A Letter From Your Mentor

This is a guest post contributed by my dear friend and mentor Professor Kristen David Adams, an extraordinary woman, author, and law professor.  We have had many occasions to wonder together at good choices and bad choices made by the people with whom we share our connections.  I think Kristen says it better than I ever could.

Words From Your Mentor

Good afternoon, Mentee. Earlier today, I made an introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts, at your request. I am not entirely sure that you understood the significance of your having made this request, or of my having granted it. So here are some things I would like you to know.

You Probably Can’t Improve My Relationship . . .

Although I think highly of you, which is why I made this introduction on your behalf, you probably are not in a position to improve this relationship for me. Here’s what I mean: the person to whom I introduced you already thinks highly of me, which is why he or she agreed to talk with/meet with you. My contacts expect that any person to whom I would introduce any of them would, similarly, be impressive.

. . . But You Can Harm It.

Having said this, you are in a position to make me look bad. Very bad, in fact. If you are rude or nonresponsive, you may cause my contact to second-guess my professional judgment in having sent you their way. Thus, you can actually harm my professional reputation as well as your own, by handling the situation badly.

Think About It.

So stop and think about this for a moment, and you will understand what a gift it is that I made a professional introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts. In fact, given that I am putting you in a position in which you could ultimately harm one of my close professional relationships – and there is actually no clear upside for me other than the fact that I care about you –one of the greatest acts of confidence is for a mentor to introduce a mentee to a member of the mentor’s own professional network. Don’t undervalue this gift.

It’s Not About You

To be blunt, I actually don’t care whether you decide you aren’t interested in whatever my contact has to offer, or whether you are terribly busy when he or she contacts you, or even whether you are dealing with a difficult personal circumstance that makes it difficult for you to be responsive. This is a situation in which it is, really truly, not about you. It’s actually about me; specifically, my long-standing business relationship with another person whom I value.   

Treat My Contacts Better Than Your Own

To sum up: (1) Introducing you to my own network is probably the greatest gift I can give you, (2) Any rudeness or non-responsiveness on your part has the potential to hurt my professional reputation as well as your own, and (3) There are really no circumstances in which it is acceptable for you to be rude or non-responsive to one of my contacts, whom I have engaged on your behalf. So don’t look to the Golden Rule here; instead, treat my contacts even better than your own.

Note:  If you have not asked for help, but it is offered to you, and you don’t know you have the ability or the will to follow through, say so to the offerer.  It sounds like this:

I appreciate your confidence and trust in me, and I know how valuable your offer is.  I am not quite ready to accept it, because I don’t know if I can follow through in a timely way.  Can I call you or let you know in a few days?  I have some other obligations and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.  I hope you understand.  And thank you very much.”

If, however, you have asked for help, support, or a referral, your patron or mentor goes to the front of the line.  

Rebranding In Place

You’ve been in the same job or company for a while; the honeymoon ended long ago, and you’ve been pretty comfortable.  You work with friends, they know you well, and you have no serious complaints about the organization.  Work life is good.

Except for one not-so-little thing.  You just put a good bit of time and effort into getting your advanced degree in an discipline related to your work–let’s say an MBA.  But when you did that, after the celebratory party and the cards of congratulations from your coworkers, nothing changed.  It’s same old, same old.

You probably didn’t have a new career plan for your newly minted, better credentialed, and more prepared, educated, and informed self–you never saw yourself leaving and you don’t need a career plan if you aren’t seeking a new job, right?

Not so much.  Assuming you don’t want to put all that work you did to waste, you need a career plan for blooming where you’re planted, as they say (though I don’t know anything about horticulture, I love that expression).

This isn’t always easy, and there are some risks.  If you have ever gone back to a high school reunion after many years, you know that when you do, you are likely to be treated by your former classmates as if you were in twelfth grade, and you are likely to react to that as you would if you were in tenth grade or younger.  And, if you showed up dramatically changed, even your best friends don’t know what to do or what to say.  You just don’t seem like you.

Of course your education isn’t sudden; you’ve been changing ever so gradually all along your path.  But you have been attending to your classwork and you have been wearing the pained expression of a work in progress, that students in graduate programs tend to wear.  You’re not where you were, and not where you are headed; in transit.  That all changes when you are finally fully degreed and decreed.

