Category Archives: resilience

Job search: Are you missing in action?

Off the radar

Getting on the job search radar!
I have spent the past week with two different women, of two different ages. Their backgrounds could not be further apart. One is a young graduate, seeking entry-level employment, the other a woman in her 40s, with extensive supply chain and procurement experience, as well as an MBA. She has taken an eight year parenting break, relocated internationally with her husband and is now dealing with the inevitable challenge of explaining motherhood and her CV gap.

Both want to enter the workplace. Both are struggling. Both are drifting off the job search track and are M.I.A. Despite feeling they had nothing in common, even just idle chat reveals the numerous common elements. Not only were they simply failing to get the jobs they wanted ( when they could even find a job they were interested in) they were receiving no response to their CVs, sometimes not even a rejection letter.

Back on track
All job search candidates regardless of age, gender or time in life need to have some basics in place, so here are some easy tips to get back on track:

  •  Identify and articulate transferable skills. It doesn’t matter how you do this but this is a critical exercise, taking time and thought. I repeat my mantra – if you don’t know what you’re good at, how do you expect anyone else to know? Recruiters and hiring managers are not telepathic and don’t have the time to drag it out of you.
  •  This basic but critical exercise leads to the creation of an effective mission statement and elevator sounds bites. CVs should stop disappearing into cyber space and interview performance will be strengthened. If there is any hesitation in delivering your USPs – practise and practise again!
  •   Establish and develop a professional online presence. This is vital for anyone, male or female, young or old, entry-level or transitioning. Failure to do this is tantamount to professional suicide. The entry-level woman had received no advice from her university careers advisor to create this type of profile, which in my view is a scandal in itself! Careers advisors – read my open letter! The older candidate needs to resurrect and tap into her existing network from her days as a professional woman and connect with them virtually on platforms which simply did not exist when she was in the workplace ( LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +) This small step shows you care about your professional image and that you are current in your approach. Your LinkedIn profile url can also be used in an email signature or on other online profiles as a way of extending the reach of your CV.
  •  Create a modern CV with targeted keyword usage. Their current versions are probably not getting past ATS ( Applicant Tracking Systems) or coming to the attention of recruitment sourcers. 97% of CVs, it is maintained, are not read by a human eye! Once again this could account for a failure to obtain an even a first interview.
  •  Most jobs (estimated at 85%) are not advertised. Creating a strong online presence and strengthening a personal brand will drive traffic to your professional profile. It’s no longer about looking for a job – it’s also about raising visibility to ensure you are found. Many jobs are also only advertised on LinkedIn.
  •  There is no substitute for strategic networking at any age and stage. No matter how young you are, or how long it’s been since you were in the workplace, we are all connected to someone! Have some simple, but good quality business cards printed – you never know when you need them! Connect and re-connect. Join networking groups and professional bodies especially if any membership has lapsed during a career break.
  •  Be active. Inactivity is not just a barrier to getting top jobs, it’s a barrier to getting any job! It’s also a great way to beat negative thinking, and maintaining your confidence, vital in job search. It also gives you data to monitor, from which you can make any changes to your job seeking strategy.
  •   Tweak those strategies . Don’t panic and especially don’t be afraid to change. Nothing is set in stone and what works in one set of circumstances may sink like a lead balloon in another! Be flexible

But most importantly never give up. The estimated time to get a job is reported to be on average a minimum of 7 months currently. If you carry on struggling – seek professional help. It will be worth it in the long-term!

Good luck!

HELP! I hate my job!

I HATE my job!

What to do when you HATE your job with a passion!

I spent time last week coaching a young professional who hated his job in a small, family run organisation. In fact he hated it so badly that the things he claimed he would rather be doing instead, covered all manner of unspeakable things, too awful to mention involving finger nails, dentists and Kabul. You get the picture.

Stress

He hated the work, he hated his bosses, he hated his colleagues. He vented for a while, but when we got into specifics, mostly he hated the way he was treated and spoken to, but above all he hated the chaos and the stress. He outlined some of the issues that especially caused him grief and truthfully those practices at best would be considered bad management, and at worst, workplace bullying. Attempts to self advocate had been unceremoniously dismissed and there was no HR function.

Leopards and spots

I have worked in this type of family run, small business and know the environment well. The words leopards and spots, blood and water come to mind. It is unlikely that any employee will be able to make a dent in that can of worms and undo not just decades of working habits, but also family culture, when normal business protocols generally don’t apply. In a small organization, transferring to another department or changing job functions are not options, so for this young man there seemed to be two choices – stay or go.

Hating your job isn’t good. We spend 2000 hours a year in the workplace at least, so it’s hard to pitch up at the office to do something you passionately dislike. Usually if you hate your job everyone can tell and will interact accordingly. Being desperately unhappy will also affect performance and added stress leads to mistakes, creating a vicious cycle of poor interaction, escalating tension and mis-managed expectations.

