Everyone has dreams. Have you wished for an increase in pay or a better workplace? Dreamed of travelling to foreign lands? Aching to buy a house or build a treehouse? Without thoughtful consideration about what it will take, it’s unlikely that your dreams will come true, short of stumbling across a genie in a magic bottle … a pretty unlikely scenario.
It’s probably safe to say that people who establish goals and action plans for achieving their dreams are far more likely to realize them than those who don’t. So why then do so many people believe that all they really need is a lucky break? With some effort and longer-term planning, there is more within your own power to help you get where you want to go than you may think. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and trackable) goals can provide the structure you need to move forward.
Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?”
Give your dream an examination. Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?” Consider every detail of what it would take from inception through to realization. Using a treehouse as an example, think of exactly what it would take from start to finish.
Be specific about each and every aspect. If you haven’t picked the tree, then include what the tree needs to look like and where it needs to be located. Imagine what it will look like as you climb in it and what you will do in it. Find photos that will help you visualize exactly what you want to see. Getting clarity about what you want before you take action is critical.
List every single detail that is required, such as researching ideas, locating materials, drawing construction plans and the actual construction itself. When you have included every single step in your list, it’s time to create a schedule for completing each phase. Then pull out the calendar and put your money where your mouth is. Commit to the days and times you will complete each and every task. Unless you are clear about when and how each task will get done, you are only dreaming that things will happen as you hope they will.
You may be wondering how building a treehouse relates to capturing a better job or starting a business. It’s pretty simple. Although the outcome may be different, the process is the same. From your first thought or idea to your end result, each step can be listed and planned out, with benchmarks set for completing each.
Your desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved if you establish goals and set timelines for achieving them. Identifying the kind of work or work environments that make you happy, determining what is financially possible and developing a strategy for obtaining what you want are all key components in changing career paths.
If you need help visualizing a specific outcome, seeing the broader picture beyond your current circumstances or understanding the market, then it may be time for you to call in a professional to help you. Just as an architect or designer can help with your dream house, a career coach can help you visualize a new role and develop a career plan. If you have previously made random runs at new positions and not gotten the results you want, it should be getting clearer. Throwing spaghetti at the wall rarely works.
It’s striking how many candidates still believe the resume is the key factor in their job search process. Each week I am contacted by people who are thinking of making a change, and their first questions are “can you help me with my resume?” and “what will it cost?” When I ask for context, e.g., who will be reading it or what position they are pursuing, the response is frequently “I don’t know.” The resume isn’t the beginning of the process, nor is it the end. It’s certainly a piece of the puzzle, but there’s much more to capturing rewarding work than creating “the perfect resume.” Even if a resume catches an employer’s attention, the outcome of the interview will be the deciding factor in determining whether the candidate will get the offer. Therefore, it’s critical to integrate preparation for the interview into the resume-building process and not assume the resume will work on its own.
There’s much more to capturing rewarding work than creating “the perfect resume.”
The resume is an ongoing process. Getting your experience pulled together into a “master” document is a great start for preparing for a job change. The real work comes into play after a specific target has been determined and you have learned what the unpublished needs/viewpoints/preferences of the employer are. Only after the audience is identified and context around their needs is understood can the work on the resume start to take shape.
It’s essential to focus on information that is relevant to the role/employer. Excess information distracts the reader from seeing your value for the particular position and/or need and might lead them to making inaccurate assumptions. Titles that suggest you might be “overqualified” or “too expensive,” or context that implies you had more responsibility than the current role requires, can cause an employer to move past you entirely. Your resume should illustrate that your experience matches their need and also corresponds with how their sector or culture operates. This information may not be included on a job announcement as a requirement, but it may be a significant piece of why you would or would not be considered.
