Looking down instead of ahead can cause you to end up with your head hitting a brick wall or getting sideswiped by a car you didn’t see coming. The same devastation can happen with your career if you don’t know where you are going and don’t have a plan. If your plan is nothing more than to continue doing what you are doing and expect everything else around you to remain the same, then ever-changing business needs may leave you in a ditch.
For some people, not having goals can feel like freedom. For others, it can create considerable confusion and waste energy. It’s common to assume that once you have landed a job, all you have to do is show up every day to live happily ever after. Those days are long behind us. The promise of the gold watch and stars for attendance are as obsolete as dial telephones. One way to take control over where you end up is by being clear about what you want, making your own decisions about where you want to be, researching to find out how that can happen and being very, very clear about what you can do to make sure you get there.
Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it.
Today’s work environment is less predictable than in the past, more susceptible to quick changes and less likely to present a clear path for moving forward. Economic needs change, business/organizational needs change and all the players involved can change in minutes. Unless you have a clear vision of the things that matter most to you, it’s easy to get distracted, become disillusioned and feel dejected when your circumstances change. Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it. Changes may cause you to alter your path, learn new skills or even jump ship, but your goals will continue to be the beacon that guides you in the right direction, even if the context changes.
Freedom can be experienced by knowing what you want and being so aware of what is going around you that you can make changes on your own before decisions are made about what will happen to you. Recklessly bouncing around between whatever presents itself next, without a clear notion of what is important to you, can lead to decisions that derail your career or work against your values. In the short term, some opportunities may seem exciting or pay well, but after digging further and learning more about the organization, industry or path you are superficially drawn to, you may learn that things are much different beneath the surface than what you were aware of. Differences in opinions or values at the highest level of the organization can end up shifting the culture completely. Financial issues can disrupt the course of business in a flash.
Sometimes sexy jobs can end just as quickly as they were developed if there isn’t a clear path to what they need to produce to be sustainable. As an example, being paid lots of money may be attractive until you learn that budgets were mismanaged and you are now out of a job entirely because drastic cutbacks are the only way to rectify the errors. As you look at all the elements of a work scenario to determine what is critical to your well-being, you may find that money is not really the most important element. It may prompt you to think before leaping ahead to “what looks too good to be true” and take a second look at options that might not be as glamorous but may offer a higher percentage of the criteria that matters to you overall.
Having clearly defined goals is powerful. Having fundamental goals that represent who you want to be in this world and what you want to get out of your life helps keep you on track. Helplessness turns into hopefulness. The clearer you are about what matters to you, the better you will be able to ask questions to learn if potential situations are right for you. Gaining the right information long before you are pressed to make a critical decision allows you to make powerful choices. Having a direction, hope and a plan can be the fuel you need to change your own reality. Take back control of your life and set some goals.
If you are feeling at a loss because your job search has extended far too long, it’s important to take a hard look at your attitude, your approach and your level of commitment. Regardless of what may be going on in the market, those are really the only elements you have any control over. Recognizing and acknowledging all of your current circumstances and how continued unemployment has already impacted or can impact your lifestyle, credit history, self-esteem and credibility will help you to make better choices about what you can do to move forward.
get real about your circumstances and be willing to consider alternatives to avoid running yourself completely into the ground
All too frequently, anger, disappointment, resentment or depression can build enormous brick walls where doors or windows are needed. Staying cognizant of every aspect of your current circumstances may cause you to reevaluate when you have drawn a line in the sand or refused to compromise. That doesn’t mean you fold your cards and quit, and it doesn’t mean you indiscriminately accept anything that comes your way. It simply means you need to get real about your circumstances and be willing to consider alternatives to avoid running yourself completely into the ground. It’s also important to be transparent with the trusted professional or close friends you request help from. Pretending to be where you once were instead of facing where you are right now might not get you the help you really need. There are gentle and practical ways to share information, which I will address in a bit. For now, I’d like to illustrate what happens when someone in dire straits shares incomplete information.
Imagine what would happen if you took a wrong turn and went miles out of your way. It’s in the dark of night and you have limited life on your phone’s battery. You make a call to a friend for help, describe approximately where you are and let them know you have about an eighth of a tank of gas. They pull up a map, determine that a gas station is approximately two miles away and provide you with directions. They hang up the phone, believing you will be on your way in minutes and that all is good. Just as your phone’s battery dies, you remember that you didn’t tell them you also have a flat tire and no spare.
