Entertaining idea

June 25th, 2011

At a recent professional organization meeting, members told stories about the most creative and meaningful way another member had supported them. I was struck by one story that illustrates how a very simple gesture can make all the difference.

The member cited a dinner party a consultant had organized at her home when she learned her client was in career transition. She invited people who could give advice, provide ideas, and brainstorm about companies that could be interested in her background. The recipient of this wonderful gift left that party feeling hope and inspiration that carried her through a tough search and eventual resolution. She will never forget the caring and support she received. Of course the by product for the consultant was increased client loyalty as well as the satisfaction that she had truly helped a business friend significantly.

Such a simple act. Nothing substitutes for personal contact!

Now magazine and product marketers are capitalizing on in person social networking. A recent article in the New York Times talks about events that are sponsored by Kiwi and Redbook magazines to nurture both readers and advertisers. These at-home parties for young mothers and “girls only” during which they sample products and receive coupons.

Reminds me of the Welcome Wagon, Avon Representative and Tupperware parties in the 1970’s! They were fun and very profitable for the host. But more than that, great friendships, cooperative babysitting arrangements, idea swapping and much needed loving support emerged from the get togethers.

Neuropsychologists tell us that the most significant factor in wellbeing is not achievement, but social support systems.

Have a party!

A New Work Model

May 15th, 2011

Many mid-career and advanced career executives and professionals are realizing that jobs as we have known them are changing, disappearing, evolving. We are in a period of career transition, even for those who are employed in the traditional sense.

What does this mean for you?

You no longer can count on succession planning, career ladders, employee benefits and advancement policies to move you along in your career. And, whether you are thinking about it now, or will in the future, “ work alternatives” will expand beyond getting, keeping or excelling in a job.
Waiting for job creation numbers to improve may not be an adequate work generation practice. Rather, many are looking for ways to continue working outside of the traditional employment model of seeking and filing positions. What we know is that there often is need even when a job does not exist on the organizational chart or on a job board.

Project work, free lancing and consulting will become increasingly attractive to employers and workers alike. The costs of adding head count have already inhibited hiring.

So, for you readers who are considering going out on their own, here are some tips to guide your thinking:

  • What is your Purpose—what do you do, what value do you bring, what benefits to you offer?
  • What is your Pleasure—how do you spend your time away from work? What activities do you wish you had more time for? Do you have an avocation that could convert to a product or service?
  • What is your Process—for bringing your services, talent, products to your clients and customers?
  • Who are your Prospects—who needs and will pay for what you are offering?
  • How do you set your Priorities—how do you spend your time every day so that you can move your business along?
  • What is your strategy to Pursue business—how will you go to market?
  • And finally, Persistence is key to launching, managing, maintaining and growing You, Inc?

Remember, your current work position can also be a platform for designing and preparing for what’s next!

Staying “employable” goes beyond making sure you are secure in job!

Cultivating Your Network

April 19th, 2011

Spring is the time for planting seeds.

In career management, this sowing is often the metaphor for networking.  Many networking efforts fail to bear fruit despite assiduous research, contact development and many, many cups of coffee.

As with gardening, creating and sustaining a flourishing contact base that you can nurture and that nurtures you, takes planning, thought and integrity.There are four approaches that are often mixed.  To assure that your efforts bear fruit, your intentions and requests need clarity and purpose.

Information gathering and sharing—where you are truly getting input and feedback on your career ideas, finding out who is doing interesting things, building relationships built on common interests, offering help to others and making connections. When asking for information, make sure you are specific and well prepared.  Information gathering cannot be a subterfuge for hoping you contact will hire you.

Reality Testing/Marketing plan—where you have a clear sense of the kinds of functions/industries/geographies you want to pursue and you are confirming and adding to this initiative with specific information about organizations and situations of interest.  Your intention here is to expand your self-marketing plan,get input on your resume or LinkedIn profile, better understand points of entry, gain knowledge and perspective that will inform your campaign for a new position or role.

Opportunistic Introductions– where you meet with people who are either in a position to hire or can lead you to those who can. You are meeting regardless of whether there is a currently available “job” to apply for.  The purpose of the meeting is to introduce yourself in the event that something comes up, or refresh a contact’s knowledge of your talents and goals since your last discussion.  It is also a good follow up to the previous two categories. Use this technique to expand with “now that you know what I can do and what I am looking for, I’d appreciate your directing me to others who might think of others I can introduce myself to”.  Often that request does not even have to be made as the conversation leads naturally to an introduction or idea.

Opportunity Creation (accessing the hidden job market)– Beware of the Bait and Switch mentality in which you say you want to gather information or get advice but really hope that the contact has a job for you.  If you really are sourcing for a position, then prepare for a “sales” meeting in which you have a really good sense (gathered from the research above) that your background, interests and skills dovetail with the potential employer’s immediate, current and future needs.

