Monthly Blogs 2016

Job Transition: What Can Be Learned From The Movies?

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December, 2016

Shot of a mature couple watching tv in their living room

The holiday seasion is a great time to watch movies. As you consider the movies you love, have you ever thought about the formula for their storylines? What is it that holds your interest as a movie unfolds, and how might this compare to a job transition storyline?

If you are anticipating a job transition, or are in one now, this blog will reveal how the ups and downs in a movie can look and feel like what happens in a job transition. It will also offer hope and guidance for a new job in the new year ahead.

While recently taking a writing class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, the instructor told us that there is a storyline formula in many novels, plays and movies that resembles a W. A great story rarely has a straight plot line. That is just not realistic, nor is it interesting.

Consider your favorite stories. Typically the main characters begin a journey because something fundamental in their lives has changed. There is usually a downward emotional struggle early in the story that serves as a catalist for change. This is followed by a departure from the current reality, some early trumphs, and then another shift that often goes even more deeply downward than the first drop. Finally, there is a second bottoming out, then an ultimate triumph, with the main characters changed in some fundamental ways.

An example of this classic storyline is the movie Titanic. Early on, Rose is seen at the back of the ship, ready to jump overboard to end her life. She does not want to be the kept woman of a very controlling and unpleasant man. The story turns upward as she is prevented from leaping to her death by Jack.

Rose and Jack fall in love and the storyline moves sharply upward. When the ship strikes an iceberg, the story takes a deep drop that ends with Jack’s death. Rose has been fundamentally changed by what she has learned during her time with Jack. She becomes her own person, and rises up from her loss of Jack. In the end, as an old woman, her life is revealed as a triumph that completes her “W” journey.

The first drop in a job transition

The initial catalyst for a job change usually comes with a purpose. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

Preceeding the departure from a job, there is almost always a loss of faith in a positive, sustainable future with the organization. This negative drop comes either quickly or gradually. Most of us can sense when the bottom is near, and it is time to let go and move on. For some, this departure takes longer than they want it to. For others, it comes much too quickly.

For those who stay too long, it can feel like swinging on a trapeze bar. There is a move toward change, then away from it, then this process repeats over and over again. After finally letting go, or being pulled from that trapeze bar, there is liberation from the job and the company. At this point, the movement upward can begin.

The first climb

Self assessment, market research, focus and networking take someone who has entered a job transition to new people and places that represent new possibilities. Take a look at the graphic below and you’ll see the steps. Each new platform represents the next element of a logical progression, whether transitioning to the next job by climbing up, or bridging, to what is next.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 7.04.22 AM

The graphic above is taken from my April, 2015 blog that reveals how one “bridges” to a new job by tossing down “mattresses” from above when searching while employed. When unemployed, however, one jumps or is pushed down closer to the bottom left side of this model. From this position, the task is to build and climb each of the eight steps from the bottom up.

The next drop

There are three common ways to take a fall while building your steps from below or piling up a foundation from above. Over the past 28 years as a career coach, the most dramatic falls have occurred after a client has put too much energy and time into one opportunity, then he or she doesn’t get the offer.

The pipeline of other connections and opportunities doesn’t get filled during a hyper focus on one opportunity, and it is very hard to get the networking flywheel started again if you aren’t the one chosen for a job you thought was yours.

A second common cause for a fall is to withdraw, stop networking, and hope that jobs will emerge from the internet, recruiters, or by themselves. A third common drop is caused by repeatedly making mistakes during a job campaign, and failing to reach out for corrective advice from friends, colleagues, or trusted advisors.

The final climb

Usually the bounce off the second bottom comes through a shift in mindset, increased effort, and through adjustments made via the feedback and support from others. After recovering from being a finalist and not getting the offer, one needs to get back to the basics. After a dry period that likely included a retreat from networking and an overreliance on internet research and recruiters, one needs to reset goals and get out and make multiple daily connections.

If it is commonly understood that 65 to 80% of jobs are found through networking, why not spend 65 to 80% of your job campaign time networking? Reset yourself, and reengage your network after a drop in your activity level.

While you are networking, set a goal for your number of connections each day. Ask each network connection for visibility, information, advice and referrals, and while you are at it, ask for honest feedback from those you trust most. Debrief what you are doing in your job campaign and interviews, then listen to what your advisors suggest you could alter, and what you should continue.

Don’t let yourself get isolated or default to the internet or recruiters. Again, always remember that if most jobs are linked to your network, spend most of your job campaign time networking.

Successfully finishing the “W” journey

I tell my clients that successful job transitions require structure, support, resilience and courage. Each client needs a daily regemin of activity that is structured in a way that works for them, and is considered a best practice. I also remind my clients that they need regular support from others who care about them and can help guide them. Isolation can take any of us on a long downward spiral if we are not careful.

