March 31, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
Do you remember the story about the fellow whose cat led him to the right job? It went like this…
Apprehensive young man desperate for career and already late for interview has a runaway house cat. After frenzied search, skirmish and surrender, young man and reluctant cat arrive at company’s formidable front entrance. Young man opens resistant door by clamping resume between teeth and wedging cat between sandaled feet. In time it takes to yell, “stop biting my toe”, cat escapes, dashes after delivery truck and leaps aboard. Stowaway cat, unaware driver, and yet to be delivered packages head for highway. After lengthy pursuit young man flags driver to stop. While exchanging cat and pleasantries, young man describes aborted interview. Delivery driver, impressed with young man’s dogged desire to recoup recalcitrant cat suggests career with animal rescue. Young man turns suggestion into opportunity and works happily ever after.
What’s the moral of the story? To get a great job all you need is a coincidental intersection of people and events?
If that were so there’s little you can do to influence your job search other than stand around intersections, waiting for the coincidence of good fortune to strike you instead of the person standing next to you. I don’t believe that. I do believe that life can be more challenging for some than for others.
Bad things can happen to good people and the best intentions can go ignored; hard working, honest, talented employees can be laid off and the misunderstood can be fired; that some people are born to wealth and privilege and others to misery and despair; that there are many things about which we have no choice but to choose again. It’s in that gap, that place between what was chosen for you and what you choose for yourself that I would hope you would focus.
I’ve worked with a wide variety of clients having to deal with a broad range of job challenges and career issues. Despite their age or circumstance, education or economics, the majority struggle to answer the question, “what should I be when I grow up?”
Some are locked into the belief that careers should be hard and unforgiving. “That’s why it’s called work”, they say. Others, intellectually quick and hungry for mental stimulation are drawn to what is difficult or unusual, only to find that their learning curve is as short as their interest is brief. “When will I find something that sustains me?” they say. “I’m tired of this endless search.”
Some believe they should set aside the playthings of their youth, that whatever dreams they had as children, of fun, fame and fortune were just dreams, and not to be considered as career possibilities.
I’ve worked with grown children who espouse economic independence from their deep pocket parents even as they accept their co-dependent reality; with young adults who struggle to find an identity that’s not subordinated by a parent’s power or influence.
I’ve worked with not so young adults who’ve overcome poverty and jeopardy to make it on their own and in their own terms; with people who’ve left their jobs and people whose jobs left them; with people for whom English is a second language and want a chance to prove themselves as they are, not as others would wish them to be.
They all have this in common: A desire to enjoy what they do, to be respected, treated fairly, and paid equitably for their effort. It takes courage, not coincidence. It requires stepping into the space between what has happened to them and what they choose to happen next. That’s the place where they improve their self-awareness; increase their self-confidence, and where they take action.
What’s the moral to your story?
March 27, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
Three employees are headed toward what’s next and appear to be having some trouble leaving behind what was. They’re stuck at a prickly juncture on route to an unfamiliar place. Each wants to even a score:
“I was recently let go from my job and I’m still reeling from the experience. I feel like I was set up to fail. I want to write a letter to the plant manager letting him know just what happened and who he really needs to blame.”
“My boss asked me to sign a letter of resignation. He says it’s that or be fired. I think he’s a loser and this company stinks. That’s the only letter I want to sign.”
“I am leaving my job to join another company, one that’s much better than the sorry place and the sorrier people I’ve been working for the last 5 years. I’d like to write that in my letter of resignation along with a few other well placed zingers.”
No matter how badly you want to set the record straight, how right you think you are and how wrong you think they’ve been; no matter how clear, logical, and rational your argument, please don’t write that letter. You’ll come across as defensive, demeaning, and otherwise unable to accept the reality of your situation. It’s over. Let it go.
You’re working in a small world that’s getting smaller. Odds are, you’ll see these people again. It’s as important to you as it is to them to leave bad situations on good terms. Don’t burn bridges better left standing.
What’s so hard about letting go? In his book, “Managing Transitions”, author William Bridges describes the dilemma of change and our role in it as needing to have endings before we can have beginnings; that until we make sense of where we’ve been we’re stuck in the transition, unable to effectively move toward what’s next and what’s new.
Some employees are stuck in transition, staying with abusive bosses, assuming the insults will decrease or become more tolerable. Some stay in bad jobs, assuming the job will change or become more tolerable. Some employees stay where they are because they’re afraid to leave or stay until they are told to leave. Many employees are unaware that misery has a cost and a consequence that can blindside careers and personal relationships.
