5 Ways to be a better team member

© Westernstudio | Dreamstime.com

© Westernstudio | Dreamstime.com

There are a lot of articles out there talking about how to be a good team leader. For certain, the success of a team can depend heavily on the attitude and actions of its leader.

But it is not fair to lay all the blame for team issues on the leader. Team members have to do their part to make the team successful as well. Here are 5 ways you can be a stronger team member:

  1. Be fully on the team. Whether this is a team you selected or one you were assigned to join, you will not be successful if you do not understand and commit to the team’s goal. If your goals are not in alignment with the rest of the team, you will always be working at odds with them.
  2. Give other team members the benefit of the doubt. Trust is essential to a strong working relationship. It might seem that another team member isn’t as efficient or capable as you are, but thinking like that just puts a wedge between you and your teammates. Seek instead to understand what’s going on and how you might help.
  3. Share your knowledge and skills.  Each member of the team brings different experience. Share what you know and what you think. The team may not always see things your way, but a constructively differing opinion allows the team to make choices from a position of knowledge.
  4. Speak up … tactfully. Contrary to popular belief, you can disagree with someone or hold them accountable without pissing them off or burning a relationship. Use a little of #2 above to bring the topic to light. Do NOT just ignore the situation — that will just create hard feelings between you and your team mates.
  5. Look for reasons to celebrate. Sometimes, when everyone is heads down on a project (and especially when you are under a lot of stress), the team is so focused on moving forward that they forget to celebrate what they’ve accomplished. Help your team leader and team mates feel good by recognizing the things that went right. That will keep everyone energized.

Even when you are not the team leader, you can still be a powerful part of making the team successful. The team leader plays a big role in establishing a positive working environment, but the team members need to hold up their end of things as well.

It is, after all, a team effort.

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How awesome is your company?

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© Wissanu99 | Dreamstime.com

One of my favorite jobs (and the one I get asked about most in interviews) was my role as the leader of the Awesomeness Team. The purpose of this team was to develop a sense of connection between employees, which made working at the office, well, awesome. In addition to making work a bit more fun, the program yielded three very tangible benefits:

  1. It gelled the team. As employees built relationships and trust with each other, they worked together more effectively.
  2. It ensured people knew each other well enough to have difficult conversations and hold each other accountable.
  3. It reduced turnover. When the cost to recruit a new employee can run as high as $3500, there is great incentive to keep the awesome employees you already have.

Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking, “Isn’t that just an employee incentive program? That’s not new.”

No, Awesomeness is not about incentives.

I worked several places that implemented incentive programs, all of which eventually fell flat and failed to meet the proclaimed objectives (which were usually to improve morale and reduce turnover.) The problem with most incentive programs is that they try to improve the environment by rewarding individual behaviors. As soon as the reward is gone (or is reduced, because “this program is costing too much money to run”), there is no incentive to continue the desired behaviors, and everyone goes back to their old habits.

Awesomeness is about creating an environment where the desired behaviors are fundamental, and the employees do the right things because they want to do them. It’s cultural, not compensatory. And before you ask: the amount of money spent on our program was relatively low. There was no point where we had to “cut back” — in good times and bad, the awesomeness continued.

Sound too good to be true? I can assure you it works, and it does not require unicorn horn, fairy dust or black magic; but starting an effective awesomeness program DOES require that you follow 3 basic principles:

  1. Don’t make it about money, make it about connections. It is surprising how little you need to get people engaged with each other. We started with offering fun things to do over lunch on Fridays, like board games and a paper airplane contest. The idea was to get people doing something together.
  2. Take time to learn how the employees like to connect. Our group liked to go outdoors (cornhole anyone?) and compete (Jeopardy!) Look for clues in what the employees like to do in their spare time. Get this information from face-to-face meetings — after all, this program is all about making connections (and a survey just doesn’t do that).
  3. Make it a program of the people (but make sure it has management support).The employees need to own awesomeness. Management’s job is to give them a budget, give them authority, and then let them do what they need to do. The more diverse your employee representation, the more effective the program will be.

People want to work in awesome environments, and if you give them awesomeness, you’ll get awesome results.

