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: www.unlockthehiddenjobmarket.com )

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.”

Oh.

Ohhhhhhhhhhh.

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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Don't let the official stats totally bum you out

There are always more jobs available than those that are officially posted. Really.
http://bit.ly/C6g4M

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to Give Good Luck a Leg Up


If you’ve been between jobs for, like, an hour, you already know that wishing will get you only so far. In fact, you might have been wishing that you weren’t on the list of people to get laid off. So you know better than just about anyone that wishing has its limitations.

Now. Luck. That could be another matter altogether. While you can’t control everything in life, you can certainly help good luck along by the actions you take and the way you take care of yourself while you’re looking for your next job. No I’m not being superstitious. Just practical. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this from the flip side. How much luck to you think would come your way if you stayed at home, refusing to answer the phone or checking your email? See? You can control the way luck behaves in your life – at least to some extent.

Now that you’re looking for your next, great job, you need all the advantages working for you. And that includes luck. So let’s see how we can give it a nudge in your direction, shall we?

Expect that the right job really is out there waiting for you to find it. Yes, even in these days when it appears that “no one is hiring,” people are getting new jobs. You’ve got to hold onto the belief that you will too. If you don’t, you’re going to be sending out those freak-out vibes that will tell potential employers that you’re about to self-combust right then and there. And who wants to hire that? Keep that grounded core of calm, solidified by the belief that, yes, you’re on your way to your new job.

Release your attachment to the so-called system. Amazingly, 70% of all jobs never get published or advertised in any way. That’s why we call it the hidden job market. But even though those jobs are hidden, you can still find them. But that means you have to release your grip on the expectation that “the system” will deliver up a selection of jobs for you to choose from every morning. It might have before (like in 2005) but it won’t anymore. The hidden job market is where you’ll find the great jobs. But you have to go looking for them.

Take that as good news. Sure you have to be more proactive than you were a few years ago. But the hidden job market puts you in the drivers seat. You have the power to go out and find the great jobs and companies that meet your criteria. That’s so much better than just sitting back and waiting for a diminishing stream of the wrong jobs trickle by you.

Keep your funnel full and your calendar crammed. Successful salespeople will tell you to never run out of appointments and possibilities. Some of those appointments will be job interviews. Great. But as you’re working the hidden job market, most of them will be networking meetings. Which is actually even better. You’re not under pressure to get the job. You’re meeting peers and colleagues and exploring ideas and new introductions. Sure, if you’re like a lot of people, you may not necessarily enjoy meeting new people week in and week out. But you’re in sales now. So it’s time to take a page from those guys. And get out there, ready to fill your days with great conversations that will help you understand where the really great opportunities can be found.

Keep your mind open. In our book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market, Duncan Mathison and I tell the story of one of his clients who found a job through a friend of his mother’s. The daughter of a friend of his mother’s, no less. But it took this guy four weeks to pick up the phone and make the call that would ultimately land him the job. Whether it was generic sexism or mom-snobbery that was holding his client back from making the call that could change his life, who knows? Either way, it’s a good story to keep in mind when you’re inclined to say “nope” to hope.

Be prepared to meet your opportunity when you least expect it. I don’t mean you have to be dressed in go-to-meetin’ clothes, with your resume at the ready all the time. In our book, we also tell a great story about another client who meets his next opportunity while standing on the beach in San Diego, dripping wet, battered and bruised after a raucus competitive ocean swim. He was CFO caliber, and the guy he met was a CEO looking for a CFO. Suffice it to say, not exactly your dress for success moment. (Personally, I’m imagining an ill-advised Speedo and a decidedly snotty nose. If this guy can land a job with that as a first impression, just think what luck you’ll have just being dressed!)

Look at what you have to offer from the point of view of your potential employer. The line, “look, I really need this job,” is compelling only in the movies. In real life, it’s darn pitiful. And will net you sympathy, not a job offer. Don’t lead with your need. Present yourself in terms of what you have to offer. So look at your pile of gifts, skills and experiences from the standpoint of how they will solve a company’s problem or meet a need. That’s a conversation that will inspire the right person to say, “How soon can you start?”

Tell your career story in a positive way. When you launch into the response to, “So, tell me about yourself,” stay away from “…and then I got laid off.” Emphasize the results you achieved, talk about the people who noticed your performance and chose to promote you to the next level, tell about the teams you worked in or led. As you near the sad-sack conclusion that takes you to how you’re out of work now, don’t gloss over it. But quickly turn the tables and ask your interviewer a question about the company, his or her own experience in some similar project or team, his or her opinion about the current state of your profession.

