A commentary on communication

As I climbed onto my barstool next to my hubby at B-side on Friday, I could smell the talc of the barber shop from his fresh haircut. I laid my leg across his lap so he could examine my foot and see my blue toes. It was a guilty pleasure to have a warm cream and stone massage with pedi after a really long week.

Beer and burgers are the best way I know finish a hectic schedule, so I joined him to look at the menu for our favorites. We like to sit at the bar so we can engage the bartender and sometimes converse with other patrons. Tonight we had a hipster, minus a beard, with a wrinkled plaid shirt that lifted to show a dingy white undershirt and the edge of his skinny chinos every time he reached for a bottle or glass. We are big craft beer fans and enjoy a sample before committing to a pint. After my third taste and no winners, I told Andrew,

“I’m not feeling it. Tomorrow we are headed to a sour beer fest, and I think I will just have some booze this evening. Can you mix me a drink, please?”

He perked up. “Where are you headed? I”m a big sour fan.”

“Denizens, over in Silver Spring.”

He scratched his chin, looked puzzled, and said, “I don’t know that one.”

Being the huge fans we are, we proceeded to tell him all about our favorite Denizens flagship beers, a Southside Rye IPA and Oud Boy (a Flanders Sour), and how they made special batches for the Make it Funky Festival, plus host lots of guest brewers. Then I paused and it hit me why none of the male brewers or bartenders seem to know Denizen’s beers: They have boobs, they are a woman-owned brewery!

“Do you think they don’t get any traction with the other breweries and craft bars because they are women? I blurted out loud.

“Totally,” Andrew responded. “It’s definitely a male-dominated arena.”

It blew my mind. I sipped on my lemon, black pepper, and basil cocktail while my husband wisely was quiet. After a moment I turned to him.

“You know, everywhere we have traveled, from Richmond to Rochester, Santa Rosa to Philadelphia, all the small breweries tell you about their friends in the business. I mean, they refer you to other breweries who are really their competitors. They even go as far as to share which are the particularly good beers someone should try. I guess they don’t share the beer-bromance with the female owned breweries. Wow, that stinks!”

He said, “You are just realizing this now?”

I glared at him. “I mean, no, but really?! I thought we’d got past this and it was all about the quality of the product.”

He sat up straighter. “You know I’ve been thinking, your next blog needs to be about translating.”

“I don’t get it, what do you mean?”

“What you really need to write about is the huge gulf between different groups of people, like men and women brewers, or in the workplace with technical teams and creative teams. There are huge gaps of communication that need to be bridged by someone…” he trailed off.

I looked at him and waited for him to explain further.

“Folks who can translate what one group is saying into terms the other group can understand are really important. It’s like a foreign language or different cultures are dividing people these days, even when they are from the same country,’” he added.

“The inability to communicate is keeping us from functioning. Everything is broken down, politically, economically, inter-personally…”

It was food for thought.

***

The morning dawned clear and the sun promised to warm things up to the 70s. We headed to Denizens on Saturday afternoon for the festival. We got in early with VIP tickets, so the beer garden was populated but still quiet. Before the crush, we ran into Emily (one of the co-owners) and chatted her up. She was glad to see us.

“How’re things going? Business been hopping?” I asked.

“Steadily growing things,” Emily responded.

“We loved celebrating our 15th anniversary here for Empowered Women International. It was a great turn out; thanks again for hosting!”

“Our pleasure, we like to support the community,” Emily said.

Then I remembered our conversation with Andrew the night before. I wondered about his comments.

“Emily, do you think it matters that you are a woman-owned brewery in terms of growing and collaborating with other beer makers? Do you find the field dominated by men?”

She laughed. “Big time! Even with my brother-in-law Jeff brewing, we have a hard time networking in the community… he isn’t really good with guy talk.”

My hubby looked at me and raised his eyebrows… “Translator,” he mouthed.

“Geesh, that’s really frustrating to still be facing that divide. We tell everyone we meet to come taste your beer or that they should have a line of your product when they are serving.”

She smiled. “Thanks for the support. Go enjoy the day ‘cause there are lots of good beers to taste!”

He didn’t say, “I told you,” so we started to wander and taste. One of the first tents held the folks from Black Narrows. They make beer on Chincoteague Island, VA. Their approach was very unique—the brewer’s parents described how they fermented oysters in their base to get their unique taste. They also shared that they hadn’t even opened a locale to serve beer, yet their beer was amazing.

There were the always consistent, bigger, more established breweries too, like Allagash and Avery. Then we tripped over Graft Cider from New York who were making a sour cider-like beer, Shared Universe (in conjunction with Charm City Meadworks in Baltimore). It was divine. Sarah, one of the business owners, was there and was really knowledgeable. Other than Emily, she was the only other female we met, other than servers, who seemed involved with the business of making beer. There were at least 50 breweries represented at the festival.

