Monday, December 28, 2009

If You Can't Be Choosy About Your Job, Be Choosy About Your Friends

I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday week. As for me, I’m spending much of it doing my all-time favorite thing. No, not eating – which does happen to come in at a close second. I’ve been reading. And I spent much of Christmas Day reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Nothing Was the Same. And crying my eyes out. The book is a memoir of the last few years she had with her brilliant husband, Richard Wyatt, as they came to grips with his terminal cancer. And how she – who suffers mightily and famously from bipolar disorder – would manage the stress of his illness and her inevitable widowhood.

Why I should pick this book for Christmas Day is beyond me. I have very little in common with Jamison (although I exuberantly loved her previous book, Exuberance, which, as it turns out, she was writing as he was dying). I’m not bipolar (at least I don’t think so); I’m not dying (at least I hope not); I’m not married (that much I know for absolute sure). And I’m not especially fond of bassett hounds (although their ears really are irresistible). But still the poetic precision of the way she writes about discerning the difference between grief and depression is a transcendent journey into another person’s heart and mind and experience of loss.

So I did a little bit (a lot) of crying on Christmas Day.

As I was closing the book this morning at 5 a.m., I came upon a line that is actually brilliant advice for all of us. Especially these days:

“Keep away the ungenerous and unkind.”

That one sentence – among so many stingingly beautiful lines -- hit me right between the eyes. And I want to pass it on to you.

As I’m writing these words, I’m painfully aware that Dr. Jamison, or her publicists, might be reading this post (Google Alerts is a wonderful thing; but there’s no more writing in obscurity). And they are appalled at how I could have the gall to turn her message and journey into a blog posting on taking care of yourself when you’re on the job hunt. So, first of all, my apologies to Dr. Jamison and all those who surround her with kind and generous love.

And now let’s get down to business. You may have noticed, in your own passage from one job to the next, that some of those people who would be called your friends, well, aren’t. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know when the next one will show up. You’re grieving. You’re trying to find your footing again in a world that has found many interesting ways of implying that there’s no place for you among the busy, productive, respected, and the paid.

Some people in your closest circles will give you all the room and time you need to writhe and howl with the frustration you’re feeling. Others will fling false upbeat advice at you like pasta against a wall. And then study their watch, tapping their feet, waiting for you to cheer up already. Still others will make you feel like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of disgrace and now you’re four inches tall – and they have suddenly soared in stature.

This is the time when your friends will divide themselves into two groups. The generous and the kind in one group. And then, on the other side of the classroom will be gathered all those who fall under the category of “un.”

What does kindness and generosity look like to someone who is struggling to land their next job?

Kind and generous friends

* Don’t judge.
* Don’t change their opinions of you and your journey because they have arbitrarily assumed that you should be fill in the blank by now.
* Return your phone calls.
* Will ask you what you want; not tell you what you need.
* Make it easy for you to tap into their network.
* Make introductions and then get out of the way.
* Talk about you in the context of what you have to offer, not what you’ve lost.
* Keep their promises.
* Remind you of your gifts, talents, value when you’re feeling especially unwanted.
* Help you see things in a slightly different way.
* Help you keep your standards high.
* Listen.
* Include you in social gatherings and projects that have nothing to do with job hunting.
* Don’t judge you for false steps, unseemly behavior, embarrassing moments that arise from the stress you’re under.
* Tell the truth.
* Keep their unsolicited opinions and “you shoulds” to themselves.
* Let you make your own decisions.
* Keep a watchful eye out for your wellbeing but won’t meddle in trivialities.
* Will swoop in if you’ve truly lost your way or bearings.
* Will respect you no matter what.

