Monthly Blogs 2017

Overcoming Insecurity

December, 2017

Serious concerned caucasian mature man posing looking away

Insecurity can take away your feeling of self-worth and value in the world. Job loss or career dissatisfaction can lead to recurring waves of insecurity. In his December 23rd Star Tribune article, “Don’t give in to insecurity,” acclaimed psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith offered six strategies for overcoming insecurity. In this month’s blog I will reprint Goldsmith’s advice and link to my past blogs which expand on each topic.

1) Be kind to those who have a hard time socially. It will help you improve your own social skills and make you feel much better about yourself. When you extend a helping hand to someone, you are changing that person’s view of the world and telling that person that this world is a friendly place.

Related career care blogs: Leading With Generosity and Self-Protection , November, 2017 Balancing IQ and EQ, May, 2013

2) You can achieve greatness, but what does that really mean to you? If you’re someone who seeks fame and fortune, remember that the rewards are fleeting. Research has shown that those who are very ambitious and driven generally are less happy than their less-ambitious counterparts. If you’re in the first group, knowing that your drive can take away from the joy of life can help you maintain a balance.

Related career care blogs: Three Hundred Words That Inspired a Career Transformation , April, 2016 Success and Significance, June, 2015

3) Don’t try to fit in. You either do or you don’t, and you just have to find the right people, job or groove. If you are uncomfortable with a group of people or even just one person, think about why. Maybe the situation or the person is a reminder of a difficult time in your life and triggers uncomfortable feelings. That’s a normal response, but remember that the thing that upset you is over, and this new person, group of people, or place is different. You just may need a little time to get comfortable with it.

Related career care blogs: Finding Your Fit , February, 2015 Fit vs Talent , May, 2014

4) Spend some time with old friends. Remembering where you came from and knowing that at least some of the people who have known you forever still love you is not only heartwarming but empowering.

Related career care blogs: The Pursuit of Happiness On and Off the Job, May, 2015 The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, August, 2013

5) Draw a positive life map. Start at your childhood and list all the good things you’ve done in your life and that have come your way: when you went on your first camping trip, when you got an unexpected “A” at school, your success in sports or in the arts. Your first real job needs to go on the list, as well as when you were married and the births of your children. If good things have happened before, they will happen again.

Related career care blogs: Living Life Forward, Understanding it Backwards , June, 2012 Billy Crystal on Aging – His One Minute Wakeup Call Scene , March, 2015

6) When your other half expresses their love for you, bask in it. Knowing that you are loved can help you learn to love yourself more. Other people see our good qualities better than we do at times, so don’t let your own head convince you that you’re not good enough when you’re feeling low. Listen to the people you care for and who care for you.

Related career care blogs: Perseverence, Perspective and Peace of Mind , October, 2015 Fake It Till You Become It , September, 2013

I will leave you with these final words from Barton Goldsmith. “If deep down you know you are a good person, and you are in a rough patch, these tips will help you make it through. Learning to lift yourself up is a skill that will never let you down.”


Leading With Generosity and Self-protection


give-and-take (1)

At this time of year we enter a season of generosity and thanksgiving. According to Wharton economist Adam Grant, being a giver throughout the year leads to greater success in life and work. There is, however, one important disclaimer. If we are givers, but don’t take care of our own needs along the way, we become failed givers. This is a key message in Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take. Here are selected highlights from a review of this book by Kevin Currie, a top rated Amazon book reviewer:

“There are three broad styles of interpersonal dealing: taking, matching, and giving. Takers are those who try to take more than they give. Matchers are those who try to give and take proportaionally and conditionally. Givers are those who give more than they take. Takers are primarily self-oriented, matchers are other-oriented as a means to being self-oriented (I’ll help you when I think you will help me) and givers are primarily other-oriented.

Here’s the counter-intuitive part. If we look at the most successful people – the happiest, the most likely to be promoted, etc – they are generally givers, and if we look at the least successful, they too often tend to be givers. (Takers do moderately well, but over time, few want to deal with them. Matchers do okay too.)

This book is an attempt to explain why being a giver is a good ‘strategy’ for success, as well as under what conditions giving is a failing ‘strategy.’ First, the positive: simply put, people appreciate givers and giving often makes people want to give back. Since givers help others and often put others’ needs as a priority, givers often garner (without deliberately trying – AND THAT IS KEY!) a network of support from others they’ve helped.

Want to communicate most effectively? Ask more questions to others than you give answers, ask for advice, and be aware of how you can help others. Want to bring out the best in people around you? Believe in them by recognizing and appreciating their strengths and contributions. Want to be successful? Don’t think of personal relations as zero-sum games (where others can only win to the degree you lose), but positive sum games (if you win, it doesn’t mean that I lose, but we can all win together.)

It sounds obvious, right? But it isn’t. Even when we may be givers in our personal lives, we often become matchers or takers at work. Even if the success of a giving strategy seems intuitive, it is equally intuitive that getting ahead requires receiving as much as, or more than, you give, spending most of your time working on things that will obviously benefit you, and not spending more time assisting others at work than getting your own stuff done. But Grant cites a growing body of research showing that giving – under the right conditions – really is the best overall ‘strategy.’

Of course, I said “under the right conditions.” What are those conditions? Well, for starters, one must give with some sort of purpose. Those who don’t see some sort of result from their giving often burn out. (So, fundraising telemarketers burn out less when they can talk with those who their efforts have helped, and teachers burn out less when they see what their more successful students go on to do.)