But the fun wasn’t over, and you are probably wondering where I’m going with this. I was equally surprised as the theme of communication and the need for translators was driven home again.

On Sunday I had a non-profit volunteer board meeting that lasted for three good hours, with engaged volunteers who were all mission-driven—easy stuff. Then we headed to my son’s football match and enjoy more of the beautiful fall weather. To top off the entire weekend, we went downtown to a sold-out book talk by Brené Brown, PhD Social Work.

Damn, she’s funny. She’s colorful, loves to cuss, and with her third-generation Texan accent, tells a mean story about her extensive research. Guess what she was talking about?

That we have a global “spiritual crisis of disconnection”. How we have become a nation of the “sorted.” That we have built balkanized communities of people similar to ourselves who are against everyone else. A collection of people who view others as outsiders while they are trying to find belonging, and in the end find themselves lonely behind self-constructed bunkers. That by not talking to people who have differing views, we have disabled communication totally. That there is a difference between hate speech (it’s destructive, hides fear, and is de-humanizing) and freedom of speech (guaranteed by the first amendment and crucial for democracy to flourish).

Brené was talking about the same thing my husband and I had started out with earlier: that unless we have a translator, a connector, or something drastic to bridge the gap between us (all people), we will continue to be disconnected. Human beings as a species are social and crave true connection to thrive. If we could only be vulnerable, look beyond the hatred that often masks pain or fear, and engage those who are different from us, Brené said, and if we do it with genuine, curiosity, and civility, we might survive.

She had started the discussion with a quote from one of her favorite writer/poets, Maya Angelou (Bill Moyers Interview 1973):

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Brené challenged us to show up and join her in “Braving the Wilderness” (Her latest book that just made the bestseller list) where by being true to our individual selves, we can lower our barriers and reconnect with others—both those who are like us and those who are different from us. We can open communication and find that we are more alike than different. We have to start somewhere to repair the world—both professionally and personally.

Good beer making doesn’t require a specific gender or orientation. Neither does remembering to pull our neighbors (regardless of who they voted for) into the boat when the flood hits, or digging through the rubble for survivors (regardless if they are rich or poor) when the earthquake strikes, or rescuing survivors and mourning the dead (while trying to empathize with the perpetrator) when a gun-toting man fires his semi-automatic into a crowd of country music lovers. Here’s to the translators and connectors in the world. Please help bridge the gap, one human being to another.

Advertisements

What’s Professionalism Got to Do With It?

Recently, someone I placed in a new position asked me to write a blog about how to start a new job and be successful. Through my years of recruiting, I’ve seen some interesting scenarios. It made me think about matches that worked and others that were less successful. A position description or mission statement can describe technical skills or organizational capabilities. The cultural fit isn’t often described, but I’d say it’s just as crucial as any skill set.

I believe, greater consideration needs to be given to the “hidden codes” that have developed within a corporate culture and how they align with the personal style of a professional. Basically, success in a new role isn’t always determined by your performance in the first 6-12 months. Your orientation period is important, but your success is determined during the selection process when all parties involved are honest and diligent about the fit. Here are some scenarios that help both companies and professionals discuss the components that need to be considered when identifying the best match.

Interpreting the Hidden Messages

Guided or Self-Directed Tasks

“We prefer people who follow directions well, and can deliver exactly what we requested within budget, with high quality results and on time.”

“Our best performers point out another or better way to accomplish a task or even question the direction of an assignment.”

These two goals are not mutually exclusive but they describe different kinds of thinkers and people with different styles. Typically, the person in the first scenario will do better with a firm that prefers task oriented professionals who embrace an organizational system. The second style is someone who thrives in an environment where there’s more ambiguity and how the goal is obtained is left to the creativity of the individual.

Open-ended or Specific Functions

“In our organization a professional must promote their talents and meet people to learn their areas of expertise and get on projects. It’s a proactive process and with guidance anyone can be successful here.”

“When we hire someone on the statistical team, they are based here with us. Various parts of the company come to us with their statistical problems and we solve them. There’s lots of variety and we don’t have to actively seek projects.”

In these scenarios a professional’s style will play a huge role. The first description requires a proactive person who is participatory in building relationships within their firm. They need to earn respect and lobby to be on projects. To someone who enjoys determining their trajectory, this is really appealing. To others, this is daunting and exhausting.

In the second scenario, a strong professional will have lots of work coming to them. There will be many different kinds of projects that will keep them learning and busy. Again, they have to earn respect, but it’s a different kind of responsibility. The role is clearly defined and more specific. There is less ability to select projects of personal interest, but no lobbying required.

Structured or Unstructured Management Styles

“I like to give a project and a deadline and let my staff decide on the approach. I like to have updates on status and am willing to answer questions when needed. Delivery of a solid piece of work on time and in budget will increase my level of trust. I am willing to give greater and greater amounts of responsibility to a subordinate based on the outcomes of a project.”