As for the others, keep them at a very, very safe distance. Preferably, as Jamison says, away. Later, when you’re strong and stable again, you can consider the value of their friendship – or even acquaintance -- and see whether you want to keep them in your life for whatever reason. I’m thinking that with the clarity that stability brings, you’ll come to some surprising conclusions about which friends to keep and which friends to cull.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TMI! Scan Your Resume and Applications For Door Slammers

You know that a letter to an advice columnist is going to be good when it’s signed, “Anonymous.” Personally, I’m thinking that if you feel you must hide your identity, you pretty much already know the right answer. You just want to go the other way.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the Ethicist’s column in the Sunday New York Times magazine and was dismayed by the question: Is it okay to discriminate against otherwise fabulously qualified applicants who clearly disagree with you politically? The questioner was hiring summer interns for a law firm that is completely politics neutral. So there wasn’t really an issue about a skills – or even affinity – fit with the firm. This person, though, is decidedly not politics neutral, and he/she just couldn’t abide the idea of working with someone who wouldn’t agree on the matter of world affairs. The assumption was that anyone with such opposing politics would be definitely unlikeable. In fact, the headline of the column actually used the word, “unlikeable.”

To Ethicist’s credit, he advised the recruiter that it wouldn’t be right to discriminate on that basis. And he advised him/her to set aside the mini-McCarthyism. But in an updated note, Ethicist informed the readers that the recruiter went ahead chose only the applicants who didn’t leave any clues about opposing political affiliation. What’s interesting here is that the recruiter could have hired Hitler, just as long as he was qualified for the job and didn’t put his political point of view on his CV – leaving some really terrific, qualified, public-minded citizens in the big heap of the unemployed, unlikeable pile.

For several years now we’ve been talking about the inadvisability of posting pix of you wearing a lampshade on your head on social media sites. And one young woman actually lost a job because she posted on her Twitter account that it was such a bummer to have to go to work on a daily basis. (Problem solved!) You’d think that these choices would be obvious – and most of them are (although I’m still trying to convince a friend of mine that “calling in drunk” is not a smart thing to say on his Facebook page. He’s finally told me, nicely, to back off, so I guess I will. He’s a big boy, I respect him, and I value his friendship.)

But little, seemingly inoccuous, things can sneak into your public profile, resume, and applications. And even though they might be perfectly innocent, and actually indicate that you’re an active participant in life, they will slam the door on opportunities for you just as assuredly as if you had put “heroin addict” on your Profile. And what’s really too bad here is that you would never know. If you’re being screened out on the basis of your resume alone, you would have no way of tracking the reasons why you were being eliminated from the short list. Many biases (like your political inclinations) aren’t legally prohibited. And even if they were, why set yourself up for unfair exclusion?

Am I suggesting that you create a politically correct resume? Maybe I am. It’s killing me to do so, because freedom of expression is important to me – especially these days. And the way our society is becoming increasingly polarized is breaking my heart. But still, right now we’re talking about improving your chances of getting hired. Or at least getting the interview. And if you can tolerate the possibility of working with people who might disagree with you on the headlines, why destroy your chances of a great job?

So here are some details that you might want to scan your public image for. That means your resume, your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, any public description of who you are that you have control over.

How you vote: Some activities are political hot-buttons that could spit you out of consideration on sight. PETA. NARAL. Planned Parenthood, any committee to elect, re-elect, or impeach anyone. Anything having to do with saving endangered but not especially attractive fish or reptiles. Anything having anything to do with polar bears. Pro or con. Sorry. I’m not saying you stop caring about the polar bear situation. I’m just saying that you might not want to go bragging about it for a while.

What you believe. Yes, it’s definitely illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion. So are you going to be there to tell the screener who is sifting through the plentiful resumes that the applicant tracking system managed to cull from the thousands? I’m thinking probably not. It’s not right. It’s not legal. But it is. So you might as well deal with it. Places of worship are wonderful, enriching and powerful community support systems. No doubt about it. And the fact that you can carve aside precious time in your life to actively care for others is a sign that you would be a credit to any company. Again…not telling you not to devote your time to these things but while you’re looking for a job, you might want to consider stripping the description of your activities of anything that would indicate your religion – or lack thereof.

What you read. If you like to read books or blogs that set other people’s hair on fire, you might want to take down your lists for a while.

If I were in your shoes right now, this is what I’d be thinking: This is bogus. I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that was so ideologically rigid as to not accept me for who I am. Well, here’s the thing: The person who is screening your resume is most likely not the person you would be working with directly. And you can’t be absolutely certain that the resume screener who stands between you and your ideal job (complete with ideal boss and wonderful company) won’t take advantage of the position of power to populate his/her company with “only the correct kinds of people.”

