s inside us that affects our reaction to the tough challenges of the search. Like last week, I’m relying heavily on the expertise of my wife, Camille, who deals with many of these issues in her professional life.

The decisions we make in our daily life are a dance between our conscious and unconscious. For example, after struggling to button my trousers, I make the conscious decision that I will exercise every morning at 5:30 in an effort to lose weight. For a few days this works. I rise to the occasion, go to the gym and undertake a vigorous workout. After several days of working out, I notice that my trousers are not fitting any better. I hit the snooze on my alarm clock several days in a row – and miss the optimal workout time. Unconsciously I’ve made the decision to forego my exercising. Similarly, I can make a conscious decision to read a book a week to improve my mind. I visit the library and check out several promising books and begin my program of self improvement. However, I soon fall into old habits and patterns of nightly television viewing. Soon the books are returned unread. Again, upon being laid off from my current job, I consciously resolve to do anything it takes to get my career back on track. I network, I submit resumes, I follow up with phone calls. After not having my calls returned or not hearing from the companies to which I’ve submitted resumes, I find plenty of excuses to just surf the web, read interesting blogs and keep well informed about breaking news stories of boys adrift in balloons. When my efforts have not met with quick success, I find that I give up; I abandon my goals.

What happens? Why is it we can’t attain what we say we want? Why do we give up on ourselves?

It often comes down to our unconscious beliefs – sometimes referred to as core beliefs – that drive our decisions and behaviors and keep us from achieving our stated goals. This is when we give up. We make excuses that diminish who we are and our ability to be successful. Once we set into motion that core belief – the “I can’t do it; I’m not good or smart enough; I don’t deserve it,” – that becomes the driver that determines what we think, what we say, what we do and how we feel.

These core beliefs are determined by decisions we make at a very early age. Over time, they became a significant, unconscious part of who we are. How we respond to the world and how we “be” in the world (our intention) is determined, in large part, by these core beliefs, which become most apparent in times of great challenge and are often the grist for therapy.

Do you know what your core beliefs are? Do you realize how they affect your actions? Can you see how they keep you from achieving your goals?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where Do You Go When the Going Gets Tough?

A colleague asked me to write about the emotional aspects of a job search – “how to be emotionally up when you’re down.” For help, I turned to my wife, Camille, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Religious Science Practitioner (RScP). Camille has a much better feel for emotional issues than me. On a road trip last weekend, we took a crack at these issues. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore them.

The saying goes that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. There is no doubt that keeping positive in one’s job search in the current economic environment is tougher than ever: on-going negative stories in the media about unemployment; rejection – or silence – from potential employers; and the strong competition among other candidates.

When everything in our world is going well, it is easy to be positive and upbeat. But what happens when it looks as if your world is falling apart? The loss of a job is often equated as emotionally traumatic as the death of a loved one or a divorce.

What internal resources do you tap into to sustain and motivate yourself to remain positive? Where do you go inside yourself when faced with such emotional trauma? How do you tap into these resources?

These key resources are your feelings, beliefs and behaviors.

Do you actually believe you’ll find the job you want? Based on that conviction, do you feel excited about the work you know you’ll find? Do you carry that positive behavior throughout the day? Is your behavior congruent with your thoughts and feelings?

When new clients start their job search process, their feelings, beliefs and behaviors are typically strong and reflect positive intentions: “It won’t take long for me to find new work.” “I’m confident that my search will be different than my friends and former colleagues who have been unemployed for months.” “My job is to look for a job, so I will have a business-like approach and dress the part.” They often wear business attire to our meetings. As their search continues, and they are confronted with the negative aspects of the search, especially rejection and silence, they become less focused on their initial intentions. Their feelings and beliefs begin to suffer; their behaviors reflect diminishing intention. They begin to act like victims; they often get more casual, sometimes downright sloppy in the way they present for our meetings. Their behaviors reflect their attitudes.