“When we have a task from a client, I like to break it down and delegate specific pieces to my talented team members. I hold regular status meetings with each person on the project. My preference is for them to leverage our traditional approaches, I find it produces a consistent level of high quality deliverables.”

Someone might be totally lost in the first organization but thrive in the second one where there are specific directions on each task. Another person might find the room to be creative and run a project anyway they think is appropriate incredibly exciting. That same person could find a strong structured manager suffocating.

Value of Due Diligence

These are just some examples of different aspects of corporate culture that either attract or repel different talent. The management of an organization are the professionals that embrace the culture and have succeeded within the firm. During the hiring process, it’s really important to acknowledge that we can’t just look for skills and mission alignment we have to be proactive and dig deeper to see the hidden code. Both parties must be involved in the decision.

When we select the right people to hire or we select the right company to join, it’s incredible. We will see greater longevity, higher productivity, more loyalty, increased career progression, and improved corporate success. If it’s a mismatch, it can feel uncomfortable like a handsome pair of shoes that just don’t ever break in right, and this can be downright uncomfortable.  Stress or anxiety increase, work satisfaction decreases, often there’s a loss of confidence, miscommunication about tasks and objectives can result. This negatively impacts both the professional and the company.

BONUS!

Thoughtful Tips to Consider First 6-12 Months 

Learn the rules of your new organization, and what’s expected. Are there core set of hours? Do they accept telecommuting or prefer you in the office? How do they look at leave, sick or personal? Ideally you have learned most of this during the interview process, because this will impact the success of the match.

Too often I have seen a failed match because expectations were different, not fully discussed, or misunderstood during the interview process or upon hire.

Figure out the best modes of communication with the various people you come into contact with in the new position. We have three generations of people in the workplace right now, something very unusual. Baby Boomers may prefer a face to face meeting, or phone call. Millennials are probably better on email or text. When you have to interact with several generations, the onus falls on you to figure out how to get the same message across to the various audiences.

If you aren’t clear on how it all works or what to do, ask your supervisor for support or guidance. 

Management is personal, but the responsibility of a good leader is to get everyone on their team to the same objective. Just like communication, directions and work style vary among professionals. Some is influenced by generation, but much is genetic and pre-determined by learning style. If you are managing someone who’s not performing well, think about how you are directing them or communicating with them. Are they understanding the directions? Can you motivate them in different ways? Is there too much of a style mismatch or can you tweak instructions to get better results?

By selecting a professional to hire and investing in their success, it’s important to be objective and problem solving oriented when we hit a bump.

Dress can be a point of contention. One of my clients said a fresh college graduate came to work with no shoes on because the dress code was “business casual”. Granted it was California, but not acceptable. Again, the multi-generations make this harder to gauge. A good rule of thumb on the interview or when you get hired is to always dress better than everyone, a suit, or something close to it is important. Even if the organization says they are business casual, stray on the side of more formal for the interview or when you first start.

Look at the senior leader and their senior management team and emulate them. Now, I know some CEOs might be in torn jeans and Converse, but you aren’t the “top dog”, so look at the next layer.  If you hope to be promoted or have a seat at the leadership table, you make your first impressions based on how you are perceived. Then you build respect based on your output. It’d be a lie if I didn’t say it mattered how you present your physical self. Take that deterrent out of the equation by making it neutral.

There’s a time and place to make a style statement. It’s hard to change that first impression.

Some random other thoughts:

  • Be aware of hours worked and deliverable deadlines, does this work with your style and can you meet the expectations?
  • Ask for feedback, and review people with clear information, opening communication lines and sharing honest constructive feedback from the get go can set things up for success.
  • Remember how the lines of authority work, you are not in charge when you start a new job so be respectful and earn respect, it does go both ways.
  • Don’t make best friends, learn the lay of the land before befriending people. Work is not for finding bosom buddies to share your social life with or to hit happy hour. Mixing the two can be dangerous, that includes use of social media.
  • Whatever task you do, do it to the best of your ability. My father said, “if it’s sharpening pencils, or keeping the conference room clean, do it”.

Learn what you can. Contribute the most possible to a project. Find balance in your work-life by setting clear acceptable boundaries. We won’t always make the perfect hire or find the perfect job, but if you do your homework and are patient with a bit of introspection thrown in-we can all make better choices that results in greater success stories.

Value of Volunteering-Professionally & Personally

I’ve never paused to think why it’s important to volunteer, I have always known it’s a necessary activity to give my life more meaning. Some people are lucky and get paid to do what they love; act, sing, write, invent, build, or argue. Others have to keep their passions in the area of their lives we call, hobbies. Writing is one of my hobbies. My first short story royalty check was $5.47, not enough to buy lunch. My theory is that we have lots of interests, several skills, and finding a way to weave them altogether so we can support ourselves plus feel like we matter or have value is the goal.

