Directing your career: 6 things you need to know about yourself

© Mikel Martinez De Osaba | Dreamstime.com

© Mikel Martinez De Osaba | Dreamstime.com

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

I am passionate about people being happy with what they do for a living. We spend far too much time at work (28% of our week on average) to be miserable while doing it.  My friends probably think I’m a broken record, but I recommend time and time again to always have an exit strategy.  In addition to the powerful feeling you get from knowing you have the freedom to leave, there is another, very important reason to be ready for change.

There is an old saying in business (and I’m not even sure where it came from):

“What is not by definition is by default.”

If you are not defining what you want to do next then, when things get bad, there is a temptation to take whatever presents itself (the default).  This might result in something better; more often than not, it results in a different kind of bad.  Quite simply: if you do not define a goal to run TOWARD, then you are just running AWAY … blindly.

Defining what you want to do next can be a daunting task, especially if you have been working in one area of business for a long time.  However, that is all the more reason to begin doing some research as soon as possible to close that knowledge gap before it becomes an urgent situation.

Here are some things to think about when considering what you want next:

  1. Where do you thrive?
    Begin by listing the things that you like about your current situation.  This could include access to training, corporate culture, the personality of your boss, your freedoms, your desk or office, the cafeteria, etc. Determine which items on your list are must-haves for your work happiness and which are just nice-to-haves.
  2. What are your favorite tasks?
    Every job includes things we like to do and things we don’t. If you are looking to pick a new job, it only makes sense to look for one that has more stuff you like (and less of what you don’t).  Track everything you do for a week, then mark the things you like and the things you really, really don’t. (It’s ok to have some tasks you are neutral on).
  3. What are your inherent strengths? 
    What do people come to you for?  What has been mentioned in all your performance reviews?  Get a handle on what you do well and how you like to use those talents.  If you’re not sure, then consider taking a co-worker to coffee and ask (or your boss — asking for feedback is always good!)This is also a good time to examine your formal education and how you feel about it.  It’s ok if you aren’t into it any more (I’m wa-a-a-a-y afield from where I started); but if you still love it, then that should figure into your definition as well.
  4. What kind of “pond” are you looking for?
    Do you find comfort in being a small fish in a bigger pond; or are you looking to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond?  If your first instinct is to think bigger is more stable, I will argue that just isn’t so anymore. Make a choice based on the role itself: do you like to be a lone gun (big fish) or do you prefer to collaborate (small fish).I’ve been surprised at the number of job-seekers who have considered leaping to a start-up, lured by the excitement and the perks that seem to be part of that culture.  Consider carefully: those perks are often a counter-balance to shoestring budgets, very long hours and chaotically unstructured working environments (no processes, hazy reporting structures, etc.) If uncertainty is not for you, a start-up is a poor choice.This is also when you should ask if you have the chutzpah to do your own thing.  Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody either, and that’s ok.
  5. Do you have an industry preference?
    Some people have no preference for industry; some like where they are; and still others purposely want to get out of their current industry either to grow themselves or to escape the instability of the market. Don’t let history in one industry keep you from considering a future someplace else — this is your ideal job you are designing here.
  6. What are your actual salary needs?
    Repeat after me: “My salary is not an indication of my self-worth.”  
    You have financial obligations, so know what those are; but the more flexible you can be on the salary, the more options you will have. Think of it this way: what are you willing to pay for the opportunity to do something new that you love?

And that, my friends, is the point.  If you are designing your next job from scratch, design something you LOVE.  When you find it, you will be happy, your passion will make your employer happy, and your new attitude will make all those around you happy.

Shouldn’t that be the way we ought to go?

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To move forward: Get out of your head

© Graphicsdunia4you | Dreamstime.com

© Graphicsdunia4you | Dreamstime.com

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” ( George S. Patton)

Change is a scary thing.  Making big changes can be absolutely terrifying.  Whether you are starting your own business, leaving an old job or just networking with new people, making these changes requires you to take risks.

