Monthly Blogs 2014

New Year’s Resolution…No More Simple Stories

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December, 2014

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This month I celebrated my 60th birthday. For many, this can be a tough one. Fortunately, I have known some inspirational elders who have helped shape my views on aging. Both my parents and my wife Bonnie’s parents made it into their 90s after building an impressive collection of stories both before and after age 60. Each kept growing and contributing after 60 with amazing productivity and impressive style and grace. For them, getting older meant liberation, growth, and new discovery. For others, aging has become a single story dominated by the word decline. “Aging equals decline” is one of many examples of the single defining story I’ll resolve to debunk and retire within this blog. I’ve invited authors H. L. Mencken, Chimamanda Adichie (pictured above), and Malcolm Gladwell to join me in this crusade.

Each of us occupies both the giving and receiving end of single stories. We have good intentions. We want to be decisive and clear, but are too often guilty of spreading simple messages to explain complex realities. Journalist H. L. Mencken once wrote, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Watch this TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie for an illustration of how easy it is to fall into the single story trap, the damage it can cause, and ways to avoid this mistake.

Out of step, out of date, out of shape are phrases often attached to those of us “of a certain age”. Many of my clients have complained of being trapped inside this “old” story, while others have successfully created multiple messages that reveal the best of growing older and wiser. One of the best bits of advice I have heard for job seeking after age 50 came from a Fortune Magazine article from the late 1990s that offered two very useful suggestions, “Stay current, and stay in shape.” Sounds like another good New Year’s resolution, wouldn’t you agree?

Whether we are being evaluated or are evaluating others, now is a good time to consider how open we are to the larger, more layered story about us and about others. If we are experiencing, or perhaps unknowingly perpetuating, agism, racism, sexism, or any form of prejudice or unfair stereotyping, let’s see if we can make the story less simple, less singular, and more generous, varied and kind.

Consider these two quotes from the 2005 Malcolm Gladwell book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

“The answer is that we are not helpless in the face of our first impressions. They may bubble up from the unconscious – from behind a locked door inside of our brain – but just because something is outside of awareness doesn’t mean it’s outside of control.”

“I’ve been in auditions without screens, and I can assure you that I was prejudiced. I began to listen with my eyes, and there is no way that your eyes don’t affect your judgement. The only true way to listen is with your ears and your heart.”

As this year comes to an end, with recurring themes of unrest and growing racial tension, let us each consider how open we are to the more expansive stories about each other. Let us vow to listen more carefully with both our ears and our hearts. Let us commit to hearing the fuller story that others wish to tell us, not just the parts that reinforce what we think we already know about them. Let us not just seek and illuminate the simple facade, but reveal instead both the book’s cover and the rich and varied chapters within. In other words, let us evaluate others in the ways in which we ourselves wish to be evaluated.

Here’s to a great year ahead for you and all those surrounding you. Let’s resolve to greet 2015 with open minds and open hearts. This year, no more single stories.

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Take Five

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November, 2014

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With all the hustle and bustle that comes with the holiday season’s arrival, is it time for a therapeutic break? Ready to indulge yourself for the next five minutes? Time to recharge your batteries and have some fun?

No long and ponderous blogs this month, just this amazing video (click here to see it) that will take just over three minutes to watch. At the conclusion, you’ll experience Mack The Knife (my favorite) performed like never before. Thanks to my good friend, recruiter David Magy, for sending this my way. Enjoy, and happy holidays to you and your family. Take five!

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Will a Portfolio Life Become Your Second Half Story?

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October, 2014

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Over these past 25 years in my career transition practice, most of my clients in their 40s, 50s and 60s have been very interested in one day creating a portfolio life. Many have already done so successfully. In this blog I’ll describe this life, and ask you, as I have asked each of my clients, “Is this how you would like to live in the second half of your life?” I’m betting you will.

Irish economist Charles Handy coined the phrase “portfolio life” in his 1989 book, The Age of Unreason. Handy describes this life as, “A portfolio of activities – some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause…the different bits fit together to form a balanced whole…greater than the parts.” I’ll get to this second half destination in a minute, but first let’s take a look at what precedes it.

The first quarter: (childhood to around age 25) The Learning Years

In our first twenty-five years or so, the majority of our time is spent learning in school, on the playground, in our families and neighborhoods and in the organizations we occupy. We learn how to do what we need and want to do, and how to navigate our world.

The second quarter: (young adulthood to around age 50) The Earning Years

In this phase, in addition to our personal and community commitments, most of us choose to establish ourselves in our paid work. We typically spend more time at this than all other areas of our lives. We want to establish ourselves as competent and successful. If we are highly ambitious in our careers, well over 70% of our time and energy will likely be invested in our paid work.

