Careers, Communication, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Informational Interviews in Action – August 2021

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS & NETWORKS

Informational interviews are a wonderful opportunity to learn about companies and get to know the people that you might like to work with. Pre-job interview conversations can have a huge impact on your journey, and you’ll want to make a first impression that counts! These seemly in-formal chats are strategic too, and in the blog below I share an example of how effective informational interviews can be. 

OK! I know you’re asking what an “informational interview” is – so first, a little background, and then get ready to jump right in.

WHAT IS AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW? 

This is not a job interview because you are not asking for a job. This is an opportunity to learn more about a person, the organization that they work in, and a field or industry of interest. Do your homework before you reach out, and be prepared to share your “Elevator Pitch” on what you bring to the table.

Note: An informational interview is a tool to build and nurture your network.


WHAT IS A NETWORK? 

A network is a circle of people you know, starting with your family and friends, expanding to colleagues/alumni. The (key) people you are referred to or locate through research, are included in your outer circle of network contacts. For more details, here’s an earlier blog on how to build networks.

Note: Track your network and manage it as a living document that continues to expand with each new connection you make.

WHY DO I NEED A NETWORK? 

It’s a great idea to nurture a professional network from the very beginning of your career. In this way, you will have guidance, insights, and opportunities that will organically come your way. Networks are meant to be built and sustained for a lifetime, it’s never too early to start identifying and nurturing those meaningful relationships.

Strong network connections enable a broader worldview. A diverse group(s) of connections can expose you to new ideas and trends across fields of study or industry. Take time to develop new contacts into meaningful relationships and create space for opportunities that align with your interests to come your way.

Even daily business tasks, like responding to a proposal for work or building a PPT presentation, add depth and breadth to your professional expertise and build your visibility/brand. Every interaction you have is a chance to show your value, build your reputation, and bolster your network.

Note: It’s never too late to start building a network and as with all good things, relationships take effort.

READY, SET, RESEARCH! 

Coaching clients over the years, I’ve noticed that some are very resistant to informational interviews. Some have expressed that they feel they are bothering people or not interviewing for real jobs. Don’t believe me? Well, my clients have shared their results, and based on their experiences (meeting people and finding a great professional opportunity) networking does work!

Building a professional network is a numbers game – and informational interviews are a great critical success factor. Through a consistent effort to engage new contacts, you get a lot of interview practice. The more practice you get, the better you get at pitching your value, and eventually, the odds are in your favor. It’s not luck so much as the dedicated effort that will reward you with an offer (or a few). Use the job tracking sheet here or create your own. Remember you are building something that you will come back to and add to regularly.

On average, it takes 3-6 months of networking to connect with the right people and be hired.

JUST THE FACTS

The real-world data points below are an example of how numbers work to get results on your job hunt. Depending on how you design your job search, the results will vary, but the ratios are accurate. 

• 90 renewed (or new contacts) through LinkedIn, email, and other social channels
• 40 informational interviews
• 8 formal job interviews
• 4 positions tailor-made
• 5 offers received
• Evaluation of roles, alignment with priorities, and negotiation of the compensation package

Remember: the more senior the role the longer a job search can take. And the more activities generated, the faster the process develops. How many people can you speak with per week? 1 or more? Set clear GOALS and take the actions to make them happen.

Job and network research should be balanced to suit your work style – and keep track of information so you can see results! Continue to nurture your network after you build it. Keep in touch with new connections and assist if you are asked to, and always be genuine to individuals that helped you along the way.

And there you have it …. Informational interviews in action!

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Mentoring, Networking, Resumes, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Imposter Syndrome, Stop it Dead in It’s Tracks

September is my favorite time of year and each year when it rolls around, I always forgot it’s also the most stressful one for me followed only by June and not even considering the “holiday season”. What do these two months have in common? Well that’s when the academic calendar starts and finishes. No, I’m not a teacher, but I have been a parent for thirty years now. My youngest is 15 and just started high school. School sports, back to school night, birthdays, and more, September is jam packed. This year I finally got to pause in October and reflect on a reoccurring theme, Imposter Syndrome. When a topic pokes at me several times, I think it’s time to tackle it and share it with others. Here are several scenarios where I observed Imposter Syndrome in myself and others, plus action or tools to overcome the anxiety.SituationI must have forgotten about how busy September is when I accepted the offer to present three workshops to the biomedical grad students at Georgetown University. It was a professional/personal brand themed day and as a guest trainer I added insight to pitching, presenting, and primping your social media. It’s one of my favorite activities, running interactive sessions where we all learn from each other. These workshops had a slight twist to them though, they weren’t focused on the mechanics of preparing for an interview, or creating a resume, the emphasis was on developing your own brand.TaskFor this reason, I had to do more prep than usual after 20 years of delivering my career workshops. Each and every audience has different requirements/needs, so I do customize my delivery. This time though, I got nervous and asked for feedback from the career center director, several times. Finally, I went out and made some special handouts which I hadn’t done in a long time. The day of the event I had more butterflies in my stomach than usual. Normally presenting raises my energy and I thrive.Action

Upon arrival we realized that the 25-30 students who had signed up, weren’t all going to be there. We shifted the tables to make things more intimate and created a U shape around the screen. Then we realized that to be responsive to the group that did join us, I was going to have to customize the content even more so the Prezi (newly learned presentation software better than Powerpoint), was basically useless.