To put this back into a context related to job search, it’s important to consider ALL the facts about your situation. Some typical questions that need to be addressed are:
- How far in debt are you?
- How much income do you need to cover your bills?
- How soon will your money run out?
- Are there health issues that could prevent you from working in the same capacity you have worked in before?
- Are there new family commitments that would impact your schedule or ability to work the hours you used to work?
If you have spent more than six months going in a direction that hasn’t worked, then there is good reason to be considering new options. If your answers to questions 1 through 3 cause anxiety or fear and you have answered yes to questions either 4 or 5, then you may be overdue for a change in mindset.
Earlier I mentioned the need for transparency. Let me explain why. If your finances are dwindling and you need to work, then positioning yourself to return to work sooner where there is a chance of moving forward makes more sense than holding out for a lottery win. If you can’t return to the capacity, pace or stress level of prior roles, then face the reality of your new circumstances. Develop a new plan and adjust your lifestyle. If there are real reasons you are not competitive (technical skills are weak or you are unfamiliar with processes or programs that are in demand), then it is time to face facts. You can seek out training to develop those skills or identify a new direction that is a better fit. Any way you look at it, alternatives need to be examined. If you continue asking for leads to roles that you cannot perform adequately in or are no longer competitive for, then it is a waste of everyone’s time to pretend.
It’s not necessary to share a bank statement with someone to be transparent. It’s possible to own your status and address your circumstances in a manner that shows anyone you are asking for help from that you are taking charge of your destiny and not resorting to playing the victim card. It can sound like this:
“You know, after having this opportunity to reevaluate my next move, I’ve determined there is a new direction I’d like to move in and am very excited about. I’ve been looking at roles that …” Then describe what it is you like about them, what you want to do and what you are competitive for. This will require research and thoughtful preparation to make sure that what you are describing is accurate and not just wishful thinking. You may need help from a professional. You may feel inclined to tell close friends more, but I would caution you against sharing gory details. Simply stating a desire to change your lifestyle or “move in a new, more productive direction” can suffice.
An active search that involves talking with real people at targeted companies will provide the information you need to help you build the path. An external recruiter who is looking for a candidate to “sell” as an exact match to their client’s need is not likely to be your best hope when changing careers. Conversely, a passive search (answering ads) only pits you against other candidates who may have a track record you can’t compete with.
Although an internal recruiter may have a broader perspective and be willing to discuss a transition when the fit with the company is in place, having an internal advocate is going to help. The key is to make sure you are a fit by doing the research long before you have a conversation with a recruiter. Another hurdle you may face is when a recruiter questions you about your prior salary. You are simply not comparing apples to apples, and your higher priority is “really the fit with the company.” If they insist on talking about your past role and how much you used to make, then whatever approach you used isn’t working and the conversation is not going to move forward. (Note: your resume needs to fit the role you are pursuing. Too much emphasis on being the last queen bee will only prompt questions about it. There are ways to neutralize a resume.) A referral from an internal advocate who will excitedly support your “new direction” and be willing to vouch for your aptitude for the different role can make all the difference in the world.
If you are exhausted and feeling like you are out of gas, I urge you to avoid complaining about what hasn’t worked and consider new options. Look for new ways to get yourself back on the highway and get help if you are stuck.
Having goals (as opposed to “wishes”) is the first step in getting on the right track to where you want to be. Thinking of resolutions for the New Year may be the necessary catalyst behind your goals, but assigning realistic timelines and considering how to achieve measurable results require commitment and a thoughtful strategy.
Some people execute plans very well but are unable to view the broader picture to get a sense of the reasons to change course. Having a clear strategy (and a positive mindset) will be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals, no matter how much your circumstances may change as you move forward. A strategy helps provide the framework that will keep you on the right path. When the tactics you are using stop working, it is easier to change gears if you understand the bigger picture. If you aren’t getting the results you want from your job search or business development efforts, it may be more than your tactics that need to change. Doing the same old thing because that’s what you always have done can lead to your missing the boat when a new opportunity surfaces. It’s important to start with a strategy for achieving your desired goals, then develop an action plan that supports the strategy. Without a strategy to drive your plan and its execution, your efforts could end up being a complete waste of time.