The second half: (big changes that begin in our 50’s or 60’s) The Portfolio Years

The earning years usually continue without much change early in this period, but over time, work can take many different forms. For most of us, getting out of the workforce altogether is usually not economically feasible or wise until sometime in our 60s. Economics editor Chris Farrell’s new book, Unretirement, makes a strong financial, personal and societal impact case for working longer and retiring later.

It is difficult to leave a career early, not only because of financial needs and longer life expectancy, but also because our identity, social circles and sense of purpose is usually tied very closely to our working role and organization. Letting go of a significant job without a predictable alternative income source or compelling new work identity can be very difficult. Proceed with caution, but start exploring options before the big changes take place. Start building your bridge now before you need it.

Understanding career alternatives in the second half can ease the disruption of leaving our jobs, and can include a wide range of options, including: using your same skills in a new environment, pursuing new terms of employment (like consulting, contracting, part-time or interim assignments), a new venture, downshifting to an individual contributor role, new work altogether, or a plan to bridge from one of these options to another over time. You have many more choices than you might realize.

To learn more about these options, read my March, 2012, blog. Each career alternative is described, along with financial implications and degree of difficulty. To learn some effective approaches to making big career shifts, read my April, 2012, blog. Keep an open mind, experiment a little, and have some conversations with people who have already pursued these new avenues. You might be surprised at what you discover!

Over time, as earning a full-time wage becomes less of a primary driver, other aspects of our lives grow in importance. More time is available to broaden and enrich our lives. At the top of this post is a five part portfolio life model adapted from the writings of David Corbett, author of, Portfolio Life, the New Path To Work, Purpose and Passion after 50. I highly recommend this book to executives and professionals considering a portfolio life.

In the early stages, the Learning and self-development elements of a portfolio life might still have a professional focus. On the other hand, when the time is right, you might prefer something altogether different from what has been your professional focus. If so, consider programs within universities, community education, or Elder Hostel (recently renamed Road Scholar). Start thinking of yourself as a college freshman, but this time you won’t need to choose a practical major. Is it time to experience liberal arts learning with this liberating twist? Is there something you have been hoping to learn and/or develop, but you haven’t had the time? Is it time now?

Giving back to society becomes a growing focus of a portfolio life. A higher percentage of your time, talent and resources can now be directed towards the programs you care about. What has worked for you in the past, and what hasn’t? Sit down with someone who has set a good example of being generous in this way, and has similar community interests and values as yours. Discuss your options, and ask their advice on finding a path that might fit you. Who needs you now? What cause do you want to serve that will energize you?

Healthy living relates to several personal aspects of a portfolio life, including mind, body and spiritual work (recognize that YMCA mantra?), strengthening relationships with family and friends, and managing your finances. Is it time for that fitness class? That bike ride? Are you satisfied with your financial status, plan and advisor? What are you reading these days? How are you taking care of yourself? Do you have a spiritual practice? There are many good resources and people out there to tap for ideas. It’s time to start taking stock and begin those conversations about your health, financial management, relationships and overall well being.

At one time Enjoying personal pursuits and leisure was the principal dream of retirement and second half living. I suspect it’s still that way for many. Ameriprise Financial did a study of retirees a few years back, and found that about 20% of their retired subjects considered themselves “carefree contents”. Another 20% identified more fully with the term “empowered reinventers”. There are many personal and leisure pursuits that will bring us satisfaction in our portfolio years, but if you are still reading this blog, I suspect you appreciate the value of all five of the portfolio life elements, and aren’t likely to be exclusively pursuing “carefree content” living in your second half. Personal pursuits and leisure are likely not enough to sustain us, but they are important, so how is this part going for you?

Summary

Is a portfolio life the story you would like to write in your second half? It may take a while before you can jump the full-time job track and fully embrace this life, but I’m guessing you will agree that this is a very appealing choice. Perhaps your portfolio life will be some version of the five parts I have described, adding a few others I may have missed. Even if this life choice is a ways off for you, it’s not too early to start building a bridge to it. Perhaps it’s time to start letting go of some work related activities. You might also want to start adding other elements you haven’t attended to recently, or your work has displaced. We’re always moving towards a new life stage. Good luck as you start drafting your next chapter.

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Finding Something Better, When The Time Is Right

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September, 2014

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How do you know when it’s the right time to move on, to reach for something better? Perhaps you just can’t stay at your job anymore because you’re so frustrated. Maybe you want to get ahead of the organizational changes you sense are coming your direction. Maybe things are OK, but you are called to something different, something new, or something better suited to your preferences. In this blog I will discuss both change readiness and the process of finding that next opportunity.