It’s only natural, therefore, to want to minimize those risks.  Before taking the big leap, we want to plan out all the details — where we will leap from, where we will land, what the arc of our leap will look like. etc.  We want that leap to be perfect.

The truth, though, is that there are an infinite number of data points that we could calculate before we leap; and there is a potential to get so caught in those details that we never actually take the big leap.  In project management, we referred to this as “analysis paralysis.”  Most other people refer to this as “getting caught in my own head.”

As a coach, I have helped many people who seem to have gotten lost in their noggin.  Here are the top three ways coachees get stuck there, and some tips for getting out:

  1. Settling for what you CAN do instead of what you WANT to do.
    When staring down the risks of chasing something new, it becomes tempting to settle for something easier and safer.  A war can erupt in your head as you weigh that less scary path against the one that leads to true happiness.
    To keep your courage up when it gets scary: stay focused on why you want to reach your goal.  Write it down (or make a vision board) and hang it somewhere you will see it every day. Keep your eye on the prize.
  2. Too many choices. 
    Since you are one traveler, you must travel one road (I love Robert Frost!) When you come to a point where you have multiple options, and you do not see one option as better than the other, it can become overwhelming to make a choice.
    To move forward: you need more information.  Create a detailed description of your ideal destination, then do some research and measure each possibility against your goal. Select the path that seems to take you closest (and don’t worry: unlike Frost’s traveler, you can always come back to one of the other paths later if you need to.)
  3. Comparing yourself to others.
    Once you’ve decided on something you really want to do, and you’ve started pursuing it, you are going to run into other people who are already doing it (and maybe quite successfully).  It is tempting to compare yourself to those people and find yourself lacking (hello, fear.)
    The truth is: it doesn’t matter what someone else is doing.  Even if it seems similar, your destination will be uniquely your own (because you are uniquely you!) Learn from your “competition.” Copy what they are doing right, consider what you would do differently, then use that information to build your own success.

Making big changes can indeed be very scary, and its easy to let the fear of risk stop you.  The key to reaching your goal is learning to get out of your head and get back on your path forward.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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Yes, You DO Have Work Experience (or 4 things you shouldn’t forget to put on your resume)

© Olena Yakobchuk | Dreamstime.com

© Olena Yakobchuk | Dreamstime.com

I work with a number of people who are “going back to work.”  When they come to me, they are convinced that they are unemployable because they “haven’t been working.”  I put those phrases in quotes because, nine times out of ten, the individual has been working, just not in a traditional office job.  For some reason, people think they can’t count that work.

Work is work.  If you had to think, stress, sweat or coordinate, you were working.

Here are 4 examples of work that people tend to leave off their resumes:

  1. Volunteering: If you performed a regular volunteer role, especially one that has an actual job definition and specific responsibilities (SPCA receptionist, classroom parent, club president, etc.), you were doing a job.  Don’t forget to talk about your experience coordinating, communicating, negotiating and managing.
  2. Self-employment: Took time off to develop and sell your art? Or switched to doing contract work for a while?  Congratulations! You’re an entrepreneur and a small business owner.  Don’t downplay the knowledge and skills you gained in building and selling your products or services.
  3. Part-time jobs: Ok, hostessing at the Olive Garden doesn’t look glamorous.  It does, however, show you have initiative and the practical sense to do what you need to do. A lot of these part-time jobs involve some sort of sales or customer service (hostessing, waiting tables, working at the mall, etc.) — don’t forget to highlight your obvious people skills.
  4. Homemaking: Running a household involves a lot of coordination.  (And if it wasn’t a job, rich people wouldn’t hire people to do it for them.)  Sure, some potential employers may downplay this role; but that doesn’t diminish the people, financial, and project management skills that you bring to bear to keep your household humming. If your household runs like a well-oiled machine, you’re doing a good JOB.