And then there are those who continue to act and feel and think congruent with their initial intention of finding the work they desire. They remain positive and confident in their search and build momentum in their progress. They know that the right opportunity will come along. They continue a structured, focused effort in their search. They keep their appointments, they have progress to report, and they don’t show up in T-shirts and flip flops.

It requires conviction and commitment to get up every morning and send out more resumes, make more phone calls, knock on more doors; knowing all the while that it’s your vision and intention that will overcome the external negative influences in our world.

How do you keep that conviction and commitment? In face of major challenges, how do you hold on to your initial intention and vision? What resource do you tap into to sustain and motivate yourself to remain positive? Who is the you you’re bringing to your search?

Next week…Core beliefs.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Can You Compete in the War for Talent?

A recent story in, entitled “Get a Head Start in the Coming War for Talent” outlined strategies employers need to embrace to retain and recruit the best employees. Talent retention and recruitment will be critical as the economy “emerges from the darkness.” Companies will need to keep their best employees and recruit talented people in order to be competitive.

The story noted the disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perceptions with current job satisfaction. Surveys show that up to 65 percent of employees are either passively or actively looking for new jobs. Employers think only 37 percent of their workforce is looking – thus, they’re “grossly out of touch.”

The article notes four strategies for employers to retain and recruit the best employees, including shifting the traditional emphasis from recruiting to retention; making their employees’ experience unique; taking care of their people in tough times; and paying attention to their “employee brand.”

A strong argument can be made that those 65 percent of employees looking to change need to embrace their own key strategies in order to compete in the upcoming talent wars.

Chief among those strategies is being able to tell your story; speak to the value you bring to an organization. Tell the story that differentiates you from the competition – that other 65 percent who are looking for new work.

Another key strategy is to know your audience. Know the organizations for whom you want to work; know what their challenges are; know how you’ll be able to help them address their challenges.

A third strategy is to use your network. Who are the people that can speak to your value? Can they connect you to others who can use your value? A corollary to using one’s network is building a network. Use and other social networks to connect to decision-makers and colleagues who can help you get access to the organizations in which you’re interested.

As you network, focus on “paying it forward.” Think of how you can be of help to the person you’re reaching out to. Don’t think in terms of what you can get out of the relationship; don’t think in terms of reciprocity; don’t keep score. If you keep score, you lose. Your value to others in your network is what you can do for them. Keep that in mind as you build connections.

Finally, nurture your network; keep your connections informed of what you’re up to. Let them know of your successes and of the changes in your professional life. Keep your network active. Let them know that you’re available to them; that you will help them as they helped you.

So, are you prepared to compete in the talent wars? Can you tell your story to prospective employers in ways that aligns your value to their challenges? Does your network know your value? Can its members connect you to employers that need your value? Can you do the same for them?

What other strategies do you need to employ to be competitive in the war for talent?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What's Your Story?

What’s your story? Are you telling the story about your career that you want people to hear? Are you telling it in a way that they can hear?

Regardless of where you are in your career – looking to achieve the next level, from tactician to strategic decision maker; or as a senior professional trying to show that you can provide value to an organization – you need to tell a story that demonstrates your value.

If you’re relying on old stories, you won’t be successful in achieving your goal. If you’re a technical professional that wants to rise to management, and you are telling stories of your technical expertise, you’re not showing how you can exercise leadership. If you’re a senior level professional that relies on stories that emphasize 15 to 20 years experience, you’re telling potential employers that you’re too old, too experienced, too expensive.

Your story needs to convey your value. Stories that speak to responsibilities don’t show accomplishments; stories that begin with 20 plus years experience, don’t demonstrate current value.

So how does one tell a story that conveys value? This is one of the most difficult challenges for people seeking new positions. What we do well, we do intuitively. We don’t think about it. We come into a situation, size up the challenge and act. While we’re often relying on past experience in our actions, we’re also influencing outcomes, that is, creating value.

Your story needs to show how you have influenced positive outcomes; how you’ve improved the situation. This is not reflected in technical competence or in past responsibilities. It’s reflected in accomplishments.