Get unstuck. Rather than assume and create different problems or repeat bad history, test your hypotheses and find out what was going on. Get closure on difficult situations by learning from the experience and converting that knowledge into new attitudes and behaviors. Widen the lens through which you gain perspective. Ask those who were present to describe the part that you and others played and what happened as a result.
Heighten your self- awareness. Read body language. Pay attention to the cues around you. Turn on the lights, something’s going on that needs your attention. Ask what it is and do something with what you see and what you hear.
Read the company’s culture, its unique set of values and beliefs. Employees who are attuned to the culture and responsive to it are typically comfortable within it and do reasonably well. Those who are either insensitive to it or disagree with it are apt to challenge and be challenged.
Read books and articles that address best practices in leadership, management, and supervision. Attend workshops and seminars to learn what you know and what you don’t know and need to learn. Find a mentor, get a coach, learn from those whose interpersonal styles and life skills you value and are worth emulating. Ask for ongoing feedback from objective employees and ask what you can do to return the favor.
March 27, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
Last week I described a job seeker who’s currently employed and absolutely miserable. She blames her distress on her boss. She describes him as “arrogant, dismissive, rude, and insulting” and vows not to take it anymore. Her solution?
“I’m leaving. I have no idea what I’m going to do next but whatever it is, it can’t be worse than what I have here.”
Erin (not her real name) says she likes her work and is fairly compensated. She likes most of her colleagues and says the company makes a quality product.
She says that her boss, on rare occasions, compliments her, but that’s not enough to make up for his contentious behavior.
Erin’s not alone in her desire to leave a bad situation without knowing where a better situation might be. That’s why she suggested that you sit in on our conversation and see if it sheds light on something you may be struggling with…
Erin, you’ve been very clear about the reasons you want to leave. Do you have any uncertainties about your decision?
“Yes. I don’t want to leave my friends and a job that I understand and do well. A search, particularly at my age, is daunting, and something I’d rather not have to do. I just don’t see anyway around it.”
Have you told your boss how you feel about his behavior?
“Tell him? I’d be scared to death. I wouldn’t know what to say! And I don’t know how he’d respond if I did say something.”
What’s the worst that could happen if you told him?
“The worst thing? He might yell, but I’m used to that.”
Would he fire you?
“No, I don’t think so. Maybe the worst thing is that I don’t know how to put my feelings into words. That’s why I don’t say anything.”
Do you deserve better treatment than you’re getting?
Then let’s role- play the conversation:
Erin: Boss, don’t get angry. I want to tell you something that you might not like and I don’t want you to not like me and yell at me.
Boss: What is it? I’m busy.
Erin: Never mind.
“Joyce, I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say or how to say it and that’s why I’ve never said anything before now. It’s easier for me to leave than to face him.”
Would you stay if he treated you with respect and consideration?
“Yes. That’s all I’m asking for.”
Then ask for it.
Erin: Boss, I need you to treat me with respect and consideration.
Boss: Don’t I treat you right? I tell you you’re doing a good job. What else do you want from me?
Erin: I want you to talk to me in a calm voice. I want you to explain things clearly without insulting or demeaning me.
Boss: I talk to everyone that way! I talk to my wife and kids that way!
Erin: I don’t want you to talk to me that way. I work hard. I deserve respect.
Boss: You’re right, you do. But I can’t promise that I won’t lose my temper. Will you get bent out of shape if I do?
Erin: If you persist in making rude and insulting comments, I will leave this company.
Boss: I want you to stay. I’ll work on my temper.
Joyce: Erin, you’ve made real progress. We both know you can’t predict what your boss will say or control his responses to you. You can control what you’ll say and the decisions you’ll make. Are you ready to have that conversation with your boss?
Erin: Yes. Now that I’m prepared, I’ll meet with him tomorrow. And whatever the outcome, I’ll be more self-respecting. That’s the piece I’ve been missing all along.
March 24, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
It had been almost a year since my last interview and I had finally snagged one. I was nervous as a cat all day. Which is ironic because my cat must have picked up on my anxiety. She had spent the day running up and down the stairs, around and through my legs, zipping over the furniture and across the floor. When I opened the door to leave she got out first and took off like a rocket.
What could I do? She’s my cat. I had to find her and get her back indoors. I was already running late so rather than take the time to call the interviewer and describe my predicament (what if she hated cats?) I thought it better to comb the neighborhood and try to catch her. As luck would have it, I spied her under the tree, oops, under the bush, whoosh, under the porch, where I was finally able to grab her. By this time my interviewing clothes weren’t as clean, tucked, and pressed as I had intended, but I figured what’s a little dirt? The important thing was I had found my cat.