And, that MBA (or whatever your new credential you have earned) isn’t front and center for anyone in your workplace except you.  If people know about it; they are waiting to see the evidence–it helps them, or it doesn’t.  It helps the organization, or it doesn’t.  You help, or you don’t.  So the first thing is identifying how you can help.  And then helping–really helping, not issuing new opinions or making corrections that to the new you seem obvious.  It’s a long way between theoretically and technically accurate and actually useful and operationally viable.  We all forget that sometimes

But here are some ideas about managing what you can manage on the personal branding front.

1.  Avoid this: “In my finance class, Dr. So and So said to do it this way.”  I have no further comment.  Just don’t do that.

2.  Change your resume and change your LinkedIn profile, and anything else that shows where you have been and what you have done.  That way, you can articulate exactly what has changed and exactly what hasn’t, which is very important.

3.  Do have a conversation with whomever in your organization has those conversations about how you can accept more work and responsibility, in addition to what you already have.  Yes–more work, not a better job or title or more money.  You have something to prove before you move up.  Test your wings before you ask for their gilding.

4.  Volunteer for the drudgery and the most difficult of the unpleasant assignments.  That is more important than anything else you can think of to get noticed.

5.  Seek a mentor, or several in different areas of your interest.  Ask for help in promoting what you can do–ask for change, not advancement.  Rebranding is not self-promotion; you are asking for help in crafting a new narrative, one in which you are versatile, reliable, willing, loyal, open to new ideas, and always willing to help.  And you happen to have more education than everyone thought you did.

6.  Try new things.  Things you didn’t know you would like.

7.  If you work in a really big company, one with a job posting system, bid on jobs.  However, understand that there is an informal system and a little track that runs alongside the formal one.  You have to run on both tracks–you have to have political as well as educational capital.  If you have not been nice, start being nice right now.

8.  And to that point, if you have been a diva or the equivalent, you might want to quietly let folks know you have seen the light and you are doing some serious self -assessment.  And that you are making changes; if you are, be truthful, and make the changes.  Think about your narrative–you can’t erase the past, but you can acknowledge that you learned from it.

9.  Clean up the outer image, if need be.  If you have gotten into the habit of wearing jeans and dressing more casually than the management in your organization, you are remediating at this point.  Don’t do that suddenly; take one step up the sartorial ladder every few months.  We go from jeans, to slacks, to slacks with a jacket. . . . . or mix it up.  Dress for meeting days.

10.  Bear in mind that accomplishing an educational goal is a huge personal step–it takes time, money, and there is opportunity cost.  Others were growing and working hard while you were growing and working hard, though perhaps at other–equally important–qualifiers.  Be sure you notice, when you come up for air, all of the other changes and advancements around you.

When it comes to promotions and advancements, it isn’t always fair and it isn’t always your turn.  And you may not get what you thought you would from your hard work.

More education may give you many more choices,  but it doesn’t guarantee the other elements of your personal brand.  What it’s like to work with you, how you treat the work and the others around you, and how you represent your employer and organization are functions of who you are and what brought you to this point.  

And that’s usually what earns you opportunity.

They don’t need what you have.

And, as you know, you don’t have what they need.

Sometimes it’s really hard to understand why you didn’t get a call back after applying for and interviewing for a position you really wanted.  But it shouldn’t be hard to understand why you didn’t get a call back for a job you shouldn’t have bothered to apply for, a job far removed from your skills, temperament, and competencies.  A position that doesn’t require and couldn’t possibly include the things you are good at and like the most when you get to do them.

Don’t apply for, ask for, or otherwise pursue jobs that aren’t for you.  It just wastes everyone’s time and energy.  And, paradoxically, it will make you even sadder to fail to land a job you didn’t really want.

I think we place very high value on jobs we want, and far less value on all the others.  So when you go after a job on which you have placed low value, and then you don’t even get an interview, it makes you somehow feel worse.

That makes no sense at all, you know.  Organizations are looking for the right people, the ones they know belong there and will thrive and perform in the job.  they are not looking for people who have half or fewer of the qualifications the organization painstakingly listed so the right folks will know who they are.  Before you hit the send button, say (aloud) to yourself, “Perhaps they will overlook my shortfall in years of relevant experience, as well as the fact that my education is not in Finance and I don’t have a Series 7 license.  I’ve always wanted to live in Charlotte, and this is as good as any of the other jobs I saw on Monster.”

How does that sound in real words?  You see, it is possible to play head games with the screen that doesn’t say “No!” sharply when you try to upload all the wrong stuff at midnight after a few pints of Cherry Garcia and an Oreo or two.  In  your head, this is a numbers game and you never know.  You might just get an interview and if you do, you can wow them with your personality.