Two bumps in the road, Bill Stixrud, local author, psychologist, always says expect obstacles to appear, and have a Plan B. Sometimes you need Plan C and D too. As the students and I discussed the various topics, preparing your pitch for networking, presenting the best resume/linkedin page, and leveraging your network, I gradually calmed down. My goal was to share as much information as possible, be responsive to the students, and earn my fee. As I continued to converse with the students, I remembered that I have wisdom and insight that was valuable for all the attendees. Feedback from the sessions will be helpful too. One of the grad students who attended mentioned she was running a workshop on Imposter Syndrome the following week. That made me pause and really think. Was I battling the insecurities of Imposter Syndrome after all these years?

Situation-Task

Two days later, on an early Thursday, I met with one of my career strategy coaching clients. My goal was to help her prepare for an important interview. She’s a bright PhD with several years of experience. We laughed but also stopped to reflect when she too described sometimes wondering if she was good enough or “for real”. According to several articles on the topic, when we tackle new tasks or have a major event, we often have relapses into insecurity. I saw that anxiety provoking monster of Imposter Syndrome poking it’s ugly head up again as she explored new jobs through interviews.

Action

The articles also shared that highly intelligent capable individuals often suffer intermittently from Imposter Syndrome. The tendency of Type A people is towards perfectionism. That rang several bells for me. I recognized my client had a similar profile and encouraged her to be well prepared as a way to regain her confidence. Also, I suggested she recognize doing a good job is important but also recognize when it’s time to let go and accept “good enough”. It made me read, reflect and remember another example from my childhood.

Savvy Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, states that the syndrome is often seen in higher amounts within minority communities or when someone is an outsider. The fear of not belonging or feeling that they don’t deserve to be in a given setting is all part of Imposter Syndrome. To overcome these feeling we have to recognize that perfection is not the goal, “good enough” is plenty.

As a kid I remember not participating because of fear of failure and now I know this was an early sign of this syndrome. I was a talented athlete who dedicated considerable time to honing my skills as a soccer player. Being the only girl on an all boys team though, was a clear example of being an outsider in an environment that could make me doubt myself. On the field with solid passes, and strong defensive play, the feeling always disappeared.

A review of our many talents and abilities can help ease the feelings of doubt the syndrome causes. See my list below for other suggestions on beating back Imposter Syndrome.

Situation

Recently I was accepted into Leadership Greater Washington. The first time I wasn’t accepted so this was a second effort. The application process requires recommendations and entry is competitive. 65 people are selected each year to participate which includes a diverse group of community leaders. I was thrilled when I heard the news, but did I deserve to be there? Those familiar butterflies were back as I attended the orientation.

Action

I signed in, received my name tag and looked nervously into the room. Who would I talk to and about what? I took a deep breath, walked in and saw a classmate seated with her leg stretched out in a brace awkwardly in front of her with crutches dropped on floor below. Instantly, I forgot my nervousness and jumped into a conversation. We started to talk about sports injuries and the anxiety began to fade. We had a lengthy conversation spanning topics from waterskiing to her father attending the same school International school I did in Bangkok, Thailand. When I forget about myself and concentrate on others, the thoughts of being an Imposter quickly leave my brain. It’s one of the coping mechanisms I have adapted over my lifetime.

Results

For me that’s often the solution, just jumping in and focusing on others. This concept was driven home even further after I returned from the retreat. Day one had been fabulous, but day two I had gotten stuck with my “trainer hat” on. My husband was the one who reminded me that I am a participant, not observing and that by engaging in activities that take me out of my comfort zone, I could let go of any of that remaining anxiety. I also reminded myself that everyone around me was probably feeling similar. Best way I know to overcome the feeling of being an imposter was to remember I have lots of things to share, I’m an interesting talented genuine human being, and that’s all I can be.

Conclusion

There are several other stories I can share, from men, women, old and young. The common thread is that we all seem to have some form of Imposter Syndrome at different stages of our lives. Rather than allowing it to cripple us, I’d say embrace it, develop methods to channel that anxiety into being our best selves. Below are some suggestions to store in your tool box. And in the words of Bill Stixrud, remember to always have a Plan B in life. Or as someone once told me, “Fake it till you make it!”

Tools

Definition: Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Signs you have it:

  • Can’t take a compliment?
  • Feel like a fake?
  • Convinced you’ll be unmasked at any moment?

Ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome:

  • Find a strong mentor or supporter to be in your corner
  • Recognize what you do well, write it down
  • Realize your expertise, share it with others
  • Let go of perfectionism, “good enough” is more than acceptable

Sources of Additional Information

https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx Kirsten Weir, article in the American Psychology Association published in 2013

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-impostor-syndrome/ Ellen Hendriksen, article in Scientific American

Professor Dr. Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) at Stanford suggests praising effort not a characteristic in our children to prevent building Imposter Syndrome in our kids. Kind labels about brains or beauty can be detrimental or imply you either have “it” or you don’t with no where to grow. With one failure they could feel your label is incorrect. We never want to discourage our children from trying new things out of fear of failure or that our “label is wrong”. She also adds, that by building in an expectation of early failure we help build resiliency. Bill Stixrud quotes her research in his book, The Self-Driven Child.

Careers, Jobs, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Always Mow in Straight Lines…or not?