So unless you’ve been sitting on the couch watching talk shows and eating bonbons, you’ve been working.  Appreciate that about yourself, and write it up so others can appreciate it, too. It’s all good WORK.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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Mapping your career journey

© Australianrider | Dreamstime.com

© Australianrider | Dreamstime.com

“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” (Tom Landry)

My childhood was full of car trips.  We were a family of five on a single-income, so driving vacations were the most economical (and driving vacations where we stayed with relatives were the norm.) Many of my best vacations were thanks to my Aunt Violet, who lived in the Detroit suburbs and would plunk us all in the car and take us on an adventure in almost any direction. Thanks to her, I’ve been all over Michigan; spent time in Chicago; explored Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland; and even had a few jaunts into Canada.

It’s important to note that all of these trips were before GPS or the Internet.  Yep, it’s true.  Every one of these adventures was planned and executed using a road atlas and a AAA Tourbook.  Picking hotels and attractions in the Tourbook, then laying out the route in the atlas to hit them all — it was a process that taught me many important skills, including how to set a goal, plot a course and read a map.  At the time, I didn’t realize how those skills were going to help me throughout my life.

I’ve met a lot of people with big career goals — goals they really want. They can see them, feel them, imagine themselves achieving them, but that’s where they seem to get stuck. You see, no matter how well you know your destination, you aren’t going to reach it if you don’t know how to actually start your journey.

So to help all those people out there who didn’t have an Aunt Violet, here are the steps to mapping your personal career journey:

1. Select a specific destination and declare it. 
A Tourbook or a travel agent can’t help you much if you can’t describe where you want to go.  The same is true for career journeys — people out there are willing to help if they understand where you want to go.  Consider: Does your resume (or your LinkedIn profile) speak to what you want? Who have you told about your goal?  Do you know people in the field, and have you described your journey to them?

2. Decide what kind of trip you are taking (scenic vs. direct).
Only you know how much time you have to take this journey and what you want to see and do along the way.  How urgent is this change? What knowledge and skills do you need to gather in order to reach your destination? If you have everything you need, then full speed ahead!  If not, then you need to plan some scenic stops along the way.

3. Plot out the interim destinations.
If you need education, find the courses; if you need experience, find volunteer positions; if you need more information about the field, find places to widen your network. The number of stops will be influenced by your patience, available resources and creativity (because there are always shortcuts to discover if you know where to look).

4. Pick your first destination and hit the road. 
On a road trip, the first destination is usually based on geography; but on your career journey, you get to decide the order of your stops.  Which one is closest/easiest to accomplish? Which ones require more research or help? What can you afford? You’ve plotted the course, so trust your navigation, pick a direction and move.

Now it’s my turn to teach my kids the wonders of planning a family road trip (and the other journeys in life).  Perhaps I should pick up an atlas, disconnect the wifi and see what kind of journey they can plan…

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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7 Secrets to Making Job Changes Easier

© Antikainen | Dreamstime.com

© Antikainen | Dreamstime.com

When you talk to someone about making career changes, you typically get one of two responses:  avoidance or excitement.  I don’t think anyone is on the fence when it comes to making changes that effect their primary income source, but I find it fascinating that there are those people who see great opportunities in work changes while others see it as completely terrifying.

Believe it or not, I’m not a big risk-taker myself; but somewhere along the way, I developed some notions about work that make me more comfortable than the average person with changing jobs (or even careers).  These notions all evolved during the 7+ years I spent consulting.

I realize that not everyone wants to spend time working as a consultant.  Even when working for a large firm, there is a lot of uncertainty: new projects, bosses (clients) and working environments every few months; travel to less-than-exotic locales; long hours and sometimes very high expectations.  It can be stressful, but it also teaches some important lessons about being a strong player, building relationships and being ready for anything.