Not so much.  It’s a lot more likely that you will be rejected, either actively, with a nice letter, or passively, by never hearing anything at all.  If you do get an interview, and you don’t meet the qualifications, you will quickly learn that you don’t really want that job.  But somehow you are now engaged, and your head turns to “How do I get out of this?”  Thinking you will be considered.

So when you don’t get an offer, and you are feeling bad about that, remember what my wonderful sister Amy said to me many years ago on a similar occasion of not getting a job I most certainly did not want and for which I was in no way qualified:

“Why are you so upset?  They just don’t need what you have.”

Self-assessment: It’s All About You

I have a love-hate relationship with feedback.  First, I love feedback; I don’t particularly mind if it’s good feedback, but not-so-great (okay, negative) feedback allows me to start an argument with myself and an investigation into the ways I could have done better.  As a Myers-Briggs type ENTP, feedback makes my world go around, and I pay close attention.

The problem is that I can be swayed in the wrong (for me) direction by positive or negative feedback–I tend to pay too much attention.  Some days, I covet the introvert’s ability to shut out the world and listen to a voice in his or her head that clarifies the need or want and then turns the enterprise toward the right star.  Without dissenting opinions, and without negotiating new, heretofore  unseen objectives.  My compass points toward heat and light, the novel and difficult, the untried, untested, and interesting.  Some days, continuity and the linear, incremental path  is best, and it’s a (worthwhile) challenge for me to keep that front and center.

How do you learn that; and how do you manage yourself for the long game? I think you have to develop a process of assessing your self, for your own good, and to give you options at all times.  I think that a self management process that begins with assessment has to be conscious and aware, intentional and drama-free.  You have to be truthful with you, in order to develop a reliable process for getting  yourself through both success and failure.  No one else can do that.

Success can be as misleading as the harsh criticism we give ourselves when things don’t go right.  Both success and failure are pretty fleeting, even if and when fleeting can be measured in years.  So performing self-assessment only when you have failed is not as useful as assessing your performance against articulated goals and intentions on a regular basis.  That allows you to look at processes as well as results.

Ideas for you to consider:

1.  Set goals, no more than 3 to 5 at a time.  You can change them whenever you want, they are yours.  Write them down and review them no more than once a week but no less than once a month.  Make at least one relate to behavior, not results.  When a goal’s usefulness has expired, make a new one to replace it.

2.  Ask others for feedback and input.  But when you get feedback, think about the opinion you were given, before you simply accept it.  Decide for yourself if it’s right for you.  Keep it in your stash of things you aren’t sure about even if you are sure about it.  Don’t automatically assume that what you congratulate yourself on is really a good reason for celebration.  Give plenty of thought to the matter before registering your own pleasure at success.  When you are feeling really happy with what you did, know that is an excellent time to get humble and realistic.  Happy, of course, and humble.  And realistic.

3.  Acknowledge your capacity for change.  At the end of the day, it’s better to be willing to grow, and better to grow, than to be comfortable in your zone.  Particularly if you want to serve others, versatility in your style of interaction and the choices in your repertoire are critical to long term career success.  Be willing to try new and different ways of looking at and dealing with problems.

4.  Slow down.  Just. Slow. Down.  Not to smell the roses, but to see the opportunities.

5.  Set criteria for accepting allies in your quest, whatever it is.  Some people are not good for you, and you have to learn who they are and you have to see them coming and deflect the impact.  Their feedback or input is not useful and repeated exposure is not healthy.  That won’t change.  You can listen to an opinion and not agree, or listen and disagree, or pretend to listen and pretend to agree, if that is your first step.  Always reserve the chance to think about it, and say, “I will need to think about this. thanks for telling me.” But toxicity will always represent poison and poison will make you sick.  So learn how to move away from the danger, nicely, with dignity, and without making enemies.  Sometimes your job is to teach or set an example.

6.  Don’t reward yourself too often, or for little things you already know how to do or when to do.  Hold out for the high stakes before you indulge.  Set stakes high, when you can.

7.  Make a list of what you want to direct yourself to do, and make it real and real challenging.

Life is short.  Change is inevitable.  Learning how to manage your personal growth couldn’t be more important.



What Not to Mention

Somewhere in Job Whisperer History, there is detailed mention of the Dreadful D-words, from which it may be that poor Debbie Downer’s name derived.  The D-words are the things you don’t talk about in casual, polite, or business conversation.  Let’s review them.