Earlier in the summer we were out walking in a suburban Crown Point, IN neighborhood. We were home visiting family for the the most American holiday of all, the 4th of July. I slowed down to watch a neighbor mowing his lawn. A pretty normal sight, right?! He was moving much slower than I did when I mowed, granted it was hot, but I was so curious what he was doing. As I watched, he was carefully lining up the tires of his mower with the previous marks he had left from the completed row. It dawned on me, he was trying to have each mowed stripe be straight across the entire front of his home. I laughed out loud.

As we continued walking along the sidewalk, I said, “No way. He’s concentrating so hard on making the lines of his lawn perfectly straight.”

“Well, of course,” my husband responded, “you can’t have crazy lines going all different directions.”

“Of course you can,” I said with emphasis on the “can”. “I go in circles, and when you leave town next I’m going to do zig zags and infinity circles on our lawn!”

We laughed, but I know he wouldn’t be happy when he came home, the dissymmetry would disturb him.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks”

I got a lot of mileage out of that one and it made me laugh but I also had to pause and see the beauty of the metaphor. There are so many different ways to mow your lawn or live your live. Some people feel calmed and secure with straight organized lines or career paths. Others like to wander and mow in circles as they explore options, try out new ways so they don’t get bored. I fall into the second category, and if someone says I can’t do something, I always respond, “Watch me!” And I build a company to meet the need.  I can also appreciate my engineer husband’s pragmatic style because I wouldn’t want the ship to sink or the building to collapse.

Build Strong Foundations

I think we learn a lot from different styles. Some times it’s important to stay inside the lines and go along the straight pathway. Mastering certain knowledge, getting the basics under our belt and gaining experience are all important building blocks. We can think of these skills as the ABCs. Along with the ABCs, we need to include life skills training, like financial literacy or healthy interpersonal relationships. Rigorous study and a straight career path towards a trade or profession is respectable and important. I think a surgeon who knows their anatomy is who I’d want operating on my shoulder to make sure it works afterward.

Those of us who wander, like to explore, and don’t have everything mapped out in advance, but still need the basics too. If you have a solid base of knowledge it keeps your options open. Wanderers need the freedom to explore different ways to do things. “Not all who wander are lost” is so true and I say embrace it.

Different Approaches Improve Outcomes

Even though these two groups of people think about things in different ways or prefer to take action (like mowing the lawn) in specific ways, doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive. I think often these two ways (and there are many more shades of gray) can compliment each other and bring out the best.

That same shoulder surgery needs to be completed just right, but I also think the person who thinks of innovative ways to do the shoulder surgery in a more effective way will be the person who makes progress in the field.

Practice Self-Awareness & Acceptance

Be aware of how you think and perform best. Recognize the environment that will suit your personal style so you will flourish and contribute to company success. Finally, don’t stick to people who think just like you, but expose yourself to those who do things differently from you so that everyone can share and learn from the experience. If we always do everything the same way we will never grow. Many important discoveries were made through accidents and failures, or by mowing the lawn in zig zags.

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

It’s Showtime! Deliver Your Best Performance

Interviewing is a performance and to do it well you must practice. In the arts it’s called “woodshedding”. It’s imperative to spend time out in the “woodshed” preparing for your performance. I know right now you are saying,

“An interview is not a performance!”

I’m going to say, “But, it is.”

I’ve prepared all sorts of people for interviews over the past 25 years. Some were high school students about to get their first internships. Other’s were Peace Corps Volunteers, after 3 years of field service, and about to re-enter the American workforce. I’ve done workshops for grad students as they launch their careers. Professionally, I have coached 100s of people through the years as they prepare for phone or in-person interviews.

Here’s a comprehensive prep for interviews that you can check out from an earlier blog, Demonstrating Value on an Interview, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/demonstrating-value-interview-melissa-reitkopp/.

Focus on the Presentation  

You can do research, you can prep, you can practice, but if you don’t deliver you won’t get the offer. The goal of any phone screen is to obtain an in-person meeting. If it’s a full day of interviews, the goal is to receive an offer. Once you have an offer, you can decide if you want the position, but otherwise you don’t have any power in the situation.

When you are interviewing, you have the company’s wish list in front you of you. The quality of a job descriptions can vary depending on who wrote it. Some are very detailed and include enough responsibilities for three people. Others are barely there and it’s hard to even figure out what a company wants. You can do your homework on the company and the people you will meet with for the interviews. These are the basic things that most people know to do as they prepare for any interview.

The bottom line though is there may be three highly qualified professionals interviewing for the same position, and they will hire the person they like the most. What this means is that having the skills is important, but connecting and presenting yourself is even more important. I’m not saying be disingenuous. Don’t ever misrepresent yourself. But be aware that you only have 30 secs to capture a screener’s attention on a resume, or 20 minutes on a phone screen, or 90 minutes to really show who you are during a face to face.

My first interview after college was a referral from my internship. I didn’t have any tattoos at the time or other unusual marks/piercings, but I did have an asymmetric hair cut and a pretty serious outlook on life. I got the job, based on recommendations. Later my first boss told me,

“I almost didn’t hire you because you didn’t smile once on the interview”.

I responded, “Interviews are serious things, why would I smile? And besides, I was really nervous!”

Be Yourself

So how do you let your personality come through on an interview in the right amounts without sinking your own audition? Interviews are very much like auditions. The company is trying to see how you fit in with it’s people and corporate culture as well as be able to accomplish the required tasks. How do you present your skills in an interesting way?