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Forest, meet trees: 5 ways to maintain your confidence despite setbacks

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© Dgmate | Dreamstime.com

Even though we don’t always admit it, we all have big dreams. I’m privileged to work with people who have the courage to chase some of those dreams. As I ride shot-gun through their journey, I can’t help but notice that it always seems to go through three phases.

Phase 1: The Adventure begins

At the start, the goal seems so far away. You might even think you can’t get there from here. You are full of doubt. It takes great courage to admit you want to chase that goal and take the first step. Tentatively, you take a chance.

Phase 2: Ease on Down the Road

You start on the path, and your first few accomplishments raise our confidence. You see that you really can do this. It feels good. You are energized. You pick up steam.

Phase 3: Aah! It’s on Fire!

Something snaps, and you become impatient to get to your destination. You are less forgiving of your shortcomings and more upset by setbacks. The great feeling you had after your first accomplishments is gone. You start to wonder if you were foolish to try to chase this goal …

DON’T QUIT! You are not foolish, and you are not crazy. It’s a can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of thing.

The closer you get to achieving a goal, the more immersed you get in the present and the drive to make progress. It’s easy, in this hyper-focused state, to forget where you came from and how much you achieved. Being able to step back and acknowledge your achievements again can help you find renewed confidence and energy.

If you are getting ready to chase a big goal, here are 5 support tools you can use to help you regain focus:

  1. At the outset, write a description of your starting state that you can read later, when you can’t remember what it was like before.
  2. Write an encouraging letter to your future self for when you feel low. Describe how reaching your goal will change your life.
  3. Keep a running list of accomplishments, even if it’s just a bunch of sticky notes on the wall.
  4. Keep a journal of early setbacks and how you overcame them, so they can inspire you when you hit the devastating later setbacks .
  5. Create or find a “vision board” to inspire you whenever you need it. It can be something small — a single picture or a word written on a piece of paper in your wallet.

Remember: if you have the courage to take the first step toward your goal, you have what it takes to go all the way to phase 4: Success. Refocus, don’t quit.

PS – Having someone ride shot-gun and help you navigate always helps, too 😊

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Millennials are AWESOME (and if you don’t think so, you aren’t using them correctly)

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© Ekaterina Pokrovsky | Dreamstime.com

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. (George Orwell)

I’m happy to see that there has been a rash of articles recently defending Millennials.  Until recently, the press has been littered with articles about how narcissistic, lazy, entitled and rude this generation is.  Well, I can name at least one Baby Boomer or Gen X-er I know who can be described as narcissistic, lazy, entitled or rude, so it has never appeared to me to be an entirely generational issue.  (BTW, I am NOT a Millennial, so let’s just get that out of the way.)

So where does all of this negative Millennial press come from?

I was having lunch not too long ago with an older friend (a Boomer) who was expressing frustration with the Millennials, specifically with their lack of employment loyalty.  In his words, “As they are on their way out the door, they tell us they love the company, yet they still leave.”

This exchange encapsulates the confusion about Millennials.

And confusion it is.  From my perspective (as a Gen X-er who has been working with Millennials for some time now), this new generation of workers isn’t worse than those of the past, just different as molded by the times in which they were born; or, as Joel Stein put it in his 2013 Time article:

“They’re not a new species; they’ve just mutated to adapt to their environment.”

Like any powerful tool (and they are powerful — as of 2015, Millennials are officially the largest portion of the US workforce), understanding how it works and how best to use it will yield the best results. In this case, successfully working with (and retaining) Millennials depends on understanding and appreciating both sides of each behavioral coin. For example:

  1. The Short Attention Span.  Millennials have grown up in a world where things happen at the speed of the Internet.  Some sneer at their lack of patience; but Millennials also apply that expectation of speed to their own tasks.  If I ask a Millennial to do something, it usually gets done quickly (and if it doesn’t, it probably means they are stuck and I need to check on them.)  This can be a problem when paired on tasks with those of us in the slower, older generations — to avoid frustration on all fronts, it usually works best to give Millennials standalone tasks or tasks that feed the front of a process.
  2. The Google-Plex.  Millennials Google everything.  In fact, this can lead to a frustrating belief that if they can’t Google it, it can’t be done.  On the flip side, they are the first ones to keep from re-inventing the wheel.  I’ve seen a Gen X-er  avoid something new for months when he could have finished it in a day if he had only Googled for a sample.
  3. Hyper-connectivity.  It can almost be comical to watch them try to put their phone down for a 30-minute meeting; on the other hand, they quickly connect with coworkers, they get back to you right away, and they sometimes have critical information faster than anyone else. Get them pointed at the right kinds of information, they can be a great reconnaissance asset.
  4. The Parent Trap.  Millennials have a kinda creepy-close connection with their parents.  One friend who lives near a university told me she saw a girl at the grocery store calling her mom to ask which cereal she likes.  Many of the Millennials I know connect with one (or both) parents multiple times a day (via text or phone).  While it seems a little silly to be so dependent, at least they aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know something (with those they trust); and they are comfortable working with people of other generations.
  5. Love at Work.  Career-wise, Millennials are driven by something different.  It may seem crazy since they are graduating with more debt than any other generation, but 59% of them say they would take a lower paying job if it meant they could do something they love (and I can confirm this from own experience). More than half also expect to change careers at least once over their lifetime.  Quite simply, they are motivated to chase what they love, and they have no expectation of staying in one place to find it; but if they love what they are doing, they are all in.

Narcissistic, lazy, entitled and rude? Some. Lacking loyalty? Maybe from a corporation’s perspective. Impossible to work with? No way.  I’m excited to be working with this generation.  They are changing the face of the workplace, and to use them best, we just need to adapt to OUR new environment.

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Why can’t I get a volunteer?

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© Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime.com

One of the greatest challenges for any leader is getting volunteers. Whether it is getting someone to pick up extra work on a project or finding people to set up for a fundraising event, the success of the project relies on having team members who are willing to step up and help out.

But what do you do when you ask for volunteers and get crickets?

For example …

The high school band booster group exists to provide support to and conduct fundraising for the band programs, including the marching band. Throughout the year, they rely on parent volunteers to chaperone trips, manage uniforms, move equipment, run concessions and execute a couple of large events. Membership in the boosters is compulsory: if your child is in the band, you are automatically a booster. The result of this approach is that you have what LOOKS like a large volunteer pool; but the truth is that the pool is really quite shallow — only a handful of (exhausted and stressed) parents actually step up to volunteer.

On the surface, the fact that the group is compulsory looks like the problem, and it is true that it creates that false sense of size (which probably leads to designing events that require lots of volunteers). If membership in the booster organization was instead voluntary, lack of members would force the group to address their real underlying issue: a lack of trust.

(BTW: This applies equally to non-compulsory groups with disenchanted members and work teams where members are assigned by their manager.)

The Team Truth!

We know that successful teams require (in order):

  1. Trust
  2. Engagement
  3. Commitment
  4. Accountability
  5. Attention to results

When you can’t get volunteers, your team is failing at step 2. That means it’s time to go back to step 1 and do some foundational work.

Building trust within a group is a process. It is not an overnight process — it takes a deliberate, ongoing plan that focuses on communications and relationship building. Here are the key components:

  1. A strong orientation. Introduce them to the organization and why it is awesome. Provide examples of why they should want to be a part, and make the examples as real as possible. Include a clear explanation of what the organization expects of them, and make sure it is reasonable.
  2. Transparency. The leadership, the structure, the purpose, the goals and the progress (even when there are setbacks) — share all of it. They can’t trust an organization when they don’t know who is in charge or what they are doing, so make sure they know. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
  3. Accessible and appreciative leadership. Ultimately, they will be building their trust with individual leaders, not an amorphous organization. Be visible, and invite them to connect with you. When they offer to engage, recognize that effort.
  4. Give them a say. Provide opportunities for them to discuss, approve or vote on things that impact the group. Giving them a voice gives them ownership and shows that you trust them.
  5. Listen. If you ever want to get to step 2 (where they actively engage), you need to let them know you respect them as members of the group. Listen to their ideas, and understand their individual situations (not everyone has the availability to volunteer right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future). Show them that you consider this their organization, and they will begin to believe it, too.