Also, one must give to others and things that the giver is interested in. (Volunteering for projects and to help people I care about is much easier and fun than for those I care little about.) Lastly, one must watch out not to be exploited by takers, who can often seem like givers in their agreeableness, but are exploitative in the end. (And Grant gives some good advice on how to detect real givers versus takers who are good actors.)

So, all of this is what Grant calls ‘otherish giving.’ Giving selflessly versus giving a bit selfishly is, Grant writes, what ultimately separates successful from unsuccessful givers. Give, but make sure one is giving with a sense of purpose, and to people and things one cares about. Give, but not when it comes AT THE EXPENSE of one’s own projects.

I did gain a lot from this book. Not only have I found myself monitoring some of my interpersonal dealings by the advice given in this book, but it has given me insights into what working styles many of my colleagues have (which affects how I deal with them.) Very good book that not only conveys some very interesting research, but should be able to give people some good and usable advice.”

My sincere thanks to Kevin Currie for this excellent review of Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take. I frequently recommend Grant’s teachings in my coaching practice, especially his advice to lead with generosity and self-protection by being otherish. May you give and receive in abundance this holiday season and throughout the coming year.


Your Next Step…A Smaller Employer or Free Agency?

October, 2017

Different Size Houses In Row On Wooden Table

This month I will be offering some practical guidance to help you think about going smaller or working solo as your next career move. To do this, I will highlight a favorite blog, book, and an author.

Those who have spent much of their career working for larger employers will appreciate the Harvard Business Review blog about thinking small. If it is solo enterpreneurship or free agency you are considering, you’ll appreciate highlights from a book written by Daniel Pink. Finally, I will reference Alan Weiss, an author of numerous guides for starting your own small or solo business.

Thinking Small

Michael Fertik is a repeat internet entrepreneur and CEO with experience in technology and law. Here are the headlines from his Harvard Business Review blog, “Seven Keys to Switching from a Bigger Company to a Smaller One.”

Forget influence – empire building
Solve everything yourself
Never cover your a$$
Go faster
Don’t solve problems you don’t have
Get used to waterfall budgeting
Understand that your daily impact is huge

This blog is helpful for comparing large corporate with small company cultures and expectations. Many of my clients from large companies have told me similar things after spending a year or more in leadership roles in small companies. Read this blog and you’ll have both a better understanding of large vs small company realities, and whether or not you are still interested in going small in your next career move.

Moving From a Big Production to Solo Performer

In my January, 2012 blog, I listed all 101 Free Agent Survival Tips that are detailed on pages 320-336 of Daniel Pink’s book, “Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself.” Written in 2002, this book is still relevant today. Here are the categories from this section of Pink’s book:

Money Matters
Selling Yourself
What to Get
How to Work
Family Business
Health and Well-Being

When I began my business in 2010, I knew there would be many challenges with going solo. I read Pink’s book with great interest, and am grateful this was one of my guides for getting started on the right foot. I periodically return to his 101 survival tips to ensure that I don’t stray from my successful entrepreneurial path.

Next month I will be facilitating a workshop for forty solo entrepreneurs. We will be discussing Daniel Pink’s seven categories, and his 101 free agent survival tips. A few of these suggestions are dated, but many are excellent. Most are essential for free agent survival and success.

Alan Weiss’ Entrepreneurial Books

Your library of entrepreneural guides should definitely include some of the books written by Alan Weiss. His are the most frequently recommended books on starting a small or solo business. Weiss covers all the areas you need to address as you move ahead. Take a look at the reviews on Amazon. Select a few books from his collection that will be most helpful to you, especially if solo entrepreneurship is your direction.

In this month’s entry I have offered a favorite blog, a selection from a favorite book, and a favorite author to help you go small or solo. I encourage you to discuss what you are learning with others who are moving, or have already moved, in a similar direction. Thanks for the many suggestions from readers like you. Please send me the names of your favorite authors, books and blogs, and I will continue to share them in future blogs. Let’s continue to help one another on the way to the next career move.


Career Transformation…Preparing For What is Ahead

September, 2017


I recently conducted several workshops on different types of career transformations. The common thread for each session has been three steps in preparing for a significant career change. These steps include assessment, test and learn, and planned happenstance. In this blog I will offer both a preparation roadmap and links to posts that will help you get ready for what is ahead.


Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once said, “Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.” This quote rings true, not only for helping us understand ourselves, but for helping prospective employers know us better through our stories. Take a look at my June, 2012 blog for a way to look back and document your top eight achievements. You will see a model that asks you to recall the challenges, actions, results, skills, interests, values and lessons learned for each of the top accomplishments you choose.

If you complete this exercise you will have a much better sense of your strengths and preferrences, and your CAR stories (Challenges + Actions + Results.) Prospective employers will always want you to account for your work history, preferably structured in this CAR order. This is true even if your past is quite different from what you will be pursuing in the future.

You will need stories that demonstrate your ability as a quick study who can readily gain new skills and knowledge. Our past helps predict our future. Our adaptibility to past challenges is a key predictor of our ability to succeed in new and different future opportunities. If you have rarely had to make significant shifts in the past, start creating your stories now. Start building a body of evidence that will allow you to counter the skeptics.