A model for making  a compelling pitch is to articulate your experience related to the 4M’s:

Marketing: how can you increase sales, edge out the competition, expand visibility and customers for the product or service?

Management: how can you increase productivity, stem waste, lead others to gain results?

Money: how can you make it or save it?

Manpower: how can you attract, develop, lead, collaborate with or improve people resources?

The Fertile Try/Buy:  The closer your pitch is to the employer’s burning platform, the more likely a fit will be uncovered.  Sometimes these conversations spark either a creation of a position or a re-organization based on know needs or problems that have festered.  Be open to exploring project work if your digging reveals an unmet set of needs but no immediate plan to fill a position.  Increasingly, projects delivered by non-employees in response to pent up demands that are going un-addressed, is the shoe in to a new job.

Happy Planting!

New Job….New Boss

March 17th, 2011

Well, you have done it: landed that terrific new position. And here is where the work begins!

A wonderful career writer, Tom Jackson, said: “ A job is something you do, not something you get.” Your job search may be over, and your on-boarding is just beginning.

And, with it, all of your self-management, relationship nurturing, thoughtful messaging and marketing skills that you honed during the interview process will be called upon even more. Just as you mapped out a search campaign, prepared for interviews, followed up, did your research, and conducted thorough due diligence while pursuing your new position, you will need to position yourself to be effective with your new boss, colleagues and reports from the very first day.
Some things to consider:

  • Contract with Your Boss: Set priorities based on how s/he defines success. If you don’t know clearly what they are, ask.
  • Absorb Before Acting: Understand the culture, the chain of command (formal and informal), the potential and the resistances before taking action….especially if you were brought in to be a change agent.
  • Align Yourself Cautiously: Find out who the influencers, informers, historians, insiders and outsiders are before forging allies or defining adversaries.
  • Ask Many, Many Questions: Learn how decisions really get made and by whom, find out whose success depends on you, discern the most immediate concerns, and whether the culture and stakeholders will support your vision/mission.
  • Perform a Staff SWOT: Interview and assess key players and all of your staff members individually to better understand their expectations, needs, issues, conflicts, goals, frustrations, dreams.
  • Plan a Few Early Wins: Engage in information gathering, feedback, float pilots and small projects to measure the reaction to small, incremental changes. Build on achievement and successes and acknowledge generously. Recognize and shape desired behaviors, business initiatives, and ideas.
  • Attend to Style: Focus on feedback and self-awareness…adapt style to context. Balance drive with an empathy for the challenges change and transition create. Be accessible, steady and inspirational.
  • Think, Plan and Act Forward: Avoid the tendency to compare your new home to the one you just left.

Magic Seven

February 17th, 2011

Magic Seven

Once it was the elevator speech.  Now it is the tweet!  Malcolm Gladwell in Blink talks about “thin slicing” and priming.  We make an impression instantaneously.

Of course, there are ways to consciously guide this impression.  What do you present to others?  Are you aware of the conclusions others draw?

Frequently, I have suggested to my clients who want to manage their image, impact and impression that they pick seven adjectives that describe how they want to be known and remembered.  We use those words to frame developmental opportunities, communication and behavioral goals and leadership and career initiatives. The “magic seven” is written down and referred to regularly to remind and review words, behaviors and attitudes.

Recently, one of my LinkedIn groups, Peter F. Drucker Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship asked members to describe what they do in exactly 7 words (pronouns and names of organizations can be excluded).  The responses were striking.  I even tried it myself.

I came up with:

“Advance executive career satisfaction, effectiveness and success.”

When you consider that you have just a brief moment of someone’s attention in a relevant and memorable way, a select seven points (the same number as a phone number) is an efficient guideline.

You are invited to comment on this blog with your “magic seven”.

Career Gifts

December 23rd, 2010

Every day we read stories about career challenges, career passion, career desires and derailment. In my profession, my clients include a broad variety of people: some feel “lucky” to be in work they love, others are frustrated that they are blocked professionally, terrified that they will not be able to continue on their career track which they kind of fell into and now question, or who believe that they lost an opportunity to do what they really want.

And, increasingly, I am asked by parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents, how children can be brought up so that they have a good sense of what the “right” career might be; so that they can be productive and happy (and avoid career pain). Thus, for the holiday season, when gifts are selected carefully and given generously, I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts on how to help the next generation become “world of work savvy” early on.

In my view, the best thing we can do for children and teenagers is to expose them to as many career ideas as possible through discussion, meeting different people of various backgrounds and interests, sharing stories about what makes for a satisfying and successful career, and even inviting the child into the workplace to see what happens. Encourage volunteer work, internships, community involvement and curiosity.