Candidates often include words on their resumes representing skills that they are unable to support via a description of their work. They can then get called to interview for a role that a few simple questions around the context of their experience would have exposed as unsuitable for them. Yet questions of this nature may be omitted from a screening interview and may only surface in the next stage of interviewing. So, even though you may get attention, the inability to back up a claim or show evidence of what you have done that fits the employer’s specific need will most likely prevent you from receiving an offer. In the 20+ years I have worked with candidates and employers, it continues to amaze me to learn that the people doing the initial resume screening and determination of what the top candidates will look like often have so very little understanding of the roles the candidates will fill. Although skills can be identified via a database search or perhaps some very broad questions, screeners frequently make assumptions about “fit” that may not be accurate at all.
It’s critical for candidates to do their due diligence in learning all they can about an employer and in preparing for an interview. Assuming that the resume will get you in the door and you can “wing it” when you get there can turn into disaster and end up burning bridges. Making a misstep when you have reached the interview stage can result in a file note that may prevent you from moving forward with any other positions with the same employer. Or, if a recruiter’s/hiring manager’s questions reveal a candidate’s personality flaw or contradictions while interviewing for a position with one company and the recruiter/hiring manager moves to another, a candidate can become unofficially blacklisted for many opportunities. If a candidate has been referred by someone and ends up having misrepresented themselves, it can cause issues for the referring party, too. Any way you look at it, not preparing for an interview can turn out badly for everyone.
So, you may be asking, what does preparation mean? Preparation means:
1. Being clear about what you want and need.
2. Researching the market and understanding your competitive position.
3. Getting ready to respond to the questions any employer is most likely to ask.
4. Tailoring those answers to relate to an employer’s specific needs.
To learn more about an employer’s needs, it’s vital to do as much research as possible prior to applying. Knowing more about them in advance allows you to tailor your resume for each situation. The process of tailoring the resume to fit the needs of the employer (which may be different from or more than what has been publicly posted) is only the beginning of the interview preparation process. It helps you to focus on the skills and employment experiences that are most relevant to the people you will be interviewing with. After that step, it’s far easier to begin composing answers to potential interview questions while linking them to your relevant work experience. Once you have applied and are contacted to interview, if you haven’t already been aware of whom you would be interviewing with, research them now to get a sense of what their backgrounds are, what will be important to them or how their experience may frame their view about the kind of person they would hire for the role they are filling.
Failing to prepare for an interview can turn into a colossal waste of time. It can lead to disappointment and even sever relationships. Understanding how companies operate and what is important to them will help you select employers that make sense. Completely understanding your competitive position will allow you to select the right roles to pursue. Once identified, planning the time to research and prepare for every interview will allow you to present your best case for winning the offer.
If you have felt powerless over your work, career or life in general, it might be time for you to look long and hard at your goals and how you approach them. Creating your own personal and professional goals, and establishing a process for accomplishing them, protects you from going completely into a ditch when you hit an icy patch in the road. Having a framework that requires only tweaking rather than rebuilding from scratch when things change will set the stage for you to recover quickly should the bottom fall out of your situation.
It is certainly possible that an employer can influence your path when a company changes course, and market conditions or customers’ needs (or lack thereof) can also cause an abrupt change in direction for the business owner who takes their eyes off the ball. Nevertheless, although challenging, you can learn to refuse to allow outside influences to keep you from attaining your goals or living your best life. Bumps in the road occur, but that doesn’t mean you are powerless.
It’s important to take the bull by the horns and commit to what you want. Setbacks may prevent you from achieving your goals in the time frame you had originally anticipated, but they don’t need to cause you to give up on those goals entirely. Blaming the economy, your employer or your customers won’t get you anywhere. Taking stock of what you need to do and establishing realistic timelines for accomplishing the necessary tasks to move forward will put the control back in your hands.
Here are some basic guidelines for ensuring you can stay on track:
Write out your goals. This is information you need to see every day. “Keeping it in your head” is a surefire recipe for forgetting what is important when temporary setbacks distract you.
Commit. Assign realistic timelines for accomplishing each goal.
Be realistic. Examine the timelines you have set and review all of your other commitments required on or by the same dates. Don’t cut off more than you can chew.
Break them down. Break the larger goals into achievable objectives. Establish timelines for each of the objectives you need to meet that will ensure you are on track to achieving your goals.