If you hate your job check out the  individual career transition programmes to make an effective forward move.

 Why

There are many of reasons people end up in jobs they hate: inadequate hiring processes and poor candidate decisions to name but two. During the recession many people took jobs that weren’t ideal simply to pay their bills. Jobs and situations also change after the start date creating unanticipated circumstances.

Work on you

In any situation the only person you can change is yourself.

Manage your emotions. Don’t resign in a fit of desperation. Pique doesn’t pay the bills, you do and they will not go away. It is also easier to get a job from a job.
Do some inner work. Time to review your life and professional goals and complete a C.A.R.S. analysis (Challenges, Actions, Results , Skills). Make sure you know what you’re good at and what you goals are.
Make a list of what you like about the jobs – there will always be something.
Change your attitude. If you go into the office looking down, are detached, act dejected and withdrawn, your colleagues will feed off that and respond accordingly.
Check your work. Stress impacts accuracy and you are more likely to make careless mistakes. Create a “To do” list every night for the following day, making sure you schedule the work you hate the most first or at your period of highest energy. Feeling that you have achieved something, even when you loathe doing it will make you feel better.
Find a mentor – someone who can guide you. Even in a small company there has to be one person you can ask for advice.
Silence is golden – don’t post your dislike of your work situation on Facebook or Twitter. Bosses use social media too.
Monitor your health – stress impacts everyone in different ways. Exercise, see friends, eat healthily, have enough sleep and make time for you. If you find you are struggling with anything seek professional help.
Start your job search discreetly and reach into your network. Let search and recruitment contacts know that you are open for a move.
Prepare your interview story. Don’t bad mouth your company. A skilled interviewer will be able to interpret what you don’t say if you focus on your future requirements.
Resign correctly – give the appropriate amount of notice and leave your desk and workload in mint handover condition.
Leave graciously – you may not realise it yet but you have had a substantial learning experience and developed many key skills: resilience, diligence, commitment, focus. If your colleagues behave badly you will always know that you did the right thing.

But above all , you will make better choices next time!

Moving on from bullying: leave a legacy


This post was orignally a guest post for Ann Lewis author of “Recover your balance: How to bounce back from bad times at work”

Take a stand
In my research for my series on the bullying of women in the work place by women, I was contacted by a huge number of women and somewhat surprisingly men too. Most of this communication was private.

Two messages
This sent me two messages: the first was that bullying is still a shame based experience leaving many unable to openly admit that it had happened. The other was that individuals who had been targets, even years later, went to considerable lengths not only to protect the identity of the perpetrators, but also the organisations where they worked. In many cases little or nothing had been done to support them. In essence, the bullied had become part of an enabling process which allowed repeat offenders to continue abusive behaviour.

Could I say they these victims had moved on?
No, not really. Many had simply resigned and left organisational life to become corporate refugees by working freelance or starting their own business. Some went onto be bullied in subsequent jobs. Others had abandoned their careers totally. Most were scarred, still bewildered and angry. Many had had such horrific experiences, which in my naivety I had previously only associated with movie story lines.

Premeditated sabotage strategies aside, on a daily basis many accused bullies (especially women) have no idea that their behaviour is perceived as « bullying « and are quite shocked or even distressed when finally challenged. So it seems that the bullying process can be viewed as a breakdown, or absence of, constructive communication, with each party needing to assume responsibility for their own role in the dysfunctional dynamic.

Tri-partite responsibility
• The responsibility of the “ target” is to communicate his/her perception of the situation and follow through as required . Failure to do this can mean staying stuck in a negative position, which is tantamount to handing over personal power to both the bully and the organisation.
• The responsibility of the bully is to change his/her behaviour and communication style to acceptable norms.
• The responsibility of the organisation is to ensure that it is carried out.

What would I suggest to anyone who feels that they are being bullied?

• Research corporate and sector guidelines. Most countries have no legislation to deal with bullying, although that is changing. Benchmark your experience against those checklists.
• Seek professional help early in the process. This is good investment. You are experiencing a trauma! If you were suffering a wound to your leg, would you try and treat it yourself? No! You’d see a doctor!
• Work on strategies to self advocate and heal. Focus on becoming “unstuck” and taking responsibility for retreiving your own position .
• In tandem set up an audit trail of abusive treatment. Document and note each incident. This will be useful in any internal inquires or even eventual legal action.
• Find a mentor. Someone who can support and validate you professionally.

Strategic challenge
Walking away from a bad experience maybe sufficient for some to heal and I agree that in a number of instances, “letting go” will do it. However, the individuals who seemed be in the best place, were the very few who had found the courage to challenge the bully in a constructive and strategic way, as well as tenaciously dealing with the organisations where the bullying had occurred, even to the point of legal action.

