Category Archives: executive coaching

Women and networking: strategic or simply social?

 Another hornet’s nest 
Last week was a busy week for women!  It started off with Katherine Bigelow  winning an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker,  followed swiftly  by International Women’s  Day.  Much was written about women’s roles, the progress  they have made and the steps they could make in the future. Then the wives of the UK party leaders were launched into the pre-election build up as the political “hidden weapons”.  Finally,  sneaking in at the end of the week was an article in Times Online  ”  Why women are such bad networkers”  by Antonia Senior.

Initially, I read it  with disbelief and then truthfully with some  irritation!  Of course women are good at networking! What was she thinking when she said  “women are not natural networkers”? This statement was key to her premise that women are less prevalent in board room positions because of  their lack of “social capital”  (connections ) meaning that they are less likely to be head hunted  for senior positions,  because they seemingly know fewer people.   Other serious and more meaningful issues were glossed over  a little dismissively   as a ” range of complicated factors“. 

But then I thought about the wider implications.

Women network all day,  every day,  in all their roles , whether professionally, as parents,  as neighbours, as partners or socially. Do we really think that their failure to have a corner board room office is because of their reluctance to sip warm bubbly,  nibble inferior canapés  and exchange card ?  If it was so simple,  wouldn’t women  be sending in their RSVPs to the nearest cocktail party quicker than the preparation of an  “amuse bouche ” ?  

You would have thought so – but  seemingly they don’t. Why is that?

Naturally social
Women are generally natural communicators.  We are social. We keep in touch. We build relationships. We have address books packed with names.  We share information and make referrals willingly. We are active in all sorts of areas. But An de Jonghe, Managing Partner at  Women on Board ,  a Belgian initiative to facilitate women’s advancement to directorship roles in local enterprises,   says  ” … women are social  rather than strategic networkers and very often network, not for their own purposes,  but for the benefit of  other peopleMen network to meet their own professional goals.  Today,  it’s still a man’s world and we have to do everything we can to give ourselves an edge,  to raise our visibility , even if it means attending receptions we don’t want to go to”  

Social Media
Social media networking is perfect for women because it gives them the flexibility they need to combine key networking with other priorities and allows them to manage their ROR (Return on Relationships) and ROE ( Return on Energy) more  effectively.   The claim  that they have not embraced social media  for networking purposes to the same extent as men,  flies in the face of the latest research figures released by Nielsen Wire . Using mobile usage as a litmus test,  women’s on-line networking contact  is 10% greater than their male counterparts.   53% American women use social media with Facebook being the primary network of choice.  Twitter users are not required to register their gender,  but research has shown that women also lead the field in this sector too.  23 million women a year write, read and comment on blogs – the top of the social media pyramid.

Real questions
But once again these figures have a US bias rather than a European one.   In Europe, LinkedIn and Twitter penetration is lower than the US for example,  so there,  both male and female usage  alike,  is not as high   But millions of  women  globally use social media  for business purposes and anyone who is active on these platforms knows that!  Forbes and Technorati  have produced  lists  of women to follow in social media!  Penny Power of Ecademy,   Carrie Wilkerson – Barefoot Executive,   and Sarah Brown – just to name  a few more ladies who make intelligent use of social media.  Some of the most aggressive marketeers on social media I think are actually women!  

But de Jonghe  suggests that these women are unfortunately only the visible tip of the iceberg . She firmly believes that the vast majority of women use social media  for social reasons  and not necessarily for professional advancement.

Cyanide Hours
So why are  women absent  from  male orientated networking events ?    The after work cocktails, boxes at soccer games  or golf outings?   After work receptions are frequently held in what I used to call affectionately the “cyanide hours”  ( dinner, homework, bath, bed). The pressures on women not to attend these functions are huge.  But  they are also making choices on how to spend their time.   De Jonghe  feels that women need to take responsibility for sharing child care arrangements with their partners,   so they are able to attend such functions. But with the rise of single parent families with the mother as the primary care giver,  this is not always easy.  Networking is time-consuming and women with families are  simply not able to give up whole days to  participate in  the type of activities  that Mark Twain suggests  “spoil a good walk. ” 

Perhaps this is why women’s networking groups are proliferating  globally to connect with each other at various stages in their careers .  In Belgium  Jump has had a significant impact as well as the huge numbers of women’s networking groups in the UK, US and throughout the world  – too many to mention here. 