We also need resilience and courage to reach out beyond our comfort zone and continually broaden our network. We need to be willing to try a third or forth time if our calls or emails aren’t returned. We can’t give up the daily job campaign regimen, even if we think we are the sure bet for a job, or that we need an extended sabbatical from all this hard work.

Conclusion

Life during a job transition can look and feel just like a movie storyline, taking the shape of a “W”. Try to remember that what at first goes down will eventually come up, then likely go down again, but then ultimately turn upwards.

Try not to get too discouraged if your mood or activity level takes a serious drop as your job campaign goes on. Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor once said, “Everything can look like a failure in the middle.” Hang in there, and with structure, support, resilience and courage, the letter just past the middle of your job transition “W” will be a “V”. That is the beginning of the word victory.

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Job Interviews: The 8 Things That Will Matter Most

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November, 2016

Coworkers discussing project in conference room

The first time a client tells me they are preparing for a job interview, I talk them through the eight things I believe will matter most in that upcoming interview. After this conversation, I offer a written summary of an interviewing workshop I conducted a few years ago. It’s now time for an update. Read this blog, and just before your next job interview, read it again. It will help you get ready for those eight things that will matter most.

1) Preparation

Learn what you can through internet research and written materials provided by the recruiter or prospective employer, but don’t neglect what can be learned through conversations. While information drawn from the usual written sources is helpful, it could also be dated or inaccurate. A more nuanced and up-to-date understanding of the job, organization and industry often comes through network conversations and asking clarifying questions before and during the job interview.

While interviewing, listen and learn first and then share some of what your research and network has taught you. Throughout the interview continue asking clarifying questions. Learn their side of the story before launching into yours.

Sharing comments from people known by both you and the interviewer is especially valuable. Job acquisition is directly tied to network connections 65-80% of the time because trust and attraction is significantly elevated through common connections.

2) Ability

Complete a needs/qualifications/stories analysis in a side-by-side format. Use the job description and your market/network information to construct this three column list. In the left column list the top job duties. To the right of each job duty list your qualifications. To the right of that, list a brief reference to a story or two that illustrates your experience for each job duty.

Use the CAR model when preparing your stories. Begin with the Challenge, then your Actions, then your Results. People prefer to think in this sequential manner. Don’t forget the results. Too often I have noticed during simulated interviews with my clients that story telling begins with a challenge description, and ends with the actions taken. Leaving out the results neglects the most important parts of the story…. were you successful, and can your success be measured?

If you don’t have experience in some aspects of the work you are pursuing, tell how you are a quick study, and offer an example using this same CAR format.

3) Motivation

How is your energy, drive and vocal variety when you present your ideas and stories? The theory in behaviorally based interviewing is that our past predicts our future. This explains the importance of stories that illustrate your transferable skills, knowledge and experience. Motivation that resides in past accomplishments, however, does not necessarily predict future drive and ambition.

When you tell your stories, do so with good energy and a healthy amount of passion and vocal variety. I have conducted many video taped practice interviews, and too often have heard the right words, but with no engaging personality or measurable energy behind those words.

Don’t worry so much about getting the perfect words if that means you’ll risk losing your audience. Better to engage the interviewer than to bore them with a lack of personality and energy. Record yourself telling some of your stories. Play them back, then ask yourself if you were engaged by what you heard.

4) Fit

For 21 years I heard recruiters present monthly to my executive clients when I worked for the outplacement firm Right Management. These recruiters consistently put fit on the top of their list of importance when selecting a candidate.

Employers and recruiters can usually find two or three candidates who could each do the job effectively enough. Which candidate best fits the culture and the boss becomes the next, and likely deciding, factor. A candidate might be the most qualified for a job, but if he or she doesn’t fit, it’s just not going to work.

Be your best authentic self. Don’t become a chameleon. That won’t hold up over time. Based on your understanding of what the position/company needs, describe how your past performance, especially your style of working with others in leading, motivating and problem solving, might fit their needs.

5) Integrity

Trust is essential to establish and maintain throughout the interviewing process. Again, the goal is not to be a chameleon, or to just reveal your positives. Be ready to speak to both your strengths and challenges, successes and mistakes. Leverage the good will of your network sponsors and evangelists. Integrity and trustworthiness comes both from your presentation and your associations.

If you are concerned with some questionable things from your past, find a good sounding board to help you shape your message. Don’t “wing it” with the tough questions or you could risk saying too much or not enough, opening the door to doubt and suspicion about your character and integrity.

6) Sponsors

Because landing a job is usually tied directly to network sponsors, I have already made several references to the critical importance of networking. I also want to offer some words of caution. While it is usually very helpful when your sponsors make a call or send an email on your behalf early in the process, be careful not to overdo it.

Once you are deeply into the interviewing process, don’t lobby your network to keep promoting you, or you risk sending the message that you are a politician who lobbies indirectly to get what you need rather than through self representation.

7) Attitude

If you have baggage from a prior negative work experience, let it go. The interviewer will think it is just the tip of the iceberg, with a lot more negativity below the surface that will come out later if you are hired.