Schedules are great because they provide structure, and structure is helpful for planning purposes, but it can’t always be the driver behind an action plan. It is necessary to stay aware of the goal and adjust your structure when circumstances change. In a bigger sense, without an understanding of the strategy behind an organization’s goals, you are dependent on the person or people who designed the strategy to dictate your action plan. If conditions change and you are left on your own, you’ll need to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing, or your efforts can be wasted, opportunities can be missed, and you can be left out in the cold. Understanding someone else’s strategy, and also having one of your own, allows you to land on your feet when things go off course. If you don’t understand the need for a career strategy, you could end up being slow to change gears when quick action is required.
If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire… think again.
The relationship between strategy and timing is critical. If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire, think again. Consider how planes land and take off. The precision required to enter airspace at exactly the right time to avoid collisions is critical. Imagine what would happen if pilots believed their intentions were more important than their actions. The same applies to someone in job search mode or planning a new business. Understanding the “why” behind your actions is critical to helping you predict potential negative consequences resulting from deviations in timing and will hopefully allow you to work out ways to avoid them. Missing a deadline or taking too long to respond to a request can cause you to completely miss an opportunity, or, at the very least, it can limit your options.
Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks is a tactic that rarely pays off in the way we imagine. Haphazard spurts of energy may produce results of some kind, but they are seldom sustainable and may end up leading to false hope when the initial response does not lead to anything longer term. An example is shooting out resumes or marketing pieces to random audiences. There may be an initial response of some kind based on curiosity, but the tactic may miss the mark if you are really looking for a sustainable relationship. Likewise, indiscriminately applying for posted jobs or focusing on developing a “cute” media presence with the hope that someone will find you are far less of a sure bet than digging in and doing the necessary research to understand your audience’s needs and wants.
Learning about the skills required to deliver the results your target companies need is much more likely to tell you how realistic your goals are. Being aware of the timing of special events, when budgets are developed and when seasonal fluctuations typically occur will help you to develop a more effective strategy for going after what you want. Timing your actions according to the intelligence you have gathered and committing to specific tasks at specific times will help you move forward. It also will allow you to track your progress and identify why things may or may not have worked out the way you intended. Overall, a well thought out strategy for achieving your goals and an awareness of critical timelines will help guide you when you face difficult decisions or reach a brick wall.
The fearlessness expressed by a very young person with limited life experience can be viewed as innocence. It’s very different from an adult’s fearlessness or refusal to face reality if their viewpoint is based on arrogance. When an adult refuses to look around them and consider taking action based on market conditions, their ability to compete and their unmet commitments, it is probably safe to say that arrogance is driving them to make bad choices. Big egos and dreams of what used to be can dim the prospects of even the brightest stars.
Big egos and dreams of what used to be can dim the prospects of even the brightest stars.
It’s still a surprise to me when people who have been unemployed for months – maybe years – are still so concerned about titles that they’ll pass over opportunities to get back on their feet. Even when spending their last nickel, there is hesitancy to proceed with a lifeline (job) because of the consideration given to a title and a salary that are less than what they were accustomed to, no matter how long ago that might have been. OK, I understand that pride sometimes keeps people from doing work they consider as “beneath” them, but when their financial situation is grave, shouldn’t just plain common sense tell you that having a paycheck and saving your home or maintaining your family’s health insurance should be a priority? It’s times like this that a 5th grader’s unclouded perspective might simply lead us to “It’s a job and you need money. Why wouldn’t you go for it?” An answer lies somewhere in between.
Waiting for a high-powered role with a huge income to miraculously appear after years of unemployment may cause repercussions that cannot be remedied. Some people have spent years hiding behind the title of “consultant,” pretending they are still performing work at the level they were 10 years ago. This approach can end up backfiring if you are unable to provide examples of the projects you have been working on. Credibility can be lost and bridges burned that otherwise could have led to some work that could possibly mitigate the financial issues.
Easing back into work in a lesser position after an extended absence allows you to get accustomed to the rigors of a schedule and shake the rust off. As an example, recently, when a client was preparing for an interview for a lower-level role than he had been accustomed to, he told me he hadn’t ever interviewed for something “beneath” him. Given the need to have structure, manageable work and an income, I suggested reframing the situation by viewing this as an opportunity to interview for something that required less than 100% of what he had to offer. Giving less (even with less pay) can fulfill some basic needs, like having a steady income and working regular hours close to home. If the job requires only 50% of your brain and 75% of your time, you can maximize your energy and time to focus on something more interesting outside of the job. And, if the role is the gateway to something bigger down the road, there’s no need to shoot yourself in the foot by overspeaking the role or referencing it as something that is “beneath” you.