Effective Leverage
Another  issue  is whether women are  more likely to leverage an emergency babysitter or  a  reliable  plumber from their network,  rather than a leg up the corporate ladder to a C – suite position?  De Jonghe comments ”  Women tend to sit quietly and do a good job and hope to be recognised and discovered. They are reluctant to take the initiative in the way that men do”

 But networking is a two-way street.  If the thesis is that women are not networking with CEOs ( male)  then the converse is also true. It also means that head hunters are not being creative  and  in the pursuit of  “copy and paste” search methodologies,  are not opening up their own networks to female candidates.     With precious few women  hovering under board level,  the female talent pool is not huge and it would seem to be in everyone’s interest for that to happen.

The male way
However,   De Jonghe  makes  a further point that  “while the guys sit cosily in their Board level positions, they are more than happy that women are absent. They have no reason to change the system. The old-boy network works fine for them” 

So  will the ladies have to play the networking game by male rules to make any steps forward? De Jonghe believes so.     “Once they get those  Clevel appointments ” De Jonghe says  ” women can change the system – but until then , they  have to play the male game.”

In the meantime, while the status quo prevails, it would seem  that we  women have to be strategic and not just social in our networking efforts. Even if it involves being subjected to warm champagne .  

What do you think?

Resume Advice: The good, the contentious and the simply misleading


Going into 2010:   A review of  the CV advice from 2009.  
Did you know that if you Google the phrase  “CV or Resume advice”  almost 57  MILLION results are produced?   Key in the words separately and you get almost 70 MILLION posibilities.  It seems for every  job seeker and CV writer, there is someone happy to dish out advice. This  is confusing to say the least,   because  although some  advisors are qualified, experienced  and up to date, others truthfully, are complete charlatans.  A percentage of  all this advice can be good.    Some is quite contentious, which is wonderful,  debate  is stimulating .  Some can quite often be regionally specific (generally  the US,  but that’s OK … there are a lot of you). There are also some pieces which are simply misleading. And  then finally , there is a small percentage which is actually total  nonsense. This last category I’m not even going to mention, most of it is so ridiculous.

Unlike many career transition coaches I am still an active in the area of executive research and search.  I review hundreds of CVs and profiles a week with a specific end in mind:  to find the best candidates  globally to meet my client’s needs, so I am often asked to assess CVs or even review articles .

Question ? How does the average job seeker sift through the morass of information when preparing their CV?

Answer: with difficulty  

Here is a small sample of the few things I’ve chosen to react to from 2009 going into 2010.

It’s the top of the first page that counts
Good : recruiters will generally be looking at your CV because it’s been generated by a key word activated Applicant Tracking System ( ATS)  or HRIS (Human Resource Information System) data base search. They will skim through your professional summary /mission statement which needs to be strong to avoid the reject pile. Make sure all contact information is clear and in the top lines. I actually get CVs with no phone numbers. Why make our lives difficult?  It doesn’t help you. You have between 15-20 seconds to get a reader’s attention.  Use it  and your limited amount of white space wisely. Any one who suggests that CVs  of more than 2 pages  in length are acceptable, are not active recruiters.  

 Chronological / Functional  CVs are out dated :
Contentious : Personally I like to know where a person has worked,  for how long, what they did,  as well as the major USPs in a tightly worded mission statement.  So I prefer to see a mix of functional and chronological information.  I don’t want to have to figure anything out.  Most of the CVs I see in an extended functional format tend to be from our US cousins – so a cultural difference perhaps. 

A professionally written resume and on-line profile will increase your chances of landing a job
Simply Misleading:  A strong , professional CV is vital,  but there are some caveats associated with having one that is professionally written by a third party.  As a coach I believe a CV should be written by the candidate themselves,  with  qualified,  professional  coaching support  as required. This gives complete ownership of the process to the individual. As a recruiter, I have seen too many candidates with strong professionally written CVs fall at the first hurdle of a telephone screening,  literally because they are a shadow of their own resumes. This strengthens my belief that you need to own your own message to guarantee success.