This isn’t to indict recruiters and HR (I love HR, as my long-time readers will tell you). It’s just that there are some people out there who take advantage of the power of their position (as we’ve already seen in the Sunday Times magazine). And neither you nor the company that needs you deserves to lose the opportunity of the two of you finding each other. So why take the risk?

Now it could be that you might also be thinking: I can’t working with or for someone who doesn’t think just like me. So if I get spat out at the early stage of the game, well, saves us both some heartache. Okay, fair enough. But, just to reiterate, remember that the resume screener isn’t likely going to be your manager. And there may be your perfect boss waiting for you, and wondering how it is that the screeners keep sending in such politically extreme weirdos.

You’ll have a chance to see how simpatico you will feel with the company and boss. Just get that interview first.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Anger Won't Get You Anywhere

A few weeks ago, Duncan and I published an article called “How to Network Without Sounding Phony, Lame or Desperate” on the AOL/Careerbuilder site. At last count, there were 73 responses, most of them angry, resentful, hopeless and raging. One commentator simply wrote, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” How’s that for effectively moving the conversation forward in a helpful way?

As I read the responses, I got lower and lower in my own spirits. And then I thought, “It’s bad enough to be out of work, and hunting in this terrible market. But how much worse is it to be hauling around so much anger. These people are wrecking their own chances, just by their attitudes.” No, I’m not suggesting you behave like Shirley Temple and tap dance your way through adversity, as she had tap danced her way through the Depression. (Although, many of those songs she sang – “Be Optimistic” is going through my head right now – did have a point. Only now we call it positive psychology.)

Shirley Temple singing \”Be Optimistic\”

I wouldn’t in a million years suggest that you deny your very real feelings, and stuff them down only to have them pop up later like a beach ball submerged in a swimming pool. But I would like to suggest that you take a look at those feelings, recognize what damage they might be doing to your prospects, and decide which ones you really want to hold on to. And then which ones you might want to replace with a more productive attitude.

Anger is wrecking your chances for getting out of these economic times with an intact career (however interrupted it might be). Researchers have discovered that negative thinking actually inhibits your ability to come up with creative approaches for your situation. When you approach your life and world through a negative frame of mind, you inhibit what is known as your temporary thought-action repertoire. This is actually an evolutionary phenomenon…a positive attitude helped us survive in the wilderness by coming up with creative solutions to that tiger making a bee-line for us. Conversely, a negative attitude would freeze us in his sites, with a big deadly “duh” overwhelming our brains. And soon we would become tiger mortadella.

Anger only attracts other angry people. When you’re in a good mood, it’s not long before you want to move away from someone who is doing nothing but complaining. You know that. So do you really want to hang out with other people who have nothing to add to the conversation beyond agreeing with you that it’s hopeless out there? I’m thinking you’d probably want to spend at least some time with people who have an upbeat outlook on life. Well, what do you need to do to change yourself so they’d want to hang out with you?

Anger keeps you from seeing things the way they are now and changing your strategies accordingly. A lot of people are angry because it’s not as easy finding a job as it was three years ago. Okay. So? The New Age crowd has an expression that absolutely drives me up the wall. And that is: It is what it is. As much as I hate that expression, it fits here.

We can rage that the present isn’t what the past used to be. But where is all that expenditure of energy getting us? If we’re so busy mourning the fact that the old opportunities have gone away, we’re not using this precious time to discover what the new opportunities are. Okay, so the old methods of job search are as extinct as our negative-mindset ancestor staring down the charging tiger. What would be more productive from this point forward? Focusing on what’s past? Or identifying what the new skills and techniques are today that will land us the jobs we’re looking for?

No one’s going to want to hire you if you’re angry. You may have been a rock star in your profession last year. You may look flawless. But if you have given yourself over to anger and frustration, that smell is going to seep through your pores just as unmistakably as if you had just been on a bender. Your interviewers won’t be able to get you out of their offices fast enough.

Do I really have the nerve to tell you not to be angry? Not on your life. But what I would like to suggest is this: Don’t let your anger keep you from achieving your dreams and meeting your potential. Feel that anger if you want to. Wallow in it every day if it makes you feel better. But assign yourself a budget of time in which you can go there, break things (only cheap, replaceable things that belong only to you), holler so loud the neighbors can hear you, if you have to (although I wouldn’t recommend it). Set a timer, if you must.