Being the exact fit for the needs of the role allows you to get back on the horse because a door has been opened. If there is opportunity to grow, then you’ve positioned yourself to prove just how much you can contribute and set yourself up for a reason to negotiate more money later. Too much too soon can miss the mark because there may not be a budget for more now and they have not been able to experience your value.
Someone’s somewhat skewed view of their current circumstances doesn’t deter me from working with them to help them move forward. It’s my job to help them view things differently, develop a strategy and create a plan to achieve their goals. Any employer will want to see evidence of what a candidate has been doing. Without it, a candidate is probably not going to land back in the driver’s seat in a role similar to what they left 10 years earlier. I’m not saying it could never happen, but from my 20 years of experience, for most people who take an extended hiatus without working on projects related to what they used to do (paid or as a volunteer), it’s highly unlikely they’ll be considered for the same role/level that they left behind years before.
The real prize role may not happen immediately, but we can certainly develop a plan for getting back on top within a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes it is hard to see beyond our own self-image. The role that feels like an insult to our ego may just be the right opportunity to begin getting back on track.
People who have been working continuously through this most recent recession have been impacted by it in some way, even if it is not obvious. Many of us have experienced earlier recessions (although they weren’t always officially called that) and learned firsthand how to make ends meet during tough times. If not directly, some of you may have parents or grandparents who have described how they weathered tough times in their lives. Through personal experience or through someone else’s, we can see there is no magic pill. There are skills that can be learned to survive adversity or financial downturn. Using planning, perseverance, willpower and grit, we have found a way to succeed.
The economy is improving and the employment market is following, as is customary following a recession. Having an optimistic attitude about the future is helpful and must go hand in hand with an understanding that the employment market will recover far more slowly as businesses get their bearings. As you are considering making a change in your work or workplace, consider what you actually have control over, and put your mind to accomplishing it.
A handful of small projects can build a portfolio of successes that set you up for bigger and better projects.
To begin with, taking stock of what your real position is will help you get grounded. For example, if your expenses exceed your income, then there is a practical reason to consider the consequences of your actions. Consciously deciding NOT to spend money on anything unnecessary allows you to have more options than when you are tied to overhead you can’t afford. Going forward, creating an action plan with accountability features built in will keep you focused on what you are actually doing and what you could be doing. No mention of a magic pill in this recipe.
As you establish goals and set your sights on an improved circumstance, it is important to remember that nothing is perfect. Even the best laid plans can be set askew when changes in the economy occur or when you face stiff competition. The point to be made is that once you develop a plan and make yourself accountable for completing it, you must still be aware of when it is necessary to change course.
The improved economy makes things brighter but doesn’t provide a sure shot at anything. Many of the people who remained employed (perhaps underemployed) over the past five years are now in a position to move forward. Those entering the market expecting to make a leap into their “dream jobs” may be unpleasantly surprised by how steep the competition is. That’s not a reason to give up but more of a reason to persevere. It’s time to get in the game and position yourself. This may require deeper planning and some grit to work your way into the position you desire.
Looking forward, map out a path that is most likely to lead to success. Start with small steps. Set objectives that are connected to your long-term goals; e.g, identify roles that you are most competitive for now that are attached to your long-term goals. Or, if you are a consultant/business owner, identify business targets that may be small but easily attainable. A handful of small projects can build a portfolio of successes that set you up for bigger and better projects.
Whatever your challenges, build a track record of smaller successes that will give you confidence when facing the really tough challenges. Getting your arms wrapped around manageable challenges helps you establish habits that will support you in any endeavor. And weathering a small mistake can be a learning experience that doesn’t crush you. It can teach you what to do next time and provide you with ammunition for persevering. Practice behaviors that move you forward. Develop the willpower to avoid the old, negative habits that used to drag you down.
Willpower is a skill that can be learned. Grit and perseverance can also be learned. You can do it!
Although electronic communication may account for a large percentage of our conversations, most of us still talk with people in person each day. This month I am shifting the focus from electronic to effective face-to-face communication.