Professionally, I talk for a living. I interview and spin stories. I promote opportunities. I prep professionals for jobs or prepare clients for wooing candidates. People who know me well, recognize that I do like to talk, but it’s not talking for the sake of talking. It’s a powerful thing to listen well and be a wordsmith. Communication is how people connect. I’m a headhunter, a talent acquistion, marketing and sales professional. Being a connector or networker is innate to me, because I really enjoy people and connecting them to what they love. It’s like putting together a big puzzle.

What’s my point?! I’ve had several conversations with people recently, who were searching for meaning. To find the balance between life and work (where you want to get up each morning) and also can afford to pay to keep a roof over your head is a tough place to find. That’s where volunteering comes in. You may feel you don’t even have time to read that bestseller sitting on your nightstand. Or your partner has been asking you to mow the lawn or take out the garbage, and all you want to do is play a video game or take a run to de-stress. I would argue, find the time because it will enrich your life, enlarge your perspective on the world, expand your personal and professional horizons, and who knows where that interaction might take you.

I challenge you to explore an opportunity to volunteer.

  • Find something you are really passionate about or know a lot about, often the two are related; literacy, music, cooking, exercise, entrepreneurism, or science?
  • Think about the population you feel drawn to working with most what moves you; kids, adults, elderly? Does the religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identification, nationality, or status like military, vulnerable populations, or mentally impaired, etc. matter to you?
  • Review your skills that you have to offer; good with numbers, accounting or finance, strong marketing & communications experiences, great networking and fundraising, community organizer, strong operations skills, ability to mentor about a topic, and or just energy to lend a hand.
  • Be realistic about the time you can devote, best hours of the day, best days of the week. Volunteering is a commitment and canceling isn’t cool.
  • Research various non profits, non governmental organizations (NGOs), religious charities, retirement communities, schools, or hospitals to see what they look for in volunteers, or what skills of yours might be valuable to them, and align with your interests.
  • Volunteer on short term finite projects, a clean up of the park, a book sale at the school, a bring your dog to visit the elderly afternoon, and see what speaks to you.
  • Narrow the field, and get more involved to see what you think of the leadership team, the mission, and the operations of the organization.

Organically it will happen. You will find yourself taking on more activities and responsibilities with an organization that resonates with you. Like me, you may find yourself on the board of an organization. I’ve been with Empowered Women International (ewint.org) for over four years now. Raising funds, working on projects, and volunteering in the workshops are several of the experiences I’ve enjoyed. I found my passion for sharing my knowledge about business and careers was a great match for EWI. They give entrepreneurial training and mentoring to immigrant, refugee, and American born women as a tool to gain economic stability.

Some days I wonder which is my real job and which is my volunteer work. Both my work and my volunteering seem to compliment each other and I find that they often mix and mingle. Volunteering makes me a better professional, and my professional skills make me a better volunteer. My entire life is enriched. With the world in turmoil, all I can do is work locally to make things better one person at a time. It’s a good way to keep your sanity and feed your soul.

Demonstrating Value on an Interview

One of my favorite activities is to present my workshop on preparing and securing a job offer. Recently, I did my regular guest visit to Empowered Women International’s (EWI) Entrepreneur Training for Success course being offered at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. I was excited to have the opportunity to discuss career topics with the women, their mentors (and hopefully our future supporters) the Gupta Family Foundation. An added bonus, my daughter attended plus a friend.

It was a full room, with over twenty of us, and it started out slowly. As we went around the room, introducing ourselves and sharing a few facts about who we were, I slowly saw each woman in a different way. Initially their head coverings made them hard to differentiate from each other. Soon, I noticed different colors and patterns that reflected how truly different each woman was. First, they shared their name and then three facts about themselves. A mother. A maker of family recipes. A model and artist. An accountant. A businesswoman. When we broke out into small groups and regathered to share our results, the room was heating up.

As immigrants to a new country, with a new language, new culture, it’s even more challenging to market yourself. It’s one thing to list skills and talents, but the burden to translate how you add value to an organization falls on each of us. I was amazed at how animated the women became as they shared. I shared the ingredients that make a good interview; preparation, questions, compensation, and closing questions that overcome objections.

Next, I taught a technique called a FAB Presentation-Features, Accomplishments, and Benefits. With these two exercises, you will be able to present yourself in the most powerful way during any conversation. Key components to note are my “Closing Questions”, “Salary”, and the “FAB”. Walk through the anatomy of an interview (below) and then practice the FAB exercise (below) to prepare for any type of interview. Go out and grab that next opportunity!

ANATOMY OF AN INTERVIEW

First there are several types of interviews. While they have much in common, they do have slight differences.

