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.
Relying on passive job search or passive recruiting methods
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.
Being behind the curve when needs change
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.
There has been a rumor going around asserting that it is “impossible to multi-task.” I suppose a declaration of this kind allows those who aren’t skilled at multitasking to feel triumphant, but very common examples of real life multitasking prove this theory incorrect. If we couldn’t multi-task, then:
- When driving, we couldn’t look both ways and behind us at an intersection, activate a turn signal and apply pressure to the brakes (all within 15 seconds).
- A mother couldn’t hold her child on her back while she walked to the store or while she was making dinner.
- We wouldn’t be able to guide cloth through a sewing machine and watch to ensure the stitching is straight, while also accelerating the pedal that runs the motor.
- Musicians couldn’t sing while they play an instrument, let alone dance while they are doing both.
- A police officer wouldn’t be able to direct traffic and be cognizant of the crowd around him/her.
The point I’m making is that there are degrees of what is possible, practical and necessary. Multitasking is an important skill for many reasons, especially if there is a significant investment in the outcome (e.g., not getting in a car wreck, your child’s safety or perhaps getting paid to perform a service or provide entertainment). If the failure to take command of necessary actions impacts your safety, the safety of others or your livelihood, then multitasking is clearly a problem. Analyzing your steps to determine where the breakdowns occur, and implementing strategies to resolve them, is a better investment of time than arguing a case for why “multitasking isn’t possible.”
Clearly, we don’t want to put ourselves or others at risk. If we can’t look forward as we drive and also check the rearview mirror, that’s a problem. It means we probably shouldn’t be driving. In similar terms, if we are unable to talk on the phone and type simultaneously, then we probably shouldn’t work in a call center. If we lack the ability to carry on a conversation with someone and listen for conversations/noises around us on a playground, then perhaps we shouldn’t be the playground monitor. It doesn’t mean any of the above examples are impossible skills to master, it just means some people shouldn’t be doing them.
If you are currently considering work that requires multitasking, it is critical to practice under the same circumstances to determine if you can do it, before jumping in feet first. Multitasking efficiently and effectively is all relative. To know if you will be successful, it’s imperative to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome. Sometimes accuracy is first and foremost, yet other times, the goal isn’t perfection. If you tend to get caught up in detail and pour over and over information or processes to ensure they are absolutely correct, occupations that demand a high degree of accuracy, such as engineering or accounting, could be a very strong fit. In other situations, where exact detail is valued less, it could cause you to lag behind, miss deadlines, or worse, fail to respond at all in a critical situation requiring an immediate answer.
Sometimes reacting with a reasonable response and following up with an elaborate answer at a more appropriate time is the best course of action at the moment. If a pipe is leaking, it makes more sense to immediately plug the leak with whatever you have on hand until a plumber can be reached, than to stop to determine the pipe size and water flow capacity while the water is rising around your feet. It is important to recognize when the situation demands a change in attention without notice – like answering phones or having your work constantly interrupted to answer co-workers’ questions, a different action is required. A once highly valued skill like accuracy may become a liability when it becomes impossible to perform other requirements.
In a world where more is expected to be done with less, multitasking seems to be a required, if not critical skill, for many jobs. Choose your work (and battles) so you don’t find yourself in a situation that isn’t working for you or your employer. Become aware of how much you can manage at one time, and when challenged, identify ways to improve your responses. Another option is to simply decide to look for other work that is less demanding. The bottom line is that your response is the only thing that can change. Believing that multitasking isn’t possible or necessary might not help you succeed.
The internet is seductive. It is so much easier to believe it holds the answers to life’s mysteries, than to imagine what it would be like without it. Granted, it really does hold a HUGE amount of information, but it still cannot replace our feelings, values or perceptions of what we hold dear. You might be thinking: what in the world does this have to do with business? And I would have to say: almost everything.
Whether you are looking for candidates, employers or service providers, making assumptions about their ability to fill a need can get you in hot water if those assumptions are not checked out. Trusting the words without evidence can backfire. Leveraging established relationships with trusted resources can help point a candidate to the right company, an employer to the properly skilled and personality matched candidate and a customer to the right service provider. In order for the recipe to work, each source needs to be accurate about their skills or needs and stop relying on “key words” as the answer.