1.  Death.  There are no exceptions to this, strange though it may seem.  If you have a role in the writing of the obituary, or you are speaking at a funeral service, or you have been invited to attend a wake, you know that celebration of a  life is the point of those.  A conversation about death is a serious matter and is conducted among people who have agreed to be in the conversation in advance, are not at a network event or party, and is focused, sensitive, and important.  You don’t have to be the one to mention that so and so passed away, unless it is your job to notify others.  Under those circumstances, your form is prescribed in etiquette reference books.

2.  Divorce, yours or anyone else’s.  Impending, final, amicable, ugly, or simply inconvenient, the subject should not be uttered.  Don’t learn this the hard way–any mention of anyone’s divorce, including your own, will cast you, and casting should be controlled and intentional.  Let’s say the divorce is yours and you intend to reinvigorate your career, now that you have resolved issues you felt were constraining it.  Bringing up the divorce distracts from career as the more relevant subject–why talk about anything that isn’t forward-looking and active?  Use your energy to stay on subjects that attract interest in you but not gossip about you.

3.  Diet.  We don’t care, and raising the subject makes everyone wonder about their own hips, chins, muffin top, and underarm flab.  There is nothing to say about a diet in response to anything you might mention.  If you needed the diet, good for you, but if someone says exactly that, you say and think what?  The same is generally true of food allergies, health matters that necessitate food limitations (“I have bloodwork in the morning so I’m fasting” which actually violates number 5 below as well).  If your meeting is in a restaurant, call ahead to find out what menu selections are right for you–and have a back-up plan in emergencies.  If you requested a special meal, discuss this with the wait staff, not the table guests.  If someone else raises the subject, change the subject.  And never comment on what anyone else is eating, ever, whether you think it is enviably delectable, or positively nausea inducing.  It isn’t on your plate, so you need not concern yourself.

4.  Despair.  Unless you require immediate mental health treatment or attention from a professional, and I am not minimizing that possibility, your angst over a personal matter is not for broad consumption.  Leading with your problems, or answering the question “How are you?” too honestly may lead your prospective supporter(s) to realize that you are not stable enough to endorse, that you make questionable decisions, that you have a narcissistic streak, or that you put your discomfort front and center routinely.  They don’t know you well enough to conclude otherwise.

On this one, there is another issue.  Reciting your pain makes it stick around and intensify; it becomes an affirmation.  Take page from Pollyanna–find the good or the fascinating and stick with that for conversational moments.

5.  Disease.  Whatever it is and whatever part of you it affects, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, it’s not party talk.  That includes allergies, broken things that require visible alterations, and labels–like arthritis, migraine, and pain.  HIPAA was enacted for a reason and when it comes to stuff that aches, makes you icky, causes people in the vicinity to blush, could cause one of the other D’s, or can’t be pronounced, best to stand down and talk about a documentary you saw on the Smithsonian Channel or Modern Marvels.  Or a Super Bowl commercial about kitties making the Facebook rounds.  Anything.

If it seems to you that if you avoid these topics there is nothing left to talk about, it’s time for you to develop highly intentional talking points to guide your thinking about how you want to be perceived.  Imagine you have only a few minutes to make your best first impression (because that is exactly the case)–do you want to be remembered as the divorced person with the bad back who is trying to lose twenty pounds on the South Beach diet, or the one who is well read, active in the community, and interested in others and their interests, and knows interesting things.


Changing Careers: the Process of Reinvention

As the Boomers stroll or hurtle into into the last phase of their working lives, we hear the word “reinvention” a lot.  But reinventing yourself doesn’t only apply to Boomers getting older and running short of time, and it doesn’t only apply to changing your work.  If you have been doing something you weren’t really crazy about, or if there is something you have always wanted to do with your time and talent, or if you have been watching transformational change in your industry, or if you just stumbled over a thing you are really good at and really like, then reinvention is just the ticket.

Well.  Not so much, actually, because it isn’t all that simple.  Reinvention is a quick and easy word for a Big Big Change.  In you.   Even people who like change don’t necessarily like being changed.  We can all support change when change is a theoretical, rhetorical, or political concept that aligns well with what we believe are our values.  Until things you reach for in the dark aren’t where they used to be.  Meaning, what you took for granted was not what you planned to alter.

But even if you are motivated, for example, to simply make a living as a teacher instead of as an accountant, the voice in your head that inspired you to make that change has not actually accounted for a.) stretching actual teacher paychecks from now until retirement, b.) actual student attention span and cooperation, c.) school district (i.e., government) management hierarchy, and d.) the difference between your cubicle or office and your classroom, if you get one.  In other words, have you adequately identified your real desire?  Or, in other other words, have you accurately identified all the things that will have to change, meaning those inside of you, some of which you maybe don’t know about?

