Success Factors

We’re asking the wrong question

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Early career planning

Did anyone ever ask you that?  Certainly, when you were a child.  Maybe even last week.  The problem is, when we ask the question that way — “what do you want to be?”– we are forcing a choice defined by title only.

As children and adults alike, we are generally very limited in our knowledge of all the roles available to us.  So, we pick from those of which we are already aware: teacher, computer programmer, accountant, firefighter.  Our interest in them is generally based on what we can see from the outside.  The superficial.  Perceived status, financial reward, glamour and more.  Unfortunately, these things do not guarantee happiness in our work.

When we work, we are in the act of doing.  When we are doing something we enjoy, it can be quite delightful.  When we do something we are good at and we enjoy?  That’s a recipe for success.  On the other hand, I know plenty of attorneys who invested a lot years and a lot of dollars preparing for a career with a certain title, only to find that they don’t enjoy actually doing the work.  What would they be doing now and how satisfied would they be if they had instead focused on what they liked to do?

Titles come and go.  Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a Search Engine Optimization Specialist.  But there were plenty of Secretaries.  By tying ourselves too closely to one title, we can spend years preparing ourselves for a role that is becoming obsolete, or entirely miss another role that could have been a perfect fit.

By focusing on what we like to do, it leads to exposure to other things we’ll like too, and if we are constantly pushing forward, we can end up with quite a portfolio of skills and knowledge which enable us to make a living doing what we enjoy.

So, the next time you’re talking to a child about their career interests, don’t ask them “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Ask them, “what do you like to do?” And, as you’re thinking about your next career step, ask yourself the same question.

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Recommended Reading – Networking

There are a number of books that I find myself regularly recommending to clients, friends, acquaintances and so on…I just find them so universally of value that I end up mentioning them quite frequently.  As such, I realized that I really should share them with you. In this post, I’ll start with my top two on networking:

 
The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

This book is a must for people who are terrified of networking.  In addition to the play on words in its title, the content is quite engaging.  I love this book for two reasons: first, because it is practical – full of specific, tangible examples of what one might say in various situations; and second, because it is written from the point of view of someone who is not a natural at all of this networking stuff but learned.  Because she had to learn it step-by-step, she can, and does, explain it clearly.  Not all the examples will fit for all people, but there are so many, you are sure to find some that work for you.  This book, I have actually mentioned in a previous blog but it bears repeating.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills — and Leave a Positive Impression!

Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon

Looking at networking from a different angle, this book illustrates the strategy around networking. With no strategy behind it, your networking may be enjoyable but could result in many wasted opportunities. That was my situation several years back, before this book was recommended to me by a colleague whose networking skills I admire. Now, I love being in a position to help others and I love it when they ask me. In return, I don’t hesitate to ask for what I need because I know we are in it together. Don’t look back with regret at what you “could have” done – apply these concepts and enjoy the effects of building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-how for Business And Career Success

Both of these books are relatively short, easy reads. If you add at least one business book to your summer reading list, consider these.  What are some of your most recommended business books?  Comment on this post to share your recommendations with other readers!

LinkedIn to career success

Even though LinkedIn is growing by leaps and bounds, I am still finding many professionals out there who are not on it, or are on it, but don’t really know how to use it.   This has inspired me to write a series on LinkedIn – some tips and techniques you can use to make use of it professionally.   LinkedIn won’t be my exclusive writing focus but I’ll sprinkle posts in throughout the remainder of the year that you may find helpful. 

In future posts, I’ll get to more of the how-to.  Today, I’ll address the why-to.  Let me ask you a few questions:

  • have you ever left a job and later realized you can’t find the contact information of co-worker, vendor or client you’d like to get in contact with?
  • have you ever wanted to get in contact with a co-worker, vendor or client who has left their company?
  • would you like to stay up-to-date with your professional contacts, but aren’t the best at taking time for lunch or coffee with them?
  • would you like to be able to reach out, on a moment’s notice, to a large number of professionals in your field to get information on new developments in your field, or get recommendations on resources?
  • would you like to be able to find in-depth information on job titles, job descriptions and job locations within companies, not just what is posted on the job boards?
  • would you like to be able to identify contacts within companies for networking, job search or marketing purposes?
  • would you like to do more to control or enhance your professional brand?