Rather than return home and change clothes (I was really late) my cat and I drove directly to the interview. It was a steaming hot day and we were roasting (did I mention that my car’s a/c was on the fritz and that was why I was wearing shorts and sandals to an interview?). Anyhow, because of the heat, I knew I couldn’t leave my cat locked in the car or in the car with the windows open or in the car with the a/c running because the a/c didn’t work. See my dilemma? I had to take her into the interview with me. What other choice did I have?
The parking lot was a long haul from the building. Given my cat’s earlier performance I didn’t trust her to walk so I carried her, something neither of us was thrilled about. When we got to the building I set her down, momentarily, so I could open a mammoth door that looked like it weighed two tons. We entered just as a delivery guy was exiting. My cat did a one-eighty and followed him out to the parking lot. Another dilemma! Should I follow my cat or announce my arrival to the receptionist? Thinking clearly for a change, I did both. I hollered to her that I’d be right back because I had to catch my cat. (I normally don’t yell in an office building but the receptionist’s desk was half a marbleized football field away from where I was standing.)
I tore out of the building, ran to the parking lot, and got there just in time to see the driver pulling away and my cat jumping into the back of his van. What choice did I have but to follow them to their next stop so I could retrieve my cat? This time I had my wits about me. While in hot pursuit I called the phone number emblazoned on the rear of the van, thinking that I would ask the driver to pull over so I could get my cat. Instead, my call was answered by an on duty robot that wanted information I didn’t have (like my cat’s tracking number).
After chasing the driver across two counties I finally caught up with him. He was a really nice guy who happened to volunteer at the local Humane Society and was impressed by my tenacity and that of my cat. He suggested that I apply for a job with Animal Rescue, which I did. I am pleased to report that my cat and I have been working there ever since.
March 20, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
I’ve noticed that you’re making some interviewing mistakes that you’d probably prefer not to repeat. I’ll tell you what they are and what you can do about them but fair warning, this might not be pretty:
- You’re getting there late and when you do, the game’s over. Here’s why: Interviewers expect you to be on your best behavior. If getting there late is the best you can do it’s not good enough. If you want to make the cut, make it across the company’s threshold with time to spare and with your act intact.
- You’re showing up so early you look as though you either can’t tell time or you’re unsure of yourself. If you’re concerned that getting there much later than you are accustomed is cutting it too close for comfort, stick with your early arrival, just don’t present yourself until it’s time for the interview.
- You’re showing up right on the button but you’re as calm as a nervous wreck. Your stomach’s churning, your voice is quaking and your hands are shaking. Rewind. Prepare. Nail what you do best, how you benefit companies you work for, and get used to talking about it. Work with the toughest handlers you can find who will ask you realistic questions and give you honest feedback.
- You describe yourself as confident but you’re coming across as arrogant. That’s a style that has to go. If you’re not sure if this pertains to you, check out the following: Instead of asking open ended questions that get at what the company’s issues and challenges might be, you act as though you already know. You’re making assumptions, drawing conclusions, and solving problems they don’t have and ignoring those they do. You’re eye rolling, sarcastic, and just a little smug. If that’s you, get a grip and get yourself a career coach.
- If you’re coming across as insecure and more than a little lost, the interviewer might offer you compassion and a compass but not a job offer. You might not need a check list for this one but here’s a short one anyway: You’re asking plenty of questions but you don’t appear to have any answers. When you do have answers they sound as though spoken by that proverbial deer in the headlights. You can minimize your problem and maximize opportunity if you immediately apply Practice, the time tested product that gets rid of the most virulent case of the gotcha’s. It’s guaranteed to work if you use it twice daily, every day, for at least two weeks prior to an interview or networking meeting. That way you have time to fill in the blanks, correct your mistakes, or rectify what even the right answers, said apologetically, can sadly say about you.
- You talk too much. It’s not good to chat the ears off interviewers. Pay attention to their body language and you’ll know when it’s happening: Their eyes cross or look longingly at their computers, telephones, and finally, their clocks. Relax. Exhale. Give interviewers a chance to learn about you in their terms, not in yours. It’s their meeting, their company, and you’re an invited guest. Act accordingly.
- You’re not participating. You sit, listen, and nod approvingly which may be reassuring but it’s just not enough. The quieter you are the less likely it is you’ll be offered the job. Yes, if the interviewer wouldn’t ask so many questions and would give you more time to collect your thoughts, arrange, review and edit them, you’d provide more answers. That won’t happen. You need to practice jumping in and engaging, exchanging insight and information for no reason greater than you have something worthwhile to say and you deserve to be heard.