  • Scholarship/Honor Society
  • Entrance/College
  • Informational
  • Internship/Permanent Position

Prep for Positive Results

You wouldn’t just show up to a client presentation and wing it. So don’t do this when you are interviewing. An interview is a marketing presentation of yourself, and it’s important to do the prep work so you can have the best possible outcome, an offer. When you get an offer, you have the power to decide if you want the job, otherwise, you have nothing.

Homework for an interview

  • Learn about the company
  • Read about the people meeting with you
  • Search the internet for articles about the organization
  • Review the company website to understand their business

“Package yourself”

  • Bring an updated version of your resume
  • Dress appropriately (Even if they are business casual, you have to impress with your interview “suit”)
  • Review the position and anticipate areas of interest (FABS- see exercise)
  • Ask insightful questions to learn about culture, training, career path (see exercise)

Closing Questions

There are many ways to close an interview. I believe there are two types of key closing questions that you should focus on. It’s perfectly legit to ask these.

  • Objections – Ask if the interviewer has any concerns or if anything is unclear. By exposing any objections, you have a chance to overcome them while you are still there. This increases your chances of moving to the next step.
  • Process – Ask about what the next steps are in the process. Gain clarity on your competition. Find out what the time frame is on a decision. By asking for more information, you will be able to better manage your own expectations.

Thank you Note – Get business card(s) to ease writing a “Thank You” note (Email or Snail Mail). MAKE SURE THIS IS NOT GENERIC! A thank you is an opportunity for another contact. Make it count. Add additional information, share a relevant article, or make a suggestion based on the earlier conversation.

Salary – Is probably the conversation people most dislike.  Typically it doesn’t come up on the first round, let the company raise the issue. Here’s an easy approach to demystifying the process. Be direct and honest.

  • Share your present base plus bonus
  • State you are open for a fair offer
  • If they push again, you can use a “redirect”
  • You can ask what the range of salary is for the position
  • Ideally, don’t state a figure, you have a 50% chance of being high or low
  • Receive an offer and then you can counter

You have shared, now it’s their turn to share. If the range is what you would consider, confirm it. Typically, to make a move, a professional likes to see a 10% increase of the base. There are other nuances to this conversation, but these are the basics.

NUTS & BOLTS

Below is a tool that I would suggest you use to field questions you will be asked on an interview. Most questions fall into three categories. I suggest you prepare 3-4 FAB statements for each category. This way you will be prepared to field any questions in a succinct powerful way. It will give you more confidence. You will not forget a detail or tell a long drawn out story.

Questions you receive will be focused on:

  • Skills/talents/subject matter expertise
  • Ability to manage people and projects
  • Client Services and Business Development

FAB Presentation Exercise

Features, Accomplishments, and Benefits (FAB)

A FEATURE is a fact about you. This is a point where you begin self-analysis. Focus on the features that describe your abilities, skills, & experience. Remember features are factual and objective. They describe “WHAT. . . “

An ACCOMPLISHMENT is a significant achievement accomplished during education or employment (high grades, publications, promotions, projects that stand the test of time) Accomplishments are stated in a very specific language and should include quantitative measures. They describe “HOW WELL. . .”

A BENEFIT is an example of what you can do for a future employer. The benefit takes into account your previously stated features and accomplishments. A benefit translates the facts for a future employer in terms of what you can do for them. They describe “HOW YOU ADD VALUE. . . ”

Before an interview create at least 10 FAB statements. Write them down, and review them. Focus on three categories you know you will be asked about, skills, management and client services. FABs will help you field difficult questions. They will help you to gain confidence by recognizing that you have concrete skills/abilities to share. FAB statements are powerful ways to translate skills from your resume to actual benefits for future employers.

“Forced”​ Career Transitions

Have you or someone you know heard or said these words recently?

“My final day will be Friday, I resign.”

“You’re fired!”

“You’ve been laid off because we are decreasing our staff.”

My basement flooded right after I had major shoulder surgery. We had to replace everything, and I was told think about the situation as, “forced redecorating”. Instead of crying, my friend’s comment made me laugh. I didn’t want to redecorate my basement. Most people don’t want to job hunt either. Sometimes we get pushed into certain decisions.

To be honest, it’s much easier to find your next opportunity when you are currently employed, but that’s not how it always happens. Life can be messy. Recently I have seen more people unhappy in their roles. Against my advice, they choose to resign and focus their entire energy on finding a new position. I’ve also heard several heartbreaking stories about talented professionals being fired, yes, I said talented. Additionally, in the ever-changing landscape of organizations, there are a lot of mergers and changes that fuel lay-offs. Whole departments can be wiped out in a single swoop. The work place is constantly changing. A person I interviewed once told me, “If companies don’t evolve, they become extinct”. I think this goes for professionals as well.