Change Readiness

Several years ago I heard a presentation by Larry Wilson, founder of the Twin Cities based training and organizational consulting company Wilson Learning. Wilson described a mathematical formula his firm created to describe change readiness. Vision + Dissatisfaction + Process > Cost. As Wilson explained it, “The combination of our vision, dissatisfaction and the process of change needs to be more powerful than the cost of change. Most often the cost of change includes time, effort, money, emotion and risk.” In the beginning, the first three parts of this equation are more heavily weighted. One only need look at how health clubs fill up in January and empty in May, to see how eventually one or more of the cost factors tend to overpower the most popular New Years resolution (vision), and source of dissatisfaction each year: losing weight and getting fit. Wilson’s model speaks to both change readiness and sustaining change. Here is a look at each part of Wilson’s change readiness formula, and some suggestions for sustainability.

Vision

This is the magnet that pulls us towards something better. Begin by considering possible attractive destinations. What might your preferred future look like? Consider these three elements: your preferred work, organizational preferences, and personal considerations (income, time demands and location). To flesh out each of these elements, read my blog from October, 2013, Evaluating an Opportunity. This blog names the factors tied to each of these three key elements. This can be a helpful checklist to get you started, but when all is said and done, what you are evaluating is future fit.

So how will you know when you have successfully named and found it? Great fit comes from the alignment of talent, purpose and place. In the end, you will have found it when you can confidently say that you will be able to use, develop and stretch your talents, in a meaningful way, within a place that values you and shares your values. Isn’t this an aspirational vision most of us could agree on?

Pursuing this vision requires you to look back to see what talents have been revealed in your past, and decide how to apply and grow these and other preferred talents in the future. You will need to clarify what the term “meaningful work” means to you and attempt to name your top values. Once you have an opportunity in focus, you’ll also need to assess how compatible your values are with theirs.

This represents your aspirational vision. Ultimately, we’ll need to look at each opportunity that comes your way, and decide how close each comes to your ideal. Every good opportunity will be a mix of “fit” and “maybe a fit” for your vision. If you uncover a “bad fit” in the job, organization or personal categories, you may need to walk away from that opportunity.

Don’t do your visioning work in isolation. You need to engage others in this conversation, and also need to move to the “doing” part of this discovery process. You might need to try out new possibilities on a small scale, and test future fit by both experimenting and shifting to new connections. If you are considering a very different new vision, or some other big shifts in your career future, take a look at my August, 2012 blog, Think Big, Start Small.

Dissatisfaction

Using the elements listed in my October, 2013 blog, take a look at your current situation. How do your job, organization, boss, income, location and time factors measure up? You likely can name the specifics of your dissatisfaction, and are dealing with this on your own, or with guidance from a trusted advisor, mentor or coach. Sometimes you can make things better. Sometimes you have to just tough it out and wait for the storm to pass. Sometimes you need to leave. Focusing on dissatisfaction can be a powerful motivator for change, but if you stay frustrated too long without relief, you’ll end up feeling stuck and drained. Here are two questions to ask yourself: Can I stay and change this? Can I stay and accept this? If the answer to both questions is no, then it’s time to build a bridge to your next opportunity. How do you do that? Read on.

Process (while in transition)

If you are out of work, there is usually a logical sequence of stepping stones to help you get from where you are now to your next opportunity. The most common sequence of the career transition process: self assessment, market research, focus, strategy, development (resume, linkedIn, reading “how to” guides and doing campaign readiness work), job campaign (communications, ongoing research, and mostly networking), interviewing, landing, on-boarding.

Process (if you are still employed)

If you are currently employed and looking for a better opportunity, the same process elements I just described apply to you as well, but the experience is different in some fundamental ways. First, let’s focus on the emotional elements. Imagine you are standing on the edge of an elevation, and straight below you is a landing too far down for you to jump safely. Twenty feet in front of you the ground comes straight up from the bottom of this chasm to a landing that is roughly parallel to where you are now standing. At that landing you see an image that represents your preferred next opportunity.

Picture a U shaped valley with you on the top left and your preferred destination on the top right. This destination on the right pulls you towards the edge of where you are standing, while at the same time you are being pushed from behind by the winds of your dissatisfaction and/or organizational change. You are excited about future possibilities, but frightened by the steepness of the chasm immediately in front of you. You could stay where you are, but you feel that you really need to take that next step. The fear of making a bad decision, possibly falling into a deep financial, career or emotional hole, weighs heavily on you. Sound familiar?

To get to that preferred destination, over the chasm of fear and risk, you will use the same “stepping stone” elements described above. You are, however, going to have to build them differently. Individuals who are already in transition are (metaphorically) at the bottom of the chasm, as they have either already jumped or been pushed out. They have to build their steps from the bottom up. If instead, you are at the top looking down and looking ahead, you will need to build your transition base from above with whatever time and energy you can spare for this task. How do you do that? I suggest you employ the Ronnie Brooks method. Brooks is one of the founders of the Wilder Foundation’s Shannon Institute and has taught this method for many years. Here is how it works.