Okay, that’s more than a few questions.  I think you get the idea.  Not only is LinkedIn a great way to maintain control of your ‘Rolodex’ and maintain connections to your professional contacts, it is a gold mine of market intelligence.  In the coming weeks, I’ll walk you through methods for achieving all of the above.  

Subscribe today to be notified by email of future posts, so you don’t miss these timely and practical tips.  I look forward to helping you get LinkedIn!

What’s your IQ (influence quotient)?

In most of the leadership coaching I’ve done, the theme of influence stands out.  People who want to improve their leadership skills almost always understand that they need to expand their ability to influence others.  But their efforts translate into simply trying harder at using the same old skills, often to little incremental effect.

A number of years ago, I took a fantastic course on Consulting Skills through PDI (Personnel Decisions International).  Included in the course material was some intriguing information on influence tactics, based on the research by Yukl & Falbe.  We did a fun little exercise in which the participants guessed what the effectiveness of various tactics would be in gaining commitment vs. compliance vs. resistance of those we were trying to influence (the targets).  What I and others in the course came to realize was that we each heavily relied on one or two tactics and wielded them consistently regardless of their actual effectivness.  I rated rational persuasion at the top of my list.  Why wouldn’t it be?  That’s what typically works on me!   Isn’t everyone like me?  Ahh…the short answer is “no”.  

Rational persuasion is not the top tactic in terms of effectiveness.  Negotiation?  Huh-uh.  Ingratiation?  Pressure?  No and no.  Inspirational appeal is number one in gaining commitment from others.  This was an ah-ha, and made a lot of sense once I thought about it.  But inspirational appeal does not work in all cases.  The real ah-ha here is this:  all tactics work in some cases.  Therefore, the key to increasing influence is to learn to wield a number of tactics and recognize when and with whom they work.  In this manner you can really increase your influence quotient. 

Try it.  Invest 30 minutes to google and read up on the various influence tactics (search Yukl & Falbe to start).  Then, start paying attention to the tactics you use.  Observe others using different tactics.  Try some new ones out on your own.  Give yourself some room to stumble, but keep on going.   Soon, you’ll find you have an increased IQ!

To degree or not to degree

Help Wanted: Degree required. 

Seen this lately?  If you’re seeking a job, I’m sure you have.  And in the not too distant past, if you were my client, I would have advised you: “Don’t let that stop you from applying.”  Because I knew, firsthand and through much observation, that due to the war for talent, companies often ignored their own guidelines.   Now, however, the tide has turned.  Companies are sticking by their guidelines much more closely.  Why?  Because they can.  

So, what does this mean for you as a job seeker?  First and foremost, it means that if the kind of jobs you are interested in consistently require a degree, if you already have some college hours under your belt and have any means at all to go back to school, run, do not walk, to the college of your choice and complete your degree as soon as possible.  If you have taken no college classes, this is a bigger decision, but still one you should very seriously consider. 

Take night classes?  Yes.  Miss out on family events?  Yes.   Strain your brain studying again?  Yes.  Why?  Because the (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for people over age 25 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is currently 4.4%.  Do you hear me??  4.4%!  For people over age 25 with some college or an Associate’s degree, it is 9.1%.  That is still below the national average, but significantly higher than 4.4%.  Which odds would you like to have in your favor?  And if the national average is 9.6%, what do you think the rates are for high school graduates with no college, and those who did not complete high school? 10.0% and 15.4% respectively.  (All information here is based on the September 2010 Employment Situation report and supporting tables available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at www.bls.gov). 