Write everything down. Think through each objective completely and identify every task associated with accomplishing it. Don’t assume anything. Unless you identify exactly what needs to get done and when, you run the risk of missing critical components that will move you forward.
Review your schedule in advance. Be aware of your commitments. Don’t pile on tasks that aren’t likely to get done because of prior commitments.
Be flexible. A critical piece to ensuring you will accomplish your goals is being able to adjust to the real- life events that pop up and can derail you. Move timelines. Rearrange activities. Don’t drop everything and turn your quest into a losing proposition by attempting to hang on to a plan that can’t work.
Own your reactions. Put your catcher’s mitt on and field the curve balls that get thrown your way. Avoid choosing “victim” status when external influences cause you to change your plans. Rethink your priorities and adjust your timelines.
Be accountable for your progress. Make sure you are getting all of your tasks accomplished in the prescribed time frames to allow you to move forward with the next objective. Identify a method for monitoring your progress that will keep you motivated to do what you need to do. Avoid making excuses for not getting things done and learn to reassign tasks that are not completed for days/times when they can be accomplished. For example, you might want to draw up a contract with yourself or enlist an accountability partner who will hold your feet to the fire. Or do both and share your contract with your accountability partner.
Every year people make resolutions that are distant memories by the end of February. Don’t fall into the same old pattern. Make a commitment for what you want in your life and make sure you are following through with the actions required to get you there. You have the biggest stake in accomplishing your goals. Shouldn’t you be the one to be accountable for that?
If you are like many people, the beginning of a new year is prompting you to make some changes. New year, better economy…time for a new job? If the thought of leaving your current position has crossed your mind, take control of the process and make it a move that counts. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction to apply for a posted position that catches your eye and start the year fresh with a solid plan for making a strategic change that steers you toward your ideal situation rather than yet another dead end.
Randomly applying to a posted position with a company you know nothing about is much like playing the lottery. Certainly it could turn out to be better than your current situation, but the odds are you’ll simply be trading known issues for new ones. The beginning of a new year prompts many people to evaluate their circumstances. They desire more yet stay stuck on why they want to leave rather than focusing on what they want to move forward to. This year, prepare yourself to make a meaningful and sustainable change of your circumstances. Make the most of your time and resources, by developing a plan for moving forward. The following are some key points for getting started.
Clarify your interests. If you focus only on what you don’t want, you still don’t have a target for what you do want. Establishing a concrete list of what you hope to gain from a new position/employer/business endeavor is the first step to heading in a new direction with favorable results. Refrain from using vague words like “better” or “more” and be as specific as you can be. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to measure or weigh one opportunity against another.
Give it a reality check. Do your research. Learn about today’s conditions rather than relying on memories from ten years ago. Learn how work is getting done and, more importantly, why certain skills are in demand. Know what the market will bear and how your skills/experience measure up to competition. If you need additional training/development to be competitive for your “dream job” or to get your foot in the door with your “dream organization,” then integrate that into your plan. The process from Point A to Point B may seem like it takes longer, but you will probably save time by avoiding attempts at throwing your hat into the ring for work you are not competitive for.
Nurture your network. (Ok, so I say that a lot.) The surest way to learn if a new circumstance will be better than what you are in, or will offer you more of what you want, is by knowing someone who is already in it. And, if you are not an exact fit for the roles you desire, you are much more likely to be considered with the help of a valued internal referral than by submitting a blind application. Use the freshness of the new year as an opportunity to reconnect with people you have lost touch with.
Establish timelines and benchmarks. Don’t just say you want to make a change — act on it and commit. New Year’s resolutions are typically out the window by mid-February because of the failure to create a plan, develop new habits or commit to dates. A vision or image of where you want to be is great! The next step is to make it real by establishing timelines and accountability.
Plan your activities. Unless you have a magic process for adding hours to the clock, you have 24 hours a day and seven days a week to work with. It’s important to plan out what has to be done ahead of time (regular work, doctors’ appointments, special events) and work around that schedule to fit in the work required to make a change. Research (by Internet and through conversations) takes time. It won’t happen unless you plan out when you can do it and stick with it. Break big chunks of work into smaller bites and determine exactly when you will complete them. Don’t leave this to chance, or you will be wondering in June how the time flew when you find you are still exactly where you were in January.