You’ll need to build a bridge to your preferred future by laying down the same building blocks as those prescribed for those already in transition, but from the top down. Brooks suggests that you imagine a steadily growing platform of mattresses you toss down from above. This visual makes it seem less daunting, with a softer landing when you make your jump and traverse to the other side. You’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to complete this transition platform while you are working. After all, you still have to do your job, and you’ll need to be discreet about your attempts to leave your company. Proceed with caution, but keep moving forward.

Cost

This is when sustainability of change is put to the test. The most common costs of change are time, effort, financial, emotions and risk. If you recall the health club example, the vision, dissatisfaction and process factors are initially much more heavily weighted than the cost factors. Over time, however, counterbalancing factors often include the demands and distraction of your work, denial, fear, personal distractions, and exhaustion. All too often, these impediments to change grow in significance, as the initial enthusiasm for change subsides. There is no way around it, this is really hard work, and doing it well is very time consuming. It demands sustained effort, continually renewed passion towards the vision, a willingness to take risks, and to forgive yourself and get back on task if you falter.

Conclusion

In the end, change readiness and sustainable change is about clarifying and amplifying your vision and dissatisfaction, committing to your process, and being willing to invest yourself wisely in this change initiative over time. You’ll need to find the structure,support and the will that keeps you moving forward. I hope this blog has helped clarify what it takes to achieve career transition success, whether you are in, or considering, a career transition. I wish for you the wisdom and strength to find a good path, and follow it to the end. Great rewards come to those with the courage to change course when their situation demands it. I sincerely hope that the guidance within this blog helps you in your journey, and I wish you the best as you move forward.

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Three Keys to Career Transition Success

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August, 2014

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After completing three years of my monthly blogs, I see three recurring themes for career transition success: how to focus and filter, networking best practices, and balancing IQ with EQ. Below is a collection of past blogs tied to these three themes. You can click the highlighted date on any of these entries to link to the entire blog.

Focus and Filter

Evaluating an Opportunity: October, 2013 blog

What are the key considerations as you evaluate a job, an organization and the personal factors like salary, location and time demands? What do you want? How important is each factor? How does an opportunity you are considering measure up? Here is a tool to help you decide if this it the right next step for you.

The Three Stages of a Transition: February, 2014 blog

While in a transition, we each travel a somewhat predictable path. We begin with an ending, then move through a kind of wilderness, and eventually culminate in a new beginning. Each stage has its opportunities, challenges, emotional and strategic considerations. See what William Bridges’ transition model can do to help you navigate what can be a disruptive and emotionally turbulent career transition experience.

Fake It ‘til You Become It: September, 2013

Don’t let fear become your filter. If you really want something that you’re not sure you can have, consider faking it ‘til you become it. This entire TED talk is excellent, but if you just have three minutes to invest, start at minute 16. You will be inspired, and it might just change your thinking about what is possible for you, and how to go after it.

Networking Best Practices

The 20-Minute Networking Meeting: August, 2013 blog

This is an excellent networking book. In this blog I revisit the book’s networking model (updating a past blog), and highlight the comments made by author Marcia Ballinger at an executive career transition group presentation. This should be required reading for anyone in transition. I give it to every new client.

Planned Happenstance: February, 2012 blog

Move ahead with intentionality, and always stay open to surprises.
Someone you were counting on will inevitably let you down, and
a relative stranger will be incredibly generous. You need to network, and not default to the internet or isolation. In my twenty-five years in this field, one thing has not changed…65 to 80% of all landings are directly tied to a network sponsor. Make that the percentage of time you network while in transition, and you will be moving in the right direction.

Are You Interested AND Interesting When Networking? July 2014 blog

Are you memorable, or mostly a “sponge and mirror” when networking?
What stories make you interesting? Near the end of this blog, I reference what I consider my most interesting story. Read about how my father sang, danced and received a standing ovation on Broadway at a Hugh Jackson musical. That’s my dad in the blue sweater on his 85th birthday standing beside Hugh Jackman. I received more emails after this blog than any others I wrote. What are your interesting stories?

Balancing IQ and EQ

Balance IQ and EQ: May, 2013 blog

Imagine you are riding a bicycle, with the back wheel IQ, the front wheel EQ (emotional intelligence). Drive with IQ, steer with EQ.