And when that timer dings, show’s over. Settle back down to the business of building the life that will make you happy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What to Do When You're Flat Out of Friends

(This post is based on some of the principles included in my new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough which I wrote with San Diego-based executive coach, Duncan Mathison. For a free sample chapter, visit the book's official site: )

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about networking a lot lately. Or at least it seems like it. Networking, networking, networking. Maybe it’s me but don’t you think that when you say it out loud enough, it begins to sound like earwax? Okay…it’s probably just me.

Networking doesn’t have much appeal, does it? It doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as going to your local Applebee’s with some friends for a beer and some wings. Now there’s a problem with even that Applebee’s scenario. Based on the emails I’ve been getting, a lot of you are feeling that you don’t have too many friends either. And the ones you do have are getting, like, really tired of hearing you talk about your struggles to land a job. And you’re getting really tired of talking about it too. In fact, you’d just wish they’d change the subject.

I don’t think my readers are social losers. (At least I hope not, but, then again, what are you doing reading this blog post when it’s such a pretty day outside?) When you’ve been out of work for any amount o time, it’s easy to feel that you have run aground in the contacts department – especially in recent years when we’ve all been so busy taking care of our jobs and our families. We’ve let outside friendships perhaps atrophy. Maybe all your friends were work-related. And now that you’re out of work, you’re also fresh out of buddies. Or you’ve moved to a new town where you really, really don’t know anyone.

Whatever the reason for your feelings of isolation, you know you have to mix it up a little bit, well, a lot. Get some fresh meat, I mean talent, into your tight circles of relationships. Get out of the house. So I thought I’d offer some tips in that direction.

Remember that one thing leads to another. The thing about circulating is that your first dip into big world probably won’t net you a job. It’s a cumulative kind of thing. So leave that desperate, graspy, over-eager feeling at home when you head out the door. Just be open to meeting who you meet. Maybe tonight you’re destined to actually help someone else. And you’ll come home feeling just a little better about yourself.

Look for opportunities where you can become a regular. And no, I don’t mean the Applebee’s bar. When your face starts becoming familiar, you will emerge from invisibility to someone who people will be glad to see. Maybe they’ll even shout out your name, like, “Norm!” (But don’t count on it.) If you try a business mixer or worship service or volunteer opportunity, and people completely ignore you, keep going. Week after week. Introduce yourself as often as you can. And just let the cumulative effects of time work their wonders.

Stay away from solitary pursuits, even if they’re out of the house. Going to a matinee movie doesn’t count as “getting out there.” Go to local economic development or chamber of commerce meetings, receptions, mixers. Your local bookstore probably offers booksignings, author lectures or special classes. A friend of mine who is a professional coach is part of a team who gives courses at Whole Foods! Go! The home improvement stores offer free courses. Go! The American Red Cross offers courses in first aid, cpr, etc. Go!

Make job-related networking events only a small percentage of your out-of-the-house activities. First of all, you’re so much more than unemployed. And you need to nurture those other parts of who you are. At the very least, this way you’ll lead with an opener that’s so much more interesting than, “Hi, gotta job?” But most importantly is that your self-definition has a chance to stay strong and defined beyond this immediate need of landing a gig. You will also stand a better chance of meeting people other than fellow job-seekers. You know…people who already have jobs? And who would be thrilled to help you get inside their companies or organizations.

Learn something. Go to local college courses – especially the ones at night, when employed people go to school. You don’t have to matriculate and take on the expense of a formal semester. Continuing ed courses can be inexpensive. The teachers are often professionals in the community (hint: employed people!). It’s probably best if you took a course that would help you be more qualified for the kind of job you’re looking for. But even taking a non-job related course will at least remind you that there’s more to life than your daily bread (although, it’s kind of hard to make that argument right now, I know).

Teach something. Surely you know something that will benefit others. How to read, for adult literacy programs, for instance. If you have a profession or skill that’s useful in the for-profit world, surely you can introduce at least the basics to young people. Convene a panel of other experts and put on a program! (You’ll be able to find a venue. A friend of mine hosted the annual meeting of his professional association – on the premises of the company that had just laid him off. Awkward.)

