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?