Finally, keep your standards high. Luck won’t find you if you’re targeting job opportunities that are clearly beneath your abilities. When you keep your standards high, you will be at the right place at the right time. On purpose. And by design.
So much better than just crossing your fingers, wouldn’t you say?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Advice on Finding a Job in These Tough Times


Hi Everyone! Great news! My new book is only a week away from the bookstores! (well maybe 10 days, maybe sooner!)

It's called Unlock The Hidden Job Market, which I wrote with Duncan Mathison, who is an expert in helping people find work in really sucky economies.

Working on the book is why I kinda let this blog lie fallow for a while.

In the meantime, the official book's website is up and live! Lots of free content there.

www.unlockthehiddenjobmarket.com

I hope you enjoy it and will tell your friends about it too!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Discouraged? Here's How to Re-Energize Your Job Search




Did you happen to see yesterday’s NY Times article about how the nation is flooded with millions of would-be job seekers who have just plain given up? No? Well. Don’t bother. It’s a bummer. (But I linked this article to the online page anyway, just in case you’re like me and you just have to take a look.)

Probably someone somewhere said something along the lines of “Fate favors those who don’t give up.” That only seems to make sense when you’re flying high and everything seems to be clicking in your direction. But when you’re in stagger, stagger, crawl mode, you’re thinking something else. Probably something that includes words that my mommy taught me to never say.

While I can’t change your life for you, maybe I can help you restore your faith in fate and your own future. The name of the game here is to re-energize yourself and your search. Put faith back in the saddle (hey, I live in New Mexico, what do you want?). Since I’ve been dedicating myself to the issue of finding work in rock-hard terrible times, I thought I’d share these tips with you:

1. Adjust your expectations.
Ugh. Not helpful, is that? Okay. So let’s look at this just a little more closely: Depending on how old you are, your internal clock that tells you that you should have some hot prospects by now may have been set during recent boom times when all you needed as a pulse and preferably no prison record. One reason why you might be feeling the gut-punch of discouragement at this particular time could be that your clock is out of synch with the mud-slow slog of today’s job market. Know that it will take significantly longer this time to find that great job that really is out there waiting for you, and you’ll be able to handle that one-day-at-a-time approach a little more easily. Every “no” that comes your way takes you one “no” closer to that ultimate “yes.” Salespeople will tell you that.
2. Keep your funnel full. Salespeople will also tell you about how important it is to have a full and busy calendar of appointments with prospects, networking partners, information sources, etc. Knowing that you always have new opportunities coming up will keep you relatively relaxed as you deal with the one currently on your agenda. A dud meeting won’t feel so apocalyptic when you have more appointments to look forward to. Don’t let an empty calendar catch you flat-footed and discouraged. It’s awfully hard to get that funnel flowing again when it’s gone bone-dry.
3. Lay off the sugar, fat, and booze (I don’t have to mention the other stuff, right?). Comfort eating will suck the life and spirit right out of you. You’ve seen people eat crawfish in Louisiana right? It’s like that when you eat for coping. Buh-leeve me, I know. Plus, glazed-over eyes and gaposis don’t count as business casual.
4. Expand your networking. My coauthor, Duncan Mathison, for our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market, says that the first wall of discouragement that job seekers hit is when they’ve handed their resume out to all their friends and business contacts with the request that they pass it along to their contacts. And then they wait for a job interview to come back like a bottle in the tide. As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?” Bust out of your immediate clusters of social and work contacts and reach out to people you might not have thought of yet. Professors. Reporters. Your employed counterparts in other companies. The membership director of your professional association. Even Mom’s church friends. In our book, Duncan tells the story of one guy who got his new great job because a church friend of his mother’s had a daughter who…. You just never know.
5. Seek out networking relationships with people who truly have something to offer. Now is not the time to be codependent. You don’t to be a heartless user either, of course. (But you wouldn’t do that anyway, right?) Just like the tip from #3, keep your networking diet filled with healthy, positive people who are functioning in society. You might feel like you’re being compassionate and understanding listening to someone’s problems for the umpteenth time. You’re not. You’re being enabling. And look where it’s getting you.
6. Expand your ideas of what a great career and/or industry might be out there. The steam might have run out on your current professional train. Don’t rage against the wind that no one wants what you do anymore. What good will that do you? Think about all the different ways you can put what you do into good use. Perhaps another industry? Another customer base? Another part of the corporate organization? Maybe the government? Strip away all the external contexts that surround your skills, look at what you offer in terms of the value you bring to a potential employer. And speak to that. Who you can be, not who you once were.
7. Always be ready to talk to strangers. If you follow this blog, you know the story about how I met a guy on a plane from Albuquerque to Dallas, found out that his wife was threatening divorce if he didn’t find a job in Albuquerque. When I reached my hotel room in Connecticut that night, I sent off an email to an HR person at a big manufacturer in Albuquerque. Long story short, he got the job. And it wasn’t ever advertised. You just never know who knows whom. By the way: The missus still divorced him. Can’t win ‘em all.
8. Remember that any conversation can turn into a job lead. I once met someone in the ladies room on the 32nd floor of a mid-town NY skyscraper. Why I was in my underwear at the time is beside the point. But I was. She was the office manager of The Cousteau Society. The position of membership correspondent had just opened up. One thing led to another, and soon I was drinking Perrier and eating brie next to The Captain himself. You just never know.
9. Stop relying on the system. Online job boards are good but they should only take up a fraction of your job search time. Maybe a few years ago, they spat out job leads like tennis balls out of those scary machines. But not anymore. You’ve got to be proactive in your job search. You say you are being proactive? Good. Now. Be more proactive.
10. Be grateful that you’re unemployed. Pretty sick, huh? The thing of it is: In this terrible market, you have to use all your time to search for that next great job. This isn’t a spectator sport anymore. You’ve got to be out there swinging. It’s said that 70% of all job opportunities are never published, so plumbing the hidden job market is the way to find that great job that’s out there waiting for you. If you were holding down a job (probably one that you wouldn’t like but would be too afraid to quit), you wouldn’t have the time to meet the people who will ultimately introduce you to the people who will have the job you would really be happy with.
11. Redesign your goals. The job will come. But it probably won’t happen today. But you can still be successful today. How many phone calls can you make today? Can you set three up more appointments? Can you research 10 new businesses or industries that might be a good fit for your skills and values. Of course you can. Every day you’ve got a job. And this is a job you can do. And once you realize how much control you really do have, you’ll start to feel re-energized.