Fit vs. Talent: May, 2014 blog

Job campaign results come from perseverance, connections, talent and fit,
in that order. You get in the door with perseverance and connections.
Your talent and fit get you the offer. When there are several qualified candidates for an employer to choose from, each with considerable talent, fit becomes the deciding factor. Are you equally focused on talent and fit in networking and job interviews? Be authentic, and be fully attentive to your audience.

Eileen’s Eight: April, 2014 blog

Eileen Agather, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase, authored this list of eight guiding principles for leadership and career management. She reveals herself as a tough, decisive and driven Texas bank executive. Her updated “Eileen’s 2.0” version shows us a more emotionally intelligent leader, who became even more effective by emphasizing compassion and versatility. Many of my clients forwarded this blog to their daughters. It seems that Eileen has found the right mix of head and heart, driving and building. How balanced are you these days?

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Are You Interested AND Interesting When Networking?

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July, 2014

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I’ll get to that Hugh Jackman (in gold) /George Dow Sr. (blue sweater) photo above in a minute. Let me set the stage first.

I emphasize versatility when speaking with my career transition clients. In three separate conversations last week, here is what I said: “Could you network in such a way that you’ll be described as both interested and interesting? When discussing your leadership skills, could you describe yourself as both a builder and a driver? In a small company job interview, could you demonstrate how you have been effective both strategically and tactically in recent years?” In each of these conversations, I challenged my clients to amplify their versatility. In this post I will be focusing on how to be both interested and interesting when networking. Be patient, I’ll get to that Hugh Jackman story soon.

Let’s start by looking at the networking process. As you likely already know, networking is the most critical element of a job campaign. It is where most opportunities are found. When it comes to structuring a networking meeting, I recommend the book, The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, by Marcia Ballinger and Nathan Perez. For a summary of their recommendations, read my August, 2013 blog. Manage the process as the book suggests, but always be ready to depart from the “script” when you get the opportunity to stretch the meeting.

Many networking conversations last one to two hours. When you find yourself with this much extra time, I suggest you still use the 20 minute structure. As the longer networking conversation unfolds, balance your own needs with the needs and preferences of the other person. What is their story? What do they care about? What can they teach you? How do their interests and stories intersect with yours? Which of your stories might interest them? What can you teach them? How can you help them?

Show your sincere interest. Listen deeply, reflecting back key points, but don’t let yourself become just a sponge and a mirror. If you do, in the end they’ll perhaps know themselves better, but won’t know you. If you want to be memorable, share more about yourself, and some of your more interesting stories. Share some things that will make them smile, laugh, emotionally connect with you, lean forward and ask for more. Remember that interesting is in the eye of the beholder, so stay mostly with common interests, but from time to time take them down a different path. Get a little creative. Be memorable. Your stories don’t need to be dramatic, but steer clear of the dull, predictable, transactional or forgettable conversation.

Now let me tell you about that photo at the top of this post. It was taken eleven years ago on my father’s 85th birthday. He was invited to leave his front row seat and join Hugh Jackman on a Broadway stage. At the time, Jackman was starring in a musical called The Boy From Oz, and was starting to engage the audience in some very adventurous ways. This is definitely one of my most interesting stories, and reveals my father at age 85 dancing, singing and receiving a standing ovation on Broadway! My sister Liz wrote all about it last month in a Huffington Post blog
Take a look. It is sure to make you smile. Telling that story has made for many interesting networking conversations for me and for my sister. It always gets a smile and strengthens my relationship with anyone I tell it to.

What are your interesting stories? Could you slip one or two into an upcoming networking conversation? Won’t it be great, if at the end of your next networking meeting, the other person is thinking or saying, “I appreciate your keen interest in what I have had to say, and I must also say that I find your stories and comments have been interesting and very helpful in getting to know you better. Let’s continue this conversation in the future. Let me see what I can do for you.”

Interested and interesting. Make this a goal for your next networking conversation. Have some fun with it! Keep your “sponge and mirror” in good working order, and throw in your own little song and dance while you’re at it!

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Dreaming vs. Doing, Generosity, Working and Parenting

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June, 2014

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Last week one of my former clients sent me this video link to the 2014 Dartmouth commencement speech by Shonda Rhimes, award winning screenwriter, director and producer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.

Whether your life is commencing to that first job out of college, or heading towards a career transition or transformation, I suggest you watch this. I’ll bet you have never heard a speech quite like this one before.

If you don’t have 24 minutes, start at minute 6. There is much to be learned from this wise and talented woman.