You may think that resigning, being fired, or getting laid off, is career ending. I would counter that often it can be a gift. Yes, we all have to pay our rent, and eat, but here are some ways to counter this life hurdle and focus on the upside. First, you need to prepare a statement that describes your present employment status. Next, you need to consider some practical aspects of keeping yourself solvent. Finally, you need to identify an opportunity that is a better fit for your talents and can benefit from your skills.

What to say when….you’re in career transition

This can be the most excruciatingly painful part of the whole process. Some people feel like they are failures. Other people are morbidly embarrassed. Shake it off. Unless you made no effort, lied about your skills, or had a major problem, it’s more likely that you were in the wrong position with a culturally mismatched organization. Both you and the company will be better off with a different solution. Come up with a simple few lines that explain the situation (not putting blame on the company) but sharing responsibility for where you are now.

Here are some real stories (names have been changed to protect the innocent) and what I would say in the situation. Find one that you identify with and then skip to the next section for further suggestions.

Scene 1

A health policy lawyer was referred to me by a friend.  Jake had been working very hard as the policy person for an association. Despite enjoying the subject matter, the situation with his manager was not supportive but combative. After multiple years of letting the manager take credit for his work, he was fired. It devastated him.

Status Statement

Recently, I left my position after several years with a health policy association. The lead policy maker wanted to take the group in a different direction. I’m seeking a place where I can contribute my expertise.

Scene 2

A young professional worked several years for a large corporation. Thomas received stellar reviews and was learning new skills plus taking on more responsibility. In the midst of planning several big projects, he was suddenly fired, and told he violated a company policy. It was confusing to go from being a great employee one day to being fired the next day.

Status Statement

After several years with a wonderful firm, we parted ways. It was a surprise, but now I have an opportunity to delve more deeply into the IT programming that really intrigues me.

Scene 3

A hard working young scientist takes a position with a start up research project. Dan’s role is to share his knowledge and create their research strategy. Unlike the former organizations where the field collection workers made their own schedules to get the work done, this corporate culture required structured hours and set approaches. Pressure builds and everyone is unhappy. Despite doing some good work, Dan’s fired after several months.

Status Statement

I joined a great organization but we were a mismatch on the best methods to achieve the objectives. I’d like to contribute ideas in a more scientifically rigorous environment.

Scene 4

A healthy financial services organization had a department dedicated to financial administration. During a recent reorganization, a young millennial is put in charge of the seasoned team.  Soon several of her friends complained about the changes, and were offered buyout packages to leave. Sheila tried to fly under the radar after dedicating herself these past 12 years. Unfortunately, Sheila no longer wanted to be there. She resigned, after asking for a severance package.

Status Statement

My department went through a reorganization and changed their staffing needs. I accepted a severance package and am excited to identify a new challenge.

Scene 5

A large market research firm wanted to build a new practice and grab a part of the market doing audio ratings. Tom had strong analytic skills, knew market research, plus specialized in media. He was recruited to build a group. Unfortunately the economy took a downshift and the company no longer wanted to invest in a nascent market. Tom and the people he hired were laid off.

Status Statement

I was hired to build a new capability for XYZ company in the media world. Unfortunately the venture funding for the department was cut. Presently, I’m considering new options.

Scene 6

After taking a break to raise a family, Susanne returned to the consulting world. She was tasked with the strategic role of building a practice. For two years she successfully added talented staff and helped grow the bottom line of the organization. Personally though, she was unhappy, missed being hands on, and found she preferred the task to the business strategy & office politics. She decided to consider other options and resigned.

Status Statement

I effectively built out the consulting capabilities of my firm and hired talent with a succession plan. My role was heavily focused on operations and I missed the hands on analytic work.  I’ve discovered this is what I love to do and plan on moving in this direction.

Practical Aspects

Regardless if you resigned, were fired, or laid off, you now find yourself in a situation without an income and bills to pay. This is easier if you are dual career household, but if not, you need Plan B while you seek your next career move. This is where those old skills of waiting tables, tending bar, babysitting, substitute teaching, coaching sports, retail, can fill in. Higher paying gigs are consulting back to the industry you came from. Consulting lets you network, take on small projects, and check out different organizational styles, all at the same time. Temping can also let you see inside a company and explore the culture fit without committing to full time.

You can be more particular about your next role now that you know corporate culture matters. Remember, what you do during this transition time is important too. Make your activity count. It needs to be related to something you are really passionate about, and add value to your portfolio of skills going forward. It may be appealing to travel, take a break, or a vacation, but after a few days of R&R, I would encourage you to set a firm schedule, map your plan of action and focus. It’s hard to relax on that vacation when you don’t have a job. Best suggestion I can make, is find a new role, and then let them know you can’t start for two weeks because you have a pre-planned holiday. Then you can truly relax and celebrate.