Note from Martha: These principles were borrowed from my new book, Unlock The Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough, which I co-wrote with Duncan Mathison, who has had almost 20 years' experience at the outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin helping executives find their next great jobs. Please pass this on to everyone you know who is out there hammering away at the job market!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why Being Mouthy Is Good For Business

You might not have noticed yet because it is, after all, a weekend, and you do have a life. But the media is all abuzz about a major blunder (not to mention ethics violations) coming out of The Washington Post, which will be printing a special “note to readers” about it tomorrow. Long story short: In an effort to gin up additional revenue sources, the marketing department thought it would be a good idea to launch high-level salons at the publisher’s house, giving media, lobbyists and other Washington, DC, power brokers relaxed, off-the-record, access to each other (hence – as the information food chain goes – public opinion). In theory a possibly good idea. I’m always looking for a good salon, aren’t you?

Here’s why it’s a bad idea: For $25,000 to $250,000, you too can be a sponsor of these salons. Basically buying your way into the public’s ear. Sort of like a tick. When you boil this scenario down to its core components, it comes out this way: The newspaper is selling extraordinary, exclusive access to its reporters. And it flies in the face of basic journalism ethics in so many different ways, it’s hard to know where to begin.

So I won’t. Unless you’re in journalism, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with your own business. Here it is: If the reports are true, the newspaper’s reporters (the ultimate individual contributor) don’t have it in them anymore to stand together as a group and go: “Uh, hello? Stupid idea!!!! We won’t have any part of it!” And because of this, they allowed the Post to thoroughly embarrass itself. It's quite possible that your quiet employees are letting you destroy your business, too. By accident, of course, but still...

According to today’s New York Times article, the Post ombudsman said that “the plan was well developed with the newsroom.” And that made me wonder, “Really?” Somehow I don’t think so. Not the Washington Post newsroom that I know from growing up in the Washington, DC, area.

Here’s what I’m thinking has really happened: The Washington Post reporters have lost heart. They are too busy doing the jobs of multiple reporters to really focus on any one thing. And they have spent recent years hearing over and over again how newspapers are a business and no one will have a job if journalists refuse to get the fundamental fact of newspaper life: It’s all about making money. Jobs are being lost right and left. Newspapers are closing around the globe. An essential component of democracy – the free press – has been compromised to such an extent I’m reminded of a line in the movie Breaker Morant when the main character casts aspersions on the virtue of a woman he dallied with: “Who’s going to miss a slice off a cut loaf of bread?”

Journalists are discovering the same thing that the rest of us are discovering: The only way to keep your sanity about your job is to not care about your work anymore.

I'm just guessing here, but here’s what might have happened inside The Washington Post: Most seasoned journalists spotted this groovy idea coming down from Marketing for what it was: A spear in the ribs of journalistic integrity; an ethics time bomb just waiting for the rest of the media (competition) to get wind of it. Some of those journalists may have spoken up. And then got resolutely ignored. Perhaps some of those journalists already have a history of telling corporate that its desperate ideas are chuckleheaded. And some have resolved to not do it anymore, especially when they see people lose their jobs around them. Others are still doing it, but they’ve already been pigeon-holed as contrarians. So they get routinely ignored anyway.