Be just as aware of your tone and body language as the words you speak. In video interviews I have done with clients, the words have often been right, but the vocal tone and body language were off, sometimes even venomous.

Practice talking about some of your difficult past experiences at work. Include both the ones you resolved successfully and the ones you didn’t, but taught you valuable lessons that paid off later. Record yourself and play it back to listen for both the words and tone. After listening to your recording, would you hire you?

8) Competitive Factors

Always remember that you are not competing with the job description, you are competing with other candidates. Recruiter and friend David Magy once showed me a very useful exercise for assessing competitive factors. Instead of the needs/qualifications/stories exercise I described earlier, do a needs/qualifications/your competitor’s qualifications analysis. What do you think that third column should include as you imagine your most likely competitor’s profile?

The second step of this exercise involves crossing out everything that is equal between you and your likely competitor. Whatever is equal between you and them is a “wash”. What remains in your column, and not in theirs, is your competitive advantage, and vice versa. You’ll want to leverage your advantages and prepare to mitigate your competitor’s advantages as the interview process unfolds.

Summary

In this blog I have offered my best guess about what those people on the other side of the desk will be thinking at your next job interview. You now know more about how you will be evaluated, and how you can prepare. Go back over these 8 factors before your next job interview. Keep sharpening your competitive edge and growing your network, and please share this blog to help others do the same.

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From “Overqualified?” to “When can you start?”

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October, 2016

A photo of happy mature businesswoman sitting at desk. Portrait of female professional is in office. Smiling executive is in formals at workplace.

It was a Wednesday afternoon a few years back when I got the call. My client sounded anxious and deflated. The hiring manager had just informed her that while she might be a great candidate for the job, there was serious concern that she was overqualified.

They would get back to her Friday after considering her candidacy a few more days.
Her job campaign had gone on for several months, and she was more than ready to get back to work. Here were my questions to her that afternoon.

Was this a good job?

The job was at a lower level than her previous position, and there is always a question of how challenging and engaging a job will be if it is one or two levels below the last one. Would she be frustrated or leave if not sufficiently challenged? Would she be more qualified than her boss and become a possible threat or annoyance? Would she be excited about going to this work each day, especially after the initial enthusiasm wore off? Would her skills and knowledge fit the new role?

When I asked her these questions about the job, she told me it would be very engaging and challenging, despite its lower level. I heard in both her words and tone that she was excited about the growth and challenge ahead. She could do this job with her skills, knowledge and ability to adapt and learn. She was ready to go for it.

Was this a good organization and boss fit?

This was a premier company with an excellent reputation for work environment and corporate culture. It was fast paced and challenging, but did not seem to be a “burnout” environment. The boss was known to her, and she anticipated an excellent working relationship.

Was this a good fit personally (salary, location, hours)?

While the salary was lower than her last job, it was fair and logical for its level and the industry. She could make this salary work for her family. The location was a major city in California, and having close relatives nearby was a big plus for her. The cost of living was higher, but she and her family could make this work. The hours and demands would be draining at times, but no more so than she was used to.

If you answered yes to all three questions, why not call them now?

I was concerned that waiting until Friday could send the message that she too was hesitant about the job, had her own concerns about being overqualified, and might be wavering on the decision. Why not call the hiring manager today and preempt their “overqualified” concerns?

She made the call that same day, emphasizing her fit in each of the areas described above, and received a job offer the next day.

Could this be a strategy and script for you?

If you find yourself in a similar situation, and feel you are likely being judged as overqualified, go over the three questions above first. If you can answer each in the affirmative, consider telling the employer something like this:

Job fit script:

“You may have some concern that I am overqualified for this position, but let me assure you that his job would be very engaging and challenging. With my considerable experience to draw from and a proven ability to adapt to new challenges, I would do an excellent job for you, and really enjoy this work.”

Organization/boss fit script:

“Based on our conversations, I believe that working with you as my boss would be a very good fit. I have also learned a good deal about your organization, and like what I see. After many helpful conversations and my company research, I believe I would be a very good organizational fit.”

Personal fit script:

(If a relocation) “My family and I have had numerous discussions and have done our homework regarding this relocation. We are ready to move, and are looking forward to it.”

($) “While the compensation will be less than my last job, I am confident that you will be fair and logical in your negotiations. If your offer is consistent with the nature and scope of the job, the market, and where I logically fit on your range, I am confident that we can make this work.”

Wrapping up script:

“This all lines up nicely with what I had hoped for in my next position and organization. I believe I’ll not only be a great fit here, but will also be a significant contributor to the success of this company. I’m very excited about joining (company name) and doing this work!”

Afterthoughts

If an “overqualified” label could diminish or eliminate your candidacy for a job, I hope these suggestions help. Prior to its release, I shared this blog with my former client. She approved its content, and added these three comments:

“I gave evidence of my adaptability through an example of a time in my career where I needed to get up to speed quickly in a new role and demonstrate significant leadership due to lack of credibility in the former leader.