Relying solely on information and processes devoid of real human connections tends to leave us at a disadvantage when we are attempting to build relationships. Although the written word can explain a great deal, proof comes from observable action. It is the evidence of consistent behavior that builds trust in relationships. Being able to thoroughly articulate skills/abilities, then substantiating them with evidence goes much further than using “key words” or SEO to get someone’s attention.
Candidates that are unclear about their direction or are unable to articulate their value accurately may end up in roles that are a complete mismatch. Likewise, employers that inaccurately or incompletely describe the roles they need to fill may end up wasting considerable time trying to identify the correct solution. A company that describes a culture that is contrary to what people actually experience is another source of potential conflict. The internet can provide a vehicle, but passively using it as the destination without digging for input from real, live people can lead to huge wastes of time and resources.
Although a profile can present descriptions of a person’s competence or skills, and a website can expound on an organization’s culture, learning about real life perceptions of a situation or actions requires a conversation. The proof of the pudding comes from people that have engaged with the person or business in question. It requires advance research over time, not a click and a quick connection. Passing on referrals or chasing job postings because “key words” sound familiar is insufficient. To thoroughly understand the needs of all parties and make real matches requires more thoughtful evaluation; otherwise it ends up the same as throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
If you have been engaged in a passive search (mining databases for job postings), or if you are a recruiter relying on databases to solve your staffing needs, or if you have a business and are trying to find the right customers, it might be time to take a different course:
- Try asking tough questions of hiring managers, team members and customers to learn what’s really under the surface before you proceed. Find out where the real pain is generating from.
- Get out and talk to people, or should I say, listen to people. Networking is more than schmoozing. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask people at networking events.
- Show interest and concern. It isn’t all about you.
- Pay attention to what people/companies need before you ask for something or try to “sell” something.
- Help others. Find ways to pay it forward.
If you have received a job announcement from a recruiter that had nothing to do with your skill set, a resume from a candidate with few skills related to your needs, or spam from a business offering a service that you nor anyone in your network would be interested in buying in a million years, then I think you know what I am talking about.
Tell them to stop throwing spaghetti at the wall.
By the time this blog is read, the Washington State “snow days” of January 2012 may be long behind us. Still, the concepts can be applied when you encounter airport closures, canceled conferences/meetings/concerts or when someone gets cold feet and pulls out of a wedding. The intent of this is not to suggest you micromanage your time to the degree of being inflexible, but to help you gain control over your time and make better choices when unplanned events create havoc.
The notion came to me when I was forced to reschedule presentations, workshops and meetings over the course of four days due to our city being almost paralyzed by snow and ice this week. (Ok, I’ll have to insert this bit of info: Seattleites are light weights. We rarely have snow or sub freezing temperatures, have lots of hills and pretty much can’t drive safely under extreme conditions. The result is that many people become housebound and services often come to a screeching halt).
As I was playing chess with my events and coordinating with the several groups of people involved regarding the rescheduling, I discovered some very interesting dynamics. None bad, just interesting. Many of the people I tried to reach by email did not respond at all. Now, it was possible their power could be out, so I decided to try calling. As it turns out, since many people’s employers were not requiring them to come in, they took the day off (literally) and were not checking email at all. Their having a day off from work turned into being “off” from everything for them.
Taking time off from everything can be a reasonable choice, if your goal is to achieve work/life balance. I am all for that. An interesting coincidence I found however was that many of the people who had taken time off from everything, were also folks that have regularly complained about never having time to network or pursue their career goals. They had been given “free” days; days without commitments and no expectations. Yet several chose to use the time to “disconnect” and “disengage” rather than “connect” and “engage” in activities that could have easily moved them closer to their goals. For others, the time was a great opportunity to connect with people electronically. I was pleased to learn that just as many people I reached were taking advantage of the free time to catch up. The contrast prompted me to consider the dynamics of each approach.