I also think that we can use non-judgmental observation and follow up with  children to “catch” them being interested. If drawn to animals, for example, have a child spend a day with a veterinarian. If they love sports, art, music, math….encourage these leanings without attaching specific career expectations.

Keep it open.

It is important to temper the tendency to translate every interest or talent into a career option precipitously. After all, by the time today’s 8th grader is an adult, there will be career options we have not even thought about now!

As a very little child, I was encouraged to develop my interest in singing. While I eventually chose a different profession, my experiences in performing, working with managers, learning how to engage audiences, and the sheer discipline of being a musician have carried over into my work life even today. I believe that career development is an experiential and iterative process that, nurtured and reinforced, leads to a sense of choice, flexibility and resilience. And, in my case, a joyful avocation.

Above all, social skills and an abiding interest in other people, leadership and collaborative thinking will be critical for any future career success. Expose children to many different kinds of people and situations where they need to observe, adapt, connect, engage, negotiate and “sell” through real life situations. Discuss civility, collaboration and managing conflict as these situations arise.

And most important: show children that you enjoy being with them.

Children who are treasured will keep that gift all of their lives.

Transition Tips from a Real Job Seeker

November 4th, 2010

This month, one of my successful career management clients, a Senior Human Resources professional, offered to share her insights gained through her own transition experience

Lessons from a Transition

Let’s call it for what it is….being in transition is a stressful experience that most people wouldn’t voluntarily choose. I now see a happy ending to my transition on the horizon. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way that may help you or those you know.

Cultivate a support network. I am fortunate that over the years I developed relationships with some amazing people. Without realizing it, I found myself creating my own board of directors. Some in my network were strategic advisors, while others were there to catch me at the end of a disappointing day. Having a diverse network enabled me to get what I needed without burning out a few people. I learned how much people cared about me.

Avoid toxic people. As strong as my network is, I learned that some were unable to support me in the way I needed. They either couldn’t understand the situation, felt threatened emotionally, or tried to make the story of why their career hasn’t progressed my story. After realizing that I didn’t feel better after connecting with them, I lessened my contact and learned how to protect myself when they did reach out.

Have a Plan B, C and D. Most people go on an interview with the outcome of securing the position, me included. When it doesn’t happen, you can be left disillusioned. Having several irons in the fire can help refocus you on what’s next. It enabled me to shake the dust off my shoes and move on to the next conversation…which leads me to…

Lower your expectations. I found myself in a situation where an influential manager was interested in meeting with me and suggested I chat with two of her direct reports first. One of her directs served up a real need on her team and indicated that she wanted to create a role….which matched my background perfectly. I went into my meeting with the influential manager with high expectations, only to have them dashed in the first 10 minutes when she told me she could not increase her headcount. I was devastated. What I took away was that I need to approach each discussion as an opportunity to learn information vs. being the one where I’ll be offered a job. It makes life easier and puts me in the position of being open to ideas vs. disappointed. Adopting this perspective sooner would have saved me pain.

Be an entrepreneur. Prior to my transition, I, like many others, had far too much work to do. Without having a defined role with a steady flow of work attached to it, I learned how to capitalize on my colleagues being overworked. Identifying a problem that was recognized and no one had the bandwidth to tackle was a winning strategy. Managers continued to view me as someone who makes a difference and kept a positive attitude while in a difficult situation.

If you are in transition now or experienced one recently, take time to consider what you learned. Likely you will come to know consciously that are stronger and smarter than you ever thought you were. For now, I hope that you found my reflections helpful. I wish you a happy ending.

Reinventing Rejection

October 23rd, 2010

No one likes the word “no”! Very few of us wake up in the morning and say: “Yeah, I get to look for a job today!”

So, we all find ways to avoid the potential rebuff.

We use search techniques that put space between ourselves and rejection such as trolling the internet, networking with strangers, answering ads, chasing leads, sending out numerous inquiries and resumes hoping that the sheer volume of activity will result in a win. However, a greater proportion of those activities are ignored or we are sent an anonymous negative response, which may leave us thinking we are too old, too young, over experienced, have no skills, or are just plain unemployable. The larger the general application approach and the further away from a professional or personal connection, the greater the proportion of rejection to effort. More exposure and risky techniques like targeting companies, getting introductions, calling upon contacts with specific ideas and requests actually yield a higher quantity and quality of response per effort.
Personally, I hate rejection, so I have learned ways to work around the inevitable No.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Begin with a spirit of adventure and curiosity: Think about what interests you about your field, your target companies, what the future of your industry holds. Conduct your meetings with the goal of gaining more information and sharing what you are learning., rather than asking about available opportunities.

2. Never be in a wait situation: If you send out an inquiry or make a call, control the follow up by saying you will contact the recipient by a certain date.