Volunteer. Those same skills you can teach you can donate. It will make you feel good about being who you are and what you can do. That boost in self-esteem will give you the added confidence that will send out the signal that you’re a valuable contributor to the world.

Call old friends – even if they haven’t heard from you in a long time. This is where Facebook comes in handy. The other day I heard from a dear friend for the first time in about 8 years. We’d been looking for each other off and on over recent years but, thanks to Facebook, she found me first! And we talked on the phone for a full three hours. A lot of it was catching up. But, she was also very candid about the fact that she needed some professional advice from me. Did I see this as a cheesy ulterior motive? Heck no! First off all, I owed her a gigantic favor from 10 years ago (I mean, huge). Secondly, I love her and I know she loves me. So whatever I have is hers. (Advice, I mean.)

Ask for introductions. Unless you’re a bitter whiner who needs to blow your nose and brush your teeth (and, uhm, a little roll-on?), the friends you have should be happy to give you introductions you need to move your job search forward. If they’re reluctant to help you, find out why. Wouldn’t you want to know the truth, especially if it was something you could fix? And, if they’re possessive with or protective of their contacts to the point where they’re keeping you from helping yourself, or making you feel judged, it’s best that you should know that now. You might have just discovered a brand new opening in your group of friends to fill.

They say that once you achieve a certain age, it gets harder and harder to make new friends. Everyone is set in their habits, patterns, commuting routine, relationships. Well, one of the upshots of these economic times is that everyone is thrown higgledy-piggledy into a big pile of confusion and some flavor of disconnectedness. Now is a fantastic time to build new circles of friends and business contacts.

And vow to take better care of them in the future. Like, don’t wait 8 years before picking up the phone.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Really Crappy Advice -- And How to Keep It From Killing You

In recent weeks I’ve been watching events unfold in Sedona — that whole James Arthur Ray thing and how people died in an ersatz sweat lodge. I suppose for many people, a terrible event such as this (where people paid $9,000 for the privilege of dying a horrible death, surrounded in the gloom by their vomiting and fainting companions) is so exotic that most people might think, “that could never happen to me.” And that would probably be true.

However, this whole clutch of motivation and self-help teachers has been bugging me over recent years. Most of them are pretty small potatoes. But they promise big, and encourage people to take risks with their money, relationships, future, and careers that they might not otherwise take. The cumulative effect of little damages everywhere can be very destructive indeed. I’m worried that the general public might be even more at risk as the economy continues its stagger, stagger, crawl mode. These are emotional frontiers we’re in, folks, and the woods are lousy with snake oil salesmen – people who promise to give you a breakthrough secret to life in a week or a weekend, for the price of a semester of college or a small car.

I have had in my bookshelf for a couple of years now the book, SHAM, by Stephen Salerno. And I’ve been really reluctant to read it. Primarily because I knew he would blow the lid off of the mechanics behind self-help gurus and their business models. And at the time I was also reading Martin Seligman (the very legitimate founder of the very legitimate positive psychology movement), and I was also dabbling in more than a little Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson and even Joel Osteen. And, frankly, I still like the way their messages make me feel. And while I certainly didn’t buy The Secret’s promises hook, link and sucker (I mean, sinker), having grown up in a family whose mantra was mainly, “ain’t it awful, ain’t it tragic,” I knew there is definitely something to be said for willfully focusing on the positive side of things. A positive attitude is more conducive to creative thinking and endurance during a time where everything seems to be hitting the fan. At least it makes the ride a little more tolerable.

But I also know a manipulative head-game when I see one. (At least I hope I do.) I certainly learned to recognize the signs when I bought into one, much to my ever-lasting regret pretty quickly thereafter. So, I thought I’d lay out a list of danger signs for you – with the hopes of helping you keep your money in your pocket. (I get the fact that this could mean that I might miss out on a few sales of my own books – but at the end of this post I’m actually going to offer you my first book for free. I won’t even ask you for your email address as one of those cheesy quid pro quo gambits.)