To see some written highlights from this speech, and to find links to other great commencement speeches, click here: Shonda Rhimes on Dreaming vs. Doing, the Tradeoffs of Success, and the Blinders of Entitlement

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Fit vs Talent

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May, 2014

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In a hiring decision, does your fit for a job, an organization, a boss outweigh your talent and qualifications?  Most likely it does.  So what is fit?  It is your interpersonal compatibility.  In April, 2013 I created a blog entitled Pursuing Your Next Job Like They Do In Hollywood. When I shared this blog recently with a class at the University of Minnesota, the students offered a fresh perspective on this question.  This is my update to that blog based on those student recommendations.  As you will see in the original version, I referenced a Hollywood producer who suggested that getting a job in Hollywood takes four things, in this order of importance: perseverance, connections, being fun to work with (a good fit) and talent.  
 
That U of M class didn’t recommend changing these four factors or even their order of importance. They did, however, suggest that the first two, perseverance and connections, will get your foot in the door, and the second two, fit and talent, will get you the job.  They really understood how this process works, and described it better than the first blog did.
 
Why might fit be more important than talent or qualifications in getting the job? Simply put, you may have the capabilities listed in the job specifications, but the way you apply those talents will need to fit the preferences of the organization and the boss.  I have videotaped countless practice interviews where the job candidate has been laser focused on communicating his or her qualifications, but did so looking like a stone statue, with only the lips moving and sounding like a robot (one of those bad 1950’s movie robots). They were so focused on communicating their qualifications that their possible fit and connection with the interviewer became a big question mark. Experiencing those recordings drove that point home, and much improved interviews would follow.
 
There are, of course, exceptions to the fit over talent theory.  In the early stages of one’s career, or for an individual contributor, the interpersonal fit might be less important than at the higher levels. Younger, high potential employees can be molded to the culture. Individual contributors and specialists often have fewer interpersonal demands with less emphasis on fit, and more on their talent and expertise.  The vast majority of work today, however, is highly interdependent. 
 
If you don’t believe me on this fit vs talent question, ask any recruiter or hiring manager. They will likely concur: fit trumps talent just about every time.  When there are several talented, qualified candidates to choose from, as there usually are, fit finalizes the hire. 
 
Take a look at what I wrote last year about all four of these factors.  In seeking a new job, be perseverant and leverage connections to get in the door, then communicate how well you have fit in the past. Show how you will fit in the future, as your talents are applied to the challenges and opportunities your target company faces.  Be authentic in your presentation. I am not suggesting that you become a chameleon, an actor who plays the part of the perfect candidate.  If you are a fit as your best and most authentic self, and your talents and experience align with the prospective employer’s needs, you have a very good chance of getting the job.  Good luck in your pursuits! 

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Elaine’s Eight

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April, 2014

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It’s spring cleaning time. Are you ready to recalibrate your thinking a little? Elaine Agather offers some great ideas for this season of growth and new possibilities. Read all the way to the end, as Elaine has done some recalibrating of her own, and in some ways her 8.1 upgrade is even more powerful than her original eight principles.

by Elaine B. Agather
Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase, Dallas Region

Saddle Your Own Horse… Don’t wait for others to take care of you or for that dream job to come along. Never wait! You’re in charge of your life and your career.

Like What You Do… I didn’t say “Do what you like” – there’s a big difference. Liking what you do means you know how to make the most of opportunities. You look for the positives in every situation. You play the hand you’re dealt, and you win.

Turn on a Dime… Become a speed demon at changing directions. Embrace new opportunities and ideas. Adapt and thrive because changes will just keep coming. How you respond to change is what matters most.

Stay Connected… Develop and nurture relationships. Find mentors and reach out to those who might want to learn from you. Stay close to those you care about.

Practice Free Speech… Communicate all the time. Repeat your message as often as possible. People need to hear what you have to say. Don’t assume they already know – they usually don’t.

Get Over It… Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t take things that happen in business personally. Tough decisions have to be made. That’s part of the process. And, you will make mistakes. Fix them and move on.

Develop Your Funny Bone… You cannot survive – in business or in life – without a sense of humor. Lighten up, loosen up, and laugh. It’s amazing how far this will take you. And, you’ll sure feel a lot better!

Strengthen Your Back Bone… Do the right thing when it’s not easy or popular. Character is our foundation. Integrity has to be our guiding value. We’re nothing without it.

ELAINE’S 8.1 – UPGRADE

Saddle Your Own Horse…then ride with a good team.

Like What You Do…and then you decide what to like next.

Turn On A Dime… and remember to slow down.

Stay Connected…but vary the connections.

Practice Free Speech… and sprinkle it liberally with “thank yous.”

Get Over It…but spend a little time in recovery.

Develop Your Funny Bone…but cry with them, too.

Strengthen Your Back Bone…There is no upgrade; no change. There’s nothing about this one that we can or should ever change.