Back to the Crickets

Having a long-term plan for volunteer cultivation is good, but what about your current crickets? Consider what you can do right now. Send out an orientation to the project, begin showing appreciation and asking for input, and build on the responses you get. Show your trust, and they will begin to show theirs, and that is when engagement begins.

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Leadership: How good was your first time?

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© Petarneychev | Dreamstime.com

For many of us, our first foray into team leadership comes on a small project team or perhaps a volunteer committee.  When this experience goes well, we seek additional, growing levels of leadership, which usually correspond to greater personal or professional success.  Our resume abounds with the kind of skills and experience that get hiring managers excited!

But what about when that first leadership foray goes wrong? Does that mean leadership is not for you?  Does that mean you will never see great success because you can’t (honestly) claim these skills on your resume?

While some people have a natural talent for leadership, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn to be good leaders as well.  If you want to give it another go, I suggest taking these five basic principles of leadership to heart:

  1. Trust is not granted by a title. 
    Trust is the foundation on which successful teams are built, and it is earned through actions and communications.  A team with strong trust is more productive and more engaged (and if you want to know why, I recommend some reading).  You earn trust with your team (and external stakeholders, for that matter) through small actions every day, especially open, honest communications.
  2. Communicating is more important than doing. 
    It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that leading the team means doing like everyone else on the team.  The reality is that there is one task that only the team leader can do, and that is to gather and disseminate information about the team and its activities.  Open and frequent communication keeps things on track, demonstrates transparency and earns trust. Additionally, being at the center of communications will help you strategize for the tasks ahead.
  3. Planning is not a waste of time.
    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” (John Wooden)
    In project management, the rule of thumb is to dedicate 10% of project time to planning.  Taking the time to plan before jumping into the activities will mean less wasted time for you and your teammates — another way to show appreciation and build trust —  so no matter how pressed you are, take some time to plan.
  4. Delegate everything except planning and communications. 
    There is a temptation to take things on yourself either because you think it will be faster, or because you think it sends a message to the team about being one of them.  The truth is that you are automatically the understudy (or designated hitter, if you prefer) for everyone on the team.  You need to keep yourself untethered as much as possible so you have the bandwidth to jump in and help a team member in need.
  5. Asking for a status report does not communicate mistrust.
    In fact, this is a great way to show team members that you care about them.  Find out if they are on track, and if they aren’t, ask how you can help (that’s why you delegated everything in the first place right?)  Communicate individual successes to the team to show appreciation and (you guessed it!) build trust.

Trust-building, communications, planning, delegation — those are the key skills of a leader.  If you’ve had a bad leadership experience, I encourage you to consider which of these areas might have fallen short, then get back in the game.  Great success lies ahead!

For more articles like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

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How strong is your work game?

© MaxiSports | Dreamstime.com

© MaxiSports | Dreamstime.com

Perhaps it’s the olympic spirit taking hold of me, but I’ve been thinking about competition a lot lately.   We all know that active job hunters are competing for jobs, but did you realize that career employees need to compete for their jobs, too?

The current corporate climate has made it clear that there are no stable jobs anymore — anyone can find themselves fighting to keep their job, sometimes even interviewing against their former direct reports.  To compete, you need to bring your A-game; or should I say “your P-game,” because I believe the key to being competitive in today’s job market is PASSION.

Millennials Have Changed the Game

There was a time when a job was a job and, as long as you weren’t incompetent, you could keep doing your job until you retired and collected your pension.  Not anymore.

The Millennials are now dominating the marketplace, and one of their noted characteristics is their desire to do what they love.  So much so that they take unpaid internships and do volunteer work; they start micro-businesses on the side; and they are willing to work for less pay.  They chase work they are PASSIONATE about.

If you were an employer, would you choose the person who sorta likes what she does from 8am to 5pm, or the one who loves what she does so much that she continues doing it after hours for herself or a non-profit?

This is your competition.

What about experience?

I’m going to leave it to Sir Richard Branson to explain this one:

“You can learn expertise and gain experience, but attitude is inherent.”

Yup, he’s talking about PASSION.

What if I’m not passionate about what I do?

The uncertainty of changing careers can be scary.  Losing your job and not being able to compete for another one is even scarier.

You need to find what you ARE passionate about.

You need to join the game where you can compete and win.

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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

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© 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.

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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.

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