Avoid any course with titles containing such words as “breakthrough,” “success,” “transform,” “dream,” “vortex”and whose tuition includes a comma. Speaking from personal experience here. These kinds of courses are mostly warmed over material drawn directly from the texts of books that you can purchase for $20 to $30. There will be much playing of John Denver and hugging of total strangers — most who look like they either haven’t been hugged in decades or they’re really really really looking forward to hugging you. The break times are dedicated to urging you to sign up for the advanced course at twice the price (but today – and only today – slashed to the same amount you just paid for the basic course). My memories of those break times involve softly trance-inducing singing from the stage and a certain zombie-ness of the people moving to the back of the room where tables are conveniently set up, where staffers cheerfully accepted credit cards. Did I get anything of value from that basic week? Yes…my mastermind group is still intact after almost five years. We meet on the phone every other week and have become supportive friends. But have our circumstances changed significantly since we met that that “breakthrough” week? Nope. (As you can imagine, I’m usually the cranky one on our phone calls.)

If you go to any course with a title that includes the words “spirit,” “warrior,” “vision quest,” make sure there is an EMT on call at all times before laying your money down. Most spiritual quests are flat-out scary. Who are these people to say they know the way, and will lead us there through a regimen of fasting, meditation and bodily deprivation? The way people refer to spirituality as Spirit, as if Spirit is their next door neighbor with handy cable piracy skills, is revolting. And the way white Americans romanticize the mysteries of Native American life and traditions is deeply hypocritical or willfully shallow. If they’re so enchanted by the Native American way, how about coming out to the Southwest, don’t stop at the spas or casinos, and spend that week teaching Native American children to say no to crystal meth addiction and alcoholism? Share the inspiring benefits of your own education, skills and privilege, rather than trying to siphon off a few sips of mysticism from authentic traditions that you will never get anyway?

If someone wants to teach you how to be rich (for whatever price), first find out how he got rich himself. Look at the frequent fliers of this particular line of work, and you’ll find out that most of them got rich by sticking their hands into pockets of people just like you (and me). And they’re getting richer. Did he ever grow a company, other than the staff of eager minions he has working for him now? Did he turn around a major corporation? Did he emerge from his own family of alcoholics and desperados to blaze his own trail by making something or contributing something useful to society (that is other than an ultra-expensive retreat)? Is he an unimpeachable researcher who has the gift of translating esoteric, hard-to-understand information into immediately useful ideas that anyone can have for the price of a book? That might be someone worth paying some attention to.

When someone tells you that you’re nowhere without his secrets or gift, laugh and walk away. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I know of one so-called Buddhist guru (she’s American) who actually replaced the words “Higher Power” in the 12 Step Program with her own name. That’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing is that hundreds of otherwise intelligent people said, “Duh, okay.”

Just say no to any product marketed to you via email by someone you’ve never heard of but endorsed by someone you have. These people exchange mailing lists, knowing full well that purchasers of self-help products are the most likely to come back for more and more. The cynicism is mind-blowing.

Avoid self-help books that were Number 1 on Amazon for, like, three hours one day. Again, it’s the lists at work. These people know how to game the system and they use each others’ lists to snag that coveted spot, even for an instant. This way they can call themselves “bestselling authors.” Big whup.

Don’t give up your own dreams. Life is full of true mysteries. My personal favorite one is the mystery of synchronicity. I’m a total sucker for those stories, and I have true, first-hand stories of my own that would curl your hair. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on a synchronicity that I perceive to be an omen. (Even though, in my heart of hearts, I kind of hope it is.)

We all need fresh infusions of inspiration now and then. And personal growth does involve keeping your mind open and venturing into uncomfortable zones now and then. But no breakthrough experience should involve group puking or even close bodily contact with strangers to the strains of “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

Keep your wallet in your pants. Or purse.

(Now for the free offer: I will give you a free copy of my very first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life. For absolutely nothing. Not even your email address. Just click the green button on the home page of Unlock the Hidden Job Market, and it will lead you to free downloads. You can also have a free sample chapter of our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market. Naturally, Duncan and I would love it if you also purchased that book. But you know what? You don’t have to.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Confidential to "I'm Not Shy"

The other night I received an email from a reader who had this to say:

"What if I'm not shy? What if I'm just not good at the art of shameless self-promotion and have difficulty identifying my value proposition? Then what?"