As I coached people over the years, I’ve found that “tooting your own horn” or talking about yourself is something that is very hard. Some feel it’s like bragging, others have a hard time expressing themselves. I would argue that your ability to respond to questions with specific examples that demonstrate your abilities to accomplish the goals, is critical. Additionally, turning an interview into a conversation where there’s give and take so the participants connect is crucial. No one-sided monologues, please.

I spend 4-6 hours on the phone with clients and candidates most days. If the conversations were all stiff and formal, I would probably lose my mind. Plus, careers and hiring professionals for a company is a nuanced process. Despite what most people believe, the person hired for a new position is not the most qualified, it’s the person who has the best chemistry with their future employer. For me to discover the interpersonal style and corporate culture of a company, I need to be able to learn more about each person than the formal professional exchanges. When my kids hear me talk to people on the phone, they often can’t tell if it’s a personal or professional call. I take great pride in this observation. But it’s not a fully truthful statement.

Getting to know people in a professional setting is different than in the personal arena and there are some strong boundaries that need to be recognized. Know the difference.

Professional vs Personal

Friendly is fine, TMI is sharing too much personal information. There’s truly a difference between surface sharing and divulging deep personal believes or experiences. Additionally, in the career world, there are do’s and don’t’s about what can legally be discussed.

To find common ground is ideal and a great place to start a conversation. Typically, identifying where someone comes from, if they have kids or animals is easy. When I was in an open bull pen office, my colleagues used to say that they knew all about me. They knew how many kids I have, that we were big soccer fans, and that we had lived and traveled all over the world. The reality was that these are three things that people can connect around and talk about without getting too personal.

Politics, personal life beyond basics stats, partying, imbibing habits, not so hot topics to share. We all have such decisive lines drawn around many of these subjects. It’s really important to find the common ground first. To warm up with casual chatter and then circle back to the job, your interviewer, and the company is key.

Remember smile, speak clearly, look into someone’s eyes when you speak. Your comfort level may be mixed, but fake it, be confident and if you prepared enough out in the wood shed, your performance will be delivered effectively and with aplomb.

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Mentoring, Networking, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Grab the Driver’s Seat…Regain control of your career

I attended a talk last week by Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson who recently published a book called, “The Self-Driven Child,” The science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives. The authors, a clinical neuropsychologist and a motivational coach/test taking company CEO, both agreed that there are ways to reduce, anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation in today’s children. I thought about that tag line, “Giving your kids more control over their lives”. Then I thought, doesn’t everyone want more control?

Through the entire spectrum of our lives we struggle to be independent and self directed. When a baby learns those first words, “No!” the baby is looking for autonomy. As we do battle with our teenagers over technology use or homework, they are trying to command their own way of doing things. Later in life we fight to keep our driver’s license even after it’s unsafe for us or others, but losing that right curtails our freedom. This can be a huge blow that some people don’t recover from, that loss of independence. The ideas about control and being self directed can also be applied in the workforce and when it comes to managing your career.

There are critical moments in the development of our brain, according to Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson. We as parents can help our children develop into healthy “Self-Driven” people, by not hovering, rescuing, or solving all our children’s challenges. If we can give them the tools to take, “more control over their lives” they can become healthier human beings throughout their lives. If we translate the parent-child role to the workplace, we can also see how this plays out in a manager-subordinate role. We are faced with several challenges in the workplace with multiple generations who have different styles trying to work together. If we teach our children to make healthy choices that give them back their sense of control early on in life, then later on they will be more successful in the workplace. With more confidence, an individual can be more self-directed and this results in greater success for all throughout the life cycle.

Raising self motivated children, building a more motivated workforce, are just two aspects to a healthier society or economy. In the arc of our working life, we can learn to be more proactive with managing our career too. We aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs or the CEO, but we can be proactive or be our own advocates in the workplace. Again, these are skills we need to teach our children while they are young or as they grow up, so they can be healthier members of society. What this looks like in the workplace could take several forms.

When you start your first job, you are often just thrilled to have a paycheck. If you’re more focused, maybe you land a role at your target company or doing exactly what you wanted to do. Regardless, what your title is, what you do on the job is key. Plus, you can influence your career pathway. Here are several important tasks to do as you get oriented to a new job and beyond.

  • Learn the corporate culture and the spoken and unspoken rules of the organization.
  • Build clear communication with your immediate supervisor and don’t forget your peers.
  • Master your tasks and gain new skills that will allow you to progress within your firm.
  • Find a mentor in the firm or outside the firm, someone who can give you sage advice or perspective on any given situation.
  • Identify what you need to do to progress as a professional, and set goals to achieve these skills, experiences, or abilities.
  • Learn how to self advocate for yourself and the organization promoting change, growth, or a new ways to do things.
  • Notice a way you can positively impact the organization, pitch your idea!

All of these tasks allow one to take back control and have a say in your own future. It feels better to have control at all ages, when we are a kid, a young adult, middle aged, and aging. How do we retain it in the workplace professionally?

In Teddy Roosevelt’s stirring speech, about the lazy critics in our lives, he said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”

Like Stixrud and Johnson, Roosevelt felt strongly that by acting or participating we are already taking back our control. If we silence the critics who are not in the arena with us and focus on the experience of being there, then we are already ahead of the game. How this plays out for each person can vary, but it is clear that by regaining our control we lessen our anxiety, depression, lack of motivation or sense of isolation. As we replace these destructive feelings, there is now room for confidence, positive energy, possibilities, connection, and the ability to map our own future. We can’t all be in charge of the company, but we can be in charge of our own lives.