Tell your story in a way that can be heard by the potential employer. First, it needs to be relevant to their situation. If you’re telling a story that’s not relevant, you’re not conveying value. Second, your story needs to be concise. Briefly outline the challenge; describe your actions to resolve the challenge and conclude with results – the impacts of your actions. Sometimes, these results are expressed quantitatively – revenues generated, cost savings, increased sales. Other times they’re qualitative results. Regardless, make sure you convey their significance.

So can you tell stories that reveal accomplishments; that show how you’ve influenced positive outcomes; that demonstrate value? Can you tell them briefly and succinctly?

What’s your story?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boomers’ Career Stages

I had the opportunity to connect with Linda Oestreich on LinkedIn recently. Linda is a writer and project manager, and has been a leader in the Society for Technical Communication. I had participated in a LI group discussion and one of the participants provided a link to a PowerPoint presentation Linda had developed for a STC gathering, entitled “Understanding Career Development.” In her presentation, Linda noted four stages of career development:


I’m always looking for ways to classify and categorize career paths. I can’t help it; it’s part of my DNA. One of my StrengthsFinder themes is Input – collecting information and adding it to the archives. So the four career stages Linda presented resonated with me as a general typology for describing our career paths.

We often hear that the traditional career path is obsolete; that instead, we can expect to have a number of careers during our working life. While I agree with the multiple career aspect, I think we do have distinct career paths and Linda’s model provides a good guide. Many of us, who have changed careers, rarely go back to the Apprentice level; and if we do, we progress much quicker along the path, in large part because of the maturity we’ve developed in the workplace.

Many of my Boomer clients find themselves at the Mentor and Visionary stages of their careers. These are challenging stages, as they tend to be outwardly focused – on developing opportunities for others and the organization – rather than self focused.

As we continue to develop in our careers, Boomers need to recognize where we are along our career path. Those of us who intend to stay in the workforce need to realize that the traditional management/decision-making roles may no longer be available to us. We will have to embrace the roles of Mentor and Visionary, focus less on ourselves and more on others: Relying less on our subject matter expertise; coaching younger workers in the development of their expertise; asking questions and providing insight that influences younger managers in their decision making. We will need to champion new ideas and processes that enhance the organization’s competitiveness; and ensure that key staff are not stagnating in unproductive projects.

We need to become the “wise men and women” of the organization, rather than its managers or bosses. We need to lead by influence, rather than by decision.

To be sure, organizations need to embrace these issues as well. Productive, future-focused organizations will recognize the value of their more senior workforce and will provide opportunities for its continued contributions. However, we know that change occurs at a glacial pace; and not all organizational leaders are enlightened about the value of their older workforce. So it will be up to us to influence them; to show them how we can be of value; to demonstrate how we can lead as mentors, coaches and visionaries.

So how do you see your progression in your career path? What strategies and tactics do you need to employ to be more of a Mentor and Visionary? How can you help convince the organization to recognize your value in these roles?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day, 2009 – Questioning Our Assumptions

For those of us who are working, Labor Day is a paid holiday – a free day off from work. For those of us unemployed, this Labor Day is just another day.

As the nation’s unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, many folks are looking for new answers in their search for jobs. For many, this is the first time they have had to look for a new job in years and they are astounded by the challenges involved.

Submitting resumes to posted positions often results in a black hole of no response. Networking with friends and former associates has been fruitless as well.

For those with jobs, many are questioning their roles and their impacts with their current employers. Many are sticking around just to keep their job. Surveys note that 56 percent of employees are looking to leave their current positions when the economy turns, they are that dissatisfied with their current roles.

For both, the employed and the unemployed, what new assumptions must we question or re-examine about our careers? What do we need to change in our beliefs in order to be successful? What tools, actions and tricks of the trade that worked for us in the past just aren’t adequate for future success? And, more importantly, what do we replace them with?

These are the questions that need to be examined as we move forward in whatever life transition we find ourselves; as Marshall Goldsmith has written, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”
What assumptions, beliefs and actions are you re-assessing as you move forward?