Others just might not know any better. They’re young. They weren’t paying attention in their Legal Aspects of Journalism class – they certainly weren’t paying attention to the part about sustaining objectivity.

Others are just too plain tired. They’ve given up the fight for whatever has remained of the cherished Fourth Estate. They have lost that heart, that fight, that is supposed to be the red meat of good, solid journalism.

Result: Some young suit from corporate – who probably doesn’t know any better either – might have said to the gathered throng of silence: “So. We’re all in agreement, right? Good. Carry on.” And then the ombudsman gets to tell reporters from the competition that the plan “was well developed with the newsroom.”

I’m no romantic when it comes to journalism. The field has more mediocre schmoes in it than quality professionals – the same way with any profession. But the thing about journalists is that as a group they are more likely to be a gigantic pain in corporate’s backside than any other profession. And it should be that way.

So when they’re quiet – or even cooperative – with corporate on such a rotten, smarmy notion as sponsored salons, you know that you have a cadre of professionals that have had the stuffing kicked out of them. And they just want to hang on to whatever jobs might be left in a dying profession.

As a result, the Washington Post might be a cautionary tale for leaders everywhere. When you suddenly hear silence from quarters where you would normally expect shrieks of outrage, that is not a good thing. That means that you have lost the heart and passion of the very people who used to care enough to send their very best.

Mediocrity prevails when really great people stand by and go, “whatever.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

8 Ways to Keep Your Hopes Up While Looking for Your Next Job





There are plenty of sad ironies around this current era of layoffs and job losses. It’s hard to just focus on one without feeling woefully inadequate about not covering all the bases. But for the purposes of this article, this is the irony of the day: Being without work gives you an awful lot of free time to brood, perchance to freak out. Just when you need most to be active and in the company of productive people, you’re on your own. And that’s, quite frankly, crazy-making.

Since exuding simmering desperation can guarantee that you won’t get a job offer, so holding onto your sanity is probably the most important discipline you can practice right now. This, in itself, is an essential skill. Here’s how you do it:

Remember that the children are watching. This is a powerful opportunity to teach your children how to handle modern uncertainty. You may be the first in your family to have been laid off (or maybe not) but you most certainly won’t be the last – and it’s a fair bet that at least one of your children will be laid off at least once in their lives. This is your chance to teach through your own behavior the power of positive thinking, a hopeful and calm outlook, and the importance of always remembering that intrinsic human value has nothing to do with your job or how much money you make. When it happens to them as adults, they’ll look back on these times and remember with admiration how amazingly gracefully you handled this crisis in your own career. And then copy you.

Break a stress habit.
Who doesn’t have a stress habit? I’ll cop to mine: It’s those little fruit candies, hard on the outside and chewy in the center. It’s hard to break a stress habit when you’re knee-deep in the actual circumstances of that stress. If your stress habit was job-related, guess what! You don’t have a job anymore. So now’s the time to break that habit. At least something good will come from this down time, and you’ll have given yourself something to be proud of.

Start a health habit. Got time? Go for a walk. Got a lot of time? Go for a lot of walks. You know why.

Call your former coworkers.
If you’ve been laid off, you may have discovered that as far as your former coworkers are concerned, you might as well have been abducted by aliens. Why haven’t your coworkers called to extend their sympathies, find out what happened and why, and join you in general righteous outrage? Reason: They don’t have a clue what to say. And maybe they’re a little fearful that it might happen to them (which it might, regardless of whether or not you keep in touch with them). It’s not fair, I know, but it’s up to you to make the first move.

When you’ve settled down emotionally and can be pretty sure you won’t get caught up in the turmoil of business that has long since gone on without you (no one’s paying you to care anymore, so don’t), give them a call. And get together for lunch or drinks after work. Show them that you’re just fine.

Layoffs are short (even though it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the middle of one) and careers are long. You’ll be seeing these people again and again throughout your professional lives. So now’s the time to set the tone that you’re fine, there’s nothing for them to feel bad or guilty about (unless, of course, there is, but then that’s their problem, not yours), and that you’re still a good time at a party.

Rewrite your story. It’s possible to speak honestly about your layoff situation to potential employers. And you can even frame your story in such a way that you look really good – not expendable. San Diego-based executive coach, Duncan Mathison, explains the full process in Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss. It’s too long to describe here, so simply take reassurance in knowing that there is a tried-and-true formula you can copy and practice. It takes two minutes to introduce yourself and tell your job saga on the most powerful, empowering way. Just writing your job story according to this formula is an especially powerful step in reminding yourself that you’re still an extremely valuable professional who had the misfortune of being tapped as a departee by a very regretful employer.