Don’t knee jerk. Many people have taken roles that have left them underemployed or bored, just to pay the bills. If that is your situation, then use it to your advantage. If you can do your job in your sleep, then stay put while you take the time to do the research you need to complete to make an educated decision about changing. Chances are no one is watching you, and you can actually carve out time to talk with people and read about companies/roles that are more to your liking. Watching job boards for the next posting and throwing a resume at something isn’t likely to reap a satisfying or sustainable reward if you are hired before you really know anything about the company, department or role.
As you head into the new year, concentrate on what you want and check out whether it really is for you. Making impulsive gestures based on what you don’t want might bring about a change, but researching and putting together a plan for making that change is much more likely to take you where you want to go.
We’re finally seeing daylight with the beginning of an economic turnaround. As jobs continue to multiply, some basic elements of finding rewarding work are still necessary. It’s important to stay focused and build a strategy for optimizing conditions during these improving economic times.
The upswing in the economy/job market doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about planning, strategizing, preparing, networking, positioning ourselves and generally staying on top of things. In fact, this is the time to double down on those activities because the recent recession has taught us, if nothing else, that we can’t take “good” times for granted. We must remain vigilant. While some may consider cutting themselves a little slack, others are out there, reinforcing their skills. Those are the people to watch because they’ll end up being more competitive than those who have taken a “timeout.”
In order to achieve my own goals, I must help others achieve theirs. That requires a considerable amount of planning, dedication, discipline, commitment, flexibility, organization, desire and patience. (I probably find the last one the hardest to model, and some people may think I have none at all. Nevertheless, patience is still an asset.) These are all behaviors I ask my clients to adopt when they have an important goal to achieve. Although some have described my methods as “boot camp,” those who follow suit have terrific results to celebrate. In turn, I get the double enjoyment and satisfaction of celebrating the achievement of my goals. Over the past year, I’ve helped dozens of people reach their goals. Most have learned to embrace the work required to set goals and complete the necessary steps for reaching those goals, although some take a little longer to get there. The celebration is the fun part, and it always follows a considerable amount of hard work.
Ironically, as the job market opens up and more positions become available, my role seems to get even tougher. After 16 years as a career coach, I have seen the ups and downs in the market several times. In a tight market, people expect to roll up their sleeves and attempt new strategies for getting employed (or re-employed). In a more robust market, the unemployed often think the road leading to the job of their dreams should take less effort. That’s when we run into several roadblocks, and my job gets harder. Some bristle at the disciplined approach I expect them to take if they have limited budgets and need income quickly. The assumption is that it shouldn’t be this hard or that they really don’t need help. The problem with assumptions like these is that they lead to more obstacles by extending unemployment or being stuck in a dead-end job.
Proactive approaches continue to be much more fun and rewarding. Many of my clients who started new jobs during the last two to three years have started in roles that already have led or will lead them to their “perfect” role. We have developed strategies for growing from a “Plan C” or “Plan B” to a “Plan A.” During those tough times, they were continuing to work on their strategies for moving forward and achieving their goals. They have been proactively preparing for and are now already in position to take advantage of the next opportunity. They have been working, skill building and connecting themselves with people who will be influential in supporting their career growth/change. On the flip side, there are many others who have been waiting for the market to open up and sitting on the sidelines. These folks are now competing against people with more current experience and stronger footholds in networks that can lead them to higher elevations in their careers.
Just as positioning is a key element in taking advantage of the improvements in the market, the tactics taken to weather a storm are still the foundation for moving forward. It all comes back to the willingness to commit, plan ahead, manage the process effectively and apply dedication, discipline, flexibility, organization, desire and patience. Yes, there is a cost to this (financial, emotional and time). The important thing to remember is that we really can change our directions and achieve our goals by making these investments. As you move into the next year, remember to acknowledge your successes, stay proactive and plan strategies for overcoming your challenges.