If you are searching for future career possiblities, and seeking an assessment to learn of new career options based on your interests, consider the Strong Interest Inventory. An accessible and affordable version of this assessment is available online for under $10 (Self-Directed-Search)

This is a very helpful assessment instrument for any career stage, and for any employment level, from mailroom clerk to CEO. I recently discovered that it is also helpful for ex-military professionals who wish to match civilian occupational titles with military occupational specialty titles.

Using an assessment tool such as the Strong will help you understand your vocational preferences as well as your fit with others who share your interests. It can take you to occupations you may never have considered or found on your own.

I suggest both internet research and conversations with your network and others knowledgable about your possible new direction for assessing the market. In the next section, I will discuss the value of shifting connections to people who occupy the work you are considering. You’ll need to branch out. In a career transformation, you must get beyond the cautions and limitations imposed by your familiar network contacts.

Those who know you well and are cautious themselves, might be inclined to steer you back to familiar, safer choices. What you need as you approach a career transformation is to embrace the spirit of adventure and curiosity, fueled by the encouragement to take risks.

Test and Learn

The three part career transformation model outlined by Herminia Ibarra in her excellent book, Working Identity, offers a progression of actions that are meant to take you out of your head and into the world of experiments and new connections. For a detailed exploration of each, read my November, 2013 blog on crafting experiments, and my December, 2013 blog on shifting connections. Better still, read the book.

After enough time experimenting and tapping new connections for guidance on a new career direction, pause and ask yourself if the transformation you are considering still makes sense. If it does, keep moving ahead. If it doesn’t, it might be time to return to the assessment process for a “plan b” option.

I have referred many clients and friends interested in a career transformation to the Working Identity book. They have universally praised its contents and approach, with comments such as, “This book really emboldened me, gave me a solid process to follow, and expanded my belief in what is possible in my future.”

If you want additional inspiration for becoming a “doer”, not just a “dreamer”, open this link to Shonda Rhimes’ 2014 Dartmouth commencement speech. This is unlike any commencement speech I have ever heard. From the onset, she advocates a different approach to entering the working world after graduation.

Like the students she is addressing, too many of us spend our time dreaming vs doing what we need to do to advance to a transformational opportunity. See for yourself, starting at minute six and ending at minute ten. Be a doer, not just a dreamer.

Planned Happenstance

John Krumboltz, Professor Emeritus of Education and Psychology at Stanford University, described planned happenstance when he said, “A satisfying career — and a satisfying life — is found through actively creating your own luck and making the most of new and unforseen experiences.”

A good friend recently sent me another Krumboltz quote. “If you are undecided about your future (as indeed every sensible person should be) don’t call yourself undecided, call yourself open-minded.”

Most opportunities, especially significant career shifts, are discovered and secured with the help of network sponsors and new connections. You might think that you will be the sole engineer of your career transformation, but think again.

What is in the mind of that person sitting across from you while you are meeting over coffee or a meal is very difficult to know in advance. Surprises that emerge from these conversations are frequently the best part of networking meetings. Unexpected recommendations are often the catalysts we need for our career transformations.

Landing a new job with the direct help of a network sponsor is a 65-80% likelihood. That statistic has not changed in the nearly 30 years I have been a career coach. If most opportunities are tied to your network, and if career transformation is what you want, you will need network sponsors more than ever.

Your evangelists, sponsors, advisors and even casual acquaintences are needed to generate fresh ideas and connections. They are also needed to help reassure others that you are serious about your career transformation, and that this new direction is sustainable and not just a passing “whim”.

Stay open-minded to ideas from others, even the ones that seem far fetched and unlikely. Treasure their support, knowing that all the planning you do won’t ever fully prepare you for the surprises along the way. Have faith that your network has good intentions, with positive happenstance a big part of your career transformation.

Think back to how you have found prior jobs. How often has happenstance factored into your past career transitions? I’ll wager that it has happened more often than not. It has for me, and it will again for you.


If the time is right for you to pursue a career transformation, make sure that you include assessment, test and learn, and planned happenstance strategies as you prepare to move forward. Start by knowing yourself better through the assessment methods I have listed in this blog.

Prepare the relevant stories of your past so others can believe in you, and actively support you in your future. Get out and experience on a small scale what you are considering doing so that you know the realities of your possible new career direction. Find new connections to guide you. Choose people who know your new direction first hand. Don’t just network with familar connections who might keep you handcuffed to a safe and familiar path.

And finally, trust that as much planning as you might do, the universe will surprise you with the gift of happenstance. You can not know it all, or control it all, by yourself. New opportunities will come your way if you let others reveal to you where your talents are needed. What does the world need from you next? Is it time to start preparing for your transformational journey?


Second Half Traversing Strategies

August, 2017

Long exposure of cars going down the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco.

There may come a time in your second half when consulting, contracting, interim or hourly assignments will be more available, and more attractive, than a full-time job. “Traversing” between leading and doing now will help make you an attractive candidate for such work in the future. This blog will help prepare you for what is ahead.

I use the metaphor of traversing, a skiing term that means moving away from a straight line to a zigzag pattern. During a ski run you may traverse over ice patches, powder snow, or come up against moguls.

Moving up the classic career ladder requires discipline. Traversing requires discipline and flexibility. To do both is to manage two careers — one focusing on employment assignments, and the other focusing on project assignments. One career is called a W-2 relationship, the other is a 1099 relationship.

In career traversing you lead with your skills edge. Your edge gives you maneuverability through different terrain. Once you get used to traversing, the value of hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s comment becomes obvious. “Skate to where the puck is going to be.” Great skiers have the ability to be in the moment on one terrain, while simultaneously anticipating how the terrain is going to change in the future.