Get out of the house.
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about “the artist’s date,” which is an excursion out of the house (away from the easel, computer, unringing landline) and into the world of enjoyment, adventure, tactile experiences, just plain old fresh air. You can only stare at online job boards just so long. You can only make a certain number of cold calls to potential employers just so long. You can only be in your PJs just so long. Get out! Go to a farmer’s market, take a hike (a laid-off friend of mine hiked the Appalachian Trail. Now that’s what I call going for a walk), go dancing. Go to a museum. Rest your eyes and heart and soul on something lovely and uplifting. Regularly. Like a date. With yourself.

Say no thanks to stupid advice. An engineer friend of mine knew that his job was going to be eliminated. And he took this as an opportunity to switch professions altogether, hopping the fence into the HR career path. Problem: he was already 15 years into his professional life, and he wasn’t so keen on starting at the bottom rung of a brand new profession. But half the people he talked to said, “No…you have to start from scratch and work your way up again.” Stupid advice. He listened very nicely, worked his network like a master, and made the hop – at director level.

Keep the faith. Whatever your religious beliefs are – or aren’t – whatever you do, don’t lose faith that it will truly all work out. I asked my engineer friend the other day, “How did you keep your cool during all this time of waiting and frustration?” He said, “I knew that the right opportunity was on its way to me and it was just a matter of holding out for it.”

Did he just sit on his hands and wait for the Good Luck Fairy to bop him on his head with the Perfect Job Wand? No. He worked like a fiend researching all sorts of job opportunities and companies, and even turning a few job offers down, because they weren’t the right fit. But he also held in his heart and head that as hard as he was working to find the right job, that right job was on its way to him. And that they would meet somewhere along the way. Which is exactly what they did.

This time will pass. But the enduring lesson is that true job security lies only between our ears. Which is why it’s all the more important to keep your wits about you. Keep it together. People are counting on you.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Should You Take A Job That You Really Don't Want?




A month or so ago a chick in Northern California came very close to tweeting herself out of a job. Her snarky – and seemingly entitled – attitude about a fantastic career break outraged the Twitterverse out there who interpreted a casual tweet that she thought was among friends with a really spoiled attitude toward an opportunity that others would have given their right arms for.

But it opened a new question for me…which is “should you really take a job you don’t want?” In today’s job marketplace, it seems terribly ungrateful to look a gift job offer in the mouth. But let’s face it, just because the job market is squeakingly tight that doesn’t mean you should take the first job that’s offered to you, especially if the very thought of it makes you want to hurl.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might legitimately want to say “no” to a job offer:

1. It represents a gigantic step backward. Or at least a really nasty stall. Sure, there’s a recession going on, with very high unemployment rates in most places. But that doesn’t mean you should stop growing professionally. We deserve to keep moving forward in our lives and work. One of these days the recession is going to lift and when it does we’re going to want to be further along in our career path – not further behind.

2. You feel like taking the job will be slumming it somehow. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and seeking out really great workplaces filled with coworkers you can respect and learn from. Socially, we’re under a certain amount of pressure not to get “too big for our britches,” too full of ourselves. So, we can keep these feelings between you and me. But, again, let’s face it: Professional growth comes from working with people you can learn from and who can learn from you. If there isn’t that feeling of mutual elevation, you’re going to feel boxed in by reduced expectations. And…not coincidentally, your coworkers won’t be appreciating you at all. In fact you may end up feeling resented and rejected by a group that has rightly spotted you as not belonging. And you end up feeling really bad about yourself. For no reason.

3. You get the strong feeling that your hiring manager is a little too smug about taking advantage of the buyer’s market. In some areas, talent is on a fire sale (pun unintended). And many companies are able to pick up some great people who might not have been available otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that your potential new supervisor has to rub it in. Or lord it over you. Or make you feel small for being a little needier than you might have been otherwise.

4. You just plain don’t want to do the job. If the very notion of the job potential makes you mad, resentful or vomitacious (yeah, I know that’s not a word, I just like the way it sounds), don’t do it. You’d be taking away a job from someone else who would really dig it. You may have outgrown the level of the job that’s being offered to you, and that’s what’s making you mad. Or you’re burned out from having done that job too much for too long. Or you’re really ready for something fun and exciting. Notice the bad feelings. But don't let them spin you into confusion, send you into an orbit of rage or frustration, or at the very least cause you to commit a regrettable Tweet. Just take them as data points or even symptoms of a rapid growth spurt that even you might not have been aware of. And make your choices accordingly.

Only you will know whether a job is right for you. And even though the job market may be on life support right now, it is still okay to just say no to the offer if it just feels wrong. You’re not being spoiled or selfish. In fact you’re being generous. You’re throwing it back for someone else to catch it – someone who is totally right for that opportunity and the opportunity will be totally right for them. There will be someone on the planet who will never know you but who will owe you a debt of gratitude.