Here are 7 lessons I learned in consulting that can make you a stronger player at your current job AND ready for whatever job is coming next:

  1. Always keep your resume updated.  I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone what I did on a project 5 years ago.  Whether you do it in print or you do it on LinkedIn, there is no better time to capture information about what you do than when you are doing it — and in today’s market, you just don’t know when you will need it.
  2. Focus on accomplishments, not “responsibilities.”   Both on your resume and in discussions: don’t tell me you were responsible for doing something — if you did it, say you did it; and be clear about the results of what you did.  Saved time? Saved money? Increased productivity? Make it clear that you make things happen and you know your value.
  3. An interview is just a business meeting.  If you think about an interview as your personal make-or-break (or worse, a statement on your value as a person), you’re going to psych yourself out.  An interview is where one person has a need, and another person has talents that might fill that need — spend the meeting understanding what the need is and how you fill it. If you can fill the need, great!  If you can’t, it’s still an opportunity to make a connection that can help you later.
  4. Run toward smoke.  Problems are either opportunities to shine or opportunities to head off bigger problems before they come around to bite you in the butt.  Either way, if there is a problem, you need to get on that right away. It’s the key to being a proactive player.
  5. Difficult conversations are difficult for everyone.  Too many people avoid conflict because they are afraid of a big confrontation with everyone getting angry and meetings spiraling out of control.  The truth is that difficult conversations can go just fine when you approach the other person with respect and dignity. Compassionate first steps set the tone and help you preserve the relationship.
  6. Employment is a two-way partnership.  It works well as long as you and the company are both getting something from the arrangement.  There are no emotional ties — if the company feels you are no longer serving their needs, they will let you go.  You should feel comfortable doing the same should the position no longer offer you what you need.
  7. The world is very, very small.  The person who is your direct report today could be your client tomorrow.  There is no advantage to burning bridges over departures or professional differences.  Tomorrow is a new opportunity to work together on something completely different — be ready for that!

Adopting a few of these basic consulting lessons can shift the way that you think about your work and can make a huge difference in your ability to tolerate a sudden change — it might even inspire you to plan your next big leap.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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5 Reasons to Ask Your Boss for Negative Feedback Right Now

© Valeriy Kachaev | Dreamstime.com

© Valeriy Kachaev | Dreamstime.com

I recently put myself out there and and did a voluntary 360 to learn more about my personal brand among friends, family and former co-workers.  I have to admit, it was a little difficult getting the results.  They weren’t terrible, but they were not what I expected; and unexpected feedback can feel very negative and very personal.

Many people dread their annual review for the very reason that they do not want to hear negative feedback — it’s hard to take it as anything but personal.  But negative feedback is the key to your personal growth. As hard as it can be to hear, it does give you an honest picture of where you stand in the eyes of your boss and against your peers, and that tells you a lot about your chances of staying employed.  In fact, getting negative feedback and acting on it appropriately can increase your chances of moving up.  Crazy? No, especially when it is requested, because:

  1. When you request feedback, you show you care about your work.  That’s a strong message.
  2. Asking demonstrates self-awareness and willingness to improve, which will set you apart from the majority of people (who would rather hide from the negative feedback).
  3. The conversation is less likely to be angry.    Everyone likes to be asked for their opinion — it makes them feel respected.  When you ask for feedback, a respected reviewer is more likely to be sensitive in their delivery.
  4. When the conversation isn’t angry, it can be constructive.  You can talk about specific things you can do that will improve your performance.
  5. If it comes to the point where you boss says, “I don’t think this is working out,” you have an opportunity to proactively ask for their help to find something else.

Ok, so we might all agree philosophically that getting negative feedback can be a good thing.  But, then, how do we overcome the way it makes us feel?  I am a natural compartmentalizer (you know, the kind of person who can have a rational conversation with their boss, then go to the ladies room and have a cry); but even I’ve had times when negative feedback hit me very hard, and that is usually because it takes me by surprise.  To increase the chances of having a constructive rational conversation, here are some things to do to prepare for it:

  1. Try to remember the context for the feedback.  Your boss has a job to do, and s/he relies on your help to get it done.  Negative feedback simply says, “I don’t think you are helping me right now.”  That doesn’t mean you can’t help in the future, and this meeting is a chance to demonstrate that.
  2. Before the meeting, brainstorm the negative things that might come up. (Remember that department head you ticked off on that project?) Thinking through possible scenarios ahead of time will help you get adjusted to the idea that something negative will come up, so it is less likely to blindside you.
  3. Bring a “script” for discussing negative feedback.  Even when you brainstorm what might happen, there is a chance that something may come out of the blue (like that department head never told YOU he was ticked, he just complained to your boss). When you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut, having a written process to follow will help you have the conversation.  I usually write the following in my folio before the meeting:
    • What did I do (specifically)?
    • What should I have done?
    • Can I help fix it?
    • Can I try again?
    • If I can’t try again, what do you suggest?
  4. Do not get defensive (and you can write that in bold letters in your folio as well).  Getting defensive will just turn the conversation angry, and then it won’t be constructive. Think of it like investigating your attic and finding you have termites.  Bad news? Yes, but at least you found it before the roof collapsed.
  5. If you brainstormed some bad things and they don’t come up, consider asking about them.  Yes, I know this sounds a bit like poking the bear, but your boss might be as uncomfortable delivering negative feedback as you are hearing it.  Again, bringing it up yourself demonstrates self-awareness and a willingness to help your boss do his/her job.  That’s a rockstar move.
  6. Write down at least 3 constructive things you can do going forward, and make sure to review them with your boss before you leave the room.
  7. Leave some time in your schedule after the meeting to process the new information.  You don’t have to go to the bathroom and cry — take a walk, get a cup of coffee, meditate — give yourself a 15-20 minute time slot to just think about what you learned.

Asking for feedback is like taking a bull by the horns. After all, the feedback is already out there.  Seeking it — especially the negative feedback — demonstrates that you are strong, self-aware and willing to grow to meet the needs of your boss and your job; and it puts you in control.  Getting that negative feedback is the best thing for you.

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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What’s hiding on YOUR to-do list?

Face your demonsSomewhere, every one of us has a “one of these days” projects list.  It could include home projects, hobbies, education goals, or any number of other tasks that we believe we want to accomplish when we have the time and resources to do so.

I’m a big fan of lists.  I use them to park ideas, keep track of commitments and make sure I get don’t forget important tasks. When I put an item on a list, it makes me feel better (because I no longer worry about forgetting it), and it gives me the opportunity to cross it off when finished (which feels pretty awesome).

But when an item sits on the list for a lo-o-o-ng time, then it becomes something entirely different.  Every time you look at it, you feel guilty (I actually imagine mine is mocking me).  Even though you know that you have been spending your time on legitimately important other tasks, looking at these unfinished list items drains energy from you.  In the coaching world, we call these items “tolerations” because we tolerate their existence.

If you would like to get out from under the mocking glare of the tolerations on your list, you need to get real and disposition those bad boys.  Here are 7 ways to deal with them once and for all:

  • Decide: Is this still important?  Should it even still be here? Do I have to do it?
  • Dump it: Accept that it is not getting done and let it go.
  • Do it: Set aside some time and get it done right now.
  • Delegate it: Call “the guy,” spend the money and put it behind you.
  • Due date it: If you can’t spend the time this minute, give yourself a deadline to either Do it or Dump it.
  • Divide it: Find a way to get it done in small chunks (then Due date those chunks and Do it.)
  • Deal with it: Is it the kind of thing that comes up often? Develop a new habit or system for handling it regularly.

I challenge you to go through your current tolerations list and see how many you can get rid of right now.  I guarantee it will make you feel better.

And remember: even after you disposition your current tolerations, new ones will arise — that is the nature of life — but using these techniques regularly will help you keep them under control.

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Stormy Teams (Or why you should always bring an umbrella to a meeting)

UmbrellasAt 8:15 one morning, my daughter asked me, “What is the weather like today?”

I pulled up my app, and it told me 56 degrees and rainy.

“When will it start raining?”

I pulled up the hour-by-hour, and it said it should start around 9am.

