Buried by Career Anachronisms?

July 19th, 2012

Have you ever, in the process of doing a mundane task, gotten a sudden blast of insight?

The other day I decided to clean out the draw in my night table. It had become a catch all for anything I thought I might need in the middle of the night, anything I didn’t know what to do with, and a repository for anything I needed to tidy up in the face of company.

I found 6 bookmarks.

I read my tablet almost exclusively now. No more heavy, dust collecting, guilt producing magazines and books piled high on my night stand and desk. I used to love books. Still do, but in a different form. Don’t need bookmarks though!

Got me thinking: What else am I hanging on to that no longer has a use? What notions, activities or belongings am I hanging on to?

And then I started thinking about how that relates to my practice as a career management consultant. My clients are weighed down by expectations and disappointments based on career “bookmarks”. We are still holding on to a belief that if we just do more of what used to work, we will succeed as in the past. Not true!

Here are just a few changes :

• Career ladders and five year plans replaced by flexible, opportunistic, synchronistic, risky moves, portfolio careers, and detours
• Standard resumes produced on heavy stock, sent to recruiters and focused on past achievements now are trumped by a compelling on line identity, crisp branding and a relevant unique narrative
• A multitude of face to face, long lunch information meetings converting to quick connections in Twitter and LinkedIn, IM’s, emails and Skype calls.
• A career path of progressive positions and secure employment giving way to entrepreneurial thinking
• Waiting for the “right opportunity” to be presented versus creating your next gig based on marketplace needs

If you are burdened by a career challenge and keep looking in that drawer full of outdated, outmoded and useless tools, replace them with some of these up to date alternatives.

Liberate Yourself from Limits

June 13th, 2012

Thirty plus years ago, when I started out in career counseling (an emerging field), the main impediment to career choice was the cumbersome research process.  Identifying career options, reality testing, information interviewing, gaining knowledge about work-life details in different organizations was a real challenge especially for people who had full time jobs or were earning a degree. Career seekers generally spent their time reading broadly, scheduling personal meetings, writing letters (often by hand) and following up. Face to face meetings were the gold standard. It was a full time job.

Now, technology has broken through this barrier and created another. With Facebook, LinkedIn, email, Twitter and Google, career seekers can spend all their time on line…rarely talking to a real person face to face. And these activities, which are efficient and, ironically protect the seekers from that awful specter of rejection, often isolate them from the very critical interpersonal connections that create opportunities.

Careers don’t happen on paper, spread sheets, on-line profiles, branding statements or resumes. They are built experience by experience, person by person. They involve planning and happenstance. Learning from my very successful clients, I observe that careers are not linear; they evolve in an incremental way, have ups and downs and many surprises. There are few guarantees that doing the “right” thing results in a life-long career that makes one happy, passionate, stable and successful. Using those measures to eliminate before exploring is a recipe for staying stuck.

Do you suffer from limiting your ideas with information overload because your research ends up obfuscating more than illuminating?

Next time you come to a career exploration halt, consider three alternative approaches to research:

• Iterative: Instead of the “best” career move, recognize that careers build one assignment at a time and sometimes a mistake or risk is the key to the next great gig.

• Interesting: If you experience a spark when hearing about or reading about a field, company, or initiative, don’t extinguish it with over thinking; explore it. One spark often leads to another.

• Interpersonal: Talk with everyone. Meet people who are doing a variety of work as well as play. When you meet others who are engaged in what they do, your possibilities begin to take voice.

Career Creativity

April 26th, 2012

Daily in my work with clients I see success, cynicism, stress, disappointment and renewal. Whether  clients are sidelined or resilient in the face of challenges often rests in their ability to career creatively.

In his opinion piece on April 23rd, David Brooks writes about Peter Theil, who having competed within the traditional structure (top college, top law school, application to clerk for Supreme Court), redirected to white space in place of the traditional success structure by founding Pay Pal. Mr. Brooks goes on to posit that competition to be just a little better kills creativity to be unique and monopolize something new.

If you are limiting your career management to competing for the next box in an organization chart, job openings on line or through contacts or recruiters, or if you are focused on what you “should do” professionally….perhaps it is time to open your eyes and minds to where the obvious opportunities are not.

Imagine having a unique position in the world of work; one that takes you out of the competition race and puts you in the running for contributing something of unique value based on the current and future unmet needs in your field, your function, your organization or solo.

If you are tired of the gerbil wheel, the career ladder, and the up or out mentality, take a step back and think broadly and deeply about:

What do you do…or how do you do it…. that no one else does?
How can you bring together your various experiences and skills in a new way?
Where are the unmet needs in your field, community, organization, where you want to be?
Who else is doing interesting things?
Where and how would you kill to work?
What legacy do you want to leave?
What are the vacuums that cry out to be filled?

