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.
You may have found the past year has been riddled with indecision and apprehension regarding many important issues: the economy, jobs, politics, healthcare, and government spending, to name a few. The list could go on forever. This past year left many people feeling somewhat out of control. In response to everything that was up in the air in December, you may have made a concerted effort to create goals for the New Year that only you can control the progress on. Before we get fully underway in the New Year, it’s a good idea to identify last year’s personally painful points and set up remedies for this year. The following are some questions to ask yourself. Did you:
- Start out with good intentions but found out your resolutions fizzled by March?
- Make promises but didn’t keep them?
- Find yourself with unmet goals?
- Remain at the same dumb job?
- Make excuses throughout the year for why things didn’t change?
- Feel powerless to change your circumstances?
If you experienced any of the issues listed above last year, then decide now to face things differently this year. It’s up to you to choose how you will respond to obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goals. Here are ten tips for improving your outcomes this year:
- Make a commitment. This year, make yourself accountable. Break your goals into objectives, set due dates and develop action plans to accomplish your goals.
- Flex to demand. When circumstances change, reevaluate. Don’t continue with the same old plan if it is no longer applicable. If an urgent opportunity arises that allows you to reach a goal sooner, adjust your schedule and make the time to address it. Don’t let something pass you by because you were functioning under the same old SOPs (standard operating procedures).
- Avoid complacency. Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable. Just as old, broken in shoes can end up leading to foot, back or knee pain, staying in the same state of mind or circumstances can lead to more severe repercussions. A career can be stalled, a reputation damaged and skills decline. Make sure every day is committed to moving forward and out of the same old rut, no matter how comfortable it has become.
- Keep up the momentum. Have a plan for each day, week and month. That doesn’t mean sticking with something come hell or high water. Have a plan so you know where to direct your efforts and monitor it weekly to make sure it is still relevant. Keep looking forward. Find a progress buddy to help you remain accountable.
- Stay healthy. Don’t wait until something happens before you pay attention to your body. Engage in healthful activities and eating habits. Take precautions to avoid illnesses that occur from lack of attention. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods and make sure you have some sort of plan for exercise that you will sustain.
- Don’t take no for an answer. If you have been turned away, rebuffed or passed over, then think of another approach. You can’t change another person’s actions, but you can change your own. Analyze what happened and try something new. Don’t let someone else decide what you can or cannot accomplish.
- Get comfortable with change. Change impacts everyone, every day, everywhere. You can’t hide from it or avoid it. If things aren’t going the way you want, don’t make excuses. Change your strategy, change your thinking or change your reaction.
- Pay attention. You don’t have to believe everything you read, but reading nothing only causes you to be unaware. Insulating yourself from the reality others are facing can cause a disconnect when meeting new people or pursuing new opportunities. Be aware of current events, industry changes, area growth/decline and popular issues. The more aware you are of what is going on around you, the more you can participate in general conversations.
- Engage. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, people lover or people hater, people and conversations will be contributing factors to what you do and where you go. Learn about others’ needs and wants by asking questions and showing interest. Amazing results may follow when someone believes you actually care about them.
- Get over yourself. If you have hung on to a perception of yourself that no longer works, examine why. You might laugh when you hear celebrities refer to others as being “relevant” (or not), but honestly, have you looked in the mirror? Our own unrealistic perceptions of ourselves can prevent us from achieving our goals as much as having a positive, honest, realistic perception can help us achieve them. Which would you choose?
If these tips motivated you to change even one thing going into the New Year, please let us know!
Tags: career, career goal, Career management, career plan, career planning, goal planning, goal setting, goals, job hunt, job hunting, job search, managing priorities, managing time, reach career goals, time management
When networking is recommended as a way of maintaining career fitness, I hear many excuses for why it is not possible, or at the very least, very difficult. January is a good time to take a long hard look at what is really in the way for most people when it comes to making a change in their personal and professional lives. Perhaps examining common responses will make it easier for many people to identify the excuses they are using, kick away the barriers and make a new plan for the New Year.
One observation I have made over the past ten years is that the words “commitment” and “planning” seem to be foreign words to many people. In an age of instant gratification, it seems evident that some things just don’t happen immediately, yet there are scores of people who want things to be different, right now, without exerting any effort to make a change.
You think not? Let’s take a look at a couple of pretty comparable situations. Let’s compare physical fitness to career fitness. We’ll start with the obvious of the two: physical fitness.
People want to lose weight, so they take pills, buy pre-measured food, go to spas, and try diets that clearly jeopardize their health. They take the pills, drink the liquid diets, and may work out for a while, but slowly lose interest. After a while, they resort back to their old eating patterns and gain more weight than they had lost. What are their excuses for not creating a change in their eating habits that can be sustained, or for continuing with a work out regimen or before they resort to the next fad?
