Fear

From hobby to career

Many people are considering a major career change these days. Some by necessity, others driven by factors such as wanting a “retirement” career, wanting to balance child or parent care, or just a desperate wanting to get out of a career that is sucking the life out of them. Fearful souls will ask them “Why would you do this now? Look at the economy! Look at the job market!”

If you have a hobby that you would like to potentially make a career, do not let these nervous nellies dissuade you. Now, that does not mean leap before you look! There are many factors you must consider objectively to determine whether you are ready. But let me tell you about a woman I know — we’ll call her “Sue”:

Sue had worked for many years in a technical field, in a large corporation. Overall, she enjoyed her work. But she also enjoyed creative projects – primarily sewing and jewelry making. She did it for fun, but she worked hard at learning, constantly growing her skills because she enjoyed it so much. She sewed for friends and family and even did a few projects for pay over the years and recently began selling her jewelry at craft shows.  She really wanted to pursue her passion, and find a job using her creative skills but because she didn’t have any “real” experience in it, she thought no one would hire her. What she did have is creative skill and knowledge, people skills, passion, a steady work history and strong work ethic. After focusing on these key selling points, we re-packaged her resume and verbal messages. She began realizing it was possible. She got energized and began presenting herself to target companies. Four days later, she called me to say she had already received interview opportunities!  

Would she start at the top? Could she walk in at the same salary she had before? No.  But she had arranged things in her life so that she was able to take this step back to do what she loved. These may not be the “right” opportunities ultimately; that will depend on many factors.  But it proved to her that the experience she gained in her hobby is worth something in the employment market. 

If you are considering making a career of your hobby, you have to ask yourself a number of questions including:

  • whether your skills in this area are sufficient (sometimes we love doing something but we’re not very good at it)
  • if you have a financial situation or can adjust it so that you can take a step back in pay in the short term (or longer, depending on where you are coming from and going to)
  • if this is really something you want to do as a career (or will it lose it’s luster when it is no longer a ‘choice’?)

If the answers to these questions are “Yes”, go ahead and at least explore.  It seems ironic, but now can be a good time to change careers even though there is a glut of “talent” in the market.  Yes, some companies are looking for only people with deep experience in the particular field or industry, but many companies are frustrated with the same, tired talent they’ve been seeing – with great experience but no passion.  And that is regardless of age.  They don’t want a bored 25 year old any more than they do a bored 52 year old. 

I talk with hiring managers in companies regularly who understand there are a lot  of people looking for new directions, who have some related skills and knowledge if not the formal experience,  who are open and flexible.   They are interested in these people if they have the most important factor – an authentic interest that they can articulate and which is backed up by their actions.  More than ever, companies are not just looking for a body.  They are  looking for someone who will make a difference.

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Introverts’ natural strengths in networking – part II

Okay, you’ve successfully entered a networking conversation. It’s going well. Hooray! Now it’s time to leave.
“What??” you say, “But I’m just starting to get comfortable.”

Exactly. Networking conversations are meant to be short. If you are starting to get really comfortable, the conversation may be starting to run long. You really shouldn’t need more than about 5 minutes, tops. Remember, you are making a business contact, not reconnecting with a long lost friend. As a gracious networker, you must allow the other person to connect with other people and achieve their aims for the evening. So, you need to leave the conversation. Here’s how:

1. After the other person makes a statement or observation, resist the urge to say “Really?”, or just mumble “Mmhhh”. This is an inadvertent prod, and will cause them to continue talking. If you say anything like that, immediately jump into step 2.

2. Instead, let them know you have enjoyed the conversation and, if you have been listening well, you have probably identified an opportunity to follow up with them. Let them know you’d like to follow up, and get their assent.

3. Offer your business card and ask for theirs

4. Thank them and reference the next touchpoint you expect to have with them. Perhaps you have an article you are going to send them, or you will likely see them at the next meeting, or they have offered to connect with someone on your behalf.

It doesn’t have to go in exactly this order, but should include these elements. The conversation might look something like this:

Them: “We’ve had fairly good success so far this year increasing our brand awareness in the local market.”

You: “That’s fantastic. It’s been such a pleasure to meet you. (Extend your hand to shake theirs). I’d like to catch up with a former colleague of mine who’s here, but I’d love to continue our discussion another time. May I send you the link to that article we discussed, and perhaps we can arrange to meet for coffee early next week?”

Them: “Sure, that would be great.”

You: “Do you have a business card? Here’s mine. (Exchange cards) Thanks. Enjoy the speaker tognight.” (Walk away).

As someone who used to be paralyzed at the thought of walking into a group of strangers, but now loves it, believe me when I say “you can do this”. Heck, you might even enjoy it someday.

Finally, I will leave you with a book recommendation:

    The Fine Art of Small Talk

by Debra Fine. It is a short, extremely practical, how-to guide and the best bang for your buck out there.

Now, get out there and put these tips and your natural strengths to work. Happy networking!

Introverts’ natural strengths in networking – part I

I talk with a LOT of people about their career. Getting promoted, finding new jobs, developing their executive presence and so on. A success factor in all of these areas is the ability to network. Already some of you are recoiling. Specifically, those of you who label yourself introverts. I know, truly I do – the idea of walking into a room of people you don’t know and finding someone to talk with makes you very, very uncomfortable. You may even wear this as a badge of honor, as in: “Eww, I hate networking!” *emphasis on networking as if it’s a dirty word*

But what if I asked you – do you like people? Most of you would say “yes”. However, if you are an introvert you can most likely be described as selectively social, in that you like to develop deeper relationships with fewer number of people than an extrovert would.