And, as for you, you will be free to say "yes" to the job that is right for you. And won't you be glad you had the stomach to be able to say "no" to the job you really, really didn't want?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How to Keep Your Spirits Up During This Time of Painful Uncertainty



Last week I sent out a request to readers to tell me how they were punishing themselves for being out of work. Boy, that was a mistake. My inbox was flooded with emails from people truly in pain for being jobless. They expressed their suffering in alcohol abuse, isolation, insomnia, weight gain (or loss), hopelessness thinking, neglecting the kids, you name it. I got it all. So this week I’m going to focus my message on practical steps for staying positive in terribly uncertain times.

Remember, you don’t get extra points in heaven for your misery here on earth. You also don’t look smarter for being cynical. Not to belittle your suffering here (not at all), I would like to invite you to at least contain it in a sharply defined box, and not let it slosh over into all aspects of your life. Sure, when you do that, you will have really miserable people tell you that you’re just being silly, shallow, stupid by finding reasons to be happy. Let ‘em. Whole lives have been ruined by someone casually dropping their own D-bomb (D for despair, depression) on someone they just passed judgment on and then walking away from the wreckage, not realizing what they have done. Your life is your own to lead, and you owe it to yourself to find happiness wherever you can.

Listen to your heart. If people keep hammering away at you to do the "smart" thing, and your heart is telling you different, listen to your heart. Every time I ignore my instincts, heart, desires, etc., and let myself get talked into something I really don't want to do, I regret it dearly. And quite seriously and painfully.

Treat regrets like cavities. You can't erase regrets. I've tried. You can't even forget them, really. I've tried. Woulda coulda shoulda's should be treated like cavities: Permanent holes that should be identified, cleaned out from debris and the stinking ickies, and then filled with something really strong: gratitude, faith, hope, appreciation for what we have, lessons we don't need to learn again, that kind of thing.

Have a plan of action. The above-mentioned negativos would scoff at this and say, “well, duh.” Yes indeedy, duh. But here’s where I’m going with this: When you have a plan you have something to measure your progress against. Small wins – like how many phone calls did you make today? – are far more within your control than “did you get a job offer today?” Control will keep you from sliding down the muddy embankment of overwhelm. A plan will help you keep your spirits up, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

A plan will also do something else for you: It will give you something to talk about instead of your frustration. This could be especially important when it comes to talking with your significant other. In my book, Rebound, psychologist Bill Berman talks about how the stresses that he sees in marriages, especially around the job search, come from the other spouse feeling shut out. And to be “helpful,” that person starts offering up some well-meaning ideas – which, of course, as we all know, usually makes matters worse. Having a plan of action will stave off the “just get any job, already” last-ditch suggestion.

Declare a moratorium on downward spiral thinking. About 10 years ago, I was flat broke and living on Cape Cod (if you’re going to be stranded in life, Cape Cod is a good place to do that in). This was a time in the U.S. economy where it seemed that everyone was getting rich. And I couldn’t get a phone call returned, much less a paycheck. I couldn’t even keep a part-time job in a local bookstore, of all places. I was definitely in the trenches. I must have exuded some major loser vibe. So I would wallow in the question why? Why why why why why?

One day I realized that this kind of thought habit was getting me nowhere, and probably cranking up the loser vibe to glass-breaking decibels. So I gave myself permission to stop thinking like that. For just a month.

I still worked according to plan. I just gave myself permission to not feel bad about myself and my lot in life every single second of my waking (and most of my sleeping) hours. The relief was a kind of serene, heavy blanket of quiet. It really does feel better when when the anxiety stops.

Raise your sights, don’t lower them. We’ve talked about this in this space before. Don’t go for jobs you’re clearly overqualified for because you think they’ll be a sure bet. They won’t be. Remember: entry level does not mean easy entry. And healthy hiring managers are not going to be attracted to candidates who are so desperate that they’ll take “anything.” That’s insulting to everyone, including the hiring manager. And you’d be taking away an opportunity from the person who is the right fit for that job.

Be a cluster buster. Great networking (the kind that will get you your next job) is about meeting people in totally different clusters or groups than your current selection of social and professional circles. Use all that energy that you were using beating yourself up, and channel it in the direction of meeting people you wouldn’t have otherwise met before. Seek out one-on-one meetings with these people. I’ll be talking more about that in future columns. But you can certainly teach yourself this material in the meantime. Don’t wait for me.

Don’t depend so much on job boards. They’re good but they’re limited. And every time another half million people lose their jobs (that would be monthly these days), your competition is getting stiffer and stiffer. You’ve got to make your own way. Again, I’ll tell you more about that in future blog postings. Just know that over-reliance on online postings is playing a huge role in bringing you down.