Hmmmm. Hate networking as shameless self-promotion? AND you're having trouble identifying your value proposition? If you had one of those two problems, I'd take you at face value. But put the two of them together, and I'm hearing code for "shy." But, whatever, call it what you want.

I think you might have missed one of the core points of my earlier post on networking shyness. To wit: Even though you're networking to find and land a good job, if you hate networking, don't make it about yourself. Make it about discovering how you can contribute your gifts, skills and energy out there in the big wide world.

You can set the tone of how your networking activities come off. Networking is not about shameless self-promotion (unless you're a shameless self-promoting kinda guy, which evidently you're not). If you want a real, authentic, interaction with a full calendar of people who you hope will ultimately lead you to your next job, have a real, authentic interaction. You're out there trying to figure out how and where you fit in. If anyone criticizes you for that, well, that's their problem. Move along to the next appointment on your calendar.

Moving to your next issue about not knowing what your value proposition is, that's not an issue to take lightly. It goes straight to one of the main pieces of your place in the world. And with the marketplace changing as rapidly as it is, it's practically impossible to keep up with how your place in the world changes in relation to the world itself. I think three generations of working adults are going through a mid-life crisis at the same time, right now.

The good news here, for you especially, is that if you're struggling with "who am I" questions, you're going to come off authentically humble in networking meetings. So instead of worrying about "shamelessly" promoting a self when you don't even know who that self is (at least vis a vis your working life), approach your networking from the point of view of gathering data about how you might fit into the changed world now.

Use your early networking meetings to ask questions. And be sincerely interested in the answers. Then ask more questions. And be sincerely interested in those answers. (Remember, we're talking questions about work, not "how're the kids?") Eventually you'll start seeing how you fit into the world as you're coming to understand it because of those questions. And your value proposition will make itself known to you.

It's about questioning, not crowing.

(There are a lot of books out there that help you discover what your value proposition is. If you'd like to read a collection of inspiring stories of people on that journey, email me and I'll send you a free copy of my book Find Your Calling, Love Your Life.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Are You Too Shy to Network?

My friend Patricia is probably the only person I would call a natural networker. Her worldly possessions have been in storage for most of the last 10 years as she goes where her heart tells her to (always beautiful places: Hawaii; Aspen; Naples, FL; San Diego; hey! Why not?). Jobs and projects fall into her lap no matter where she goes (and right now she’s in Austria after having spent a couple of weeks in Spain). She always has friends to stay with or a house to borrow. I would say she’s female version of Tim Ferris. But she’s her own self. And she makes her way in the world through relationships she builds along the way.

You ever have one of those right-words-at-the-right-time moments that blasts all your illusions away? Patricia gave me the right words at the right time and showed me the way to think about networking. It was a few years ago while she was visiting me on Cape Cod. I was feeling rudderless, pitiful, unnecessary, unwanted, all those un’s that make it such a drag to get up in the morning. Patricia and I were sitting in the livingroom wrapped in blankets and drinking coffee (well, she was drinking herbal tea, of course). I was saying that I just couldn’t bring myself to knocking on Cape Cod businesses begging for a job. And she gently said this:

“It’s not about what you need, it’s about what you can contribute.”



I’d been thinking about networking all wrong! It wasn’t about what a pitiful needy, loser, user I was. It was about letting the world know that I was here to help. Patricia certainly isn’t a needy, loser, user. She moves through the world like a queen (in a good way), and people take their cue from her – treating her accordingly. And she benefits a lot of lives as she goes. She may not have a permanent address (other than her Naples PO box). But she has real friends who love her, and she earns an honest living (thanks to laptops and cell phones), growing spiritually, emotionally and professionally along the way.

You may not want to live the life that Patricia has (although, for me, every time she breezes through Santa Fe, where I live right now, ever fiber of my being screams ROAD TRIP!). And you may not have the flexibility of treating the entire planet as your own personal marketplace.

But then again, maybe you do. At the very least the marketplace that you most naturally belong to needs you! But it may not know you’re there. If your resistance to networking is keeping you shy, I don’t blame you. So maybe the thing to do is examine your beliefs around networking. And maybe change your mind just a little.

Networking is a waste of time. It could be, depending on what you expect from your networking activities. If you want a job right this very minute (of course you do, just bear with me here for a minute), you’re probably going to think that networking activities are a waste of time because what are the chances that any given networking encounter will result in a job offer? To be honest – practically zero.