Check list for crafting your career:

• Focus on your niche think rather than competitive edge when assessing your work life, selecting assignments, considering your options.
• Get feedback: ask others what they observe that makes you unique based on successful or creative contributions you have made in your field, in avocations or volunteer activities.
• Listen carefully to feedback and what others appreciate about you.
• Take stock and take control.

Transcend the competition….be unique

Discover Your Next Opportunity

March 25th, 2012

Going from a title, big office, organizational support and steady pay check to being an independent consultant or entrepreneur is, for many former executives, a jolting experience. Once they get their office set up, their stationary, cards and even web site established, they often find themselves waiting for business. While quite dynamic and effective once the work comes in, the ebb and flow of business delivery and business development is not a habit forged by a corporate career where assignments are made and work is offered.

Out on your own? Having a challenging time getting and closing business?
Consider the following success boosters:

• Commitment: Are you in it for good or just until a “real job” presents?
• Sales Mindset: Do you have a business development strategy that includes targeting, pursuing, uncovering needs and closing?
• Clear Message: Are you direct, different and decisive in what you do best, who needs it and why they need you?

What might you be missing?

A sales mindset.

Here is a checklist for you to consider:

1. You always need to focus on the pipeline while delivering excellence to each customer.
2. Observe great sales professionals. You will probably notice that they display an abiding interest in others’ issues and needs supported by perseverance, money motivation, ability to prospect, and close deals.
3. Don’t wait to be asked: investigate, pursue and inform.
4. And then follow up, ask questions, provide additional information and ask for the order.
5. Follow your market, put a stake in the ground, investigate, be curious and listen actively for unsolved problems that you may be able to propose your services to address.

Transitional Life

February 7th, 2012

The “jobs report” is optimistic. Career Coaches are experiencing a surge in optimism about the “market” and suddenly clients who were inactive, are focusing on networking, reinventing themselves and seeking out opportunities. Focus on career seems to ebb and flow for most. Episodic endeavors responding to external forces generally result in dissatisfying outcomes.
From my perspective, we are all, always in transition. Believing that there is such a thing as career security is an ideal now proven groundless. Most people tend to focus on doing their work rather than designing their careers….until there is a disappointment, an unexpected or unplanned change or they are in trouble. As a career management professional, I see a great opportunity to assist others in being resilient, prepared for and excited about transition whether planned or thrust upon them. It is not so much the terminology (change, transition, downsized, re-sized, retired, resigned) as it is one’s attitude about career shifts.
If you, as many, like to feel a sense of professional control and purpose, begin to focus on the habit of creating and nurturing contacts, being aware of your field beyond your current job, contributing and creating visibility for your expertise and investigating what organizations and people are doing ground breaking, interesting, exciting things. Those who transition by choice and with a goal tend to be more positive in communicating and acting. So, creating options, seeing possibilities, expressing sincere interest in what’s next are what make transitions exciting.

Unexpected Benefits

December 30th, 2011

Recently, due to a Blackberry glitch, my contacts in my Outlook database started to duplicate….then the duplicates duplicated.  Of course, my handheld device shut down and had to be replaced.  In the course of repairing the damage, I had to manually go through and delete all the duplications.  A daunting and very annoying task!

As I got into a rhythm, however, I realized how much I was enjoying seeing all those names of people with whom I have had a relationship over the years.  Each entry brought back memories of intimacies shared, problems solved, relationships built and nurtured.  I found myself reminiscing about experiences long forgotten.  And, of course, I found myself reaching out and re-acquainting with people whom I had lost track of.

Occurring at year’s end, my technological snafu became a gift.  I end 2011 with the recognition of being connected to wonderful people, having contributed to others’ lives in meaningful ways, and having a support system of caring and interesting friends and relatives.

Wishing you a loving, peaceful and purposeful 2012

Feedback Follow Up

November 1st, 2011

For many years I have been enchanted by the reactions my clients have when receiving employee survey or 360 Degree Leadership Survey or Interview results. And what really impresses me is that, once aware of the small things they do that make a big difference in terms of how they are perceived and how those perceptions affect business results, they take a very mature, focused and intense approach to fixing what does not work and building on what does.

Almost every feedback discussion focuses on that catch-all phrase: communication style. This is such an unexplored and undefined area that it is no wonder that executives and leaders are often blindsided when they learn how they are misunderstood, how much time is wasted in chatter, confusion and complaints. Once they pay attention to the impact of how and what they say, and then become as strategic in communicating to staff and colleagues as they are to customers, amazing things happen. Formally frustrated, resistant or confused folks are engaged, aligned and ready to perform. It all starts with understanding your most important audience: your people.