It struck me that many people get so caught up in feeling “out of control” they completely throw in the towel when free time is offered and don’t consider the choices they have. Unfortunately, without “contingency plans” for free time, it’s much easier to fall back on old habits or simply take a vacation. (If a vacation is needed, excellent!) But if the drudgery of a painful workplace or an unfulfilling career is still waiting to be faced when someone returns to a normal schedule, then it’s probably reasonable to say the unexpected “vacation” could have been better used.
You might be thinking: “If I don’t know when these events happen, how can I plan for them?” My answer is: It isn’t as important to know exactly when something will happen as it is to develop a plan for how you will react when it does. It’s kind of like earthquake preparedness. If we wait for catastrophic events to occur to move us to action, we will operate as victims, not as owners of our situations. If we prepare in advance by thinking out potential courses of action, we simply give ourselves more choices and have more power in moving ourselves in the direction we want to go.
Here are some ways to make your unexpected free time serve you better:
- Clearly define your goals.
- Set time frames for accomplishing your goals to build your accountability.
- Break all of your goals into measurable objectives.
- List all of the tasks required to achieve your objectives and goals.
- Be prepared to tackle your list of tasks ahead of schedule when free time is an option.
If getting your office cleaned out is a goal, then taking free time to tackle one small area at a time could help you build momentum. If losing weight is a goal, then using unexpected free time to exercise could help you lose more weight, sooner. (Shoveling snow is a great calorie burner!)
If finding a new employer, changing careers or building a business is included in your goals, then networking will be an important key to your success. Being prepared with a list of whom you need to contact and scripts for what you need to ask/say will allow you to jump on free time and make it work for you. (Look for more information on networking to achieve your goals in other posts).
These gifts of minutes, hours and days are exactly what could make the difference between moving forward and staying stuck where you are. The choice is yours.
What did you do on your last snow day?
How many times have you heard “information is power?” If you agree, then hopefully it will prompt you to take a new look at how you are pursuing your job search or your efforts to advance your career.
A posted job announcement is only an inkling of the information a person needs to consider before initiating their pursuit of an employment opportunity. Although many people believe that gaining access to more job boards creates more “leads”, the following differentiation is intended to show there is more information available to gain access to the right “job”.
A lead can mean more than a “job posting”. A lead can be:
1. To a connection inside of a targeted company
2. About industry projections, changes, new developments
3. Insight about a hiring manager’s personality, style, interests
4. Information about the culture or hiring practice of a company
5. An introduction to new and important technical skills
The key to whether a lead turns into something of value is in how it is heard, received, and ultimately followed up with. It’s not surprising how many people stay stuck on hearing about “jobs” and pass over very useful information that if heeded or pursued, could be integrated into their plan for “getting a job”. On a broader scale, if you are already working, then new information can help direct your path in a more satisfying direction. It can also help you prepare for changes in the market in advance.
A lead can be any additional information, that when combined with other accumulated information, can help you make good decisions and lead you to the best course of action.
Regardless of what is received, an immediate response is required to any morsel of information, whether it involves a simple acknowledgment or requires further inquiry for clarification. A response to the sender must be immediate, regardless of the actual course of action that will follow. If more thought is needed, the sender can be told the follow-up will occur at a (specific) later date. The point is to acknowledge the information and thank the sender within 24 hours.
The next step is to establish your required action in regard to the information you received. It may require immediate action, or a later action could be more beneficial. More research may be needed. Regardless of what has to happen, the acknowledgment and a plan for follow-up needs to be determined within 24 hours (sometimes less). It isn’t going to amount to anything if it is ignored, and it will get stale if put aside for days or weeks.
If you expect to only hear about “jobs” and shut down when people are sharing other pieces of information, it is very likely you are missing key points and opportunities that could lead you in a more productive direction. Knowing more about what others are doing and what they know, helps you build a stronger and more competitive plan for getting what you want.
If an “it’s all about me” attitude prevails, it is likely you will not hear very important pieces of information (leads) that could have helped you alter your approach or change your direction.
If you have been successful taking a “nugget” of information and turning it into a successful lead, please share your experience.