3. Avoid the “casting calls”, job fairs, and even job listings put you in a competitive position with many more candidates trying to squeeze into criteria and compensation formula. Targeting, positioning, laying the connection groundwork can unearth needs before they become an advertised position.

4. Create desire: Using data from research and contact information, connect what you have to offer, your interests and values to anticipated trends and needs so that when a position opens up, you will be thought of. Or better yet, propose ways you can contribute so that opportunities can be explored before they are listed on an organization chart.

5. Stay connected: Find ways to help others, share information, keep people posted as a daily focus. Join professional organizations, read and respond to LinkedIn and industry chat groups, socialize. Be visible.

6. See rejection as a way to learn something, like when you did scientific experiments in biology: you are testing out the marketplace for fit and interest.

7. Great sales professionals see the sale as beginning with “no” because they re-frame a negative response as a request for more information. They open up the dialogue with questions about whether the objection is based on a factor such as a compensation limitations, or condition, such as a job freeze. Each of these objections can be explored further.

The Power of Passion

September 28th, 2010

The Power of Passion

What do you care about?

How would you like to spend your non-work time?

What interests, hobbies, creative endeavors do you dream about pursuing?

These are questions I have often asked clients who are seeking a career change, more meaning in their lives, or are trying to decide what’s next.  Many say that they are so wound up with work issues, long hours and fears about the future that they have closed off even the possibility of life outside of the daily grind.

How about you?

For a little inspiration, check out  a wonderful feature in October’s O Magazine that honors several people who have powerful passion about what they do.   Among them are:

  • Bob Ezrin the renowned music producer who founded Music Rising in response to the devastating floods in New Orleans and Nashville
  • Lisa Shannon who founded Run for Congo Women in response to the crisis for women facing the atrocities of the DRC
  • Deborah Kenny who, after having lost her husband, dedicated herself to found and lead Harlem Village Academies
  • Rebecca Onie, who as a Harvard Student volunteering for Legal Services one summer realized the vast and complex needs of the impoverished clients and founded Project Health
  • John Prendergast a human-rights activist who is the co-founder of Enough Project focused on ending genocide and crimes against humanity

In sharp contrast to the daily news about discouraged workers, low job numbers, the stalled economy, here are a group of individuals who sparkled with the desire to respond to the needs of others.  They didn’t wait until there was a position to fill, didn’t see only their own limitations of age, background, skill deficits, lack of opportunity.  They acted!

Some ways to generate passion

  • Broaden your  career thinking beyond finding and doing a job to encompass doing work that is meaningful related  what you uniquely can…and want to do
  • Start to look at the “job market” through new eyes:  get excited about trends in your industry, advances in your field, people who are doing interesting things, anticipated growth, unmet or emerging challenges and markets, events that will shape the future where your background and expertise will be important
  • Reach out and even in a small way, connect with a cause, a person, an issue that reminds you that power is not limited to position, place and pay
  • Stop waiting for someone to return your call, invite you, hire you, or to provide you with a “secure” job.
  • Replace thinking: “I want to find a job where I can gain financial rewards, advancement and have security” with “I am looking for work that is interesting and an organization that needs my help, where I can apply my expertise, contribute and grow”

12 Steps to Work Sanity

July 30th, 2010

We are all encouraged to find work about which we are passionate.  This is the ideal:  to work at something you “love” and get paid, too!  Those of us who achieve this lofty ideal, often find ourselves work-aholocs!  We live to work rather than working to live.

Work is a positive addiction…and it can build up and sneak up on you.  First, you gain a sense of purpose and meaning.  Then you find yourself connected to the people and place in which you work. Eventually, your identity is tied up with the organization and you begin to plan for your successful contributions and advancement in responsibilities, stature and pay.

The irony is that work addiction can actually lead to a career advancement plateau or even failure.  When we allow work to dominate, relationships and health can suffer.  And often, our moods and behaviors at work are compromised by a focus on technical expertise, aggressive results, efficient execution, heroic and self-sacrificing schedules.  You see, we are constantly reinforced for the transaction and only reminded about the importance of interaction after there is a problem with staff feedback, politics or observable behavior that indicates burnout, poor self-care, or a blow up/burn out situation.

If you find yourself in this circumstance, take a hint from well established addiction programs.

12 Steps

  1. Recognize and admit to the problem
  2. Get feedback from trusted others
  3. Assess what is working and not working in your work
  4. Make a list of changes you will commit to make in your work and life
  5. Find a partner/buddy to help you plan and stay on course
  6. Make realistic commitments to your co-workers, friends, and family
  7. Make space in your schedule for non-work related activities
  8. Create opportunities for respite, fun, recreation
  9. Look for other ways to gain meaning beyond work
  10. Show compassion in place of competition
  11. Spend time getting to know the needs of others around you
  12. Realistically manage your ambitious work demands to open space for self-awareness, self-care, self management