Earlier this month this topic came up at an executive career transition networking group where I serve as a resource. We had a lengthy discussion about executives in transition, and the need to stay open to both traditional W-2 opportunities and 1099 assignments.

One argument (mine) was for taking on a 1099 project only after three to six months of a W-2 employment search. This allows sufficient time for adjustment to a job ending, self assessment, market research, focus, and network building.

Most people in transition prefer a W-2 job. When that is the focus, I suggest beginning the process by building a solid bridge to that destination. Securing an early, demanding, contract or consulting assignment can derail a W-2 job campaign.

The executive recruiter who presented at this meeting said he wished he had been open to contract or consulting assignments from the start of his job transition several years back. His argument was that these types of assignments usually result in a helpful compatibility check, and frequently lead to a job offer. “Why not take a chance right away?” was his challenge to the audience that day.

Both of us spoke to the value of 1099 assignments. I am more conservative in the timing of pursuing such engagements. I tell my clients that their networking “flywheel” needs to be fully engaged and keep spinning even if a 1099 assignment is secured. A contract or consulting engagement often means that networking stops, and the flywheel slows down or stops altogether. It takes considerable effort to get it started again once it stops spinning.

I appreciate the recruiter’s belief that sometimes one has to roll the dice and bet on converting a project to a job. And sometimes you just need to pay the bills with a stopgap job. You’ll have to decide for yourself what makes the most sense if you are in transition or anticipating a job departure.

Whenever the time is right for you to pursue a 1099
opportunity, start by considering what employers are looking for: independent project workers, the right expertise, a quick learner, and project leadership. They will wonder if you have the ability to do the work mostly by yourself, without needing much direction or hand holding.

Has it been several years since you have been hands on? If so, it is time to reexamine how you are approaching your work.

At some point in our second half, most of us will want, or need, to shift from the employment track to project work. These 1099 preferences usually come at a time when we want greater independence and employment flexibility, to fill an employment gap, or to improve our cash flow.

If this is what you want in the future, then start traversing between leader and doer roles now. Understand and adapt to what 1099 employers want from you. This will pave the way for your success when the time is right to make your move to a 1099 working identity.


Life & Work After 60…What’s Ahead?

July, 2017


The Minnesota State Capitol, pictured above, was extensively renovated over the past four years. In late June I took a tour to learn what has changed, and what is ahead for this amazing building. The parallels with our own aging, renewal and anticipation struck me, as I pondered this photo I took at the end of my tour. I’ll begin this blog with some reflections on how this story and scene compares with our future after 60. I will also offer some highlights from an upbeat June/July, 2017 AARP Magazine article entitled, What to expect in your 60s.

I like the idea of declaring a “reconstruction” period when a major life change is coming. For some, this reconstruction takes place in a matter of weeks or months. For many, it can stretch over years. With some luck, it takes four years to complete college. It has taken four years to complete the State Capitol renovation. Twice in the past eleven years I have begun a four year “reconstruction” period prior to a major change in my life and work.

Four years before starting my executive career transition consulting practice, I formed a Mastermind group. This group has been an invaluable partnership for professional development, support and success before and after my career transition. Our original eight solo coaching entrepreneurs have continued to meet monthly since 2006.

In anticipation of my 2019 transition to a portfolio life, I formed a True North Group. This group has also been a wonderful source of monthly support and guidance as we help each other chart our course towards a satisfying second half.

Both of these groups have been invaluable, as members have transitioned to their next chapters. Here is a link with some guidance on how to form your own support/strategy group.

There is an additional parallel between the State Capitol scene above and what is ahead for each of us. Do you see those menacing clouds on the left side of the photo? That anticipated storm never actually happened. What we feared that day never became a reality.

Most likely, some difficult times are ahead for each of us after age 60. The June/July AARP article suggests, however, that many of our fears about aging are exaggerated or unfounded. In reality, many of the hazards of aging might never happen in our 60s, or ever.

Here are some of the highlights from this article.

Wealth and Career

The Lowdown: Work finally becomes fun, retirement planning remains critical, and you are spending money like there’s no tomorrow. (Though there most certainly is.)

In your 60s you…

…aren’t afraid to make a late-career jump…

…have nearly a 20 percent chance of not retiring in your 60s…

…lead the nation in workforce growth…

…and even retirees are getting jobs for the fun of it.


The Lowdown: You most likely have a good sex life and still enjoy a martini or two, but it’s time to pay closer attention to what goes into your body, and to keep closer tabs on pill and supplement intake.


The Lowdown: You are mostly happy, are extremely engaged and prize your family above all. Nonetheless, you miss your work colleagues.

Be sure to take a look at this 60s article, and you can also click this link to see what is ahead for your 70s.

The photo above reveals much more than beauty, power and possible trouble ahead at the Minnesota State Capitol. It also tells a story that parallels our lives beyond age 60. This is a mature building that is about to complete its four year renovation. It is strong, beautiful inside and out, and ready for its decades of service ahead. A solid foundation and thoughtful renovation has given this building its good health and the prospect of an extended legacy. Here’s hoping for the same bright future for each of us after 60!


Finding More Joy at Work and Play

June, 2017

Young conductor with baton raised at a performance

Welcome to summer! We will have longer days, warmer weather, and opportunities to enjoy all that comes with this change of season. Is finding more joy at work and play on your summer wish list? Here are a few suggestions for how you might make that happen.