Here are just a few of the many things that may have to be reinvented on the way to the new you:

1.  Your budget.  If you are the accountant in the example above, of course you have started by figuring this one out.  But for the rest of you, assume you have to start at the bottom of a new hierarchy, at beginner pay or worse, and that you may have to pay for training or education.  Before you dive into that education expense, at least sample the way the new work works, test your assumptions, spend a day in the life of your aspirational role model, and work out the numbers meticulously.  Cash flow is particularly important.  Selling the house to generate the cash for investing in you is not the worst thing you can do, but it might be close.  Consult a conservative expert and know the downside risk.

2.  Your working conditions.  I don’t necessarily mean the door to your office that closes and locks, or the free coffee you and your colleagues enjoyed, or the deadlines you controlled.  I mean that in some of the common places that people want to go to Be The Change, there are not enough dollars to pay for enough people to do the work.  So you do it.  Until it’s done. I mean that you spend your own money on supplies, that you have to raise money to do the projects you want to do, that your future and your pay are not certain, and that all the skills you have don’t necessarily stretch quite as far as the door to your comfort zone entry hall.

3.  Your patience.  Whatever you have been doing, you have been doing more effectively than the thing you have in mind to replace it.  You have shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that allows you to look back over your history and forgive yourself the occasional slip.  In your new world, Not.  The only way to the other side is going to be through the woods, reinventing shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that permits limited self-indulgence.  Reinvention is also reinvention of the learning process, and many of your new things are going to be really really new, not just to you.

4.  Your relationships.   More listening; more asking; more developing.  Sowing, not harvesting.  Open to feedback and critical examination.  Whatever the motivation to make your change, others will be involved in making you successful.  You have to ask questions and you have to be confident that the assumptions that got you interested are likely not completely valid or even useful.  It’s relationship-building that is the core of successful reinvention; this is not something you can do all by yourself.

5.  Your commitment.  And here’s where this gets tough.  When you are just starting out in your first career or your launch job, or whatever got you where you are, you were younger and maybe a tad more resilient.  Each time we make these big changes, our tolerance for imperfection and inconvenience erodes a little.  And if you have ever hit a big big disappointment, it might erode a lot.  So your commitment has to be crafted, and you have to set your rules for engagement and disengagement intentionally.  You are going to slog through some sadness at the loss of something or things you liked, well before the new things you like present themselves.  You are going to hate some days and be angry with yourself for undertaking this thing.  You are going to be appalled at the real thing hiding behind the thing you were expecting, and turn away shaking your head, unconvinced it will all work out.

It will all work out.

My advice:

Plan exhaustively for the things that matter: like money, relationships with your support system, and sound information about what you are really undertaking, for examples.  Invest in a therapist (a proven professional) before you implement the parts of the plan that require you to sell the house, buy the franchise, head into the desert, join a cult, or sign up for expensive training that requires a big loan.

The process takes as long as it takes, so you need to have checkpoints, benchmarks, safety valves, and contingencies.  Before you stop doing what you have been doing, you must have at least a year and maybe more in reserve funds.  Unless you have been pushed unwillingly into a situation where you have no choice, in which case your plan has to be highly flexible and driven by contingencies and the fundamental law of food and shelter: they come first.

Segue instead of cliff-dive.  If you are an accountant and you want to teach, teach accounting, or even financial management, or even math.   Staying in a subject family makes it easier to exploit one area of expertise while learning a whole new other thing.  As you head for career sunset, you then have a body of work that is more cohesive than choppy.  Choppy is an interesting phenomenon when you see it on a resume, and it’s hard for an employer to entertain.  Continuity, however, is a brand-builder, as it looks more like an intentional progression.

Write your story out as you live it.  This might be journaling, blogging, note-taking, or just memorializing, but it is important.  Your brain is going to be so full of disconnected experiences, emotional reactions, and new information that you will not be able to separate your narrative from your grocery list.  Writing what is happening is a form of planning.  If you are reinventing you, this is the how-to manual that you are creating as you go along.  This might seem like a nice-to-have, but it’s really a must-have.   You have to understand what you are doing as you are doing it, and writing is your best bet for returning to the scene to re-interpret when you need to.

Build strong relationships intentionally.  Even if you find that you have little or nothing in common with your chosen targeted industry colleagues (and that is profoundly unlikely), the process of discovery is most often facilitated by others when we choose to interact.  Even if your process is one of disagreeing with the way things are done and your mission is change, other people are important, and this is a time when you need them.