Careers, Networking, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Parents, Working Professionals

Basic Rules of Civil Communication

Starting in 1971, we spent 18 months in Thailand. My parents decided they wanted an adventure, so they took three kids and traveled half way around the world for my father to become the Deputy Director of Peace Corps in Thailand. I was 8 years old and my little brother and sister were 7 and 4. We stayed in the Indra Hotel for over five weeks waiting for our household goods to arrive. Some memories fade, others stick around.

There was a baby elephant tied up in front of one of the luxury hotels to attract tourists. Took-tooks careened around corners on three wheels weaving in and out of traffic. A driver was assigned to us, because no foreigner wanted to brave the road rules in Bangkok. The Saturday-Sunday market was one of my most memorable spots.

Each weekend the poles and weatherworn pieces of material were erected over individual vendors to cover their goods and provide a bit of protection from the intense sun. As we wandered through the marketplace, people would stop to stroke my little sister’s pale skin and note her blue-green eyes. The cacophony of tonal Thai bombarded us on top of the honking cars and the noises from loose livestock. Once in the market, each direction you turned filled your eyes, nose and ears…pig snouts displayed, slaughtered chickens tied together at the throats-three to a bundle, shiny tin animals ornately pressed, and hollow, heavy jeweled decorative plates, and the puppies. Live ones.

Our driver told us that we shouldn’t bargain unless we were truly interested in buying. Most prices were instantly raised at the sight of our white “Pharang” skin. We couldn’t hide our foreignness, but we were advised to bargain the price down to half. The driver told us it was an insult if we didn’t bargain, even if we thought the original price was dirt cheap.

Vietnamese ate dog, not Thais, at least that’s what I remember being told. We each left with a hollow tin animal and I was so excited about my bejeweled dragon. But the prize purchase of the day was actually alive. That afternoon we smuggled a small cocker spaniel looking puppy, in an antique brass bucket, back to the Indra hotel suite.

The puppy stayed in the bathroom, and the entire cleaning staff colluded with us. Duchess Lady, as my sister & brother named her, proceeded to explode everywhere. Worms was declared the cause, and after several weeks of treatments, the explosions and smell disappeared.

The dog return home to the US with us after our school year finished. Our time in Thailand was cut short. But the lesson that our driver taught us, stayed longer,

“Don’t negotiate unless you are buying, it’s about respect.”

Recently, I worked with a client to identify a director for their research operations. We identified several potential candidates and they picked two to interview. They liked them both so much that we were asked to do references to help them decide. In the end they went with the candidate who was less costly only to find hidden obstacles. For the first time in many years, this candidate refused to be transparent with us and share their present compensation information. I’m direct with my clients, the companies, and with the professionals that I work with, but this person was not. Their references were excellent so I tried to put my concerns aside.

My mistake. 

The candidate decided they felt more comfortable negotiating directly and proceeded to push not once, but twice, and then turned the position down. Before I work with anyone, I normally share two things,

“My fees are paid by my clients-the companies, and my fees are based on the salary you receive, so there is a relationship there”.

This search was a favor to a client and different from most of my searches. To the best of our ability, we estimated this person was earning around 90-100K, the offer came in around 125K. I typically recommend that a 10-15% increase on the base is an excellent offer. If you stay put with your firm a COLA (2-3%) raise or one based on merit (5-7%) are lower. The company liked the candidate. After the candidate said they wanted more, they decided to act in good faith and raised the base to 130K. In the end, the candidate wasted everyone’s time by negotiating not once but twice and didn’t accept anything. This person may have even used the offer to leverage a counteroffer at their current firm. Counteroffers are a whole other topic.

This story is not unusual. 

Regardless, it made me wonder where common courtesy and professionalism begins and ends in present times. You hear people talk about applying to jobs online and not hearing anything back, ever. Other professionals complete an interview and then don’t hear a word. No note about if they got the job, or someone else was hired, or even an acknowledgement of their thank you note. I’ve prepared a candidate for an interview only to get feedback that they didn’t even know the basics about the role and came in khakis and sweater rather than a suit and tie. You leave a message or send an email, but don’t receive a response. These are all actual behaviors I have witnessed or stories that have been shared with me.

Are these acceptable behaviors?

Is this behavior indicative of the modern technological age? Is there too much information coming at each of us all the time and does this make us become numb? Is there a way for us as professionals and companies to retain our sense of compassion and treat people who come in contact with us through work with respect? Phone calls, emails, FaceBook, texts, LinkedIn, Snapchats, Tweets, IMing, and Instagram…so many ways to communicate and not enough time. Is there a way to limit communication, still get the information to each valued stakeholder, and accomplish daily tasks? Plus, can our messages be expressed or delivered in respectful ways? Appropriate behavior between genders requires another entire discussion but it is a part of the conversation about communication.

I’d say modernity is wonderful, each generation builds upon the previous one. Cures are found, technological advances are made. We have found that new ways don’t always make the old ways obsolete. Many times there’s room for old and new-like streaming music through a bluetooth speaker, and hearing the scratch of a needle as it touches down on vinyl. It doesn’t have to be either or. An email/text can be short, direct and to the point, but sometimes a phone call or a face to face meeting can really clarify the message.

Setting respectful boundaries for communication and professional interactions is imperative.