Joy at work: When talent, purpose and place come together

Have you ever considered the circumstances surrounding your favorite work? Take a look back to times you have been fully engaged, productive and enjoying your work.

There are three questions I ask at the beginning of a coaching engagement: When were you able to use, develop and stretch your talents? When have you savored the meaning and purpose in your work? When have you felt most valued, and that you had values in common with your organization, boss and coworkers?

These are the moments worth remembering and pursuing in the future. To help you answer these three questions, consider doing some career archaeology. Take a look at the top eight achievement exercise described in my June, 2012 blog Historical discoveries will help inform your future pursuits.

How does joy at work look and sound? Take a look at this video clip of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for a great example. You’ll see a conductor and his musicians caught up in the joy born from commitment, hard work, complete alignment with one another, and a common mission.

Each of the orchestra members brings many years of using, developing and stretching his or her musical talent. They have a clear purpose to bring musical excellence to the performance of the Gershwin masterpiece, An American in Paris. It is clear that each musician shares common values of artistic excellence and is valued by the conductor, fellow musicians, and the audience. This is how full alignment of talent, purpose and place looks and sounds.

I recently attended the Broadway touring production of An American In Paris at the St. Paul Ordway Theatre. You may have noticed the ad in the Star Tribune newspaper that described the production as “Pure Joy.” Joy was delivered in abundance the night my wife and I saw this musical. If you only have time for the most joyful moments at the end of this piece, start at minute fourteen.

Joy at play: How “Planned Happenstance” can help take you there

I often introduce my clients to the phrase “planned happenstance” when explaining that surprising, even pivotal, discoveries occur during the networking process. Stanford vocational psychologist John Krumbholz coined the phrase. According to Krumbholz, “A satisfying career – and a satisfying life – is found through actively pursuing your own luck and making the most of new and unforeseen experiences.”

A few years back my sister and I were doing a video of my father just after he turned ninety. While filming, we asked him to recap several highlights from his life. When we finished with our father, we turned the camera towards my mother and asked for her story. She said, “Can we start with me dancing with your father?” She chose to begin with a dance sequence with my father that we titled, “Dirty Dancing at 90.” You’ll see why when you click this link.

After over 50 years of marriage, my mother could have predicted how my father would misbehave when she invited him to join her video memoir. You’ll witness my mother’s “straight man” to my father’s improvisational, bawdy, vaudeville dance act.

I hope this blog has given you a few ideas about discovering how talent, purpose and place can come together to help you find more joy at work. Experiment with some adjustments now. Enjoy what is ahead both on and off the job this summer. Let your hair down and indulge in a little improv play while you are at it!


Four Contrarian Interviewing Tips From Executive Recruiters

May, 2017

Athlete running in the city wrong way

I heard over two hundred executive recruiter presentations during my two decades as an executive career transition coach at Right Management. Each month recruiters described their process and preferences. They shared why some job candidates advanced and others did not. I always appreciated the times they offered less obvious and even contrarian advice. In this blog, I’ll share four of my favorite contrarian suggestions.

1) Don’t spend too much time preparing.

Everyone attending our recruiter presentations was in a career transition, so comparing themselves with employed candidates was a common concern. Recruiters suggested that, while candidates should always be well prepared for an interview, their employed competition would rarely have the time to prepare as thoroughly as they could.

Candidates busy with their jobs, or with a broadly diversified job campaign, will inevitably have less time to research the details of a target company, industry and job. The consistent advice from recruiters was to do sufficient research and preparation, but spread yourself out. Explore many opportunities, and stay diversified in your networking and research. Don’t become myopic or obsessive about any one opportunity, and you’ll look and sound more like your employed competition.

2) Be discerning and not too positive during the interview.

Remember that if you are unemployed, or unhappily employed, you are vulnerable to being too positive about what looks like a solution to your employment situation. Prospective employers can sense when you are too positive and not discerning enough about an opportunity. The majority of your competition may be successful leaders who already have a good job. They will not relinquish that job unless the prospective employer can convince them the opportunity is an improvement to their current situation.

Recruiters and employers need to know that you are taking an objective look at both the job opportunity and their company. If you avoid discernment questions, or only see the positive, they will wonder why you are not sufficiently balanced in your assessment of them. Be diplomatic and lean toward the positive, but guard against being too positive or avoiding discernment. Do this and you will be seen as a more trustworthy candidate.

3) Take your eye off the ball.

One of my favorite tips comes from Marcia Ballinger, a highly regarded executive recruiter. She suggests that job candidates schedule a networking meeting one or two hours after the anticipated conclusion of a job interview. With an unrelated commitment later that day you will not be focused only on the job interview as your sole priority for that day or week.

It is common for job candidates to pour their entire energy supply and focus into one opportunity, especially while in transition or unhappily employed. If there are other meetings scheduled after the interview, then it forces one to act similarly to one’s employed competition.

4) Pursue a different opportunity

Recruiters will often ask, “Do you have any other opportunities right now?” If you do, your stock value will likely rise, and there is greater urgency to make sure they don’t lose you as a candidate. If you, or other candidates, don’t have other opportunities in the works, the process can easily bog down, as competing organizational priorities push the focus on a job opening aside.

Even if other opportunities might not make your “A” list, it is wise to still develop them for leverage purposes, interviewing practice, and because they might become more attractive over time. In the end, you can always turn an opportunity down at any time if it doesn’t look like a good fit.