Down the Road

We can’t keep any of these scenarios from ever happening again, but we can learn from them. Spend some time to be introspective, think about the role, the industry, the type of organization that suits you best. Look at where you came from first to help you learn about where you want to be. Think about what you liked and what you didn’t like about your role and the organization.

As an executive recruiter, these are some characteristics I explore when I consider introducing a candidate to a potential employer. You can make your list of important interests, skills, and desires (both professionally and personally) and compare them to each option. Even with this rational approach, in the end though, you will have to learn to trust your gut again. 

Road Map to Find “The Job”​

Each year I give hours of advice to job hunters on how to identify and secure the job they want. Next week, I’m doing a workshop on resumes & preparing for interviews for our current Empowered Women International Entrepreneur Training for Success program. I realized that the road map is the most important piece that comes before you can get to the interviews. I remembered the coaching tips or tweaks a matchmaker and dating coach gave me about dating. Yes, there are some strong similarities, and a few differences. Most of the time, it’s just small adjustments that can make a huge difference in your dating life or your job hunting success. Here are my coaching tips & tweaks that can improve your search for “The Job”.

It’s a lot of work, I won’t lie. No one else can do it for you, it takes research, name gathering, building a spreadsheet to track it all, and then you are finally ready to start your journey. Creating a road map is not for the faint hearted, and there may appear to be short cuts, but we all know what happens on those, the wolf eats you, or you get stuck in the mud. Here are the steps that I share with people who are looking for their next opportunity. Regardless of where you are in your career, I know this process works. You must be proactive to have success, and remember you can’t skip steps.

EVALUATE YOUR ABILITIES

Education/Training

  • Where are you on the education spectrum, did you complete HS, tech school, college, grad school?
  • Have you gained the skills of your trade, SW, HW, subject matter?
  • Language skills?

Professional Experience

  • Do you have any work experience?
  • Is it related to your areas of interest or unrelated?
  • Do you need additional training or retraining?

Marketing Materials/Packaging

  • Have you crafted your “Elevator Pitch”?
  • Is your resume well developed and representative of your best skills?
  • Do you have people who will give you references?
  • Have you built a portfolio, a body of work, or a reputation through presentations & publications?

PASSIVE VS PRO-ACTIVE

When people say they are job hunting and sending out 100s of resumes each day; or they tell you that they are applying to lots of jobs via the internet, but nothing is happening; they don’t understand why they aren’t making progress; I call this kind of job hunting “PASSIVE”. This kind of plan or action doesn’t get you closer to “The Job”.

The best career search is a PROACTIVE one. This requires effort, and going through all the steps I describe here, self-evaluation through creating a plan, and implementing it. Here’s the next step after self-evaluation.

NAME GATHERING & COMPANY IDENTIFICATION

First, leverage your spheres of influence, your inner circle to your outer circle. Gather names of people you have worked with over time, people you went to school with, people you have met in your field. Next expand your circles to people you know or can be introduced to through friends and family. The outermost ring is created by doing research on people you heard speak at professional meetings, or discovered online, or read something they wrote.

To grow your networking options even more, consider organizations where each of these professionals work now or have in the past (see LinkedIn comments for more info). Plus professional associations that are strong in your industry are a great resource. There are lots of tools out there to do research and gather information. Now, within moments you can Google information about most any organization or person. What can be especially helpful is the power of LinkedIn. You don’t have to pay for the service, the free version has plenty of bandwidth.

I’ve walked many a person through some of the helpful tools or data points you can gain from LinkedIn. I’m sure there are many more ways to use this medium but I’m going to share some basics here.

POWER OF LINKEDIN

Looking up a person on LinkedIn gives you several pieces of information. You can see where they trained and what firms they worked with over time. You can also see similar profiles on the right hand side of your screen. Below the list of similar people, you can also see profiles that other people checked out. This gives you additional people or possible companies to network with about their roles or organizations.

If you look up a company, you can see all the employees who are on LinkedIn, presently working with the firm, or who have in the past. Plus, there are often groups of alumni-former employees, or groups with shared interests on a myriad of topic areas. Once you are looking at a company profile, you can also see a list on the bottom right hand side of your screen that shows similar companies. This is another way to gather related companies and their employees for potential networking.

TRACKING DEVICE

Gathering all the information on small scraps of paper, or on your phone in lists, doesn’t count. It’s really important to build a solid spreadsheet in Excel or something similar. I like to capture the date you enter the information, the company, the contact with their title, their contact information, their industry sector, follow up dates, and notes.

Schedule everything on a calendar (Google or Outlook), and include any follow up instantly or it won’t happen. Trust me after years of recruiting, I know that it takes several efforts to reach someone (no it’s not personal when they don’t respond), and there is no way you will remember to follow up if you don’t put it on your calendar. Numbers are key. You need to reach out to lots of people and companies through different mediums; email, phone, and LinkedIn to have success. 