I pick the most widely used mode of communication to reach the audience I need to get my job done. I can’t be on all of social media all the time, I don’t have the bandwidth. I communicate on the major ones so that I can reach multiple generations. Then I retain the common courtesy from the days of chivalry, or the advice from Ms Manners, and despite technology, I respond to each phone call, each email, and most texts, with honest clear answers. It’s time to remember what basic respectful behavior looks like and act accordingly.

Careers, Networking, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Parents, Working Professionals

Make Quality Career Choices

We can do all the right things… study, get a job, work hard, and still be dissatisfied. Many of us go on autopilot and wake up 20 years later wondering where all the time went. If you pause and reflect, you can change your career trajectory by becoming an active participant on your journey. Or you can take it to the next level by having a career conversation with a professional. Dare to share your hopes, dreams, and dissatisfaction. Brainstorm and don’t judge. Include all and any ideas about skills, interests, passions, and priorities. Think about which ones exist in your life presently (personally and professionally) and which ones you’d like to add or drop. This is where we start our exploration, by building a list without judgement of our interests and abilities, and finding where they overlap with how we can earn a living.

This limbo-land can also mire us down at any point of our career; beginning, middle or end. Recently, my daughter was at a crossroads with her nascent career; either go back to school and stick with a job that wasn’t ideal, or to find something totally different. It’s hard to find the path when we have so many different interests, skills, and desires. We discussed the situation and I agreed to hire a career coach for her. We picked someone that was working with one of her friends because we thought it would be a good match. What we didn’t think about is that each coach has a different style and different way of approaching careers.

Here are some thoughts about being proactive in designing your own career pathway and how a coach or counselor could impact you in a positive way.

SELECTION

How to best identify your own work/life priorities, and how to find the best possible guide to reach this goal made me to think about other coaches I had worked with in the past. I thought about who I clicked with and who I didn’t. When you select a career navigator, it is a very personal thing. You don’t want a spineless “yes” person, but you do need to find someone who has a compatible style to yours. Someone simpatico, but willing to challenge you. Definitely compare expectations in advance. A career change can be a very emotional experience. If you explore your career choice options with a rational approach but consider emotional factors too, the right guide can help you reach a point of clarity that can be very rewarding.

Ask questions of yourself:

What are you looking to get out of the coaching?

Are you seeking a traditional career path?

Do you want to identify alternative career options?

Are you seeking a consulting gig or a longer term commitment?

Ask questions of the coach:

What types of clients does the coach work with typically?

Do you specialize in an industry?

Are your clients newly entering the workplace or heading towards retirement?

Is there a curriculum, structure, or program you offer?

Do you have open-ended sessions?

The more communication there is up front, the more satisfaction there will be with the outcome.

EVALUATION & ACTION

Many people have never spoken to a therapist or a career coach. This isn’t good or bad, as some people like to noodle through ideas on their own. Other people like to bounce ideas off friends or colleagues. I’d suggest that working with a career advisor or navigator can help you reflect on more choices, learn new skills, and explore different approaches. Personally, I would say that having another perspective to brainstorm ideas can increase the odds of positive outcomes.

Definitely take time to jot down ideas about what your skills and interests over several days or weeks. Digest the lists, and then split them into personal and professional preferences. Next, narrow down the top 3 to 5 preferences in each category. Rank them in order of strength or interest. Let these ideas come together and be a gauge as you consider various options. This may seem simple but sometimes you can get stuck and make this more complicated. I have helped countless people sort through the noise or the tangle of thoughts to see that there are several common themes, skills, or interests.

GATHER MORE INFORMATION

Come back to the list of interests and skills to review it multiple times. Then go out and collect more data. Start with informational interviews. Yes, you can Google to find out lots of details about companies, professions, and people in the professional world. Regardless, nothing beats meeting with a real human being. Informational interviews are the first step where you learn about what options exist out there. These types of interviews help you build your network, and eventually can lead to a job or career change. Each time you meet someone new, you gather more information and different perspectives. This can help you recalibrate your list of personal and professional priorities. It can also ground you in reality about what options exist. Or if they don’t exist, can you create them? Is there space in the market and/or do you prefer something outside the traditional 9 to 5?

EVALUATE YOUR OPTIONS

Check each opportunity you learn about to see if it has the various components listed on your priority list. Here are examples of possible areas of interest:

Will it feed your creativity?

Does it let you mentor people?

Can you use your tech skills?

Are you able to continue to learn?

What’s important to you will be different from what’s important to me. Be honest with yourself. Remember as you learn and grow, your list can evolve too. Each opportunity will include some of your priorities and preferences. Our goal is to evaluate each option to see how closely it comes to meeting our overall goals. If you keep this in mind you won’t get as distracted, take a job for the sake of having a job, or put yourself in a situation that is less than ideal.

There’s a quantitative way of looking at this process; you need to gather data and make statistical comparisons. There’s also a qualitative part of career exploration. After you have done the math, you then need to use the intuitive side of your brain. You need to trust your gut, because there are intangibles that help us make decisions. Go back regularly and check your personal and professional priorities; your level of satisfaction on your next job will increase exponentially if you keep these in mind. There’s no right or wrong way, just what’s best for you. Remember, we are looking to find the sweet spot in the Venn diagram where our interests, our skills, and our ability to make a living intersect.