Personal objectives are old school
Good: we actually don’t care what you want! All we want to know is what have you done and can you do it for our client? If the client is interested in you, a good recruiter or search consultant will try to persuade you to do something different anyway. Rigid objectives limit creative thinking. Use numbers and strong language to illustrate your success stories succinctly. Or as Jim Rohn said   ” Don’t bring your need to the marketplace, bring your skill.” 

Cover letters are obsolete
Contentious: This is a view propounded by many.   Phil Rosenberg  President at re-Careered  makes a  compelling case in his post on the subject.   To some extent I generally go along with the hypothesis.  In large, international companies with automated processes this is definitely true. However, there are  still some instances when a cover letter does help: in a small company,  with a personal connection or if the cover letter is in a different language to your CV.   The latter happens frequently in Europe where the  corporate lingua franca is English,  but the readers  themselves are not Anglophones. It’s all about targeting each application specifically,  whether  via customizing a resume or  making a decision to use a cover letter,  which  I know is hard work. So no , I don’t think cover letters are obsolete  – there is just a  new need to use them judiciously.

Coloured fonts, charts, graphs and boxed layout are advantageous
Simply Misleading : Some ATS systems will not recognise sophisticated layouts, including all of those points. So unless applying for a creative or design job , when uploading a CV especially via a web site, there is no substitute for a straightforward Word Document with clear headings, bullet points, white space,  plus  a decent size font , 10-12 points.  Most CVs are read initially on a computer screen and sometimes a lap top or even Blackberry/ iPhone. Resume design should take that into account. Complex layout turns a CV almost into a personal presentation and perhaps best taken as a hard copy to an interview or even included on your LinkedIn profile using the Slide Share Application.

Include your professional network url ( LinkedIn,  Xing, Viadeo, Plaxo  etc)
Good : I always check a CV against an on-line  profile or a professional network if there is one. These profiles quite often contain quick links to company information which is very helpful. However,  as I work globally, I obviously have to take into account  that candidates can come from cultures and countries where social media  and even broadband penetration is lower.

Traditional Resumes are out dated /dead
Contentious : There is no doubt that on-line presence is becoming a major factor in the early stages of identifying  candidates . But  to date I have never been involved in any search where the candidate has not eventually been  asked to produce a CV somewhere in the process. Ever. This would be in addition to a professional internet profile which savvy recruiters have already viewed. So I think they will be around for quite a while longer, but perhaps used more frequently in conjunction with other recruiting techniques.

Personal information is no longer required
Simply Misleading : Some personal information can be judiciously included in a CV and can say a lot about a candidate.  I always scan it. Do include non professional achievements, publications, keynote speaking , awards and activities – within reason.   Your U14 MVP mention is clearly of no interest.   I would definitely not give a home address – simply indicate location for security reasons. You are no longer required to indicate nationality, date of birth,  the year of graduation or marital status. Good recruiters will always figure out age anyway – but as ATS are frequently programmed with date parameters that is a good omission. I have seen some articles advocating hiding age  – but if anyone does that, for me it sends a message that they are in an older demographic and uncomfortable with it.  Don’t forget that we all leave our trail in cyber space and recruiters do access Facebook , LinkedIn , Twitter and Google to run checks! Some get to learn more about us than we want them too,  or even realise!

That’s about it – until the next batch of  advice comes out!

Does your career need a health check?

Fortunately, despite the events of the past couple of years, career coaching isn’t just about  crisis, redundancies and  panic job search. Transition coaching can happily be more  routine and measured:   brainstorming for the next stage, setting some goals, making a plan.  So with any executive working on this career management phase,  we always start with  a gentle chat about themselves and what they’re looking for.  Essentially and almost imperceptibly, what we’re doing  is a  career health check.

Self- insight
This process establishes where they’ve been,  what’s going on right now and  where they’re headed.  What I call the “know thyself spectrum”. Then I  ask them to draft a short  mission statement.   Not a  big deal you would have thought for rising captains of business and industry. But many are astonishingly resistant and some in fact even struggle.  They don’t see this as necessary to the process.  They have a great  job already and don’t need  to produce what they perceive  be part of a new CV . They’re completely fine.  Just need a bit of fine tuning. Still I insist!