If you are either unemployed, or unhappily employed, remember that most of your top competitors for future jobs will be employed, strong leaders. What can you learn from them? They have to juggle many competing priorities in their life and work. They can’t risk focusing too much time and energy on something that will take them away from other pressing priorities.

They know that they have the option to keep doing what they are doing, or seek advancement within their current company rather than take on a new opportunity. They also have the option of playing hard to get.

Consider that your competition may seem more authentic and attractive because they are moving in this direction. Could being less prepared, more discerning, less positive, or less singularly focused be a more effective strategy? Consider these “contrarian” ways. You might get some surprising results at your next job interview!


Five Lessons from Richard Bolles

April, 2017

Paraglider flying over mountains in summer day

Career guidance expert and author Richard Bolles passed away last month at age ninety. This year marks the 47th edition of his annually updated classic, What Color is Your Parachute? Over 10 million copies have been sold since the first edition came out in 1970.

I have read many of his books, attended his lectures and have spoken at length with him multiple times. Here are my five favorite lessons from Richard Bolles.

Lesson One: Practice kaizen, which means never stop updating and improving your knowledge and contributions.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. Bolles epitimized this practice by updating his book each year. About every five to ten years, it is time to see how Bolles has updated his advice for the changing times. Think of how much has changed since 1970, since 1980, even since 2012. Bolles continued “Kaizening” up to age 90!

Consider conducting your own annual checkup of professional knowledge and contributions. Bolles inspired me to stay current and relevant. I create and distribute these monthly blogs knowing that what was a best practice last year may need some adjustments before my next blog is released.

Lesson Two: Be “forever young” by continually broadening your horizons.

As I watched Richard Bolles present at a career conference in his early 80s, I sensed that he was very aware of the potential adverse consequences of aging. Because of his annual book updates, I knew that he was committed to being current and relevent. In his speech, Bolles told the audience that to remain young, regardless of your chronological age, one needs to have ever broadening horizons. “To be old is to have continually narrowing horizons,” Bolles told the audience.

That day, I thought of the “old” people I knew. Their lives had shrunk to a small set of rooms and routines, a repetitive and uncreative career or retirement, and daily rituals that kept them in an ever shrinking world. Some of those “old” people were in their 40s! I thought of the special elders of any age, who epitomize the “forever young” mindset and behaviors that keep their horizons broad and their youthful spirit alive and well.

Up until his death at age 99, my father-in-law Jack represented this “forever young” mindset and behavior. At his memorial, the minister read a quote by American author Edith Wharton that perfectly captured Jack’s perpetual youth. “In spite of illness, in spite of the archenemy, sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways.” I believe that one can achieve “forever young” by following the blended advice of Richard Bolles, Edith Wharton and Jack.

Lesson Three: Consider blending career and spiritual teachings as you pursue your next calling.

Richard Bolles is a former Episcopal minister, so it should not be surprising that he offered readers and audiences a blend of both career and spiritual guidance. He was never afraid to add religious quotes and teachings in his books, lectures and advice. One of his good friends was local author Richard Leider. Shortly after I heard of Bolles passing, I spoke with Richard about his many conversations with him.

Richard showed me the forward that Bolles had written for one of his books, Something To Live For: Finding Your Way in the Second Half of Life. When I read the forward to Leider’s book, I was struck by how Bolles had written about conversations with God as a key factor in career decisionmaking. If you integrate spirituality and religious teachings into your life/work journey, Bolles’ books will speak powerfully to you.

Lesson Four: Preserve your sense of humor, especially if you lose your way.

What comes to my mind are all the cartoons and humor in his books and teachings from the beginning. In a 2014 interview, Bolles said he hoped his franchise would continue after he was gone. His son, Gary, asked him about future editions of “Parachute” and finding other job-counseling experts for new career guidance content. “I told him to make sure to find people who are funny, and who have a lightheartedness about them,” Mr. Bolles said. “When you are out of work and on the ropes, that is so important.”

Lesson Five: Don’t panic when you lose your way (especially when giving a speech, or offering advice.)

Here is a Richard Bolles memory I have shared countless times (and have often used myself.) Bolles was in the middle of a speech at a local career coach conference about fifteen years ago, when he forgot an important piece of informaton. He strained to remember, but it just wasn’t coming. He then paused, looked around the room, and in a very pleasant and calm tone told us, “My brain is like a belfry, and my memories are like pigeons. Sometimes one or more of these “pigeons” fly away during a speech. They might, or might not, come back before the speech is over.”

He went on to tell us, “I can almost see them flying around the room. They may never come back, but usually they do within five or ten minutes.” The room cracked up, and we were all charmed by this clever, relatable, diversion. His “pigeon” came back in about five minutes. We laughed again, celebrated the pigeon’s return, and left that session with a new tool for dealing with our own inevitable future memory failures and pigeon wanderings.

We have lost a giant in the career transition field. Richard Bolles was unsurpassed in his impact over the past 47 years, since his first “Parachute” book came out in 1970. We can learn volumes from his lifelong commitment to continual improvement, and from his sage career advice. In this blog I have shared five lasting memories from Richard Bolles. This is my way of thanking him for his impact on my life and work. I’m happy to pay it forward to you.

If you would like to learn more about the life and contributions of Richard Bolles, click this link for a New York Times article published after his passing.