I recall that the discussion on starting salary was tricky. I told them that, to me, rewards had always followed my performance and that while I expected to be paid fairly and competitively, initially replacing my salary was less important to me than meaningful work, great colleagues and an opportunity to develop new skills. That seemed to resonate. It also happened to be true!

As I reflect on that period in my life, I believe I was driven more by a need to really reinvent myself than anything else. I would not make different decision as to relocation but do know I underestimated how difficult it would be making a significant change in industry (especially to high tech). Nevertheless, I believe I was successful in the transition and landed on my feet.”

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Bridging to a Portfolio Life

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September, 2016

What will happen at the end of your career? Do you want your next step to include some form of meaningful work, ongoing learning and development, opportunities to give back, healthy living, and personal pursuits and leisure? If that is your desire after retirement, this blog will help you build a bridge to it.

Irish economist Charles Handy in his 1989 book The Age of Unreason, coined this destination a “portfolio life”. He described it 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.”

Many of my clients come to me seeking help laying the foundation for leaving their job. Most are looking for another leadership opportunity. A growing number are also seeking an alternative to traditional retirement when the time is right. They are concerned about a decline in their life’s meaning and engagement after ending their working identity. If this resonates with you, consider a portfolio life as a means to optimize future satisfaction and significance after you have built a successful career.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-30-49-pm

Imagine you are standing on the edge of an elevated platform. Below you is a landing too far down for you to jump safely. Twenty feet in front of you there is a landing spot you hope to arrive at sometime in the future. You look ahead and see on that landing either a clear or partial image of a portfolio life. You are pulled towards that new opportunity, even if it is not clear what it might be.

You are excited about moving toward future possibilities, but frightened by the risks immediately in front of you if you move too quickly without solid footing beneath you. You know you need a bridge, or at least a safe landing, when you make that leap.

Perhaps you are feeling worried or stuck. You could stay where you are, but know that eventually you will need to take that step. The fear of making a bad decision, possibly falling into a financial, career or emotional hole, weighs heavily on you. Does this scenario sound familiar? If so, it’s time to start laying a more solid foundation well in advance of the day you can finally cross to the other side.

To get to that preferred destination, over the chasm of fear and risk, you need to lay down a collection of platforms to get you there safely and successfully. You will need to build your transition base from above with whatever time and energy you can spare for this task.

To get started, 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 my interpretation of her model. You’ll need to build a platform leading to your preferred future from the top down. Brooks suggests that you imagine a steadily growing platform of mattresses you toss down from above.

Step by step you will be building a foundation that leads to your exit and a new start as you create this transition bridge. While this process might seem laborious and time consuming, it will make your transition more methodical and less risky. Even with just a few mattresses tossed down, a softer, safer transition becomes much more likely.

I have listed in the graphic below the eight transition platforms in a logical order, starting with learning about the creation of a portfolio life. Begin by reading my October, 2014 blog, “Will a Portfolio Life Become Your Second Half Story?”, then consider reading the book, Portfolio Life, by David Corbett.

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-8-15-30-am

Construct at least your first three platforms before making your move. Rediscover your talents and passions. Assess your financial ability and time table for letting go of your full-time working identity. Begin shifting connections and crafting experiments in each of the top five layers of your portfolio life platform. After reading my October, 2014 blog, continue learning by clicking these links about Self Assessment, Shifting Connections and Crafting Experiments.

Start building a foundation for your portfolio life now. In time, you’ll have solid ground beneath your feet, reduced risk, and a cushion if you decide (or need) to jump earlier than you had planned. Is it time for you to start tossing down those mattresses?

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Seven Ways To Find Meaning At Work

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August, 2016

Aspen trees in the Rocky Mountain National Park during the fall.

Earlier this month I heard an excellent Aspen Ideas Festival talk on public radio with New York Times columnist David Brooks and Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, on the topic of finding meaning at work. In this month’s blog I will share my favorite excerpts from this speech, which can be found in the July 4th edition of The Atlantic. If you would like to see the entire presentation from the Aspen Ideas Festival, click this link.

1. Attach work to ideals

“Work becomes more satisfying when I think about the daily grind as a means of pursuing loftier ideals.” (David Brooks)

2. Recognize meaningful moments

“There are moments when ideas are flowing and I’m making connections and the structure is flowing into place, when I’m crawling around moving the papers around the piles, those are just the best moments of my job. It’s like a form of prayer almost.” (David Brooks)

3. Serve others (or don’t?)

“The happiest people feel like they’re needed,” David Brooks said. “The greatest engine of misery in our society is a sense of social and economic superfluousness”-a sense, he added, that is contributing to the anger on display in U.S. politics today.