Go out and play. As I’ve mentioned to you before, there have been tons of studies done on how people are more innovative, creative, and optimistic that day after they had a good time -- not the day after they kept their nose to the grindstone. Infusing your life with fun also helps keep up your resilience. If you have children, you also get the side benefit of knowing that you’re setting a good example to the kids that happiness does not depend on a steady paycheck.

Lay off the booze. Really. And pills too.

Coddle your noodle. I know, vitamins and healthy food are expensive. But you are placing a lot of demands on your mind right now, putting your brain through its paces. Give yourself the brain food you need to keep it running at its best. Blueberries, strawberries, walnuts, salmon, carrots, spinach…you’ve seen this list before. Augment the food with a multivitamin, E, all the B’s. We’re talking about keeping your spirits up here, and your brain needs every possible support it can get right now. Don’t be mean to it.

Likewise, watch your explanatory style. When your phone isn’t ringing, what are you telling yourself as to the reason why? When the other person on the line is sounding peevish, is it you? One of my favorite expressions these days is “don’t believe everything you think.” If you punish yourself by assuming that everything bad or disappointing that’s happening is happening because of you, somehow, knock it off.

If you have trouble getting to sleep, you might consider relaxation or self hypnosis tapes. My favorite (and I’m just saying this, I’m not making a penny off of this recommendation) is almost any “paraliminal” from Learning Strategies Corporation. (www.learningstrategies.com) There’s one on relaxation which knocks me out. But I like almost all of them, except the one on peak performance. My preference is the ones that feature just Paul Scheele’s voice alone. The ones he does in collaboration with others make me feel rattled.

(I have trouble staying asleep. So in the middle of the night I just reach for the earplugs and start one up all over again.)

In the morning, practice mind control. My waking nano-seconds are my worst time. For decades I’d wake up with a self-abusive tape already running (it’s amazing I’d even be willing to go to sleep the night before, knowing what would be in store for me upon my waking up). A few years ago, I resolved to start up my own brain engine in the morning. So the second I felt myself coming awake, I’d intentionally tell myself all the good things I could about my life, my world, my place in it, etc.

Yes, yes. I’m aware that might come off as very Stuart Smalley to some of you – especially you cynics out there. Tough. All’s I can say is that most of us would never talk to a tender young child the way we talk to ourselves. So if you are like me and somehow got the idea that despicable self-talk was the same as emotional discipline, then you need to change your tune – especially in the morning.

Finally, take your lessons, impressions and influence from positive people who are out there enjoying life and finding ways to thrive. In Rebound, I spoke with people who were laid off and then landed happily. I wanted to talk to those folks with happy endings to report. Let the news programs focus on the dread tales of over-qualified people humiliating themselves in the job search. That’s helping them sell ads; it’s not helping you keep your spirits up. I wanted to help you keep your spirits up by showing how happy landings can and do happen.

Keeping your spirits up will be your most competitive advantage when it comes to finding your next job. Hiring managers will want to work with the person they will enjoy being with 8, 9, even 10 hours a day. Not some sad sack who says, “I just want a job, any job.”

Remember the lessons of Tigger and Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. You want to be Tigger.

PS: Another GREAT way to start the morning is by watching this following visualization tool. It's by the folks who brought us The Secret. I don't know what I think about the Law of Attraction but I do know that an uplifted spirit is its own reward. So check this out. It's free, wonderful, and you can watch without having to sign up for anything: http://thesecret.tv/secret-to-you/

PPS: If you have a favorite way of keeping your spirits up, email me at martha@reboundyourcareer.com and I'll send you a free PDF of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Are You Punishing Yourself for Losing Your Job?



Losing your job is terrible. But what are you doing to make it worse? Negative thinking? Assuming the job market is so hostile that there's no point in keeping your standards up? Spending weeks in your jammies? Cutting back on even the smallest pleasures in life? Less patient than you'd like to be with the kids? Applying for crappy jobs? Eating crappy food? Drinking more than you should be? Taking up smoking again? Letting the dishes stack up in the sink and dust bunnies do their bunny thing under your bed?


Being kind to yourself and your family is not about coddling yourself. It's about taking care of yourself. And, in the meantime, demonstrating to your children that self-respect and realistic optimism can prevail, no matter what emergencies are swirling around you right now.


What are you doing to punish yourself for being out of work right now? Write to me at martha@reboundyourcareer.com and let me know. I'll send you a free copy of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life as a thanks!