Years ago I came up with a list of self-defeating behaviors that can sabotage efforts to becoming employed. A colleague’s advice was to flip all of my statements into desired behaviors or proposed actions that could correct the problems, so I did. Funny thing, but I haven’t seen a huge change in many people’s approach, even with the availability of volumes of career advice. I still see the same ol’, same ol’ behavior, getting in the way of people achieving their employment goals. I thought I’d go back to my original notion of calling it as I see it and see what the response is this time around.
As I see it, many of the reasons people remain unemployed have nothing to do with the availability or lack of jobs. Nearly 100% of the time the evidence points to a simple change in behavior that could make all the difference in someone going to work or not. The following are some typical self-sabotaging behaviors:
- Sleeping in
- Following up with introductions weeks after the fact
- Relying on unemployment as motivation to remain unemployed
- Not following up with contacts after initial meetings
- Exaggerating their skills and qualifications
- Using (abusing) other people’s networks without asking
- Overselling themselves
- Appearing desperate
- Making assumptions
- Failing to plan
- Poor time management
- Targeting roles that are not realistic as a “next step”
- Being unwilling to plan a path to “the job of their dreams”
- Paralyzing themselves with irrational fears
- Not looking closely at ROI when it comes to long-term education/certificate programs
- Being ill-prepared to meet new people or follow up on leads
- Shooting from the hip ALL the time
- Taking vacations with no plan for staying in contact with leads they have in the pipeline
- Starting preparation for an interview after they get the call
- Unwilling to get uncomfortable or go the extra mile
- Giving up
Did you recognize any of your own behaviors in that list? Most of them, you say? Well, take heart. I’m here to tell you that you can change your behaviors. In my 20 years of experience in this field, I’ve seen people go from writhing in despair to securing the job of their dreams . . . and then building that job into something beyond their wildest imaginings. It can happen for you– it depends on the actions you are willing to take.
Here are action items that have stood the test of time:
- Self-assessment. Examine the list above and identify the ones that hit home. Be honest with yourself. It’s painful to examine the ugly truths about our own behavior, but acknowledging the part you play in your current situation is the first step in producing the results you desire.
- Commit to change. Decide that you are going to drive your own bus. You can’t control the economy, your employer (or lack of one), other people’s decisions or actions, or much else, but you can control what you think and do. Picture yourself getting behind the wheel of that bus and taking charge.
- Write out your goals. Make them specific and measurable. Remember, the difference between making a resolution and establishing a goal is setting timelines and creating accountability. Wishes don’t turn into results. Actions do.
- Stay focused. Remind yourself that becoming employed is Priority Number One. Post those words or a picture of what they mean to you above your computer, on the bathroom mirror, or – better yet – OVER your television screen if that’s what it will take to keep you focused on your goal.
- Form good habits. You do that by replacing self-destructive behaviors (hint: see list above) with positive ones. For example, do you sleep in? Act as though you were going to a job you love. Get up early, get dressed – right down to the shoes! – and groom yourself to the nines. You’ll feel energized and empowered, and that feeling will be reflected in how you present yourself.
- Be aware of how you appear to others. Do you seem desperate? Are you untidy, late for appointments, disorganized or rushed? Take stock and make repairs. You may feel desperate, but there are ways to appear confident. For instance, learning how to prepare for interviews will lessen your anxiety considerably. Meeting deadlines, asking well-thought-out questions of others, and sharing useful information are all ways to show others you would be someone they would want on their team.
- Plan ahead. Prepare your interview clothes now – before you get even a whiff of an interview schedule – so you’ll look sharp and have one less thing to distract you from presenting your best side at an interview. If you have a meeting or interview, plan to arrive at least one hour before the slotted time in case something goes awry, even if you have to cool your heels in a nearby coffee shop. How long will it take to get there? Make a trial run to the interview site to find out if there are traffic snarls, construction, road/sidewalk closures, etc., that could make you late. The morning of the meeting, check the Internet for possible traffic delays. It all adds up: working out the nuts and bolts of “getting it together” in advance of an interview will help you relax and focus on the job at hand . . . literally.