Adjust Your Rear-View Mirror Before Taking Off

March, 2017

“Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.”
Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher

This month I attended a week of training at the College of Executive Coaching. I studied positive psychology, appreciative inquiry and building on strengths in professional development coaching. In this month’s blog I will take you through two exercises inspired by these three areas of study.

The first will help you become reacquainted with your strengths and best stories through some appreciative self inquiry. The second exercise will have you rethinking what is ahead, using positive psychology and a reframing strategy that begins with looking backwards. These exercises will help you successfully move forward by first looking in your rear-view mirror.

Exercise 1: Prepare your top eight achievements

What have your life’s peak experiences taught you about when you are at your best? What have been your recurring talents and callings, and how might these past lessons shape your future direction? It might take several hours to complete this exercise, but if you are hoping to learn more about yourself and what you might be best suited to do in the future, begin by looking backwards at your top eight achievements. I ask each of my career transition clients to do this exercise. They sometimes protest that it will take too much time, then afterwards smile with the satisfaction of knowing themselves much better as a result.

Here is the assignment. Take a look back at your top eight work/life achievements. Name each, then create a spreadsheet that includes these items for each of the eight achievements: project name and date, challenge, actions, results, skills used, interests engaged, values present, lessons learned about yourself.

After completing this assignment, consider the implications. What are the recurring themes? What skills, interests and values do you hope to connect to the future needs of the market and/or community? Aristotle once said, “Our calling is the intersection of our talents and the needs of the world.” What are you called to do now? How can your historical achievements and talents inform your future direction?

Exercise 2: Remember the ride home

I will introduce you to this second exercise by sharing a story. Charlie Maxwell is the CEO of Meristem, a Twin Cities based financial services firm. Charlie’s job is extremely demanding, and he is also the father of triplets. His children all received early childhood development services from an organization named Fraser. When Charlie was asked to join the Fraser board, he quickly and whole heartedly agreed to do so.

Over time, Charlie became aware of a growing frustration caused by the demands of his work and family, combined with the time and energy required by the Fraser board and also serving as a Trustee of the Foundation at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. He was most in touch with these frustrations on his trips in to his board and foundation meetings. On most rides home, however, Charlie would find himself feeling grateful for the choice he had made to serve in this way.

Charlie found a simple attitude adjustment as a method for alleviating these frustrations. He decided to remember his prior ride home on the ride to those meetings. From that point on, a broad smile appeared both to and from the meetings. Charlie has told me that he regularly shares this story with his staff, encouraging generosity as an ongoing expectation for everyone within his firm.

Whether going to a demanding meeting or a service commitment you might prefer to skip, try imagining the ride home on your ride in. Think of how you have felt at the end of similar past activities. Using this version of positive psychology can help you avoid negative energy, and remind you that what is ahead might be challenging and time consuming, but it will likely be rewarding as well. Predict a successful conclusion, and there is a good chance things will move in that direction.


Life is lived forward, but understood backwards. Søren Kierkegaard got it right. I have often thought of these words while listening to my clients’ life stories and reading the details of their top eight achievements. We all tend to be self critical as we evaluate our days, but consider the many ways that positive psychology and apreciative self inquiry can lift your spirits and strengthen your confidence.

Let’s not wake up each morning as Sisyphus, with that rock coming down each night after a day of pushing it up the hill. If you made progress yesterday, acknowledge it and begin the day with positive recollections and gratitute, not emptiness and futility. We are each builders and climbers, not Sisyphus. Apply what has been gained from your past accomplishments, strengths and learnings to whatever is next. Take a good look in your rear-view mirror, then be on your way!


Builder, Driver, Comeback…Three Storylines For Your Next Job Interview

February, 2017

blank paper on the table

When it is time to prepare for your next job interview, you’ll need to line up your best stories. You’ll need builder, driver, and comeback stories. I’ll describe these three storylines in both their distinct and blended versions. These stories will help you reveal yourself as an effective, versatile and resilient leader.

Stories are the lifeblood of job interviews. They offer historical evidence that you have successfully applied your skills and knowledge in circumstances similar to those of your prospective employer.

For all three storylines described in this blog, I suggest you use the CAR sequence; challenge, actions, and results. This is how interviewers prefer to hear your stories. They first need the details of the challenge, then the actions you took, and finally the measurable results.

Builder Stories

Builders put the right people together, ensure the capability of their people, set the endpoint, communicate the strategy and priorities, and ultimately deliver a successful outcome. As a leader, you will need several builder stories that reveal you as a person who has succeeded in small and large initiatives that are similar to those of your prospective employer.

A strong builder can bring about a successful outcome without necessarily dealing with significant resistance or underperformance along the way. When serious breakdowns do occur, however, then driver capabilities need to be initiated. When have you needed to shift to a tougher style in order to drive greater success, and how has that worked for you? Expect this question as you tell your builder stories.

Driver Stories

The driver often communicates a more ambitious vision, mobilizing people to greater heights than they thought possible. The driver pushes when his or her people might be inclined to settle for a lesser outcome or become bogged down or resistant to top achievement. The driver pushes beyond “good enough.” The driver seeks to achieve a great outcome, well beyond what his or her people thought they could accomplish.

Blended Builder + Driver Stories

Great leaders posses a skill set and judgement that enables them to effectively go back and forth between building and driving. They usually get the best results with these combined skills, and can offer stories that reveal this versatility and effectiveness.

Earlier this month, I read a Harvard Business Review article by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis titled, Emotional Intelligence has 12 Elements. Which do you need to work on? This article is about the limitations of building only on the strengths you favor, and the advantages of being a more fully formed leader, strengthening all 12 emotional intelligence elements described in the article.