In person, we are able to use more than words to make a point or communicate thoughts. If we look at commonly accepted statistics, it’s a little shocking to recognize that only 7% of our communication is verbal. The majority of our communication comes from the tone or sound of our voice (38%), and our non-verbal cues account for a whopping 55% of what is actually received. This means it is extremely important to be clear about what we say, cognizant of how we say it and aware of how receptive (or not) the audience is to whatever we need/want to relate.
There are several factors to take into account when sending a message. The following are a few points that need to be considered when beginning a tough conversation, interview or performance evaluation to ensure your intent has the best chance of being heard.
1. Sending and interpreting the messages. There are two sides to any communication: the person sending the message and the receiver. Each has “noise” that can easily change the intent of a message or the tone of a conversation. In addition to the obvious differences (language, gender, appearance), there are other, not-as-obvious differences (values, culture, education, history) that can impact what is received. The everyday hassles each may have on their minds combined with any actual physical noise can create severe distractions. Each sent message comes with all of these factors and is interpreted by the receiver, who, in turn, has their own baggage. To ensure you don’t end up reacting negatively to something that is out of your control, be conscious of any issues that may be distracting someone during an important conversation. If necessary, it might be a good idea to ask to reschedule a meeting if it seems apparent the person you are meeting with is preoccupied or upset about something.
2. Body language. Posture, eye contact (or lack thereof) or placement of hands, arms and feet can all be clues to someone’s emotional state or feelings related to power or self-worth, confidence and attentiveness. And, because what someone sees is typically more reliable than what they hear, body language can potentially turn the outcome of any conversation into something very different than what was intended. Crossed arms can indicate someone is not open to hearing what is being discussed. Fingers tapping on a tabletop can illustrate boredom or impatience. Rolling eyes may indicate total disagreement. Look for contradictions like someone saying “yes” but shaking their head to reflect “no.”
3. Grooming and appearance. Although the rules around “good” grooming may have changed some over the years (such as unshaven vs. clean-shaven, tousled hair vs. meticulously placed and lacquered hair), there are still some basic elements that are consistent. Clean hands and fingernails will send a different impression than dirty ones, depending on the work you do. If you work in an office, the expectation is that you will have clean hands, and, if you work on the land or repair cars, it might be questioned if your hands are “too clean.” Also, check to notice if the clothes you wear are similar to others’ or strikingly different: wrinkled vs. neatly pressed, conservative vs. casual or plain vs. loud colors? These are simple observations that may impact someone’s interpretation of what you are saying. A question to consider is: how much does the sender look like the receiver? To make a good impression, it doesn’t mean you have to match or overdress; it means to be conscious of how different or similar you may appear.
4. Tone and pace. The volume and pace of a message can easily impact interpretation. Some people get loud when they are excited and happy. Others may hear “loud” and associate the sound with anger without actually hearing the words. Speaking too quickly may be interpreted as trying to pull something over on someone. (I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked if I am from New York because I talk at a rapid pace!). A good rule is to mirror the pace of the person you are speaking with.
It’s important to communicate in a way that will ensure the intent of your message is received. When preparing for a job interview (or an important business meeting), it is critical to be conscious of how all of these factors can distort the outcome if not planned out in advance. Learn about a company’s work environment and culture or a person’s style and preferences in advance. Prepare accordingly so you are much more likely to be well received than if you do not take the time to consider how you will be heard or how your messages will be interpreted.
How many times have you sent an email believing you had asked a simple question and received a response that had nothing to do with your intended request? Or stated an opinion that caused a backlash worthy of starting World War III? Missed communications can turn into missed opportunities. If you have felt unheard or misunderstood and are still licking your wounds, let’s take a look at some things to consider about your contribution to any kind of miscommunication.
Consider the following elements for any form of communication:
- Are you using the correct email address or correct phone number to communicate this message?
People often have multiple email addresses in addition to several home, work, and mobile numbers. Don’t assume that the first one that pops up on your electronic device is accurate. Ask the recipient if you are unsure which is preferred for each kind of communication.
- Are you using the right medium?
Text, email, telephone or snail mail? We have many choices and all have their advantages. Think before you resort to what is convenient for you and consider what will be the most efficient and clear means for the recipient to read/hear and respond.
- Did you send a clear, concise and complete thought?
It’s important to finish a sentence, but don’t write a book. Most people use email to quickly convey information. It’s not always possible for someone to take the time to review a 500-word email. Give them advance warning of your intent/ask when they might be able to review and respond to detailed information. It is not uncommon for key points of a very long message to get lost or overlooked, especially when someone is reading it on a hand-held electronic device.