Although this blog has been previously published, I think the message is always helpful at the beginning of a new year.
Too often, people establish career goals the same way they make New Year’s resolutions. The problem with resolutions is that they fade away, are forgotten, and are only a distant memory by February. To actualize your desire for a change, exchange your resolution for a COMMITMENT to action.
Why a commitment and not just a wish?
Achievement of a goal doesn’t happen overnight. Job seekers are confronted with many issues beyond their control—economic conditions, competition, HR, and internal politics for a start. These issues can be very daunting and discouraging. The fact is you can’t reach your goal until you choose to face these challenges head on, with a plan of attack. Making the COMMITMENT to do so is within your control. Your goal becomes more than a “wish”.
Take charge – stay committed!
Don’t rely on your employer, market conditions, or your family obligations to dictate what happens to you (or doesn’t). Make a decision about what you need to do, commit to it, then adjust as events occur. Commitment to your goal and acting on it is more likely to produce the results you want than sitting idly as you wait for things to change.
Make a commitment to reach your goals by first being committed to the process, no matter what.
- Keep yourself in check for things you can control. Recognize that you can make a choice each and every time something comes up that presents itself as a challenge.
- Write out your goals. Make them specific and measurable.
- Proceed through your outline of specific actions that lead to your specific goals.
What kind of resolutions are you planning for the New Year that could more effectively be treated as a goal?
Changing your job search techniques, or changing any behavior that isn’t working first requires getting conscious about it.
If you want something to be different,
then something needs to change.
This is a simple dynamic. Are you still chasing postings on job boards, but not getting the results you want? Is your idea of networking to ask people if they know of job leads? Do you face each day without any idea of what you should be doing? Bottom line: have you continued to do the same things over and over expecting to get different results? We’ve all heard it before — that’s the definition of insanity!
If you agree that your methodology or thinking needs to change, then pick just one or two thing to do differently. It is too hard to try to change everything at once, and, it is too hard to sustain multiple changes. It is possible to make minor changes to begin with, and build on them as they become habits. Making one or two small changes to your approach can dramatically change the outcomes you are getting.
But getting started is hard too. Developing a plan for making necessary changes is as critical as the plan you will make for specifically accomplishing your goals. With a strong commitment to changing your behavior, your plan for addressing the needed changes will make it easier to do than you would think.
The first step in making a plan for change is to identify your barriers to doing something differently than how you have done it in the past. You’ll need to establish which internal elements and which external elements have been affecting your job search results. Is it your health? Bad planning? Procrastination? Lack of focus? Or is it the economy? The weather? Competition? If the issues are external, your reaction to them is the only thing you can control, and that is what may need to change.
- Face your barriers.
- Take a closer look. Deal with reality. What can you change?
- Which one behavior can you work on for the next 30 days? Write it down.
- Make a decision about what you need to do differently.
- Write out the steps you need to take. Plan them. Do them.
What changes have been most difficult for you to make: changing your actions or changing your re-actions?
Tags: choosing a career
Developing a plan for your career seems simple enough: Start with a specific goal. Then break it down into actionable items.
But, many issues can make it difficult to stay on track — the weather, traffic, the economy, company politics, and health issues to name a few. Creating structure to your activities will allow you to gauge what hasn’t happened and what needs to happen, much more clearly than if you wait and see each day.
Knowing what you need to get done, and then getting it done, is a method for creating structure that is closest to what you would have if you were working. Don’t allow distractions to prevent you from completing what you have set out to do. If you are employed, you’ll have fewer available hours to work on your goals, and it will be even tougher to stay on track.
Here are some pointers that will help you make and stay on with your plan:
- Plan your schedule in advance, making a commitment to do the activities that lead you to the accomplishment of your goal.
- Know what you need to do every day.
- Plan exactly which hours you will work on your tasks.
- If you are not working, plan ahead at least 30 days to help you stay focused.
- If you are working, plan ahead at least 90 days to help ensure you will stay on track to get where you want to be next year.
- Don’t allow distractions to prevent you from completing what you have set out to do.
- What has been toughest for you: making a plan or sticking with it?
Tags: choosing a career