“ I don’t have time because I work full time.”
“ I have children with after school activities that take precedence.”
“ I am working full time and I am tired at night.”
“ I can’t this month. ”I have to plan a 50th Wedding Anniversary Party.”
“ I don’t have time to cook. I am studying for my Masters degree”.
“ It’s a holiday. I can’t work out on a holiday.”
“ I can’t afford a gym membership” (as they sit in their leather recliner and watch their 72” plasma television screen, before they get in their Land Rover to drive to their $75 manicure appointment or their 4-hour golf game where they will ride around in a $5,000 cart.)
Now, let’s swap objectives and identify the reasons people give for not committing to networking activities that may increase the effectiveness of their job search or career development:
“I don’t have time because I am working a temp job (or working full time).”
“I have children with after school activities that take precedence.”
“ I am working full time and I am tired at night.”
“I can’t this month. ”I have to plan a 50th Wedding Anniversary Party.”
“I don’t have time. I am studying for my Masters degree”.
“It’s a holiday. I can’t work out on a holiday.”
And let’s not omit:
“ I can’t afford the costs of meetings or memberships” (as they sit in their leather recliner and watch their 72” plasma television screen, before they get in their Land Rover to drive to their $75 manicure appointment…)
The reality is, any new outcome requires a change in thinking, a change in behavior, commitment to the end result, planning, and consistency. Networking requires a change in how you are looking at your current circumstances and the roadblocks in front of you. It requires a commitment to your goal of broadening your contacts and maintaining relationships, planning so that you are able to fit networking activities in with all of life’s other events, and consistency. There is no magic pill. Building and sustaining a network doesn’t happen over night, any more than physical fitness can.
What will you be doing differently in regard to networking this year?
This week I had an ah-hah moment, although it had actually been incubating for a long time.
Although we are in a recession, there are business owners, contractors, and consultants I know who are crazy busy. Most of my clients are working, and they are crazy busy. If generally speaking, it is believed that there are few jobs and business is down, how can that be?
After considering the commonalities between the people I know who are busy, and those who are not, I was able to identify connections between apparent mind sets and observable results. The people I know who are truly service-driven, customer focused, attentive, responsive, willing to try something new and ready to solve problems, all seem to be busy. In contrast, the people I know (from personal experience) who are slow to respond, unwilling to think out of the box, unwilling to get uncomfortable and have a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude, all seem to be idle.
Now, this is just my observation of the people I know or come in contact with, but perhaps something to consider if you are not getting the results you desire. Are you willing to change your mind set enough to see if you are able to produce different results?
Recently, one of my clients shared his frustration with the game that is played between candidates, H.R., recruiters, and hiring managers when sharing information (or not) about the status of a role or actual qualifications needed. The conversation then expanded to include his interactions with fellow job seekers that may embellish their skills or exaggerate their experiences. In fact, he asked me to offer a workshop to teach people how to better determine when people are not being forthcoming or simply not telling the truth, as in, “How to Train Your B.S. Meter”.
Since I am not a licensed psychotherapist, nor do I have qualifications that remotely speak to why human behavior is the way it is, I thought a workshop would be overstepping my area of expertise. Most of my work however, does involve counseling people on how to deal with the ambiguities and inconsistencies found in the work place each and every day. Personally, having served for years as a hiring manager for businesses, a manager of two staffing services, and now as a career coach for over 12 years, one might say that I have developed heightened radar when it comes to believing (or not) the stories candidates tell, or accepting (or not) the reasons given by hiring managers for making decisions.
The bottom line here is that we all have to deal with these communication issues, whether we understand them or not. There are some specific behaviors I have observed that more or less serve as barometers that can indicate when things are different than they seem on the surface.
The following examples are not all inclusive, nor are they intended to be absolute facts; they simply are the indicators that show me something is a little off. In essence, the things that set off my B.S. Meter.
Dedication: When a candidate tells me they rise at 7:00 AM every day, but their first email response arrives at 11:00 each day. Or, they are really, really tan and have said they have been working at the library for 8 hours each day.
Motivation: When they come up with more reasons for not applying for positions, than they seek out opportunities they can apply for. Or, when they are taking 3-day ski-weekends, but say they are broke and desperate for a job. Or, when they can’t go to an interview because they have to get their nails done or their dog groomed. (See dedication.)
Experience: When a candidate refers to themselves as having a specific level of expertise, or implies they have had a specific level of authority, and it is discovered that they either just completed a degree so their intention is to have that role, or their past experience reveals that they actually held a higher role for no more than a few months. Or, the V.P. role they held was for a start up that immediately went under. (Some people may remember this common occurrence from post dot com days.) Or, when asked about details from work done within the last 5 years, are unable to remember any level of detail at all.