Still, David Brooks cautioned that dwelling on serving others has its drawbacks. He cited the English author Dorothy Sayers, who argued that when you try to serve a community, you can become fixated on whether the community sufficiently appreciates your efforts. Sayers said the best way to truly help a community is to seek to do your job well-to primarily serve the work itself.

4. Ask why you do what you do

“When people first meet in places like Washington, D.C.” they often ask, “What do you do?” But rarely do you hear, “Why do you do it?” So I think the diagnostic tool is: “Why am I doing this thing?” We all want money. But is it primarily for money? Is it primarily for power? Is it primarily for fame?” (Arthur Brooks)

5. Follow Fear

David Brooks recommended asking what you would do if you weren’t afraid. “I find fear is a super-good GPS director of where you want to go even if there are social obstacles in the way.”

6. Be conscious of life stages

“Those who do the best, who end up really quite happy, they spend their 20s and 30s making their big discoveries” (Arthur Brooks). “That’s when their flashes of insight happen. … In their 40s and 50s, people in intellectual industries in particular, they tend to do their best expositional work. They do their best writing. … They don’t have that many new ideas. But they’re really good at getting those ideas [that they had in their 20s and 30s] across.

And people in their 60s and 70s … they do their best work when they see their work as teaching, when they see their work as actually imparting what they know to the next generation of people. And what they’re really doing is discharging their batteries and charging up other people.”

But David Brooks disagreed. He said he’s found that some of the happiest people are those who’ve divided their life into different chapters: “I think, as you go through life, it’s important to shift ground continually, and rediscover that 20s period. … If I were still writing now about the subjects I was writing about 13 years ago, it would be horrible.” He noted that artists like Titian have reached their creative peaks in their later years.

7. Don’t invest everything in work

“The happiest people according to all the best studies, have a balanced portfolio,” Arthur Brooks said. “You need to balance your life portfolio between four things: the transcendental, which is to say the spiritual things bigger than you; your family; your community, which is your service and your friendships; and earning your success through meaningful work that creates value. Faith, family, community, and work.”

“If you have [only] one thing, you have an unbalanced portfolio,” Brooks added. It’s as if “your whole life is in Greek bonds. … Don’t take the risk.”

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Be Careful What You Wish For

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July, 2016

Cinderella's magical glass slipper floating on a golden sea.

We all know the Cinderella story and many others that end in “happily ever after.” When it comes to modern companies and jobs, “ever after” ended decades ago. Today it is “for now and, with some luck, for the next several years.” I am an eternal optimist, but this is a cautionary blog. I will share a story of a former client who thought he had the perfect opportunity, but missed an obvious warning sign during his job interview. I will end with an update on what might have happened in Cinderella’s next chapter, and begin with a reference to an epic Greek poem about mitigating risk and deliverance from danger before it’s too late.

When I first meet with clients, I often describe one chapter from The Odyssey. The lead character, Odysseus, is preparing to sail on his next adventure and is told to watch out for the sirens down river. These sirens have the most beautiful voices the world has ever known, but use their seductive song to lure sailors to their death. Odysseus longs to hear the siren song, but not endanger his ship or crew.

He asks his sailors to strap him to the mast so he can hear the beautiful music, but no matter how much he pleads with them to stay the course, they must redirect the ship if danger is too near. Odysseus instructed his sailors to put wax in their ears and watch closely as the sirens drew near. He was thus able to satisfy his curiosity, but not become seduced and destroyed by the sirens.

Years ago when I started working with a new client, he told me a story that resembled that Odyssey chapter, minus the sailors and the mast. He described a past job interview, telling me that he loved the job (a step up for him), the organization (a blue chip firm with a great reputation), and the location and salary. Prior to the job interview, this seemed the perfect opportunity. In the middle of the interview, however, his future boss took a phone call. He began swearing at the person on the other end of the line. It was a horrible rant that went on for a long time, then the boss returned to the interview as if nothing had happened.

The candidate ignored, or somehow rationalized, the boss’ tirade. He was offered the job, took it, and lasted six months. The boss was just as awful as you might imagine. The job candidate heard only the siren’s call, and ignored the clues that preceded an ugly next chapter.

Be sure to put the boss on the top of your list of considerations when interviewing. Have your own version of the sailors who can strap you to the mast if you are inclined to go too fast or too far with an opportunity that is flawed in some fundamental way. Pursue your next calling with optimism, passion and your eyes wide open. Be careful what you wish for.

Cinderella’s Diary
by Ron Koertge

I miss my stepmother. What a thing to say,
but it’s true. The prince is so boring: four
hours to dress and then the cheering throngs.
Again. The page who holds the door is cute
enough to eat. Where is he once Mr. Charming
kisses my forehead goodnight?
Every morning I gaze out a casement window
at the hunters, dark men with blood on their
boots who joke and mount, their black trousers
straining, rough beards, calloused hands, selfish,
abrupt…
Oh, dear diary—I am lost in ever after:
those insufferable birds, someone in every
room with a lute, the queen calling me to look
at another painting of her son, this time
holding the transparent slipper I wish
I’d never seen.