- Be realistic, and don’t overstate your skills and qualifications. Sure, it’s great to dream, but trying to talk your way into a dream job that’s way over your head is simply a waste of your time and others’ time, too. And those “others” might remember you one day when an opportunity arises that you’re truly qualified for. Don’t make a bad impression by puffing yourself up and not being able to deliver. If people think you want to be the king, you better be competitive as a king. If you are not, and a knight’s position opens, no one will think you are willing to step down.
- Never give up. Abraham Lincoln was defeated repeatedly in bids for office, went broke and into debt, suffered unspeakable personal losses, struggled with deep depression, and faced uncountable setbacks, but he went on to become one of the most successful and influential people in history. Why? Because he never gave up. Michael Jordan has been quoted as saying, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” And, I might add, he never gave up. Joe Schmoe was a talented, skilled, highly educated man who . . . you say you never heard of Joe Schmoe? Of course not . . he gave up!
Leading up to each New Year, it is common for people to establish a long wish list and/or a list of resolutions. The problem is that neither is typically tied to a plan of action and rarely is either list completed by the year’s end. Funny thing is, year after year, people repeat the same behavior and end up with the same results.
This year, make sure your wishes come true and your resolutions become habits, by starting out with a plan for success. Consciously think through what you want and what it will take for you to get there. This year, take control of what you can do to make things happen the way you envision. The following are some steps for getting started.
Create goals vs. resolutions or wish lists. The difference between making a resolution and establishing a goal is setting time lines and creating accountability. You are the one with the most invested in whether or not you achieve your goals, so it only makes sense to develop your own timelines for accomplishing them. When looking at personal goals, no one else is going to do it for you. (And if someone else is creating your personal goals for you, there may be some co-dependency issues that need to be addressed.) If you have professional goals that are mandated by your employer, don’t stop with those. Incorporate your own ideas of what you want to accomplish in the plan. Once you have a good idea of what it is you want to accomplish, then go ahead and make a commitment to each on a specific date in your calendar. If you want to lose weight, identify how much and by when. During the planning stage and setting objectives you will further break this down into measurable and achievable goals
Eliminate fear. Change is scary. If you are experiencing trepidation about doing something new, know that you are not alone. Everyone is uncomfortable with change to some degree. The key to overcoming it is facing the obstacles now, not later. Typically fear is a greater barrier than the actual perceived barrier turns out to be. Get past it by breaking down your concern item by item. List why you are scared, or why you think you may fail. Then address each point one at a time. It is likely you will find out that most of what you thought was true is mostly in your head. The concerns that are only thoughts need to be tested by taking action or researching through others who may have relevant experience (see “don’t make assumptions” below). If you want to change careers or add a new line of business, write out a list of everything running around in your head that is telling you that you can’t. One way or the other, you will be able to shorten the list if you simply get started.
Don’t make assumptions. Make a list of all you want and need. Methodically go through the list to make sure you are completely aware of what is necessary to proceed in the direction you desire. Make sure you have the required time and resources to invest and plan time to investigate options. Ask others who have had experience in the area you are focusing (e.g., new business, new career path, weight loss). Someone will have information and experience to share. You simply need to ask. The results of a thorough investigation of what you want will allow you to more accurately identify realistic timelines that will lead to success.
Plan ahead instead and avoid passively reacting. Taking a fatalistic view of circumstances you want to change isn’t going to get you anywhere. Creating a plan to deal with potential obstacles will allow you to more effectively approach bumps in the road. Passively reacting to resistance from others, obstacles or challenges isn’t going to get you what you want. Health, family or financial issues are all part of life and may surface at any time. Think through what could or might happen and develop strategies to overcome situations that are not ideal. Plan for adversity; don’t wait until it is too late to take corrective action or make changes to your plan.