Friday, March 13, 2009

If You're Worried About Acing the Interview, You're Barking Up the Wrong Tree


It’s hard to be choosy these days, isn’t it? The news is filled with stories like the public school that received more than 700 resumes in response to an advertisement for a janitor’s position (did you hear the emphasized detail that the resumes had to be put into a safe? What’s the deal with that? I truly don’t understand what that signifies. I’m thinking that’s just media hype, designed to get you all in a dither about something that’s neither here nor there.). It’s hard to hold onto hope and high standards for what kind of job you’d like to ultimately land when you’re surrounded by messages that the job market world is coming to an end.

Buy into the terrible headlines that people are losing jobs right and left (and, make no mistake, they are), and you’ll be tempted to abandon all hope for a job that’s good enough for you. But let me remind you, as Lauren Doliva said in my new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, there is still a war for talent. “And talent is winning,” she said.

In other words, find the job opportunity that matches your skills, abilities and passions, and you’ll nail the interview – regardless of how worried you are about whether or not you’ll “ace” it. People are still looking for you. You just have to find those folks. And that means you have to be just as choosy as your interviewers are.

Easier said than done, right? Right. I get that. And it’s hard to forget that it’s the interviewer who has the ultimate power to actually offer you the job. I get that too. But remember, you have the ultimate power to say yes or no to that job offer. “Talent is winning the War for Talent,” and you’re on the winning side. Even if we find ourselves in a national economy of 10% unemployment, that means 90% of America is still working. So why not you?

So what does this have to do with worrying about “acing” the job interview? One word: Desperation. Regardless of whether you’re single or married, you probably remember at least one date when all you wanted to do was crawl out of the restroom window. Puppy dog eyes that transmit the message, “you’re my best and only chance for happiness.” Ew! Just typing those words makes my skin crawl. Memories….

So what are you going to do to keep the desperation to a low boil? Or a low howl? Here are some ideas:

Keep your dance card full. Don’t just rely only on online job boards for lining up interviews. If you do, you’ll be sitting at home staring at the unringing telephone forever. Seek out networking conversations that might lead somewhere, even if that lead is only more introductions to additional people you can have informational conversations with.

Get over your aversion to networking. I’m writing a new book right now with the ultra-fabulous Duncan Mathison, who is teaching me (and ultimately you) all about the fantastic networking techniques that remove you from those expensive, soulless, schmoozy schmoozy hiya hiya mixers that make you want to run screaming for the ballroom doors. But while we’re waiting for the book to actually hit the stores, I’ll share with you what I can. Let’s just say for the moment that one introduction leads to another. And you probably haven’t yet met the person who will offer you the job of your dreams. That person will most likely come into your life through a series of personal referrals. And it’s likely that you have met the person who will ultimately lead you to that person. Hmmmm, who could that be?

In the meantime, network your brains out so that you have plenty of options to pick from (or at least you feel as though you do), so you won't worry so much about "acing" the only interview on your calendar -- all the while ignoring the signs that you could be walking into the job of your nightmares.

Remember that when you are in the interview itself, you must be just as careful a shopper as the interviewer is. When you’re talking with the person who might be your boss, find out from him or her specifically what makes the person who will ultimately land the open position a top performer – in the top 20% sparkly bracket. First of all, it’s important to know exactly what those characteristics are. But it’s also important to know if your potential boss actually knows what those characteristics are. How can you please a boss who doesn’t know what he or she actually wants? And then decide whether or not you want to please your boss in just those ways. Qualify your potential boss just as much as they're qualifying you.

Make sure you are willing to actually meet those characteristics. If you’re picking up a vibe of prejudice, attitude or cynicism, don’t automatically think, “it will be different with me.” It probably won’t be. But you won’t really know for sure until you find out what’s behind that ‘tude.

I remember that during my first job interview, I heard the sentiment, “It takes a special person to do this job well.” Well. Let me tell you, that spoke directly to my confused, codependent heart. I thought to myself, “I’m a special person. Whatever the challenge is, I’ll muscle right up to it.” Translation: “I will earn your love.” Boy was I wrong. Boy was I stupid.

What I should have said was, “Really? Tell me more. What do you mean by, uhm, special?” If they were honest they would have said, “You won’t mind being treated like crap by a narcissistic prima donna witch – I mean, boss. You won’t mind being humiliated in front of strangers. You won’t mind being on the receiving end of smug abuse from the person who just had the job before you and was promoted to be your direct supervisor. You won’t mind being set up to fail by people who really don’t care that this is your first job and maybe you could use a little kindness and understanding.”

If all of those things were said to me in answer to a question that I posed: “Really? Tell me more,” then I would say that I aced the interview by getting the fact that I didn't want it. I got the job. I took the job. I lost.

I get emails all the time from people who feel abused by their bosses. They need so much help and emotional support. But the first piece of advice is “beware of the dog.” And in this case, that dog might be a lousy job. Don’t be so eager to ace a job interview that will chain you to a dog.