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The World Has Need of You

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June, 2016

Ripe apples hidden in the grass

The World Has Need of You
A Poem by Ellen Bass from Like A Begger

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

As I recently listened to this poem on Public Radio’s Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, a question came to me. This is the big question we each attempt to answer when we are at a career crossroads, “What does the world need from me now?” This question is easy for a few, but perplexing and exhausting to many. Let me try to make it a bit easier for you.

In the teachings of Aristotle, the intersection of our talents and the needs of the world is what we are called to discover and do. Where is that elusive connection between what the world needs and what we are especially good at and want to give it? Often, the answer resides in our history.

“Life is lived forward, but understood backwards”, wrote Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. If you are seeking your next calling, whether it be personal, professional or in service to the community, begin by looking backwards. With my clients, I always begin a coaching engagement by hearing their life story. I then ask them to complete the top eight accomplishments exercise described in my June, 2012 blog.

After hearing their story and reviewing their top eight achievements, I ask, “What are some of the golden threads that connect your stories? What future paths are suggested by your most memorable past experiences?”

I explain the practical reasoning behind these history exercises. When we are discussing possible future jobs, for instance, I remind my clients that to a prospective employer, the best predictor of future performance is prior performance in similar circumstances.

Stories are both part of the assessment and discovery process, and also offer important historical proof and predictors of future effectiveness. They are not, however, the only predictors of future success and satisfaction. Logic and a career continuation strategy might lead us to the next chapter on a path similar to those we have followed for years, but we must also keep an open mind and an open heart. Why not be open to letting both logic and happenstance guide our next step?

While the odds usually favor continuation, don’t avoid the prospect of an interesting detour. One of my favorite theories marries intentionality with chance. How happenstance factors into life and work direction is best described by Stanford professor John Krumbholz,

“A satisfying career — and a satisfying life — is found through actively creating your own luck and making the most of new and unforeseen experiences.”

from Luck Is No Accident, by John Krumbolz.

This blog has offered some strategies to help you discover what the world needs next from you. Look back, then look ahead with the wisdom of hindsight. Most of us choose a continuation of our most familiar path, but don’t be trapped by history. Know that your next chapters will take you to both places familiar and places unknown. Don’t be too quick to settle your focus. The greatest rewards are often tied to the greatest risks. Happy trails of discovery to you. The world has need of you.

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Leaving Your Job? Get Ready For These Five Questions

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May, 2016

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In April, 2015 I wrote a blog entitled, “Laying the Foundation for Leaving Your Job”.  If you are moving on, start with that blog.  You’ll notice a natural progression beginning with self-assessment, then market research and then creating a focus statement.  After completing this groundwork, it’s time to network. If you want to excel in the networking meetings and job interviews ahead, you will need good answers to the five questions that follow.

Question 1: What happened?

Why are you leaving, or why have you already left, your job?
No matter how frustrated you are, take the high road. What were the business or industry conditions?  What led to the company’s actions or your decision?  Factor into your answer your contributions and pride of accomplishment. Be careful not to be defensive or resentful in words, tone or body language. Have both a short and long version of your reason for leaving statement.  

Script your answer, but don’t sound scripted. Rehearse your answer to this and each of these five questions.  Record and play each back and then ask, “How would I respond if I was on the receiving end of these words?” Consider asking friends to give you feedback on your words, tone and body language. 

Question 2: What do you want to do next?  

What is the next role you are pursuing?  Let your network know what specific jobs and responsibilities fit your preferences and qualifications.  Be as clear as possible so you don’t sound scattered or unfocused.  Initially, your network can help you fine tune your focus, but remember that this is your project, not theirs.

Question 3: What makes you especially good at this kind of work, and where is your proof?

This is often called a branding or strengths statement, but be careful to not come across as contrived or canned in your response. Be natural, clear and efficient, using language that describes the strengths and accomplishments that distinguish you as a high achiever in an area you are passionate about.  Be ready to offer historical proof of your strengths in the C.A.R. (challenge, then actions, then results) story progression format.
 
Question 4: Where do you want to work next?

What are the size parameters of your preferred employer (usually stated in millions in revenue and/or number of employees)?  What lifecycle stage is your best fit (startup, early, growth, mature, turnaround)? What culture do you thrive in, or want to avoid?  Geographic preference? Industry preference? Do you have several target companies your network can respond to regarding what they know and who they know?  

Consider a one page marketing plan with your focus, background summary and top skills listed on the upper third of the page, future work preferences in the middle third of the page, and a sample of 20-30 target company names on the bottom third of the page. 

Question 5: How can I help you?

The four things that most networking contacts can give you are visibility, information, advice and referrals.  I suggest moving in that order.  The first three will make your network connection more comfortable with you before asking them for network contacts. With some in your network, referrals will come quickly because they know you, like you and trust you. With less familiar network connections, however, warm up the conversation and create trust so they will more comfortably open their network to you. Read my August, 2013 blog on networking to help you get the most from your efforts.  