- Did you ask specific questions or make requests that are easy to answer?
Avoid unnecessary/sidebar chatter that may distract your audience from capturing the intent of your message. Most people have so much on their minds that it is easy to get distracted or simply become unable to stick with the line of conversation when it is about something that doesn’t interest them. Watch for telling body language and listen for responses that may indicate the person is no longer with you. If you are sending an email, make sure you state precisely what you need and by when, or you will likely end up having unmet expectations.
- Have you made assumptions that could cause conflict or misinterpretation of your message?
Think before hitting send or verbally firing back to a voicemail. Reread any prior communications before you jump into a tirade or listen closely to any messages. If your communication is a reaction to an earlier communication from the same person, make sure you have not misinterpreted their intent. Check in with them and ask if they “intended to say…?”
- Are you using an email format that makes it easy for the receiver to read?
Running many thoughts together makes it difficult to read, prioritize and respond. Many times points can be missed. Make sure to separate subjects with space or numbers so the reader can quickly spot the differences.
Here are some simple guidelines for ensuring your communications are effective:
- Acknowledge emails/calls/texts so the sender is aware you received it.
- Emails are often deleted or ignored when received on mobile devices. Plan time to look at a full-size screen where you can use a filing system that allows you to save and search.
- Use texts for brief messages. Sending lengthy messages by text can waste time spent correcting errors made by autotype or misinterpreted abbreviations.
- Use email for important messages that may need to be used as documentation or for record keeping. Emails can be forwarded quickly, they readily allow for inserts or additions, and they can be more efficiently organized, stored and retrieved when needed.
- In an emergency, it is important to reach the party ASAP. The most direct medium would be a phone call. Even a text can be easily overlooked.
- Use courtesy! Remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
We’ve covered only a small piece of the communication process. Stay tuned for “Part II” next month.
During a tough job market, it is not uncommon to find two extreme versions of propaganda. On one hand, we might read about the absence of any jobs, and on the other hand, we might find academic institutions promising paths to riches by obtaining a degree or the latest certification in underwater basket weaving. Each scenario gives job seekers something to hang on to: hopelessness or a vision. Neither extreme is accurate; the problem lies in that each statement is believable and may be taken at face value, with very little questioning about the relevance of the statement to any particular person’s circumstance. There are several other factors to be taken into account.
Relying on certifications as a measurement of value
As an example, an MBA degree might be an attractive addition to someone’s calling card, but if the person truly doesn’t have an understanding of the business needs of the employers they are pursuing, the assumption that the MBA adds value tends to be off target. A dressed-up resume may allow some people to talk their way into a role that superficially looks like a match, but they can easily end up being in over their head.
So, what happens when people are not realistic about their capabilities or performance? After a running start, the candidate may find themselves unemployed again when their true applicable knowledge and skill level are recognized by the employer. When it turns out someone is not performing as anticipated or desired, some employers take an easy way out. The underlying issue isn’t necessarily visible because the employer may be reluctant to go through the process of documenting performance or coaching. In some cases, it is much easier to group someone into a “layoff” scenario, simply to avoid the work involved in removing them through performance coaching and documentation.
In my experience, the number of times I encounter a situation where the person has a greater perception of their capabilities than a position warrants and subsequently loses their job occurs about as frequently as I hear someone complain they have been unemployed for an extended period because there are no jobs. The similarity in these situations is that each represents an unrealistic expectation about the marketplace for particular skills or the availability of dream jobs that match desired criteria.
It’s important to recognize the difference between a “challenge” and “in over your head.” It may mean one thing to the candidate and yet another to an employer who has clearly defined expectations of the outcomes they desire. It gets even more complicated when the employer has not clearly defined his expectations and the candidate has no real understanding of the role and is left to intuit their way through. To ensure the highest probability of success, it is critical for candidates to understand the business goals of the organization and where their role contributes to the organization’s mission and objectives. On the flip side, for an employer to ensure their resources are being used to the fullest, it is extremely critical to set clearly defined expectations.