This is the reality of the world today.  People who have been displaced from jobs they were successful in for 20 years or more are now not able to land those same exact jobs – because they lack a degree!  Do I agree with this?  NO.  Employers have become lazy and begun inserting “Bachelor’s degree required” as shorthand for “needs to be able to write a paragraph that actually means something and isn’t full of errors” or “needs to be able to use logic and sound decision-making skills to solve problems”.  If only having a degree meant that!   Sadly, it often doesn’t.  But that is a topic for another post.  

As a side note, I urge employers to say what they really mean in job postings and go back to using the phrase, “degree or equivalent experience”.  But, back to my primary message, I will again, urge you – if you have not finished your degree but have ever wanted to – do it.  Make the time.  Find the money.  Seek grants, scholarships and loans if needed.  Pick a decent, reasonably-priced school and go.  It truly is an investment in your future and the future starts now.

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.

Resilience

Resilience is a factor I had not built into my career wellness checkup, but after attending a seminar yesterday, I’m convinced I need to add it. Dr. Marnie Shanbhag, a licensed psychologist in the Orlando area, spoke about resilience – the characteristics and the effects of having it (or not). If there is any skill we cannot do without in this day and age, it’s resilience. Our work changes in innumerable ways both big and small on what seems like a daily basis. We live in a sea of uncertainty. This does not mean we must cling to our lifeboat, desperate for the winds to die down. We can do more than survive – we can thrive. But we can’t do it without resilience.

The good news is, it can be developed like a muscle. To build resilience, Dr. Marnie says we can do a number of things. A few are:

1. Accept change as part of living
2. Avoid seeing crisis as insurmountable
3. Compartmentalize
4. Do something small to keep moving toward your goal
5. Begin to understand your thinking (observe when strong emotions are triggered, look for themes in why you are upset, identify the underlying belief or fear)
6. Challenge your thinking

I learned that lack of resilience is marked by an outsized emotional reaction to a situation, generally followed by ineffective action (or no action). Even in those moments we can build our resilience muscle by using calming techniques such as deep breathing or mental distraction techniques such as mathematics or naming games, and then challenging our thinking. Good exercises for challenging our thinking: “a more accurate way of seeing this is…” and “that’s not true because…”

As our careers change ever more rapidly and we must play a more active role in steering them, resilience will become a crucial skill. Practice building yours today.

Career Wellness

Most likely, you go to the doctor each year for a physical just to check all the vitals and make sure everything is on track. But do you do the same for your career?

Physical wellness is an important part of an overall healthy and happy life. And though people often list career below family and health in their priorities (and rightly so) it’s still a huge part of our lives. Not only in terms of time, but in terms of how we feel about ourselves. And, as we’ve seen all too often, our satisfaction with our work lives can impact our health and family wellness too.

So, it’s time for a checkup. A career wellness checkup. For the next 45 days, I will tweet a question each day. You can answer each question for yourself and reflect upon whether you need to make any adjustments. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see them there. Otherwise, you can see the live feed on the right hand side of my blog. If you have questions or reactions throughout the next 45 days, comment on the blogsite or tweet me! Here’s to your career wellness in 2010.

Tough Love

When I ask others for feedback, I often frame it by saying, “Give me tough love,”

This really is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my career. That tough love is the best kind. Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it’s not in the form we want to hear. But to those who are bold enough to say what we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear, we owe a debt of gratitude. Feedback truly is a gift. Because if someone doesn’t think you are effective, or thinks you made a mistake, even if they don’t say it, they are still thinking it. And it is still affecting your relationship with them, and possibly your performance on a larger scale. Once they share this thought with you, though, you have suddenly gained power. You now have the power to do something about it.

Often we don’t want to “do something about it”. Because it requires work. Sometimes hard work. And that’s no fun. So, we stick our head in the sand, we disinvite feedback: we ignore it, we deny it, we downplay it, we rationalize it. And when we do, that’s when our growth is stunted.

The next time someone offers you feedback, or just plain criticism, say “thank you” and mean it.
Sir Francis Bacon said “Knowledge is power.” Claim your power. It’s there waiting for you wrapped in a package called tough love.