Summary

If it’s time to leave your job, start by laying a solid foundation for your career transition.  Read my April, 2015 blog to help you bridge to something better.  After completing the first three steps of self assessment, market research and clarifying your focus, get ready for the five questions from this blog.  Become confident and natural through rehearsal and feedback. Know the questions, craft your answers, then make your move.  

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Three Hundred Words That Inspired a Career Transformation

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April, 2016

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Eight years ago Jeff Tollefson was at a career crossroads. He was torn between continuing his career in the financial industry, and pursuing “Plan B”. Jeff had become increasingly frustrated with his work in finance, and needed a sign that would point him in a new direction. A three hundred word document entitled, What Will Matter?, by Michael Josephson became that sign. Jeff read those words often as he contemplated his departure from the familiar world of venture capital finance.

At this same time, a non-profit named Genesys Works approached Jeff. This program places low-income high school students in year-long paid internships. They needed a Twin Cities leader to get Genesys Works started here after achieving some early success in Houston.

There were many questions. Could Jeff transfer his skills and knowledge to this new endeavor? Could he learn to successfully lead a non-profit? Would this be a good fit? After much consideration, including several more readings of What Will Matter?, Jeff accepted the offer. The results were amazing. In phase one of his “Plan B” career, Jeff helped Twin Cities Genesys Works grow exponentially over the next seven years.

This past year Jeff’s role with Genesys Works shifted from local to national. He is now the chief strategic growth officer, working to expand, strengthen and grow the program throughout the country. This month, Jeff was honored as a Titans of Technology “Community Hero” for his efforts with Genesys Works. This award recognizes individuals within the tech industry for their outstanding achievements in community involvement. To learn more about Jeff’s work and this award, here is a link to an April 15th article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

These are the words that inspired Jeff Tollefson to transform his career.

What Will Matter?
by Michael Josephson

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten
will pass to someone else.

Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations
and jealousies will finally disappear.

So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from
or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter?
How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought
but what you built, not what you got but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success
but your significance.

What will matter is not what you learned
but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity,
compassion, courage, or sacrifice
that enriched, empowered or encouraged others
to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence
but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories
but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered,
by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

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When Networking Is Not Working

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March, 2016

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I am always on the lookout for good advice on topics critical to career transition success. The biggest success factor in a job campaign has remained constant during my 27 years of practice. Year after year, the odds of landing a new job with the direct or indirect involvement of a network sponsor ranges from 65 to 80%. When your networking is not working, fixing it needs to be a top priority.

With permission from leadership coach and regular Minneapolis Star Tribune contributor Liz Reyer, I am reprinting her recent Coach’s Corner column. In this month’s blog I will share both this article and a link to my most popular networking best practices blog.

Read Liz Reyer’s article first. Do an audit of your networking process and results, then consider what adjustments are in order for your next networking meeting. After that, take a look at my August, 2013 blog. How do your networking practices compared with what local recruiter Marcia Ballinger suggested during a 2013 speech, and in her excellent guide, The 20-Minute Networking Meeting?

Building Contacts Takes Time, Quid Pro Quo
Liz Reyer, Coach’s Corner, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1/11/2016

Q: I am in the market for a new job and am trying to network to find opportunities. But people are not very responsive, and I’m wondering why it’s not working for me. Should I take it personally?

A: Networking is important, and depends on trust and mutual benefit. So, while there’s no point in taking the response personally, it would be valuable to reflect on your approach.

Think about some recent episodes. What strategies are you using? What steps are you taking? Many people will simply send an e-mail and leave it at that. Often this will be too passive, given the volume of e-mails these days. The tone of your contact is extremely important. Reread your e-mails or think about your voicemails. If you sound demanding or if your tone is “off” in some way, this will be a serious deterrent. Don’t rely on your own perception, because you’re likely to see what you want to see. Instead, ask a friend to give you feedback. As always, when seeking input, resist any impulse to argue or make excuses – use it as an opportunity to improve.

Now, here’s the hard part. Networking is not a quick turnaround strategy. Relationships need to be built over time and on a foundation of mutual benefit. If you are using a short term networking strategy, that could account for the indifferent response you’re receiving.

Given these factors, here are a few things to think about to improve your approach. In particular, consider addressing the following questions from the point of view of the person you’re reaching out to:

* Why should I trust you? Be able to explain, briefly, who you are, how you’re connected and why it’s safe for them to connect you with people they know. You’re asking people to take a reputational risk, so it’s fair to have to demonstrate your credibility.

* What do you want me to do? Do your research to know what you want, and then be specific in asking. If you can name a person you’d like to meet, mention that (and explain the reason you would like the introduction). If you’re trying to learn more about how their company works or opportunities in the industry, explain that. It’s your responsibility to make it easy for them to help you.