Many candidates using a passive search process will miss out on learning what is needed before they enter into a situation. Job descriptions may describe functions but not necessarily goals. In order to fully grasp what they are getting into, candidates need to conduct extensive research and talk to insiders to get a real-life perspective of the overall market, a particular industry, or a particular organization. With this preparation, they are much more likely to gauge the value or return on investment (ROI) of certifications or extended education. Through strong relationships and an internal connection who is willing to speak to the overall skills someone brings to the party, it is more likely a person will be able to apply a newly acquired degree or certification without an exact match to stated job requirements. Employers who encourage employee referrals are much more likely to open the doors to people who share the organization’s vision and are a fit with the culture when candidates have existing relationships with top producers who have demonstrated as much.
On the flip side, hiring managers who rely only on the identification of key words, certifications and degrees as a measure of value may be unpleasantly surprised by poor performance later. It is critical to develop sound questions to be able to assess someone’s ability to do the job, and to do the job the way the employer wants the job done. It’s amazing how many times people are still hired on assumptions.
Another hurdle for a candidate to face is when an industry, organization, or a hiring manager’s expectations change due to changing business needs. This situation arises when the candidate is seeking employment, or it can happen after they are hired. Either way, if someone is unable to quickly change priorities to address business needs and immediate opportunities, they will be left on the sidelines. Regardless of how hot the job market is, or how hot the newest certification program or designation is, if a candidate is not flexing with the underlying business need, will be left behind.
In a slow job market, it is even more critical to recognize that what you want right now may not be attainable immediately or as planned. It might require a different strategy or short-term concessions and, most importantly, the flexibility to do what it takes to get on track. Building in the time to develop connections and hands-on experience may allow for a greater ROI from new certifications/degrees in the long run. It is also critical to stay on top of changing needs to make sure what you offer is still considered of value as you move forward.
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?
Nailing the job is just the beginning. It’s always a great celebration when someone lands the role of their dreams. Then the real work begins: keeping it.
Sometimes the joy of securing the role clouds the need to pay attention to what is happening in the moment as time goes on. Complacency may set in. Things get overlooked. Verbal cues are missed. Then things can start to go downhill.
Working with my clients over the expanse of their careers allows the good, the bad and the ugly to surface. In the beginning, we are dedicated to identifying the fit with the best employer, best role and best culture. Unfortunately, things change, and all the ducks that were in a row in the beginning may be thrown completely out of kilter. The situation can turn into a damage control mission to maintain a stable footing in a company or end up in the next big search for an alternative.
It’s critical to keep your eye on the ball. The following are some key points to pay particular attention to if your goal is to stay with an employer and grow with a company.
Pay attention. Make sure that details regarding your deliverables are not slipping through the cracks. A series of little mistakes creates as much of a lasting impression as one BIG mistake. Watch for verbal and nonverbal cues from others when speaking or presenting information. Are people smiling? Are they responsive? If no, then ask what you have missed. Don’t pretend nothing happened.
Avoid complacency. Doing what you always do the same way you always have is no longer good enough. The really valued employees are those that learn, take risks and seek out process improvements. They are always on the lookout for new ways to get things done faster, cheaper. To stay ahead of the pack, you have to deliver more than just enough.
Ask for performance reviews. If your company doesn’t schedule regular performance reviews, ask for one. It is impossible to know what needs fixing if you are unaware that anything is broken. It is impossible to meet invisible expectations. Don’t rely on anyone else to be forthcoming with expectations- it may never happen. Ask!
Document your performance. Perception is everything. You may think you are doing a stellar job. You may even have been told you are doing a stellar job. But unless it is writing, or there is a record of on-time deliverables, perceptions/memories of others down the road can skew what really happened.
Be aware of your image or status with others. Do you know what people think of you? Do you have allies? If you are assuming that you are loved just because you have not been told otherwise, it could be a recipe for disaster. If others are being asked to complete special projects when you are just as capable, it’s time to learn why you are being passed over. If you are being shut out of conversations that lead to changes or decisions when you had previously been included, something is amiss.
Take the initiative to learn and grow. Don’t wait for others to point out mistakes or areas for improvement. Own your errors and make quick recoveries. Take the initiative to learn new skills if you need to. Find others outside of the company to serve as mentors if you need help.
Stay connected to your network. It is easy to get settled into a routine and believe you will never have to look for another job. Don’t be fooled by momentary comfort. The world continues to change and there are no guarantees for anyone’s job security. Your network will keep you on top of what’s new, what’s outdated, relevant needs in other arenas and in-demand skills. Don’t leave your network behind just because you think you have your “dream job”.