Just remember, it will all work out.  Once you begin to put a new comfort zone around the new you, you will mostly be where you headed.  But remember–you are expanding who you are, not just redefining your career, and it is worth doing with clear intention and purpose.


Why You Didn’t Get That Job

You were sure you did well in the interviews: you dressed right, talked well, and knew the answers to all the questions.  Your resume, cover letter, and writing sample all looked perfect to you and your advisors.  But when you checked in to find out where you stood in the process, you learned the job had been filled by someone else.  What could have gone wrong?

First, the flaw in your thinking is thinking that anything went wrong.  It may not have been the outcome you wanted or even expected, but it may have been the right thing, for both you and the organization.  You only see the tip of the iceberg–the organization knows much more.  What seems to have gone wrong for you is simply an outcome, a step along the path to the organization’s future.  You may not have been the best candidate for the job.  If you did your best, you did your best.  Sometimes that isn’t enough.  The best candidates may have networked to the interview and position instead of responding to the posting, allowing the hiring manager many more glimpses at their fit.

Second, think about your narrative.  Your narrative is simply your personal story, your truth, your platform.  If you answered all the questions but didn’t reveal enough of your narrative for your interviewers to know who you are and what it would be like to work with you, you concealed that you might be the best candidate for the job and the organization.  It isn’t enough to answer the questions.  You have to generate new questions, ask good questions, and raise important questions.  A robust dialogue that results from a strong and interesting narrative lingers with an interviewer.  If you lurk along the perimeter of a safe version of your narrative, you held back, and that’s not good.  

Third, did you make stuff up?  Now, this is very bad.  And by the way, a talented and experienced interviewer will not let you know that his or her radar is on full alert–quite the contrary, the rope is going to go full out for at least an hour, maybe more.  If you have been scheduled for a half day, you’ll probably go the full half day, and never know that you pretty much blew it in the first hour when you told that tall tale.  If you embellish the truth, you will not be the successful candidate, one way or the other.  The internet being what it is, outright fibs and fabrications get caught very quickly, but more importantly, the aftermath of the interview will raise questions instead of enthusiasm and confidence.  If you aren’t forthright, you aren’t in control of your story and that leaves a murky impression of you.  You look like you take risks at the expense of others.  Not good.

Fourth, you were totally wrong: the answers you thought were right, weren’t.  Because answers are not right or wrong–they are simply revealing, or diagnostic, or supportive of an organization’s growing enthusiasm or concern.  Sometimes, you get called in for that interview just because of one thing on your resume.  Or, that phone screen caught someone on a good day and they were feeling expansive instead of critical.  But when you got to the interview it became apparent that you didn’t have the right stuff.  You weren’t really qualified.

Fifth:  Bad Manners.  Most folks don’t know what they don’t know about etiquette.  Graceless individuals struggle upstream with the burden of un-awareness.  Do you interrupt?  Grab candy from the dish?  Talk too loud or use coarse language?  Wear too much fragrance?  Grab and squeeze a hand instead of shaking it?  You get the picture; only part of an interview is about the content; form and behavior is the rest.  Your personal habits and manners are basic to all performance matters, and if they don’t measure up, an employer will not want to take the risk that they can’t be corrected or improved.  

Last.  You have one chance at references.  If they are marginal, that won’t be good enough.  Your references have to sell you.  Make sure you prime them by calling in advance and laying groundwork for support of your candidacy.

You are unlikely to ever get the precise reason you were not selected for a job,  that means you have to do a lot of guessing, obsessing, and wondering.  Sometimes you can ask, but the answer may not–and should not–satisfy you if you are looking for ways to improve your chances in the future.  If you really liked the people you met, it’s hard not to feel some rejection.  The best thing to do is to debrief yourself on these points and create a (written) list of what you will do or do better, the next time you have an opportunity to interview for a job you think you want.



The Other Bottom Line

In social enterprise planning, we talk about and plan for a second bottom line.  One bottom line refers to financial success, and the second is the measurable social result, the greater good that comes of planning for improvement in the lives we touch with our economic platform.  The economic platform is there to ensure the social purpose is carried out, not to BE the purpose.  The second bottom line is quantifiable—social good is a real thing, and betterment of health, well-being, and learning are among the many reasons a social enterprise is brought to life.

Which brings up an important point, for me.  Doesn’t every enterprise have a second bottom line?  What about the enterprise that is your job?  Or think of your family as an enterprise, as well, with a revenue stream, along with a happiness stream, and a strategic plan.  In my last blog I wrote about not leaving a job just for money.  Truth be told, I don’t really think you should stay in one just for the money either, at least not indefinitely.