* What if I say no? Generally speaking, people want to be nice and like to be helpful. That said, sometimes there are constraints that presvent them from engaging.

If you can make it comfortable to say no, you’ll leave a better feeling with them. In the interest of building longer-term relationships, this is very important.

* What will I get in return? You may not have anything concrete to offer right now, but at least note that you’re committed to helping them – or someone they know – in the future. And then keep notes on something that may be interesting to them; even sending a link to an article they may like sends a positive message.

Remember, this is not “one and done.” Build an ongoing practice of relationship building to help further your career for the long run.

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Take Five Every Day

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February, 2016

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Several months ago I offered this link to a musical performance clip as a brief diversion in advance of the hectic holiday season. In this blog I will introduce you to two daily five minute “sabbaticals”. With each, you can start or end your day with learning and inspiration. Consider these resources a daily “reset button” for your life and work.

If you are a public radio listener, you have likely heard Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac from time to time. Did you know that you can receive it for free every day in your email inbox? Just click this link, add your email address where indicated, press submit and you are set. Each day you will receive a new five minute written and spoken “this day in history” followed by a poem selected and read by Garrison Keillor. I have found this to be a wonderful way to begin each day.

A second five minute enrichment opportunity is from the book The Intellectual Devotional by David Kidder & Noah Oppenheim. This book offers 365 daily lessons, one page per day, from seven fields of knowledge. These fields include history, literature, visual arts, science, music, philosophy and religion. On the cover of the book are these words, “Revive your mind, complete your education, and roam confidently with the cultured class.”

One of the icons of the career coaching industry is Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute?. I once heard the 80 year old Bolles tell his audience that to be old is to have increasingly narrowing horizons, and to be young is to have increasingly broadening horizons. If your goal, like mine, is to be forever young in mind and spirit, keep your learning horizons broad, and commit to doing so for the rest of your life. If we can do this in five minute increments each day, all the better. Happy trails to you, and happy learning and “horizon broadening” to you as well.

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Pursuing Another Job, Then “Unretirement”? The Career Two-Step (revisited)

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January, 2016

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“I am looking for a new job, and I also want to create a better version of retirement for myself one day.” That is what I hear from my clients who are pursuing a career “two-step”. In light of all that has been written since my original blog post in July, 2012, and with the surge of baby boomers about to exit the traditional job market, it’s time to revisit this topic.

My clients range from their 40s to 60s. Most are in their 50s or early 60s, and anticipate landing another significant job as their first step. They also want to explore what is beyond step one. They want to get excited about step two, and want a better word than retirement to describe it. In this blog I will begin by sharing some of my most popular blogs on career transition strategies. I will then offer “step two” blogs, podcasts and strategies from what public radio commentator and economics journalist Chris Farrell calls “unretirement”, and Irish economist Charles Handy has labeled a “portfolio life”.

In most of my monthly blogs I have written about taking the first step: pursuing and landing a new job. My most popular post about job search while employed is this one: Laying The Foundation For Leaving Your Job. The steps are similar to a job search while in a career transition, but this blog speaks to some of the unique challenges and creative strategies for seeking a new job while still employed. Whether still employed or in a career transtion, I also recommend two other blogs. First read Three Keys to Career Transition Success, then this one about Discovery, Courage and Endurance. Each blog references the strategic, tactical and emotional elements of career change, and includes numerous links to other blogs to help you go more deeply into each of the areas covered.

Now on to step two, how to make the most of the second half of life after your working identity has shifted to retirement, unretirement or a portfolio life. In his recent book, titled Unretirement, Chris Farrell makes a compelling financial, personal and societal impact argument for working longer and retiring later. He makes the case that 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.

So how can one let go of a primary working identity, yet keep some of the key benefits of purpose and a paycheck? A very popular solution to this dilemma is the creation of a portfolio life. Charles Handy coined the phrase in his 1989 book, The Age of Unreason. Handy described 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.” Here is the blog I wrote about this topic in October, 2014: Will A Portfolio Life Become Your Second Half Story ?

To learn more about how unretirement looks and feels, listen to this podcast recently created by Chris Farrell. It starts with a fascinating segment on the life of Alan Page, former NFL star with the Minnesota Vikings. Page transformed his career multiple times, from professional football player to lawyer to Minnesota Supreme Court Justice. He recently retired at age 70. You’ll be inspired by the personal, professional and community aspects of his story. This is the 8th unretirement podcast Chris Farrell has produced. Each reveals the stories and strategies of people moving through their unretirement years, with advisors offering commentary after each story. Here’s a link to all eight podcasts.

I have now connected you to numerous blogs and podcasts to help you shape your career two-step. To reward you for making it all the way to the end of this blog, here is a link to one of my all time favorite movie clips from Billy Crystal in City Slickers. It is a funny, yet cautionary tale, and a one minute wake up call about aging. Happy trails to you. May your next chapters be even better than your last.

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