Consider this: there are attributes common to introverts that can actually help them network effectively.

1. Introverts are often very observant

2. Introverts often like to listen

3. Introverts value connecting with people on a deeper level and need to feel there is a shared purpose to value the relationship

4. Introverts often are sensitive to/don’t like to make others uncomfortable

If these things are true for you, you may actually enjoy networking a bit, once you’ve learned the basic mechanics and how to leverage your strengths. The most important mechanics (and which may trip you up and/or terrify you) are entering a leaving a conversation. But first, getting your attitude right is important. It is imperative that you approach networking from the perspective that:

1. It may be mutually beneficial. You are not just asking or taking, you are giving too. You have more to offer than you think.

2. It is your responsibility to carry your share of the load. This means initiating conversation. If you make the other person do all the initiating, you are making them do the lion’s share of the work. And that’s not very gracious, is it?

3. Being nervous is about you, not them. I don’t remember where I heard this gem, but I absolutely love it and it has helped me tremendously over the years. Focusing on being nervous puts the emphasis on how you are feeling, not on how they are feeling. Magically, if you focus on them and putting them at ease, you will find yourself more at ease.

Okay, back to the mechanics. To enter a conversation:

1. Identify someone who is standing or sitting alone (here is where you’re using your power of observation)

2. Approach them (remember – by taking the initiative, you are taking the burden off them, and making them more comfortable which they will likely appreciate)

3. Introduce yourself – “Hi, I’m Susan” or “Is this seat taken? (Pause and sit) Hi, I’m Susan.” (smile)

4. Always shake hands if it is a business setting

5. Select one of a few questions you have identified in advance as conversation starters – “Are you new to this group?” or “Have you been a member of this group long?” or “I believe Daniel Pope invited a number of new people to this event. Did he invite you?”, etc.

6. Be prepared to make a follow up statement and ask a question that is more open ended and likely to result in a longer/deeper answer – “You’ve been a member for ten years? Wow! You must value the group. What have you found the most valuable?” or “What advice would you have for a new member like me, in order to get the most out of my membership?” or “You’re a new member too? What interested you in joining?” (Now you are leveraging your strength in listening and your interest in other people.)

Everyone at an event has chosen to be there for some reason. Focus on finding out why those you meet are there. This alone can lead to some very fruitful discussions. It will help you uncover common interests and perhaps even ways you can help them (here’s the mutually beneficial part).

Now, a word about distance. If you are selectively social, you don’t want to become best friends with everyone you meet. And the good news is – you don’t have to. But you don’t have to ignore them either. There is an in-between ground. If you follow the steps above you will get there, more easily than you might have imagined.

As a good networking conversation is brief, it will soon be time to exit the conversation (perhaps to your relief). We have already bitten off quite a bit today, so I’ll give you a chance to digest the above and I will address exiting in my next post.

Is Fear Driving You?

What is driving your career choices right now? I know a lot of people for whom fear is the driving factor. It’s understandable, given the current headlines. Record unemployment rates since the Great Depression! Recession proof your job!  they scream.  These headlines are designed to excite our interest and they do.  But at what cost?

I talk to a lot of people about their careers, and I’ve seen an interesting dichotomy crop up over the past year or so.  On one hand, I see people staying in jobs they are unhappy with, their commitment and their skills getting duller and duller with each passing day, because they are too afraid to raise their head above the ground.  Hunkering down in their cubicle like the proverbial foxhole, they stay out of the line of fire.  They also stay out of the line of opportunity.  They don’t learn; they don’t grow. 

I once worked with someone who had done this for several years only later to realize how much he had stunted his career.

“I don’t have six years of experience,” he exclaimed bitterly. “I have one year of experience six times.”

On the other hand, I frequently see people intentionally running in the opposite direction from an industry they love because they want “something more stable”.   Unfortunately, their definition of stable often means “anything other that what I already know.”  They leave so much accumulated knowledge at the door, and end up in a situation that can offer them no more security than they had to begin with.  It’s sad.

Both of these situations describe overreactions based on fear.

Sometimes, however, fear is a rational reaction.  If you are in a rapidly declining industry, in a role that relies on growth (sales, for example), with no room built into your personal financial situation for a down quarter-or year-you may have reason to fear.   For those who have lost their jobs, the effects of the current unemployment picture in the U.S. are very real.  The length of time on average that it takes to land a new role has risen to around six months.   For some, this can be devastating, financially and otherwise.  

The fact is, though, that even in this time of economic crisis-turned-ennui, most of us will not lose our jobs.  We will continue getting paid to use our talents, whatever they may be.  Just like making smart financial investments, we need to make smart professional investments.  We need to have long-term goals and constantly be taking small steps toward those goals.  Will we have mis-steps sometimes?  Sure.  But we won’t be too far off track, if we have been mindful.

If fear can help you in one way, let it be this: to motivate you to ask yourself “Where do I want to go in my career and what am I doing to get myself there?” 

Define that future, then lay a brick each day.  Build your own path.