At 8:58am, as I was pulling out of my driveway, it started to rain.

When I was a kid, they would predict rain and it would never come.  Now, they can tell me exactly what time it will start.  Wow.

Meteorology has changed a lot since I was a kid.  Meteorologists have more data, and they have computers capable of amassing that data and identifying trends that accurately predict what will happen next.  Think about how many times a storm is coming, and the weather person is able to tell you about 8 different models and what they each mean.  20 years ago, it just wasn’t possible.

It strikes me that this is a perfect analogy for working with a team.  Each individual member of the team is like a current or a front with their own temperature and pressure characteristics (e.g., personality and emotional state). When you walk into a meeting, you can never tell which two fronts will combine to create a lovely, warm spring day, and which two will erupt into the storm of the century.  Unlike modern weather stations, we have no way of tracking and analyzing the key data points that will influence a team member’s state (such as a fight with their spouse, a sick child, or a hot coffee spill).  All we can do is “take an umbrella just in case”, meaning: come prepared so you can remain calm and let the drama roll right off you.

Personally, I like to take 5 minutes before a meeting, take some deep breaths, get a cup of tea, and prepare to exude calm.  I like to take my time entering the room (no rushing, which just gets my emotional state up), and I try to greet each person if I can (to build a connection and spread some of my calm). This ritual is my umbrella.

What does your umbrella look like?

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Coaching: What it is and what it isn’t (Or how coaches kick a**)

(Ok, I might be a little biased on that.)dreamstime_xs_33017053

Like many people, when I first heard about coaching, I thought I understood what it was.  I thought that a coach was just a very special kind of consultant who worked on both business and personal issues.  I envisioned people who were accessible night and day to their clients, giving them advice on how to resolve their problems, telling them secrets about strategy that gave them an edge in their business and made them more successful.

Totally not so (and I can only apologize to coaches everywhere and tell them I’m much better now.)

My whole concept about coaching was built on one gigantic misconception: that a coach’s value is based on the advice they can dispense. It’s true that coaches have experience and expertise in various areas of life — we all do — but that is not what the coach brings to the relationship.

A coach brings value to the relationship by valuing you.  They believe in you and your ability to find solutions and take action.  They identify and celebrate your strengths with you, and they help you see your weaknesses so you can decide what you want to do with them (which might be nothing). They run alongside you and cheer you on.  They collaborate with you to help you get un-stuck. They are a guidepost, a mirror, a cheerleader and (occasionally) a kick in the pants; and in the end, they teach you to be your own guidepost, mirror, cheerleader and butt-kicker.

There are many professionals out there who DO  just dispense advice based on their expertise: mentors, advisors, consultants. If you are just looking for a quick answer to a problem, then you may want to seek out one of these folks.

But if you are looking to not just solve a problem but to develop yourself into a stronger problem solver along the way, then I recommend you call a kick-a** coach.

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Coach?! Who has time for a coach?

dreamstime_xs_41571312Oh my.

It’s true.  We throw all of our time and energy into the things in front of us.  We are busy, busy, busy, which makes us stressed, stressed, stressed.

Why are we this busy?  And how healthy is all this stress?  When was the last time we took 30 minutes to think about how happy we are with our lives and how to make changes that lead to greater satisfaction?

Just 30 minutes. It’s the time it takes to watch one sit-com, have a pizza delivered or make one of Rachel Ray’s dinners.  It’s also all the time it takes to have a productive session with a coach — a session that can result in clarity of goals, actions to move you forward and even a sense that you are getting ahead of your stress.

“CoachConnect … in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, have completed a research project showing that coaching reduces stress an average of 18% after a short three-month period. Some of the participants experienced a reduction as high as 47%!” (Ramsoy, Kjeldsen: ICF)

Just 30 minutes to move you toward lower stress and greater satisfaction.  How hard would it be to arrange that?

You know, once you put your hair out …

For more about how coaching reduces stress, see this great article on Your Coaching Brain.

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