Be realistic. Make sure whatever behavioral changes that are needed to accomplish your goal are easily integrated into your life on a daily basis. Setting unrealistic expectations will only set you up for failure. If you want to lose weight, make it obtainable without starving yourself or creating such aggressive goals you are likely to fail. Taking on one change at a time is much more likely to lead to success. Introducing one behavioral change at a time and doing it every day for 30 days is much more likely to make it hard wired action. If you want to lose weight, then being aware of what you take in and the activity you are presently engaged in (calories in, calories out) is the first step. Cutting back on one particularly unhealthy or high calorie food while adding ten minute walks each day are both much easier to handle and gear up from than reducing your calorie intake to 500 a day and running laps. One behavior is easy to do every day. The other is much less likely to be sustainable.
Set objectives/milestones to track your progress. Break the big stuff into smaller bites and track your progress. Set realistic due dates that take into account everything else you are juggling in your life. Don’t allow yourself to spin out of control because you ended up in a ditch on one aspect of your plan. Stay on track by developing new objectives or realistic time lines for what you need to accomplish when new elements get thrown into your life.
Set up contingencies. Think through what could or might happen and develop strategies to overcome situations that are not ideal. Don’t become a victim to circumstances because you haven’t prepared. Think through what you want and develop alternatives to your initial goal just in case things change. As you research your goals you may learn things that will cause you to change your plan. Don’t be afraid to adjust things as you go. If you have an idea for a new career, allow time for a test period. If it isn’t successful right off the bat, you may want to extend your timelines or adjust the amount of resources invested. Making adjustments to your plan is much easier if you think it through ahead of time, and can be addressed much like risk management is prior to the implementation of new projects for a company.
Be flexible. Stuff happens. Life throws us some curveballs sometimes. It is important to make sure your plans will adjust easily to anything that could develop without notice. Goals don’t have to be all or nothing. It’s possible an illness or a family related issue interrupts your momentum. An event doesn’t have to cause you to stop everything; it just may require you to change your plan a little. Adjusting to changed circumstances to achieve part of what you want and extending timelines to accomplish the rest, will bring you much closer to the desired result than throwing up your hands and declaring defeat. Be open to new information and new ideas. Adjust your goals and your plan according to what is working so that you are always clear about what you are doing and why.
Avoid procrastination. The longer you wait to get started thinking through your goals, the more likely another year will go by without having achieved them. Are you daydreaming right now? Wishing for something new? Get started now! Prepare a plan of attack and get in motion by January 1 so you can look forward to a great New Year!
What will you do differently to make things stick this year?
Jack, be nimble,
Jack, be quick,
Jack, jump over
Jack jumped high
Jack jumped low
Jack jumped over
and burned his toe.
Although there are probably not many candlesticks to be jumped over in today’s market, most of us are faced with “mini-fires” every day. Although there are specific disciplines that follow trained approaches to working in Lean or Agile environments, the average worker or small business owner still needs to be able to show evidence of their ability to respond quickly and effectively to changes or unforeseen events.
In a day and age where the ability to think quickly and react gracefully is critical to the success of workers, businesses, and nonprofits, it is important not to get distracted by the wrong perception of what is in the way of success.
Although we tend to assume it, youth does not ensure responsiveness. Nor does it ensure speed. There are many mature workers that can outthink and outrun younger workers when called upon to respond to a critical change. The value of their experience in similar past situations with a variety of prospective allows them the ability to think quickly and decisively. It is unfortunate that the perception that age is a problem can undermine the value gained through having had more experience in reacting to crisis and change. In contrast, the enthusiasm younger employees or entrepreneurs bring to the market place can’t be beat. The absence of excess baggage or paralyzing past failures, the willingness to think out of the box and openness to try new things are also huge advantages when trying to problem-solve in limited time.
Regardless of your role as a worker, business owner, manager or leader, the ability to stay ahead of the curve when dealing with change is an asset that cannot be replaced. Young or old, don’t allow others to make assumptions about what you can or cannot contribute. Responsiveness is a behavior that is easily made visible in everyday communications or encounters with coworkers, customers and supervisors. It is also a behavior that is very noticeable when absent. Think about the message you send others when you are slow to respond to requests, quick to complain or blame, or look to others to take the initiative to offer solutions. These are all easily changed behaviors without concerning yourself with how your age is being considered. Move on to changing what you can to keep yourself or your services fresh and marketable:
- Respond quickly to email or phone requests.