The best way to begin is for you to get some critical information that underlies the feedback you have received. You can use the data or themes of your recent evaluations as a basis for one-on-one conversations as follows:

  1. Schedule individual meetings in a neutral and private place.
  2. Clarify that the purpose of the meeting is for you to better understand more specifically what is going well and what can improve based on the feedback you have received.
  3. Make sure the individual with whom you are meeting understands that this meeting is intended to benefit the whole organization and you are speaking with a number of people.
  4. Ask open ended questions, focusing on “what” and “how” rather than “why” and “who”.
  5. Relax and listen. If you disagree, stay open and focused on what you are being told…even if it makes you uncomfortable or defensive. Paraphrase and confirm and expand what you hear…seek to understand not argue.
  6. Ask for examples to clarify broad generalizations. “Tell me more” can expand the conversation.
  7. Express your appreciation and indicate that there will be follow up.
  8. Then, create and execute an action plan. Verify it with those with whom you meet to make sure you are on track and enlist their support.
  9. Plan to follow up at three month intervals to assure continued attention to the plan and to enlist additional information that will enhance your progress and instill trust in your attention to development.


September 30th, 2011

“Every strike out brings me closer to the next home run”
–Babe Ruth

Whether you are employed, in transition or a free agent, you are at bat every minute of every day. Security is a fantasy in this marketplace. Your last home run is only a resume statistic in each new inning. Past achievement is insufficient to ensure future success.

Many very successful professionals, executives and entrepreneurs are stuck in the belief that if they only found the right position, they would be home free. There is freedom in realizing that it is no longer about finding the “right career”, the stable employer or the annuity client.

What we are seeing now is that occupational stability is being replaced by continuous churn. This shift demands an expanded workplace attitude: adaptability to replace constancy, commitment to a field of endeavor not a single employer, continuous and sincere relationship building beyond episodic “networking”, and an ability to bounce back and redirect your energies in the face of derailment or change. The word I have heard to encapsulate this new work mind set is GRIT.

In his wonderful book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes that while luck (access, generation, circumstances and even the month you were born) clearly influence success, a key component to achieving professional prominence is effort. He has figured out that star achievers like Bill Gates and The Beatles have put in at least 10,000 hours of effort, practice and resiliency before hitting the charts.

Discouraged? If you really care about what you want to do, the desire overrides the despair. At that point, you have no choice but to go to bat again….because you anticipate that potential home run coming!

Being Prepared

August 29th, 2011

Hurricane Irene has been like a personality style test:

• Some avoided thinking about it
• Some prepared and organized way in advance
• Some evacuated; some stayed put
• Some worried themselves into paralysis
• Some reached out to others offering a place to sleep, volunteering in shelters, checking on neighbors
• Some led solutions
• Some dug into work
• Some left the office early
• Some watched the news constantly
• Some wrote on Face Book
• Some planned a “hurrica-tion”

Consider the saying: “ how you do one thing is how you do everything.”

What can you learn from your reaction? Faced with something totally beyond your control, how do you respond? Is your personal style and your professional style the same? Do certain circumstances put you at your best? At your worse? Were you a leader or a follower?

In Sunday’s “Corner Office” article in the NY Times,, Andy Lansing, president and chief executive of Levy Restaurants defines a leader as the person you would go to when all hell breaks loose. He also looks for a quality he calls “nice” in hiring and evaluating his organization. In an era when it is all about results, innovation and productivity, we can often look to how influential we can be not just day to day, but when leaders are really needed to marshal optimism, collective action and civility.

So, taking these insights back to your workplace, what can you surmise  from what you saw and did over the weekend?

Make it a great day!

July 20th, 2011

Today in my email box I received three small thank you notes from clients, and two from professional colleagues.

It made my day!

Got me thinking as well: How rare and the gracious a written “thank you” has become today.

When you take a few minutes to write your appreciation for a meeting, a meal, a piece of advice, or a favor you are increasing your endorphins and those of the recipient. And, you probably encourage more help, caring and attention in the future. A thank you note really does not take much time but it does require attention and discipline to execute. The more specific you can be about what was appreciated, the more effective your communication becomes.

Our hectic days can become overpowered by annoyances, little jabs to our sense of wellbeing, rushing, pressures and uncivil interactions.

What do you focus on?

If you look for opportunities to show gratitude, you will increase your perception of generosity, caring and friendship.

During a typical busy day, do you note others’ kindness?

Start a “showing appreciation” project. You may be surprised at how it makes your day!