Avoidance strategies
The range of excuses I hear to get out of this  exercise warrant  an “A” for creativity.   Kids –   listen  and learn from the best!

    • It’s on my office computer, not on my lap top ( ooooh….and vice versa!)
    • Backberry/iphone/ other  electronic gizzmo is down/crashed
    • Meetings: Wall to wall / Back to back
    • Deadlines : Year end /Q end/weekly/daily
    • Flight / trip:  delayed / bought forward
    • 3 kids: that one came from an executive with a stay at home wife
    •  Crisis: Personal/ family/professional/ national/ economic /global

Trust me – there is nothing I haven’t heard before!   There is seemingly a whole breed of executives  who don’t  have the following words in their vocabulary:  beer mat, pen, 15 minutes, plane, airport lounge, taxi – plus some other obvious ones.   This  type of inventive procrastination comes even from people who on the surface of things are  leaders in their sector,  perhaps in the top percentile of their professional and academic fields,  or have achieved significant business successes and are outwardly brimming with confidence. But despite this,  there is  something holding them back  from putting a name  to these  signficant achievements and the skills they needed to call on to facilitate such great results.

There is a reason why we all need to do career health checks on a regular basis.

Benefits
Personal insight,  knowing your strengths, weaknesses  and achievements  and being able to articulate those to yourself ,  is important for managers to excel in their current  roles.  It is not just those executives  who find themselves  unexpectedly on the job market.   A high percentage of executives I coach,  who have been “let go” admit to being unhappy in their jobs before the redundancy was made.  They also  suspect  that their bosses were possibly aware of it.  Harsh though it may seem,   companies generally  find a way to retain high performing, motivated managers, no matter what sort of crisis  they’re in.

So why is it important to understand and  articulate  these skills and achievements,  to know well how we have dealt with  any challenges in the past and be relaxed about any future ones?  It gives us all a sense of control.

Control
Feeling in control,  having that unshakeable self-belief  that we have the resources to successfully deal with anything that comes our way, generates self – confidence.    Self confidence is that indefinable , intangible quality that effective managers possess in spades.  It’s not a flashy showman leading from the top  or an over bearing arrogance that won’t listen or consult. It is something else all together.

Confidence
Confident managers know what they’re doing  and their teams can see that.  This is highly motivating and leads to better results.  Because confident managers have recognised their own successes and achievements,  they have no problem endorsing the success of their peers or reports.  They instinctively set in place recognition systems to foster and support self belief in those around them. This inspires greater team effort and even greater success.  People gravitate towards them. Success breeds success.

Confident managers are great mentors and don’t feel threatened by new talent. They generously encourage and develop.

Strengths and weaknesses
Because they know what they do well and  how they do it,  they also understand where and when  they don’t do so well.  Confident managers  are happy to  consult and  are comfortable looking for opinions, advice and support.   They are open to unsolicited input. Astonishingly,  true confidence can even admit lack of confidence  and  say ” I really have no clue what I’m doing,  but I’m going to find out.  ”   And they do. They process criticism positively.

Pro-active
Truly confident managers know that it’s important to get it done,  rather than get it right and will motivate and support calculated risk taking.  They rise to new challenges.  They get out of the way.  They give themselves and their teams permission to fail,  but still  keep a watchful eye on the score card. They support,  not blame,  during the failing process and takes steps to manage any  fallout if that’s what needs doing.  They see mistakes as part of  a learning  process. They take steps to avoid repeated bad habits.

Goals
Confident managers are  positive thinkers, solution driven and not problem focused. The first thing they want to know  “How can we get that done?”  not what the barriers are. Confident managers have goals and if they are off target they realise that they have to change … so  they sit down,  re-assesss and make new goals.

Sometimes on beer mats in airport lounges. They don’t need a perfect time, environment or location. They just get it done.

So when was the last time you gave your career a health check?

Boomerang Kids – The New Executive Stress

The main challenge is to find a balance between supporting and enabling

A number of executives have  listed  in recent coaching sessions one of the major sources of stress in their lives as the return to their previously wonderfully empty nest, of unemployed adult offspring. In the vernacular Boomerang Kids.  This is not my area of expertise at all,  other than having a newly graduated son facing a desperate career  market and either unemployment or unpaidemployment (aka internships). The reality is that the thought of any part of his life  (or person) being centred on or  close to my sofa, actually fills us both  equally with horror. But it might happen yet if his best efforts fail.