It isn’t just that money doesn’t buy happiness.  It is that time and the opportunity cost of using it all up may be a greater—more expensive—consideration than the money and anything else you are getting from your gig.  So that gig you aren’t happy in isn’t necessarily profitable or productive, if you consider what you are relinquishing to sustain it.

That is not to say it’s a good idea to chuck it all without a good plan, or even several good alternative plans.  The strategy question is often asked in business:  “So what do we do with all of these assets, in order to keep pace with a changing world, do what we love with what we have, thrive into the future, and do the world some good at the same time?”  In a social enterprise (which a family unit, or even a single individual with multiple aims, might be), the last question would be a very specific reference to the social mission of the organization, and might have to be answered before the one about the assets.  Enterprise executives know that change is inevitable and sometimes swift but not always; woe be to the stubborn enterprise that denies it (talking to you, Kodak).

So think of the greater good as your own greater good, and the second bottom line as your fulfillment, your growth, and your well-being.  Of course there is a list in here somewhere and it’s probably a list of steps for planning to upgrade your happiness quotient, but first a word about the timing of life and enterprise planning.  Do it while you have assets and resources, including youth, health, a financial cushion (even a little one), an intact family (if that applies), and the will to consider the largest number of alternatives.  Don’t wait until inertia, depression, or fear have taken over, or worse, you have spent your assets on fleeting things to make you feel better about your situation.

On to planning:

1.  Make a comprehensive list of your assets, attributes, and resources, using spreadsheet software and skills to remind you that this isn’t a list of just any old stuff.  These are the very real things you have and can use to help you transition or change, establish a new platform, and to help you see that you are already an enterprise.  We don’t often think of our good health, for example, as an asset, but if you ever lose it you find out how valuable it is.  Similarly, frequent flier miles look so innocuous—but they can be enormously helpful when you need or want to go to trade show to check out the lay of the land, or meet in person with a prospective employer, or trade them in for a computer.

2.  Gather your inner circle, and seek their participation in developing your mission, vision, and values statements to guide your next chapter(s).   Whatever your plan alternatives or your transformation steps, it is good to seek the inclusion of the team—the team can help.  Please include the naysayers along with the cheerleaders; you may find that the very one who fixes you with a quizzical stare has just saved you vast amounts of pain and suffering, and maybe money.  Engage your circle; ask for help.  Thank your circle, but do what you have to do.

3.  Start writing your intentions, affirmations, plans, mental notes, business ideas, budgets, wild notions, dreams, whatever.  I will say it for the millionth time:  It isn’t real if it isn’t written down.  A narrative that lives in your head with all that misery and confusion is not going to thrive for very long, sorry to say.  Once you see it on the page, with notes, adjectives, and some stark clarity it starts to look like it’s earned a place at the table of your inner circle, a slot on your life’s to-do list, and space in your conversations about investment.  Your narrative is important; it becomes how you see yourself and you have to make sure your personal self-talking points are always positive.  You have to mentor yourself.

4.  Sort.  Organize.  SWOT.  Research.  Seek.  Budget.  Learn.  Negotiate.  I don’t put things like this in order, mainly because I’m not very good at order.  (Now there’s negative self-talk for you.) But really, once you start writing all different kinds of things down, you are starting to set up commitments, and pretty much anything can emerge.  Get a copy of The Artist’s Way, the best book in the world, by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan.  Even if you aren’t an artist, the one piece of advice that the author gives, early in the book, is to write for 15 minutes every day, before you start the day, and before you eat, drink you coffee, shower, or fully awaken.  What you write doesn’t matter, but you should do it with pen and paper, not a screen and keyboard.

My friend Janet Conner teaches this in Writing Down Your Soul, her book and workshop series.  From personal experience, I can tell you that it works.  There is something about writing this way that brings you answers.  Just try it.

5.  Develop a set of written values, standards, goals or guiding principles; if there is a special person or a set of special people in your life who are all in this together, do it as a group.  There is no right or wrong here; this is what you live by, you are just making it transparent so that you can’t cut the corner just this once.  This is accountability in action.

A very long time ago, I saw a play in our local theater called The Swan (by Elizabeth Egloff)In this story, a large swan comes crashing through a woman’s front window and takes up residence on her couch after turning into a man.  It’s an absurdist play, so the sky is the limit on what is meant by all the symbolism, some of which was really completely lost on me.  But what I took from it was that that swan-man looked a lot like Awareness; once he’s on your couch and living with you every day, you can’t really deny or simplify the fact of him.  The nurse protagonist was seeking a romantic salvation, a whole, comprehensive solution, but that isn’t how it works.  To change Awareness, you have to slowly change yourself, the way you look at problems, and how you consider all the possibilities in your life.