Careers, Networking, Resumes, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Parents, Working Professionals

Communicate Your Creds

The Merriam Webster dictionary definition of a résumé is short, or “a summary”. The origins of the word are French and date from the early 19th century. Humans have been creating résumés or “Curriculum Vitas” (CV) for hundreds of years. Like music, the notes have all been played before, but the way you put them together is key to how you build a powerful, useful tool for yourself.

If you Google to find rules, a format, or a sample of a résumé, you will get gobs of information. There are thousands of résumé writers, coaches, and books about the subject. There are lots of good resources out there, and if you ask four people, you will get four different opinions on what and how to present information. It’s one of the topics that I receive the most questions about during the process of identifying the next opportunity. The reality is that it’s a piece of paper that is supposed to summarize who we are. How is it even possible to sum up, in words, paper, or electronically, the essence of who we are?

Remember that the purpose of a résumé is to share a summary of your many talents with a potential employer, but the true goal is to make the person reading your resume WANT TO MEET YOU! We are not striving for a perfect résumé, but to translate or share enough of our essence to get an audience. I’d like to propose that we remind ourselves of why we create a résumé (to earn an interview) and then concentrate on how we create a résumé (best summary of our skills) that is focused on the basics.

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

I suggest creating a core resume that is all inclusive. Regularly add to this document; additional roles, increased responsibilities, ongoing training, publications, presentations, and extracurriculars. Keep it up-to-date. Think of a core resume as your portfolio. The next step is to tailor it. It’s your responsibility to craft a document for your specific audience. A résumé is the first item that introduces you to a potential employer, but along with it goes an email or cover letter.  The content matters as much as the presentation. Trust me… they are looking at your format, your ability to write and express ideas, and your attention to detail. Your resume is a tool to gain an interview so you can deliver a marketing presentation of yourself, face-to-face.

How creative you are, what format you choose, what information you share; all are personal choices. Be consistent whatever you choose. The core stays the same. You can customize your résumé for your audience each time you use it. This means selecting the items from the all inclusive résumé that are going to appeal the most to your potential employer. Don’t combine too many ideas or make the resume so busy that it detracts from the content.

KEY CONCEPTS

Pick one style, keep it simple, and stick with it-check your entire document for consistency. Bold the same things, italicize the same things, layout the same format, but don’t use all the “bling” at one time because it can overwhelm. Remember, be consistent. I’m going to repeat this again and again. Be consistent. Neither of these examples below are wrong, but all the positions must be presented in the same way throughout the document.

Account Executive

RRLLC, McLean, Virginia

January 2010 – present

or

Account Executive Jan 2010 – present

RRLLC, Mclean, VA

Present the information in powerful ways, traditionally in third person. Boring doesn’t get you an interview. “Show, don’t tell” is key. Use a strong opening statement that shares skills, describes accomplishments, and translates how you add value to an organization.

20 year market research executive with a proven track record of successes

or

Innovative 20 year market research leader who’s deep industry knowledge has successfully attracted and retained clients.

Clearly present the facts with powerful details that express the depth and breadth of your experience – quantify and qualify any information you present. Pick a paragraph or use bullets (I prefer bullets).

Managed 7 staff members.

or

  • Hired, trained, and managed 7 professionals with a 80% retention rate over a five year period.

Proof your work.  Make sure to check grammar or for spelling errors and typos. If this isn’t your forté, find someone who can help. Content is important, but your presentation matters too. Most of your tasks on your resume were completed in the past, so make sure to use past tense. If you are presently in your job, that is the only description that will be in the present tense. Be specific and share details.

Lead teams on a variety of successful projects for a client.

or

Led teams of five on simultaneous business analytic projects that were delivered on time, within budget, and client requested additional work.  

STRONGLY SUGGESTED

Include pertinent information in the resume. The opening statement is important. Highlights or a showcase of special skills can be valuable. Descriptive powerful statements about your roles, responsibilities, and accomplishments is crucial. Skills, certificates, licenses, education, continued training, memberships, or extra curricular activities add impact. If the item adds depth or demonstrates an additional dimension to your candidacy, include it.

Another way to increase your chances of that in-person meeting are to allow the reader to connect with you. The prescreen person needs to be able to see you have the skills and abilities to do the tasks, and it’s a plus if they can relate to you too. The rule of thumb has been if you have under seven years of experience, stick to a one pager. After that, try and keep it short but you can have a two to three pager. Professionals in more research or academic worlds often use a longer style or the CV format. It will never be perfect, but good enough is what you want. The true test is if you get results: interviews. Do your best or get help from someone who can. Then get out there and start the conversations.

We have about 30 seconds to capture someone’s attention, use it wisely.

Careers, Networking, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Parents, Working Professionals

Networking is a Necessity

In 1992 I moved, as a young mother and dependent spouse, to Guatemala City the capital of Guatemala in Central America. I tell you these details because I was asked a lot of questions before we relocated. Where is it? What language do they speak there? Why do you want to leave the US? I still remember the sound of the 3 year olds voices, and the reverberations of their feet as they jumped around the 40 foot container that pulled up in front of our apartment building about six weeks before departure. My son’s pre-school class took a field trip to see what our moving container looked like as a way to say good-bye and understand what moving meant. I’d taken seven years of French and studied for a semester in Brussels, so wasn’t quite prepared for a Spanish speaking country. Some days I’d pinch myself to see if this was really going to happen. Other days I wondered why we were doing this. Bottom line, I wanted to get out of the horrible economic situation of the late 90s, and I wanted my kids to have a cross cultural experience.