Project Management: When a candidate says they have strong project management skills, but consistently misses deadlines or waits until the last possible minute to accomplish tasks. Or, when they have no idea what the status is on any of the irons they have (had?) in the fire. Or, when they make many, many promises, and fulfill none. Or, when candidates are unable to commit to activities that are beyond two days away or arrive on time for the ones they have committed to.
Competence: When people state they have held highly responsible, complex or detail filled positions, but cannot follow simple directions related to applications, submissions, and appropriate follow up, and may also have extremely poor writing skills.
Excuses: When I am told the same exact excuse in detail that I was told the preceding week when something else didn’t happen when it should have. I.E., the refrigerator repairman was here all day (but wasn’t that last Thursday?), or perhaps they are going to their grandmother’s funeral for the 3rd time. Truly- when the list of excuses out numbers the solutions they may produce.
Hiring Managers or Recruiters
Dedication: When they are on vacation more frequently than they are at work during a time when they have stated that everyone in the company is working overtime, with less staff to accomplish more.
Motivation: When every candidate they speak with has something ‘not quite right’, but they can’t put their finger on it. Or when it appears they are stroking a candidate’s ego, because there are no concrete actions to back up the words, or no follow through in regard to promises made.
Experience: When they are unable to understand/identify very obvious points about a person’s background, i.e: asking why someone in IT may have been unemployed in 2002, or why someone left Washington Mutual in 2008. (O.k., I know they just want to hear the story, but believe me, some actually ask the question and act surprised at the answers!) Or when they interview candidates that someone familiar with the industry would clearly see is not qualified for a specific role. They not only end up wasting everyone’s time, but have built up false confidence for the candidate, which often fuels their continued interest in roles they will continue to be uncompetitive for. (See “Competence”)
Project Management: When they are unable to reply to an email or return a call, or they continue to set time lines that are overlooked or unmet. I.e., a candidate’s calls/emails are not returned when both are in the middle of the interview process. Or,when candidates are actually stood up when scheduled for an interview. Or, when they put out a request for candidates, but never acknowledge referrals that are sent to them. (See “Excuses”)
Competence: When they continue to hide behind rules because they can’t articulate any reason for their actions. Or, when they clearly do not understand the mission of the role they are trying to fill, or show no evidence of understanding the company’s mission, for that matter.
Excuses: They are “too busy”. “I need to let the process follow its course for consistency and equitability”. “Processes are followed to ensure fairness.” “We are having system problems.” (See “Dedication”)
You might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with my job search?” In pretty simple terms, unless your B.S. Meter is on, you are going to find yourself wasting time going down roads that don’t pan out or trying to help people that are only wasting their own time. Or, you might find yourself taking it personally when a hiring manager strings you along. In any of these cases, it takes your eyes off the ball, takes a little more wind out of your sails. It is important to stay on course, and not let the inconsistencies and ambiguities you encounter keep you from ending up where you need to be.
The second half of that is, other people’s B.S. meters may be on high, while yours is on low. If you are exhibiting behaviors anything like those described above, then they could be visible enough to others to make them think twice about recommending you. In which case, perhaps your meter needs a tune up or you need to stop BS-ing.
The key here is to ask questions, get firm commitments, and respond to what you see, not what has been said. Actions speak louder than words.
Add your experiences or examples of inconsistencies you have encountered of your own, with fellow job seekers or with recruiters/hiring managers that took you off course. What did you do about it?
Timing is everything. Each day I receive scores of job announcements through the various professional association lists I am subscribed to. We may read news about the economy reporting things to the contrary, but there are jobs out there- lots of them. Problem is, there are still more people available to fill the good ones than there are great opportunities.
What does that mean for you? It means the early bird catches the worm. Make hay while the sun shines. Get busy. Whatever you need to hear to get up and get going the minute you receive a lead or a job posting, because chances are, 100 people already have. A delay of 24, 48, or 72 hours could be the difference between your being noticed and not. Oh, and by the way- just because a job posting has an “open until” date indicated, does not mean it really will be open that long in all cases. There is nothing stopping many employers from reviewing the first 100 applicants, finding 10 great ones, and saying “that’s enough. We don’t need to look any further”, unless they are bound by law (government employers) or contract (government contractors) to consider all that apply. Of course, they can say they received and read all 900, but really- what are the chances that ALL the great candidates are being carefully considered?
There is an added dimension to this timing issue. It amazes me how many people I watch each week, who wait until the minute before the deadline to submit, or ask for help the day before something is due, even though they may have had weeks of advance notice. Better still, are the numbers that actually miss deadlines all together. Really? Yes, really. Makes me wonder: would they have missed their plane if headed out on vacation? Think that through. Planes don’t wait for regular citizens. And employers don’t need to in this market either.