March 20, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
Smile. That’s right. Smile. Too many of you are walking into your interviews as though you’re ready to have a very long and involved conversation with the Grim Reaper. Rewind. An interview provides you an opportunity to learn about a job to which you may be well suited, and to present your credentials in order to secure the position. That’s reason enough to smile.
Yes, the business of getting a job is serious business, but that doesn’t mean you have to be solemn, stern, and humorless.
Here’s the deal: Interviewers are interested in finding out if you can do the job they have to offer. They want to hear about your work experience and how that experience can indicate or predicate your ability and competence to do the job at hand. As they ask questions, listen to your responses and listen to the questions that you ask, they’re making another determination: Will you, no matter how skilled, fit in with and be accepted by their existing team? If the answer is no, you’re history. If it’s yes, then hello, paycheck.
What can you do to act as though you fit in when you aren’t really sure what you’re trying to fit into? Look open, pleasant, and pragmatically optimistic. That’s easy to do if you’re mindful about how you’re coming across. If you’re not, some unappealing behaviors can pull up a chair next to you and interview in ways that cause your candidacy to lose its attraction.
Look open: Job candidates who look open appear interested in new information, they’re forthcoming when asking questions, sharing observations, or making statements, however daunting the subject. They communicate openness through body language, word choices, tone and tonality.
Act pleasant: When your acting pleasant there’s an amicability and peacefulness about you; a get- along quality that suggests a preference for harmony over discord.
Pragmatic optimism: When you’re a pragmatic optimist you talk about what’s working, not what isn’t, of who and what’s good, rather than who’s behaving badly and causing something to fail. You’re solution- seeking rather than fault- finding and you sound like someone who likes to learn from experience rather than repeat past mistakes.
For all those reasons and more, people are comfortable with you, enjoy being with you, aren’t threatened by you and trust that you’ll do the right things for the right reasons.
What else can you do to enhance your interview success? Tell a good story. Here’s what I mean: You’ve probably noticed that when speakers say, “let me tell you a story”, they get your attention. With that simple transitional phrase they’re able to transport you from lecture hall to club room; they’ve closed the gap that exists among strangers by an apparent willingness to share information about themselves or others that you’ll likely understand, connect to, and remember. So it is when interviewing.
If you can narrow the gap that naturally exists between prospective employer and potential employee you’ll improve your odds of making a positive impression. For example:
When responding to specific yet open-ended questions about your experience respond by telling true stories that answer the questions as well as illustrate points you want to make. But be careful, you can overdo it.
Be brief. You may find your stories more entertaining than does the listener.
Be mindful of the words you use. Some storytellers get so carried away with their own anecdotes they assume an intimacy with the listener that does not exist.
Respect the agenda. One story too many and you’ll throw interviewers off schedule. They’re not looking for a raconteur, they want to hire the person who can get the job done, efficiently, effectively, and on time
March 13, 2012 by Joyce Richman · Comments Off
Up and at ‘em! It’s a few weeks past the honkin’ and hollerin’ dawn of the new year and I bet you haven’t made out your list of New Year’s Resolutions. Surely there are countless things you resolve to do differently this year; dozens of ways you want to be, think, and do that are new and improved over the not-so-hot ways you did them last year. So, get in gear, pencils sharp, paper ready.
“Whoa, pal. First of all, I’ve still got a hangover from 2003, so speak with a little less energy and vitality, ‘cause you’re giving me a headache. Second of all, what’s wrong with my being content with who I am and what I do? I mean, give me a break. Every time I turn around someone tells me how I have to act and what I need to worry about if I don’t act that way. I’m over it with all this changing and rearranging. I’ve had enough of it to last me a lifetime.
In fact, all your noise about making promises has inspired me. I’ve got more than one promise for you, I’ve got three: I’m going to be me, talk like me, and act like me for all of 2004. While I’m at it, I’ve got five more resolutions for you: I’m going to eat whatever I want, sleep as long as I please; work when I feel like it, drink what I choose; and drive in whatever condition I find myself. I’ve done all the changing I’m going to do, thank you very much. Leave me alone and go wake up someone else with your New Year’s Resolution Celebration.”
If that sounds a bit like you on the morning after the biggest ‘make a promise’ day of the year, you’re in some heavy company. The challenge of seeing the world differently, whether close-up or at a distance, and to change your view of yourself and your role within it, can be more than you can manage.
In fact, the thought of making New Year’s Resolutions rings the bells of frustration and exasperation in the hearts of many. Some have had a very tough year making ends meet while staying employed, and some have been working their hardest getting that way again. Some feel that they have been mistreated by hard-working, well-intended businesses that were powerless to take hard work and good behavior into account when having to close doors and shutter windows.