The five and half years we spent in Guatemala City were formative. I arrived with a 14 month old and a 2.5 year old. They mastered Spanish in about six months, I took quite a bit longer to adjust to my new home. I didn’t know enough to pack my toolbox with my career skills. I hadn’t given much thought to how my knowledge of talent acquisition might enable me to work in another country. Things started gradually. First, I had a crash language course. Next, our belongings finally arrived and then we moved from temporary housing. As we got settled, the kids entered school. Then I was able to pick my head up and consider my options.

With five years of headhunting under my belt and a four year degree, I wasn’t sure what I could do in a country where we didn’t have a bi-lateral work agreement. It turned out my years of playing soccer and attending a summer camp were my first skills to be used in the new place. I started a summer camp for American kids who were on the opposite school schedule to their peers. Eventually we started girls soccer teams in the middle and high school for the American school. It caught on in several of the major private schools. I coached and helped organize the first Central American girls soccer tournament amongst American Schools. This was contract work and my second taste of entrepreneurism.

It was a random call from a Peace Corps Volunteer while I visited my spouse’s office that changed everything. He wasn’t available to talk, so I took the call. This conversation led to several others. Eventually I was referred to the Deputy Director In-Country and we started to discuss a three day workshop for the volunteers. The goals of the workshop would be to bring closure to their 2.5 years of service and help them think about how to re-enter the workforce in the US. I leveraged my 5 years of experience as an executive recruiter to develop the various pieces of the three day workshop. Did I have any previous experience as a workshop facilitator? No. I had recruited and trained people to work on my teams, and trained to be a camp counselor. Plus, I had knowledge of the US business world, but formally I did not have direct experience.

I just did it.

Five years later, I had run 3 weekend workshops per year, plus started a full semester class at one of the private universities. These workshops became the back bone of my training and coaching in the US. One in particular struck a chord with the Peace Corps Volunteers, it was about building networks. They felt very cut off and back then the internet was just coming onto the scene.

Often I’d hear a volunteer say, I built effective wood burning stoves to stop deforestation of the Guatemalan forest, how does this have value in the US? 

Or another volunteer might share that they built latrines to reduce the contamination of the water supply and reduce water borne disease. Why would they care about this in the US?

Los Tres Anillos workshop was born. The Three Rings.

The term referred to the rings of influence that surround each of us. Some are more obvious and easy to tap, others are harder to build. Returning to the US, the volunteers had to revive their existing networks and needed to be taught how to do this. I had to teach them the skills to build a powerful story and to realize they had the responsibility to translate their experiences into terms others would understand.

The volunteers thought they had it tough, but I have seen other populations have even bigger obstacles to overcome. The refugee, immigrant and American born women-entrepreneurs-to-be that I delivered these workshops to for Empowered Women International, worried about the same thing. They weren’t sure how to translate what they had done elsewhere into something that would be valued or understood in the US economy. Plus, they didn’t have networks to revive or fall back on, they had to build from scratch.

BUILDING LOS TRES ANILLOS

Los Tres Anillos starts with you. Each person has family and friends in their inner circle. Each of these different members have different educations, different professions and different spheres of influence. It’s much easier to start these kinds of discussions with people we know and hopefully will want to help. Begin a conversation with family and friends by letting them know you are trying to learn about what kinds of professions, companies, and options exist. By creating this list you can then reach out to them for informational interviews or conversations.

 WHY BUILD THE RINGS

The goal is to learn about the person, their role, but also more broadly about their field, and where they think the economy is strongest. Practice and share some of your experiences that you have translated into what you feel are valuable skills in today’s market. See if they agree or if you need to retool the statements. Ask if they can refer you to others who might be interested to speak with about what you have discussed. Sometimes, you have to make suggestions to help trigger ideas about who they might know; former colleagues, classmates, etc. Start recording who you have had conversations with and the outcomes in a tracking tool.

Take this exercise seriously. This doesn’t mean don’t be yourself, but do prepare for the meeting like it is an interview. Follow up with a thank you note, post conversation.  Make sure you add any suggested contacts to your tracking sheet. Keep notes and schedule follow up on whatever calendar you use regularly.

SECOND RING

Once you’ve exhausted the inner family and friends circle, the next ring is still people you know. Colleagues, classmates, and people you know through professional channels. This ring should be easy enough as well. You have an existing relationship or connection with each person. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t been in touch for awhile, reach out and let people decide if they are willing to help. Remember, it takes several attempts to connect. Don’t be a pest, but you will need to be persistent.

THIRD RING

The third ring is the one where you are building a relationship without a previous knowledge of the contact. Before the internet this was much harder. With the availability of information from Google or other engines, you can find almost anything with a keyword search.  Through professional networks like LinkedIn, association membership, reading business papers, you can gather information about almost anyone or any company. This requires a different kind of effort from the other circles, but with research you can create potential links to almost anyone. There are no cold calls anymore. I’d call them warm informed connections.

Networking is imperative to find the right opportunity. During these discussions, you will learn about opportunities or roles that you may not even know existed. It’s a wonderful time to gather information about requirements, skills, and education needed for an industry or specific role. You can start learning the jargon of a sector. Gather details about what industries are strong or skills that are in higher demand. A network can lead to many things, internships, jobs, referrals, and more. Even though you may think you don’t have one, don’t give up! You can build one-all it takes is effort.