After multiple mentions in coaching sessions and friends talking endlessly about the same topic, it was clear that some  in-depth  research was required.

This is what I found.

The kids
In 2007, 55 percent of men and 48 percent of women aged 18-to-24 lived with their parents, and certainly those numbers have only grown since the recession hit. In the UK, the most recent labour market survey shows unemployment growing fastest in this age group with employment prospects for the class of 2009 the worst in over 25 years. In the US The Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders under age 27 has is at an all time high since 1983. In addition to a difficult job market, students are graduating with higher debt levels than ever before, with the cost of living outstripping entry-level starting salaries, which have been driven downward (happily for employers) by excess demand they are unable to make their rent money.

Not unsurprisingly kids are returning home to reduce costs. This is damaging to their self-confidence and threatening their budding sense of independence. Young people with high achieving parents are stressed by their inability to meet their parents even unstated expectations. They struggle with the notion that they may have to downgrade their own ambitions and take lower level jobs, as companies have their pick of top graduates from elite universities. In some cases depression kicks in. Factor in  that the kids of baby boomers have been sheltered from hard times and this is possibly the first serious recession which has impacted them. During the last one in the early 90s most of them were less than 10 so can’t be blamed.

My observation  from personal experience, is that they feel anxious, overwhelmed and vulnerable about their long-term abilities to support themselves in the way they had hoped to  ( i.e. have been used to) and with some there is also a certain sense of righteous entitlement. They now exhibit all the usual symptoms of stress. I hear stories of web loafing ,  Laurent Brouat’s great phrase for sitting at the computer, doing nothing productive and  busy-ness , my less great word for being busy when you’re  really not  being productive  at all; erratic schedules (late mornings and even later nights) TV marathons, erratic eating and so on.

The parents
So what is going on for Mum and Dad at this point, my beleaguered executives, as Junior heads home? Any one or all of a number of things.

For the most part this is one of the most stressful period of their lives. If they still have a job they are under severe pressure, or possibly at risk. Otherwise they are unemployed with everything that implies. Pension pots are reduced, their property has decreased in value. Costs are rising. Any plans to downsize and travel in retirement are looking like pipe dreams and the future has become a black hole of anxiety. They might even now have to defer retirement. When in more buoyant times they could have funded their returning child to some degree, that will now put a strain on the family budget. A young adult is now living, or even taking over, their home and creating tension which is percolating into their professional and even marital lives.

For senior executives used to managing teams and being in control, they now have a “team member” who somewhat inconsiderately is not responding at all, or if they are, it’s in a non business fashion.  My C level  execs are contending with door slamming,  feet on coffee tables, pouting and petulance without being able to call HR to fire the kid. Sensitive issues  they would deal with correctly and constructively in the office escalate in the family environment. Two executives reported serious stand offs with their child as tensions  rise. Tendencies to helicopter manage the young person’s job search efforts or activities intensify as does the stress.

Managing transition
The bottom line is that Gen Y and the Boomers are both in transition – but just not the ones they hoped for. Mum and Dad had planned to move effortlessly into their well deserved golden years and Junior was all set to blaze a glowing trail along the career path of choice. Instead, both generations are dealing with stress and anxiety not just about their present lives but their futures too. Result = massive tension and discord.

So is there a solution?
Of course – but the ideal way according to the experts if not always easy and centres on not reverting to the traditional roles  as the carer and cared for, which is what we tend to do in our role as parents. It actually does involve a more business style approach ,including negotiating and agreeing clearly defined ground rules and boundaries.  Pretty much like in the office – but easier said than done at  home for many. It obviously also varies between cultures – in some countries young adults traditionally stay at home longer. So the litmus test is presumably is it a problem?

The main factor according to Diane Viere  a specialist in setting boundaries for adult children, is to learn to make a distinction between “enabling”, doing something for young adults that they could do themselves and ” helping”  them,  i.e.-supporting them constructively on their road to independence. She also advises us parents to beware of the need to control – something we are used to doing in our professional lives.

How to do that?