The authors revealed the danger in defining emotional intelligence too narrowly. Sociability, sensitivity and likability are each great attributes, but miss several elements of emotional intelligence that could make one a stronger, more effective, leader.

Examples include the ability to deliver difficult feedback to employees, the courage to ruffle feathers and drive change, the creativity to think out of the box. Conflict management, like bringing simmering issues to the surface, is another example of skills tied to a broader definition of emotional intelligence.

While in an interview situation or a networking conversation, I have noticed that job seekers often speak in shorthand, and don’t spend enough time with the struggles they have needed to address as leaders. To become a great story teller and a stonger candidate, flesh out your stories on both the builder and driver sides of your struggles and successes.

Comeback Stories

Interviewers will expect you to have at least one story that reveals how you deal with failure. If you don’t have any failure stories, you will likely be viewed as not willing to take enough risks, or not having been sufficiently tested to be considered a seasoned candidate for their leadership job.

Go back in your history and uncover a time when you failed to get the desired result in a project you led. Stories need to have a strong finish, so describe a failed initiative that was instructive, led to smarter decision making and lessons that were linked to the success of the next project.

Wisdom gained from failure comes from the indelible lessons the experience offers. How has failure shaped your thinking and behavior? How has it contributed to your subsequent success?


Job interviews are about results you have achieved in similar situations, and the methods you have used to get those results. These are your stories. How balanced and effective you have been as a builder, a driver, and during failures and comebacks, will be predictive of your future success.

Prepare your best examples of these three storylines in both their distinct and blended versions. Write down and rehearse your stories in advance of your next job interview in the CAR structure I have described. If you do this well, you will be seen as an effective, versatile and resilient leader in your upcoming job interviews.


Getting Hired: A 4 Step Progression

January, 2017


I was reading a book about effective writing a few years ago, and early in the book the author shared something interesting about the hiring process. According to writer and film producer, Kenneth Atchity, four things lead to getting a job in Hollywood, in this order:

1. Perseverance
2. Connections
3. Talent
4. Fit

Each year I am a guest lecturer at a graduate level course at the University of Minnesota. Two years ago, after sharing the four-step model with this class, one of the students helped explain how this theory works in the business and non-profit world: “The first two (perseverance and connections) get you in the door. The second two (talent and fit) get you the job.”

I was very impressed with this student’s insight, and agree with her summary. Let’s take a look at each of these four steps in the order that Atchity and the student suggested. This is how getting hired usually works.

Getting In The Door

1. Perseverance

It is interesting how Atchity has turned upside down the popular notion that revealing talent is the leading driver for successfully landing a new job. Perhaps this is because it is so hard to get noticed and remembered in the ultra competitive world of Hollywood.

You simply have to keep at it to succeed in any market pursuit. If you quit trying to get noticed, you may disappear from sight and mind. If that happens, the other three factors will not happen.

Do you approach your career search with the same tenacity and discipline that you do with your work?

2. Connections

Since I started in this career transition field 28 years ago, I have kept track of the landing statistics of my clients. The next career opportunity is discovered and landed with the help of connections 65-80% of the time.

You may be wondering how recruiters factor into this four-stage model. Executive recruiter Marcia Ballinger once quoted the CEO of a national executive search firm when asked for the best way to stay on top of a search firm’s list. “Reach out to your whole network, and forget about us!” was his instant reply.

Where do recruiters find you? They find you through your network. Which network connections are going to be most helpful to recruiters? Your evangelists.
If you haven’t already done so, read Marcia Ballinger and Nathan Perez’s book, The 20-Minute Networking Meeting. It is an excellent resource for learning networking best practices.

Half the battle is being persistent, connected and actively building your network. It leads the way.

Getting Hired

3. Talent

My definition of well developed talent includes being really good at your work, and energized by it as well. Results matter, and possessing the talent that has consistently achieved maximum gain is a big factor in hiring. The reason this is not the final selection factor, however, is because there are usually several other candidates who are highly talented in any given search.

If the top candidates are all qualified to do the job, the decision maker will then need to turn to the next and final determining factor…fit.

4. Fit

Whenever I talk with recruiters, the word “fit” always seems to bubble to the top of their list of hiring criteria. Good fit potential usually means that a job candidate has gotten along well with others and succeeded during good times and tough times within organizations with a similar profile and with similar challenges and opportunities as the one they are pursuing.

During the interview process, this fit assessment is sometimes referred to as a “chemistry” check. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but a consensus needs to emerge that this is the person who will fit best in the job and the organization.

If you have been in a position to hire individuals, you have likely seen this phenomenon. After concluding that your top candidates could each do the job, don’t you want to select the one that is the best fit?

Without great fit, does talent, connections or perseverance even matter?


Remember that in Atchity’s model, he is referencing the hiring process in Hollywood. With some notable exceptions, good actors are viewed as a “dime a dozen”. Remember also, that Hollywood is an especially difficult place to find work, and the most common form of work is more like a project than a long term commitment. Yet, the changing nature of employment increasingly resembles the Hollywood story.

There are still many long tenured job opportunities, but much of the work at all levels has become more like being on the set of a movie, a one to three year project. When that movie/project/job ends, it’s time to search for another one. The perseverance, connections, talent and fit factors come right back into play as one searches for that next gig. As it goes in Hollywood, so it goes in the new world of work.