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Filling the “hole” in the “whole”

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March, 2014

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Several years ago Twin Cities psychologist Bruce Roselle coined the phrase, “the hole in the whole” to describe what takes place after one leaves a job. The “whole” represents your total life situation, and pulling your job out creates a very large “hole” in that whole. Since voids tend to get filled up fairly quickly, in no time this hole can become engulfed by all that once surrounded it. Think domestic duties and projects, family time, volunteer activities, recreation, time alone and with friends.

Some of this hole filling can be a very good thing, and many of my clients tell me that the “sabbatical” period between jobs created great opportunities to attend to things that were routinely pushed aside while they were working. Others are so concerned about finding the next job that they spend most of their waking hours either working on their job campaign or worrying about their job campaign. In this blog I will offer three different strategies for filling the “hole” in the “whole” during a job transition.

Sabbatical

Sometimes you are tired or burned out and need a sabbatical after leaving a job. For a period of time, maybe you just have to fill the hole with time to renew, catch up on non-work related things, and recharge your batteries. Everyone needs to put their best foot forward when starting a job campaign, so you might need this renewal time to make sure you are truly ready to move forward. If this sabbatical period doesn’t last too long (days or weeks, but be careful about many months), usually a prospective employer will accept the logic of taking some time off after ending a job, especially if the time just before your departure was intense and draining. For additional perspectives on this strategy, read last month’s blog on the three stages of transition.

Do it now

Sometimes you just need to hit it hard from the start. Get your self-assessments done, and your resume and LinkedIn information updated. Get your focus, your stories lined up, approach your network broadly and effectively. If you are truly ready to hit it hard from the start, then go for it. I always recommend preparing for networking (a critical element in 65-80% of job landings) by reading The 20-Minute Networking Meeting by Marcia Ballinger and Nathan Perez. If you are looking for work similar to your last job and industry, you may feel better just getting on with it, perhaps taking a break later in the process after your networking “flywheel” is fully in motion. Be careful not to just take the first thing that comes along, however, unless it matches well with your criteria. Take a look at my October 2013 blog about evaluating an opportunity when things get more serious with a prospective employer (and also to help clarity your focus at the beginning of your search).

Expand and explore your options

If you are thinking about a career transformation, a new path altogether, you may want to fill the hole by crafting experiments, shifting connections, and making sense of what you learn. In my November and December 2013 blogs I wrote about this strategy, which is described in detail and with many helpful case studies in the book Working Identity, Harvard Business Press, by Herminia Ibarra. You will want to try things on for size, learn from others who do what you are considering doing, and try to see beyond the basic assumptions and facades as you determine if it makes sense to pursue a whole new career direction.

Some final thoughts

How quickly you fill the “hole” in your “whole” after leaving a job will depend on how ready you are to dive back in (you may first need a brief sabbatical), and whether you are considering a career transition (faster start because it is more familiar) or a transformation (usually needs a lot more discovery and discernment time before committing). In this entry I have offered some perspectives, strategies and resources to help you move forward. Here’s to your success as you attempt to fill the open space in your life with fulfilling new work, discovered at whatever pace is right for you.

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The Three Stages of a Transition

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February, 2014

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William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (Perseus Books, 1980, last reprinted in 2004), is a great source of wisdom and guidance when transitions bring about major work/life disruptions. Career transition coaches have turned to Bridges’ books and teachings as a principal resource since they first appeared in 1980. To follow is an excerpt from a Modern Maturity Magazine interview with William Bridges in the early 1990’s (author and date could not be found). Bridges believes that people experience three distinct phases during transition periods:

THE ENDING: When you feel a strong sense that a work or life phase has passed.
NEUTRAL ZONE: When confusion and emptiness dominate.
THE NEW BEGINNING: When you discover a passion amid
confusion, and slowly nurture a new possibility.

The ending is perhaps the most difficult phase. The loss of a job can change people in fundamental ways that often challenge their sense of who they are. But recognizing that an ending has occurred, and living with the uncertainty that follows, is the foundation for launching a new start. “The biggest danger for most people,” Bridges says, “is choosing something (else) too quickly.”

Fully experiencing the feelings that accompany the ending—the loss of identity, acute disenchantment, a sense of disorientation—allows you to pass into the second phase, which is marked by emptiness. Although many people itch to begin something new, it is important, Bridges says, to take this time to discover what you really want to do, without the noisy distractions of ill-directed action.

The start of the final stage might come through an intuitive insight, a vision of the future, perhaps even a dream, a fleeting image, impression, or idea. This phase is almost always accompanied by fear over the loss of familiar patterns and the old sense of self. But as a new identity emerges, says Bridges, “You can grasp it and help it come along.” At this stage, it’s important to take action rather than remain in a constant state of readiness.