Close the bank of Mum and Dad:  It may be tempting to bail your kid out financially and protect them with all the luxuries and security of the family home, but this will not help them in the long run. It fails to teach financial responsibility and as most actually want to be independent will end up damaging their self esteem. The best solution is to support them re-structuring their debts thus giving them life skills. It is inadvisable for parents to co-sign credit cards, leases or other loans. If your child misses payments,your credit rating could be damaged. Make a formal contract with them if you need to.

Don’t sacrifice your own financial future. Decide how much you want and can afford to help. Some parents provide more financial support than they can actually afford. One executive I deal with who was the guarantor on her young  adult’s rental agreement found that her son had defaulted on his payment for 6 months. It was Mum and Dad who scrambled around to find the cash, cutting into the pension fund to prevent legal action. Young adults have many years to build their financial security, while you may be only a few years away from your retirement date. Ironically, if you are not careful, you could end up depending on your children for help in your old age.

Home does not = hotel: Insist on responsibilities, which may include paying rent and/or payment in kind, such as taking on household chores. This can often be negotiated. One method is to ask the returning child what he or she believes would be reasonable rent. This is also the area, when not clearly laid out, that can result in the most misunderstandings, as adult children return to old habits of expecting to be taken care of.  If the returning adult is old enough to stay out late, drive a car ( possibly yours) and have adult relationships – they are old enough to take out the trash and cook dinner.

Set out guidelines: covering curfews ( I  am no stranger to the young adult clock and trust me,  it’s not like mine!  ) visitors ( ditto – or like me you may find kids in your kitchen having breakfast at 3 in the afternoon ), smoking  (it is perfectly acceptable to have a house rule ) vehicle usage. Another professional runs a tight ship in the office and was frustrated because her graduate sat in front of the TV all day and refused to do tasks that he considered demeaning ( cutting the grass or washing the car). Mum however did this when she got in from a 10 hour day in the office.

Agree a schedule:  one young grad I recently coached started his day at 0930 and  seriously,  was genuinely taken aback when I expressed surprise at  what  looked very much to me like a lie-in. After coffee, his day kicked off at 1000.   This is not the real world. They need to be up, dressed and good to go in job searching mode for 0900. Looking for a job is their job. It’s about self-discipline and structure. Not only  does it help with getting a job,  but structure and action do reduce anxiety. This is  all hard to monitor if parents work, but a goal I urge entry-level coachees to strive for.

Encourage goal setting: encourage the grad to set him or herself realistic and achievable goals (remember all those SMART/SOLVE workshops you attended as a manager) . Recognise achievements without being indulgent.  They are not in kindergarten. Getting out of bed and making coffee does not count!   Encourage physical exercise , volunteering,  plus social and professional networking.  Gen Y are light years ahead of us in technology, but are sometimes reluctant and inexperienced when it comes to physical actual networking.

Set a deadline: Kids should not be given an open-ended invitation to move back home. A deadline is important; it enables you and your child to measure the progress he/she is making towards becoming independent. If your boomerang kid has a job, perhaps the deadline could be based on a date: After X number of months, he or she will have saved enough to meet X, Y, and Z financial goals and then can move out. If your child is unemployed, perhaps the deadline is based on finding a job or paying off a certain percentage of debt.

Charge rent: Even a nominal amount is advised by the experts, so the young adult feels he or she is contributing something. It’s a good idea to write up a rental agreement and stick to the payments on a regular basis. Whether you do this on a scientific basis of a percentage of actual bills or on a felt fair basis is up to you, or simply operate a barter economy. Chores for cash.

If your Boomerang Kids are unemployed over a  long period without success in their job search, then seeking professional support is a must. Most countries operate programmes for young people  within the community. If they are graduates  they may still may be eligible for support from their alma mater colleges.

With all these strategies firmly in place, the executives should then be able to get on with their own lives… right? .

Watch this space!

Mind Management: Beat Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly – but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (” busy-ness”) when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “mind over matter”. Or mind matters!

Mind fabrication
I’m not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don’t know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase “drowning in my own thoughts” to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times ” being out of work for 2 years” and a need to explain a ” 2 year gap on my CV”. I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we’re now July 2009 – how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

Self sabotaging
At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was ” opting out” and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is – a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you’re reading this!)