In the tracking notes you need to write down the outcomes; if you need to send information, or need to follow up, or even to arrange a meeting. You will not have any recollection of someone after you speak with 50 people. There are CRM systems out there, but not everyone has access to this. Write down your notes so you won’t forget something key.

ANALYZING YOUR RESULTS

Periodically assess your tool. See if tracking sheet needs reorganization. Look to see if there are patterns, or sectors that are stronger, or what you can learn from all the data. DO NOT SPEND HOURS MAKING PRETTY CHARTS AND NOT REACHING OUT TO PEOPLE OR HAVING CONVERSATIONS. Working on your tracking sheet can be used as a way to procrastinate, but the tracking device is to keep you on your path. Plus, sometimes you can get travel weary or discouraged. The TRACKING DEVICE will show you that you are making progress on your journey.

ACTION

Start reaching out to people for Informational Interviews (Informational Interviews). Be prepared to share your pitch, follow up, and ask good questions. Track the outcomes, and know that you are getting closer and closer to your destination. There is a good opportunity out there waiting for you to find it, it’s up to you to map the best course. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

Why Mentoring Matters

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in Julie Kantor’s, founder of TwoMentor (http://www.twomentor.com) and Co-Chair for Leadership Greater Washington Signature Program (http://www.lgwdc.org/) workshop, “Speed Mentoring”. Yes, you got that right, it’s pretty similar to “Speed Dating”. But before we get into what happened, Julie started the activity with some strong stats and supporting evidence about why mentoring is important.

BENEFITS OF MENTORING FOR PROFESSIONALS & COMPANIES 

  • Increase in connection to each other and to the organization
  • Greater retention of staff and less institutional knowledge loss for organizations
  • Higher promotion rates in shorter time period compared to peers
  • Increase in earning potential and have greater success in the workplace

To start the activity, Julie had us all sit down at a long table. Half the participants were on one side and the balance of the participants on the other side, facing each other. The ground rules were that one participant of each pair would be the mentor for seven minutes. Then we’d rotate and have a different role. We were guided through the experiential activity to see what would occur.

Could we build rapport? 

What would we talk about? 

Would the conversation be genuine? 

Never fear, we didn’t ran out of things to say. Julie gave us a question for each round, timed the conversations, and debriefed us afterward. As a group we also crafted definitions of modeling, sponsoring and mentoring. To fully appreciate the value of mentoring, it’s important to understand these terms and what roles they can each play in the success of our careers.

DEFINITIONS

  • Sponsoring is someone senior promoting you “behind closed doors” or when you aren’t present.
  • Mentoring is when a relationship is built through trust and respect. There are regular interactions with specific goals or expectations. Both parties benefit.
  • Modeling is a person we “worship” or aspire to be from afar, there isn’t a personal connection.

As a headhunter, I often counsel people about their career choices. It’s not always as structured or consistent as formal mentoring, but most people (including my kids) will tell you, I do offer plenty of unsolicited advice. As a board member for Empowered Women International (http://ewint.org/), I also present a workshop to share ideas about promoting yourself, building a network, and identifying your marketplace. Most of the time I’m in the role of coach-sharing my insights, but through “Speed Mentoring”, I learned that you can gain as much from being the recipient of advice as you can by sharing your knowledge. The only caveat is, both parties have to be receptive to the relationship or it won’t work.

Read on if you aren’t yet convinced that finding a mentor or being a mentor could greatly influence your career success-plus you might enjoy it.

WHO NEEDS A MENTOR

Often as a recruiter, after twenty years, I don’t have many peers. I work from a home office since we gave up our bricks and mortar location. It can be isolating. Not that I lack interaction with people, but intellectually and professionally. All day long I share pieces of advice with candidates and clients. Sometimes though, I need to bounce ideas off a peer or someone with a different perspective from me. Even experienced people need to find mentors. While we have a lot of knowledge, there is a need to collaborate and share with peers. Or learn from experts in our field. Plus up & coming young professionals have new perspectives. This enables everyone to learn from each other. It’s not just young people or inexperienced people who need mentors, but all people in whatever stage they are in their career or life.

REVERSE MENTORING

The other interesting idea I learned about was “Reverse Mentoring”. It’s like 360 degree feedback in the workplace. Julie presented it as an opportunity to learn from junior people around us. Baby Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials, can all learn from each other. We are the first cohort to have three generations in the workplace because people are living longer, and also have to work longer because they lack enough funds to retire. There’s lots of experiential learning (aka on-the-job-training) that’s invaluable. Someone fresh from the university though, will know the most current methodologies and can share new approaches. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

So by teaching or mentoring others, we break down a task and can remind ourselves of forgotten skills. By working with people of all ages, we can share knowledge gained from experience and fresher approaches straight out of academia. Through mentorship we learn, we connect with others, and we all find ourselves richer for the experience.