Bridges emphasizes the need to proceed step by step, resisting the temptation for a quick fix. Fixating on results, which might be slow to come, can leave you disillusioned and depressed, preventing forward movement. The smallest of steps early on can lay the groundwork for the leaps that take place later. And each transition occurs at its own internal pace. As Bridges says, “The only way you can speed it up is through awareness.”

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Is This Your Career Leap Year?

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January, 2014

Man jump through the gap.

A few years ago I heard an outstanding presentation by Larry Wilson, founder of the Twin Cities based training and organizational consulting company Wilson Learning. Wilson told the audience that there is a mathematical formula one can use to gauge change readiness.

Vision + Dissatisfaction + Process > Cost

He explained by saying our vision plus our dissatisfaction plus our process needs to be more powerful, more compelling, than the cost of change, adding most often this cost includes time, effort, risk, money and emotion.

Look at how health clubs fill up in January and are virtually empty in May to see how costs (usually time and effort demands) can overpower the most popular New Year’s resolution each year, losing weight and getting fit. Thoughtful and sustainable change needs to be the focus as you consider your future possibilities. So, is it time for you to take that leap? First take a look at each of these change readiness factors, then see if you are ready.

VISION

You, of course, need to look before you leap. What is your criteria for success, satisfaction and fit for your next job and organization? Is there firm footing on the other side of the leap even if that vision isn’t as clear as you might like it to be? Last October I wrote a blog about evaluating an opportunity. I encourage you to read it over while you prepare to take your possible leap.

What does your vision for success and satisfaction include? I believe that great fit comes from the alignment of talent, purpose and place. In the end, you will have found it if you can confidently say that you will be able to use, develop and stretch your talents, in a meaningful and significant way, within a place that values you and shares your values. Again, take a look at that October blog on the job, organizational and personal factors, decide what matters most to you, and then attempt to articulate the specifics your vision and filters will include.

DISSATISFACTION

If today you aren’t saying yes to the majority of the individual items listed in my October blog, chances are good that you are experiencing dissatisfaction in your current job or work environment.

In their newly published book, Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities, Richard Leider and Alan Webber included a fascinating interview with former Today host Jane Pauley about this topic of dissatisfaction. “I was sitting in a lecture hall at the first parents’ weekend at my son’s college said Jane. He was a freshman. And I went to a lecture and the professor was talking about work. And what is good work. He wrote on the board in big words: number one, the key aspect of good work is alignment. Being in alignment with the work of the organization, the mission, or what you’re doing. Number two was being regularly, if not constantly, reinforced in that alignment. And as happy as I should have been, as lucky as I was, as blessed as I was in my career, I knew I was not in alignment. And in that moment, in that chair, and at that parents’ weekend, I knew it was time for me to leave a primetime television show.”

PROCESS

In preparing to take a career leap, you first should decide if you are moving towards a career transition or a career transformation.
By “transition” I mean moving ahead with a next step that has much in common with the career path you have already been on. By “transformation” I mean moving ahead with a next step that is a major departure from the career path you have already been on.

Much has been written about the traditional career transition process, and the steps that take one from self-assessment to market research to focus to job campaigning and finally to landing. The details of this process are readily available in books and articles, and many of my monthly blogs have focused on this transition process. The career transformation process, however, calls for special consideration. Over the past twenty-four years I have worked with many career transformation clients, and am especially impressed with the process described by Herminia Ibarra in her 2003 book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. If you are considering taking the leap into a career transformation, I encourage you to read this book and follow its teachings.

Ibarra suggests a three part process: crafting experiments, shifting connections and then making sense of what you have learned. Don’t take the leap to career transformation before first conducting small experiments, finding new connections to guide you, and then taking the time to be reflective and decide if it really makes sense to commit to taking this leap.

COST

Time, effort, money, emotions, risk….. these are the key costs that will weigh you down, wear you out, and have you questioning your ability to transition or transform, to take the big leap. So how does one tip the balance towards the leap and away from the fear? I suggest four things, and wrote about each in my November 2012 blog.

In that blog I emphasized the need to be very intentional about optimizing structure, support, creativity and courage. I chose the title “courage” because I believe this to be the most important of these four items. Take a look at the photo on the top of this page and tell me that jump does not require a huge modicum of courage. Consider these words also:

“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the wind in your sails, explore, dream, discover.”
– Mark Twain

Twain understands inspiration and liberation, about taking the leap and living without regret. When one of my former clients wanted to declare to the world that she was about to transform her identity from a “domesticated” corporate executive to a “wild” entrepreneur, she chose to mail this quote in a holiday greeting card to her entire network. She wanted everyone to know that there was no turning back, that she had set sail and was committed to a future without regrets. It was her version of the Vikings burning their ships after landing on foreign shores. No way back home, no playing it safe, no regrets.

Is this your career leap year?

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