The key to being able to quickly respond is very simple. You need to be prepared for anything. Here are some very simple, basic ways that can happen:
Have a Solid Network – The best way to succeed in capturing the attention of a prospective employer is to know what they need and provide proof you have it. Unfortunately, this information is frequently not contained in the job announcement. Knowing all you can about an organization before you see a posting, or having access to people who do when you are caught with limited time, is one way you can get a jump on the competition. Additionally, your network should be advising you of upcoming openings before something actually hits the press. If your network isn’t providing the information you need, is it because they are unclear about what you are really interested in (or competitive for), or have you not made enough of an impression for them to think of you at all?
Clear Communication – If you are a job seeker, you need to check your email EARLY in the morning, and frequently throughout the day. Checking for the first time at 11:00 AM means you are hours behind everyone else that checked to find the same information waiting for them at 6:00 or 7:00 AM. Be clear about what it is you want and need when you interact with others, so they can help you. Stay focused on what you need right now, not what’s in your ten year plan. Over speaking what you are qualified for will only result in people sending you job announcements for roles you won’t be competitive for, prolonging your unemployment.
Resume Ready – Have a ‘master’ resume ready. A master will contain everything you could possibly want to know about your work experience. (Don’t send this to anyone without editing!). With all of your experience at your finger tips, you can edit to suit each role inside of an hour, each time you need to react quickly.
Bottom line: if you have been unsuccessful in your search, look closely at your approach. Are you able to respond quickly? What actions can you take to be ready to strike the moment you need to?
Every day I hear from job seekers that claim their job search is their highest priority..but, there is always a caveat. It is the “except for” that really defines the reality of the moment. I naturally take note of all of the reasons people offer for not immediately jumping on each and every lead they receive, even when they have declared their situation is dire, i.e., close to homelessness or bankruptcy. In order to be able return to work after an extended or even short absence from the workplace, it is important to take inventory of what is currently going on in your life that might truly prevent your from successfully becoming reemployed.
Are you physically able to return to the work you were last doing? Medically speaking, you need to know what you are able to endure, i.e., type of work, number of hours you can perform, and how far you are able to travel to do it. Go get the check up you have been putting off. Practice doing the work you are expecting to do, for 8-10 hours each day, for one week. Drive the commute during peak hours. Know for certain before you start work, that you are able to do it.
Are you mentally able to do the work you last did? If you have you experienced setbacks in regard to your health, sanity or quality of life due to work related stress or demands, then it is time to take inventory of what has happened in your past experience. Pay attention to what has created undesirable side affects in the past and determine if current circumstances will allow you to return to a similar environment or situation without repercussions.
Is your business in order? Many people have open issues that continue to interrupt their focus. Going to work is only going to compound the stress of not having finished a project, and will also extend how long it may take to wrap it up. Make sure you are ready to accept that status, before you commit to something new that you cannot focus on 100%. Auto and home repairs need to be attended to before you go to work. If they are currently interrupting time needed to invest in your search, then how in the world will you deal with them during a normal work day?
Is your family in order? Before you can return to work it is important to ensure that childcare for young children is arranged, transportation for older children to go to school or other activities is arranged, and that medical appointments have been set at times that fit with the your work schedule if you are required to accompany them.
Are your sleep habits conducive to the hours you will be required to spend at work? One of the biggest impacts on people returning to work and a regular business schedule, is their ability to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up in the morning. If you are currently staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. and sleeping to 11:00, then expect it to take weeks to change your internal clock to function with a normal work schedule if the expected hours are 9:00 – 5:00.
Are you refreshed and ready to go? Keep in mind, the new kid on the block is typically going to be at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to choosing vacation days or actually earning them any time soon. If you simply need a break before you begin, then factor that in when negotiating a start date. No need to tell them what you are doing, simply set a date that allows you to do what you need to get back in the game at 100%.
If this has given you a wake up call, or there are any other areas you can think of that could impact someone’s ability to return to work, please share!
Are you truly committed to making a change this year? If you answered yes, then avoid sabotaging your commitment to your goals by reviewing your habits and past behaviors. Examine your circumstances carefully to determine what part you played in the outcomes you have previously gotten. If you are not producing the results you desire, then figure out why. Be honest with yourself.
- Have you let external issues or others’ actions determine what happens?
- Are you spending time on situations/events/issues that (if you were working) would not have taken as long or even been issues at all?
- Have you held off planning a course of action to “wait and see” before you make a decision to do something? Why?
- What would happen if you simply made a decision to take action, make a commitment, and in the worst-case scenario, had to change your plans later?
- Are you able/willing to stay focused? If you are not, have you identified the barriers? What can you do about them?
- Are you willing to work long hours, weekends and holidays for a limited time to accomplish what you desire?
What other issues can you identify that have kept you from fully committing?