It was a really good play.


Random Career Rules

Over the years, mentors and friends gave me career advice that I didn’t necessarily heed or even value at the time.  Some of the advice I heard over and over again, like it was conventional wisdom that someone has to tell you or you will just stay in the dark on stuff like this.

So here it is, all of it basically things you want to think about when you are about to do something that looks logical, but maybe isn’t so smart.

1.  Never quit a job because of a boss you don’t like, a bad boss, or  because you think you can do better.  You take the job for the work, the experience, the pay, the benefits, location and so on.  And, you might even accept an offer because you want to learn from a particular individual, or you trust that person’s judgment about your suitability for the job.  But don’t follow or quit people; find solutions to difficult relationships.

And, better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

But ethics matters, criminal matters, or grave danger are possible exceptions.

2.  A job that stops giving you satisfaction never starts giving you adequate satisfaction again.  Those are the jobs you should leave.   If you don’t, you become toxic to those around you and you alter your career trajectory when that happens.

3.  In matters of work, it is never about you.  The company is always more important than an individual, and you matter far less than you should or think you should.  Companies need not be logical.

4.  Yes, if you are a supervisor your staff is talking about you and trying to figure you out.

5.  Never make a job move solely for the money.

6.  Do not leave your platform behind.  For example, if you are an experienced Financial Analyst, and are offered a promotion to Mergers and Acquisitions Valuation team, make sure you are taking financial analysis responsibilities with you.  I think this one speaks to the linear nature of the best kinds of promotions: Go. Up.  Not over or around.  But you have to think about that one.  Better, maybe, make sure you are doing something you are reasonably likely to succeed at, if you are also expected to do some new things, too.

7.  Complaining helps nothing.  Nothing at all.

8.  When interviewing, the first interview is for the company to ask you questions; any questions you ask should simply be polite and warmly perceptive.  The second interview is for you, and the questions you ask may be evaluated, bot  for relevance and your personal style.

9.  Whoever cares the most about an outcome is disadvantaged in negotiations.  Stick with a process for arriving at closure, not a method for getting what you think you want.

10.  Being an achiever is better than being a survivor.  That was the best advice i think I ever got.

Advice: Take it, Leave it, or Just Think About it and Decide Later.

As someone who is compulsive about giving career advice (hence the blog), I am always aware of the conflicting advice given by other, well-intentioned, and often very ill-informed advisors.  “My mom said I should put my photograph on my resume,” “Professor So-and-so told me a cover letter should just be one paragraph,” or my personal favorite, “My sister is in HR and she said the pink paper and black borders will stand out.”

The funny thing is that for any single, odd, situation, it’s hard to know what the recipient of your inquiry or offering might think of an off-spec approach from you.  My job is to make you think about the impression you want to leave and the brand you represent, as much in your personal narrative as in any other forum.  The fact is that the pink paper and black border with the photo of you finishing a 10k will stand out; the question is whether or not it stands out for the right reason and represents the image of you that makes sense, both to you and to the intended decision-maker.

I have occasionally caught the tail end of someone’s misguided resume mailing campaign.  My heart sinks for you if you picked a theme and ran with it, doing a mail merge and sending the identical and lengthy explanation of your passion and so on.  But the operative word is misguided–if you made up the plan using just your own head and hands, you need to check in with someone–almost anyone–to hear how that idea sounds when you say it out loud.  But if you got guidance, that’s another matter.

Here are the rules for evaluating advisors.  If a person who gives you advice is not on this list, don’t politely decline the advice, just don’t be quick to take it and execute on it.  You can listen to anyone, and all advice is worth hearing.

1.  Does this individual know me or my job market well enough to understand my objective, need, desire, or plan?

2.  Does this individual have my best interest at heart; is the reason for giving me advice one that I can appreciate?  I think headhunting is a wonderful profession and I have relied on those folks for candidates over the years.  But if you are the talent, not the hiring manager, you need to understand that you are not the one paying the bill, and therefore not the client.

3.  Is the advice free, clear, and simple?  When you pay for advice, you have a tendency to think it’s good advice.  It may not be good advice.  How will you know that?

4.  What does this individual want from me or want for me?  It matters a lot.  Even when the advice-giver is a parent or other family member.

5.  Is the advice based on current and reliable information?  Is the context valid?