Re-frame with questions
So if you feel that anyone doesn’t understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can’t see what you’re about – perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you’re choosing to work with. Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

Write things down
So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let’s pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

Track the message !
ORIGINAL THOUGHTHmmm… I should apply for that job” write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait… if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won’t know what to say … **then I’ll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview… **then they’ll know how useless I am..** then I won’t get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone….**then everyone will know I’m stupid and laugh at me.. **then I’ll let my whole family down… ** then I won’t get any job anywhere, ever… **then I’ll never work again… then I’ll have no money so I’ll be bankrupt … **then I’ll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I’ll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box … **then everyone in the world will hate me…then Hmmm … OK…. I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower …I’ll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Look at the facts
Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you’re a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn’t know you. Keep a job search log so you can’t convince yourself into thinking that you’re active when you’re not. Facts talk.

Reality check
The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink into job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don’t want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

Choose your words wisely!

Inspired by Wally Bock

Divided by a common language  

Chatting on Twitter the other night, Wally mentioned in passing that he was a vet. Wow I thought. He’s an international leadership guru , writer, poet AND a vet. That’s pretty amazing. I went into recruiter mode. Thoughts about wide ranging skill sets , the long years he must have spent in college and training, plus potential career paths all raced through my mind. Then I realised (just as quickly) that we were probably having a cultural mis-communication moment. In UK English “vet” is a commonly used abbreviation for veterinary surgeon, but in the US it tends to replace the phrase “war veteran”.

Word choice

It then occurred to me if two Anglophones can mis-communicate so successfully and we use vocabulary and word choice as a professional tool all the time, what are the implications for those that don’t? I’m not talking about advertising spin either, but just presenting our message in a succinct and positive fashion, that everyone can understand and easily digest.

The importance of word choice in communicating a message in job search strategies is a vital part of my coaching programme. It’s key in CV writing and drafting internet profiles not only to be identified by Applicant Tracking Systems, but to identify your personal brand, which is the essence of your message. Strong language is absolutely essential in developing a correctly pitched elevator speech used in direct networking and interviews. They all require precise vocabulary, but presented in different styles and formats. Living in an international environment where English is the global business lingua franca, I also see people both communicating and confusing in their second, third or even fourth languages every day.

 Think!

I coached someone recently who used this phrase “Used to work in a multicultural environment : continuous contacts internally with US and European colleagues. Daily contacts with customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa mainly”

What he had actually done was this: successfully identified market development opportunities in key emerging markets,( some very challenging countries which I can’t specify for confidentiality reasons) created multi- cultural and cross discipline teams (requiring the management of significant cultural differences and business practises) to spearhead the launch of the product portfolio. The result was x increase( large number) to his company’s bottom line. Was that obvious? Not at all. Same role, but which one is going to attract attention?
I have observed over time that there are generally two parts to this communication process: communication with yourself (internal message) and then communication with others (external message). Sometimes it is only about the use of effective “brand” language ( vocabulary), but quite often it’s more than that.
 
So what needs to be done?
 
 Internal communication: this is about self awareness and self insight. You need to identify and understand your own challenges and achievements – I know I keep bashing on about this – but it is key. If you don’t know what you’re good at – how can you expect anyone else to know? You are your own best asset. Recruiters don’t have time to look for sub – text and to analyse the possible implications of what you’ve been doing in your career. We need to be told in very precise terms. Self insight also facilitates the interview process so you present yourself strongly verbally as well – this is your own brand development . It avoids the awkward pauses, repetition and embarrassing moments in interviews. But it is equally vital that you own your personal message. How do you define yourself? As the person in “daily contact” or the person who ” spearheads”?
 
External communication: Choosing powerful vocabulary and phrases to get your message across in the best possible way in all media is really important. This is not boasting (that’s about personality and delivery) or falsifying( that’s about lying). It’s your brand marketing. Would we buy Coke if it was advertised as a “brown fizzy drink” Probably not. Suggesting “refreshing” and “thirst quenching” or whatever else they say, produces a different and successful picture. Same about you! Use words such as: identifed, created, instigated, enhanced, extended, exceeded, generated, conceived, won, strengthened, secured, restructured, transformed to list just a few. Lose weaker words such as: facilitates, co-ordinated, set up, played a key role, contact etc. Let the facts speak for themselves and back up your achievements with incontestable examples or numbers.
 