Yes, I get that you need a job – right this very minute. And networking will eventually bring you that job. But it’s a cumulative effect kind of thing. One person leads to another who leads to another who leads to five others. As my coauthor for Unlock the Hidden Job Market, Duncan Mathison, says: Networking is about planting seeds. Lots and lots of them. Some will sprout. But the more networking you do, the more of those seedlings will sprout. And some – not to drive a metaphor in the ground or anything – will bear fruit.

Still not convinced? What are the chances that staying at home will result in a job offer? Guaranteed: Zeeee-roe.

Most of the people I meet at networking events are people who are out of work themselves. That's probably true. Those networking events are the worst. They suck the life right out of you. They waste your time. And feed your growing sense of despair and overwhelm. So. Stop going to them.

Networking is not about going to networking events. It’s meeting people one-on-one, showing sincere interest in what they do, your shared industry or profession, your community, future trends, ideas, etc.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t network with other people who are out of jobs. But still make those one-on-one events, high-quality conversations where both of you end up with a growing list of ideas, connections, phone numbers, companies, introductions.

People don’t want to meet me. How do you know? Somewhere someone needs you. And that will only happen if you get the heck out of the house.

Just because you don’t have a job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have value and that you have nothing to contribute. People need you. To use Patricia’s philosophy: Get out and find out who they are. Under other conditions would you let negative self-talk prevent you from lending a hand where your unique strengths and gifts can really make life easier for someone? Of course not. So why let the inner gremlins have the power now?

People only want to hire to people who already have jobs. That’s a myth. If you’re unemployed right now, you actually have some advantages working for you. You’re available now. You’re not coming in with that entitled “what can you do for me” attitude. You won’t be taking their offer back to your current boss to try to snag a sweeter offer. Everyone knows that really great talent is on the loose right now because of the massive trend of lay-offs. The fact that you’re between jobs right now is not a black mark on your record. It’s just one of those things.

There’s no point in starting now, since the holidays are around the corner. Wrong. This is absolutely a terrific time to look for a job. Budgets are being formulated for Q1. So while you might not start until January 1, you’d be making great use of your holidays by networking your brains out. And just think, if everyone else thinks that there’s no point in job hunting right now, you are out there with very little competition.

For a great article on this subject, check out: T’is The Season To Follow the Money.

I look like hell. That might be true. If you’ve been stuck at home all day, not having seen the business end of a razor in weeks, it might be time to put on your go-to-meetin’ clothes (assuming they still fit) and see if your car will start.

Not judging here. In recent months I’ve been stuck at home writing books. Yoga pants and t-shirts have been my friends. My business clothes have been on the floor, serving as bedding for the cats. And just yesterday I spotted a coyote sauntering past my windows. And, while I was admiring its glossy coat and bushy tail, the thought came to me that it is better groomed that I am. I picked up the phone and made an appointment. For tomorrow. Can’t wait.

If you look like hell, you know what to do. You probably won’t look like Heidi Klum, once you’ve spruced up. But you won’t look like Tom Hanks in Castaway either.

People will know that I’m only networking because I need a job. So what? You’re not the only one looking for a job. The question is: are you the person they’re looking for? It’s up to you how they’ll regard you. They’ll take their cues from you. If you act ashamed or frustrated, they’ll pick up shame and frustration and treat you like you have a contagious disease. Figure out what it will take to behave with confidence, calm and professionalism. And do that.

Focus your conversation not on what you need but on what they need, what they think, who they might introduce you to, who you might introduce them to, etc. Remember: It’s about contribution, not need.

I’ve already done everything I can think of to get my resume into circulation. No you haven’t. Networking is not about bugging your family, friends, the Rotor Rooter man. A reader actually wrote to me saying that she gave her resume to her mail carrier.

Networking is about expanding your circles of contacts, acquaintances, colleagues. It’s about making lists of people and their phone numbers. Then picking up the phone and calling those folks. It’s difficult, I know, especially for people who don’t enjoy calling strangers. But remember, you’re calling colleagues and peers…people you have something or someone in common with.

These are people you might be able to help.

And that’s what it’s all about.