- Follow up to remind and encourage others of deadlines or needed actions.
- Be open to new ideas and new approaches.
- Plan ahead for meetings and conversations.
- Anticipate potential obstacles and be prepared with solutions.
- Follow up immediately with anyone that you have committed to.
- Stop procrastinating.
- Look for solutions and stop complaining!
Some days, I just shake my head when I watch how people approach their job searches or career planning. After 15 years, I would say I have developed a pretty solid recipe for getting people where they want to go in regard to employment. No matter how many times the process is described by yet another successful candidate (now new employee), someone always thinks there is a short cut and wants to put their own spin on it. It made me think of an analogy that might make it a little clearer:
So, there is a bank in the middle of town, where at the end of the day, a back window was mistakenly left unlocked. No one noticed until three bank robbers wandered by and discovered it. To their amazement, in addition to the window being unlocked, the gates at the front of a long hallway leading to the vault were also wide open, and no external security lights were lit.
Now, one of them just happened to have had a connection inside the branch, and had been able to secure the 57-digit combination to the bank vault a month earlier. Although he had scouted the bank every night for three weeks, this was the first time he had brought his buddies, and the very first time he had come across an unsecured opening. He was really excited because this was the moment he had been waiting for.
It was just before dawn, so they know they need to move quickly. One false move and they could be delayed, which means they should have a greater chance of being seen and getting caught. They discussed what they should do to get inside and how they could best get to the vault in the dark without drawing attention to them. The plan to get to the window and down the hall was anticipated to take 20 minutes. They determined they would only have two minutes to open the vault and three to get back out of the building.
The first robber knew that with a steady hand, and a small pocket flashlight, he could use the combination and get into the vault. The 2nd robber didn’t think they had time to enter all 57 numbers, so he suggested trying a shorter series of numbers to save time. The third robber was pretty confident that with one hit, a sledgehammer would open the vault and they could get out much faster. Their dilemma: should they use the combination or try a shorter sequence of numbers to see if it will open faster? Or should they just use the sledgehammer?
Now, the choice may seem obvious to you, but it isn’t much different from the scenarios I see when time after time, candidates apply for higher level roles only because of a title and promise of more money, or job seekers resort to passive searches. To clarify, a passive search is when someone trolls for job postings and throws their hat in the ring. They may even use the same overstated, nonspecific resume for every “interesting” position they see, thinking “more is better”. Or, maybe they end up reviewing many job board sites and even tailor their resumes a little each time, thinking that will make all the difference this time. After all, researching and networking to learn what companies actually need takes time, doesn’t it?
Regardless of the quality of the resume and cover letter sent, a passive search is one that instantly puts someone in competition with literally hundreds (if not thousands) of candidates. It makes the odds closer to one in a zillion that they are the “fit” the employer is looking for, or the culture is what the candidate is looking for. Even though the resume may get them into a conversation, and once there, they are still at a disadvantage over someone who knows about the company from the inside. A passive search won’t reveal the insight needed to know what to say in an interview. And these days, candidates just aren’t going to be successful if they try to bluff their way through.
All in all, blindly applying for roles that have no more clarity than the badly worded job description found on a job board makes it pretty tough to know what you are up against, what is really needed or what will be necessary to say to be competitive. The desire to shorten the process by doing less, or waiting for that one “perfect” opening to show up, makes it less and less likely someone will close in on the position of their dreams.
If you have been reading my blogs, then you know by now that the methodology I promote is to investigate prior to applying, through networking. By digging up leads and reaching out for conversations with people that already work for an organization, or in a specific department, a candidate is much more likely to get some traction. They are also much more likely to have time to develop stories that use past examples of their work to illustrate similarities with the company/department/role they have researched and have targeted.
No need for sledgehammers. The winning combination is: using information to illuminate the way + being ready to pursue a need (even before it is announced) + tailoring your resume for the specific need + investing in careful preparation for the interview. It’s not the fast way- but it is a proven way to get where you want to go.