If you are not a wordsmith, or English isn’t your first language, enlist support to help craft the most convincing CV possible to send a message you believe in. Why run the risk of being rejected because of some weak words?
 
You don’t want to be a “brown fizzy drink”!
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Survivor Skills for the Employed

There are many forms of career transition in a working life: starting new jobs or careers, moving geographically, becoming a trailing spouse, taking maternity leave, having a new boss, promotions, retiring and experiencing re-structuring. And of course, in today’s climate, losing jobs. But in a downturn, career transition doesn’t just cover the people who have lost their jobs or are looking for new ones. It also covers the ones left on the “island”.

“Survivor” stress
“Survivors” are in a category which is quite often overlooked . These are the people who are actually still lucky enough to be employed. So what’s the problem, you might be asking? They’re OK. Why should we care about them?

Well, perhaps they are the ones making the cuts. They might be sending long standing colleagues or employees into uncertain professional and economic futures. Those very people might share social and professional networks and even live in the same local communities.

These “survivors” are possibly expected to meet established or even tighter deadlines and targets, with reduced teams and budgets and no immediate rewards. Perhaps they have taken pay cuts, voluntarily or otherwise, but with the same personal financial commitments. Bonuses are a thing of the past and all motivational programmes have been cancelled. So, no more trips to exotic places, “Dinner for Two” vouchers, employee of the month receptions, or company outings. Travel privileges might have been down graded, inter-continental flights are in coach and even free coffee in the office has been abolished.

Antagonism
In some sectors,banking and finance for example, public opinion is negative towards all employees, not just those senior directors accused of negligence. My daughter, a “survivor” in a London legal firm, has been openly harrassed on the way to work, just because she happened to be walking past a bank wearing a business suit. In manufacturing companies, management teams have been locked in their offices by angry ex-employees in many different countries.

Presenteeism
“Survivors” might be fearful of taking vacations, or sick leave, in case their absence makes their jobs vulnerable. This culture of “presentee- ism” means spending longer hours in the office, just to be visible. Other key relationships might be suffering because of this. Partners are getting mad, dinners end in bins and the kids feel neglected. There might be instances where challenging projects have been cut or put on hold, leaving only routine tasks. Perhaps they are managing teams who are de-motivated, leaving a tense atmosphere between colleagues or even direct conflict. Information sharing might be reduced, resulting in lack of trust.

Perhaps protectionist strategies are in place, sometimes completely unconsciously, to safeguard workloads, business practises or seniority, all to the detriment of the organisation as a whole. Health issues are on the increase. Client or customer feedback is starting to become negative or impatient and profitability is falling further. All of this impacts the bottom line. All hard to audit.

“Survivor” silence
They daren’t complain because they know what the alternatives are. They certainly can’t complain to you, can they? So how do they stay motivated in a such a stressful working environment? If you are a survivor what can you do?

Well a good idea might be to borrow from Einstein. His 3 rules of work would seem pretty sensible here: “From clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. From difficulty find opportunity“.

Here are some very tip of the iceberg suggestions:

  • Simplify: Break your situation down into manageable, measurable parts. Strategise. Formulate a mission statement, set yourself some achieveable positive, action -orientated, time -bound goals. Include all aspects of your life, but also make fall back provisions. Nothing in life ever works perfectly – well not in mine anyway. As someone said, the most successful people are good at Plan B.
  • Harmonise: Choose how you react to your situation. This gives you control. Communicate, be open and engage with your team and colleagues. Assess your own performance, try to get a clear understanding of your professional responsibilities and know how you will be assessed. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. What can you do better? How can you achieve that?
  • Maximise: Extend your professional network not just for support, but for information and experience exchange. Gain new skills. Refresh old ones. Set up a plan for personal development and make sure you take care of yourself physically and psychologically. Loyalty to employees as we have seen is fragile and tenuous in the modern corporate world, so make sure in addition to doing the best you can in your job, you also make yourself a priority.

    Experience, is not what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley

    And because you can’t dance ( always good for the soul) to either Einstein or Huxley, try Gloria Gaynor … “I will survive”