Some don’t feel that way at all:
“For the life of me, I don’t have patience with all this pessimism and the people who persist in it. They wear me out. Look at what we’ve survived. We’ve survived nine-eleven, and we’re coming back; we’ve survived a lingering downturn, and we’re coming back. There are plenty of things to look forward to and plenty of evidence that it’s going to be there when we catch up to it.
I don’t have patience with people who run others down, or lecture everyone they see on what they should do, and how they should think, to be on the right side of political, religious, and intellectual thought. And I don’t have patience with people who are content with standing still.
I think it’s important to make things better than we found them. Sometimes I work on getting my act together, getting done what I need to do. Sometimes I work on learning something new, thinking in different ways. I’m not content to let things be. If I’m not moving forward I’m sliding backward, and that’s not acceptable to me.”
And there are others, finding their place somewhere in the middle, accepting who they are and where they find themselves; learning and growing, not out of a sense of need or resolution but out of a desire to take action when and where the spirit moves them, when and if it does.
And the rest probably resent the notion of being so narrowly defined, pigeonholed, or categorized, as to be in limited to one place or the other.
So wherever you are and whoever you choose to be, I hope you enjoy a year of safety, security, peace and prosperity.
March 6, 2012 by Editor · Comments Off
References. Applicants and interviewers worry about them, don’t know how to choose them, to use them, to check them, and as a result, lose out on opportunity, insight, and information both could benefit from receiving.
Job hunters need references, good references, because bad ones or those casually chosen can sink an opportunity like a rock. References should be chosen from the pool of individuals who have directly or indirectly supervised their work, and are willing to speak about and respond to questions about performance, strengths, skills, and the behaviors and attitudes they’ve projected.
Job hunters should screen references as carefully as prospective employers screen applicants. Here’s an example of what I mean: Joe Applicant calls and schedules a visit with Ms. Smith, his former boss and intended reference. He describes the position that he seeks and asks if she considers the opportunity a good match for his abilities. Joe listens closely to what Ms. Smith says and how she says it. If she’s positive, specific about why she believes the match to be a good one, encourages his candidacy, and agrees to serve as a reference, Joe’s has a positive resource on his side.
But what if Ms. Smith responds differently? What if she hesitates, equivocates, is unenthusiastic and obviously uncomfortable. Joe should ask her to clarify her reasons for hesitation.
“Ms Smith, I noticed that you got pretty quiet when I described the
position that I’ve applied for. You’ve always leveled with me in the past, so I hope you will now. What are your concerns?”
Ms. Smith will probably tell you. As a result, you can reconsider: the position might not be a good match, or Ms. Smith, your former boss, might not be reading the situation correctly. Bottom line: get more information. That means, ask your other potential references for feedback.
If Mr. Jones and Ms. Davis agree with Ms. Smith that you’re not well matched to the job, ask them for descriptions of jobs that better suit your skills and abilities. If, however, Jones and Davis think it’s a great match, and disagree with Smith, take Ms. Smith off your list of references for this opportunity, despite her having agreed to serve.
Once you secure your references, keep them in the loop on a need to know basis. Tell them when they are likely to get calls, from whom, and about what. The reference is likely to mirror the applicant’s confidence and enthusiasm about the job, so be mindful of that when calling with an update.
Employers should take the time and effort to check references on their would-be employees. When employers ask the right questions, references can provide important information and insight as to a candidate’s past performance.
Employers need a plan before they place a call. They need to know what they’re looking for in the right candidate; the current responsibilities, skill sets, innate strengths and personality traits that are essential to the position’s success. They need to outline significant challenges the incumbent confronts because the new employee will have to deal with the old issues and new ones, yet to be defined. (i.e. falling sales, rising costs, difficult bosses, disgruntled employees, unrelenting turnover, draconian cuts, unexpected and unplanned for organizational change.)
The employer should ask open- ended questions and ask for anecdotal examples that describe the candidate’s significant accomplishments, strengths and areas of development. Close-ended questions should be limited to those regarding employment dates, salary history, and re-employment.
The employer’s questions should be specific to the workplace, staying away from questions that are considered illegal and inappropriate when asked of an applicant: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and age.
Some companies have hard and fast rules that limit the information a prior employer will release regarding an employee. The only way you’ll know if that’s the situation, is to speak directly to the individual whose name the applicant has provided. Most references want to do the right thing for applicants, as well as for those who hire them. That means sticking to business, to facts and to telling the truth. When it works, it’s an effort that’s mutually beneficial. Make it work. It’s worth the time it takes.