Cultural contribution
This is not about revenge, although I’m sure for some individuals that might play a satisfying part. Stepping up in this way is also about contributing to the cultural change of what is acceptable workplace behaviour. It will raise public awareness to prevent the same thing happening to others. This transparency also obliges organisations to enforce (rather than pay lip service to) workplace protocols instead of intervening only when the bottom line is negatively impacted. Think of the significant advances that have happened over the last 40 years in the areas of discrimination against women, minorities or the physically impaired. This has been the cumulative result of individual as well as group action.

So somehow, and easier said than done I know, the targets of bullying need to dig deep to find the courage to step up and take a stand, not just for their own recovery, but for the protection of our future working environments. To quote Martin Luther King “Justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere

That is when personal moving on also leaves a legacy.

What do you think?

Tennis and job search

Yes really … there’s a connection

OK – bear with me! I know at least one Olympic sportsman who might smile at this post and other high level athletes among you who could well howl laughing. I’m clearly not some sporting, ATP wunderkind champion, turned coach, just an ordinary, club level tennis enthusiast, of a certain age, with certainly more enthusiasm than skill. Like most of us! Which is why this will resonate.

Like you I play a sport. My game is tennis. Sort of. By that I mean I turn up at my club, with the right equipment, correctly attired and I participate. I like to win, but like many women will lose gracefully if I feel I’ve played well. Truthfully, I’m thrilled if I win. Sound familiar?

The right question

A life time of high impact sport has left me with a hip injury, not life threatening, just wear and tear. When I heard the news I was upset. It seemed my tennis playing days were over. Happily for me, my doubles group ( singles games rest firmly in my past) had a tennis coach who gently suggested that I was asking the wrong question. The question he told me I should be asking ask myself was not how much longer could I play tennis, but how well could I play tennis with a dodgy hip? Bearing in mind of course I live in a country where tennis and chocolate are national pastimes and are given serious consideration in equal measure. My next question will certainly be “how can I lose weight and still eat chocolate?”.

Strategy

When the mind is willing but the hip is weak and you can’t play tennis with your legs, even at my very basic level, you have to play with your head (not forgetting the racquet and balls of course). We worked on strategies to win points early in the rally (tip: move me around the court for too long and unless you make a mistake… the point is yours). He strengthened my net game, serve, slice and lob. Because I can’t chase balls down like Justine, Serena or Kim (not that I ever could!), I have to step back and construct a point strategically. I have to think ahead. I have to look for gaps. I have to tell my partners they might have to step in as the “legs”. This involves communicating and taking a few risks. Some work well and actually… some are spectacularly unsuccessful. And I lose not only the point, but the game.

So how is this a metaphor for job seekers?

• It means seeking good advice and support.
• It means letting go of negative self sabotaging “can’t do, give up ” thinking and replacing it with ‘how can I?” thoughts.
• It means staying real and working on something achievable in small steps.
• It means recognising weak points in our backgrounds and experience that can make us vulnerable. But understanding that it doesn’t mean we are out of the game.
• It means that we have to adapt, learn new skills to overcome any deficits.
• It means practising. Repeat actions produce results.
• It means not taking set backs to heart. Change the strategies as required. Missing one shot doesn’t mean we’re failures – it just means we missed that particular shot.
• It requires self insight and open communication with ourselves and judiciously, when the time is right with any colleagues and / or employers.
• It means having a plan and a strategy that makes us think ahead in our chosen game.
• It means also having a Plan B

But more than anything else it means asking ourselves the right questions.

Anyone for golf perhaps?

Special thanks to Silvana Delatte ( a great tennis buddy) who thought this story was worth recounting.

Career reflection: Could you get your own job?

What would happen if you had to apply for your own job?
In the past year I have been conscious of, and written extensively about, the pace of change in my particular field which seems to be greater than ever before. It’s hard to keep up!  Every time I learn something new, I have to get to grips with something  even newer. I cannot imagine I am alone in this position! I also coach people in transition in various professions and sectors and advise them always of the need to stay up dated in their fields. But what about  people not looking for jobs or directly at risk in any way? Could you get your own job if you had to apply for it?

Could they successfully apply for their own jobs?

Could you?

One of the cruellest spin offs of any organisational re-structuring is that sometimes employees are invited to re-apply for their own jobs. This happens frequently when they have been in post for many years and have considerable seniority and experience. But does this mean that they are necessarily the best candidate for the job as it exists now in the current environment and climate? Regrettably not always.

There are a number of counter arguments to this thesis.

Organisational responsibility

Many will say it’s the  responsibility of the organisation to ensure than their employees are trained and up to date in any developments in their field and are performing to the best of their abilities. To  some extent this could be true.

Any switched-on company committed to employee development  will do this, seeing  peak employee performance and talent management  as  intrinsic to bottom line success. But in times of economic stringency and turbulence,  when training budgets have been slashed, updating employees and keeping them up to speed may not be their top priority. This is set against a background of quite often incomplete, inadequate,and irregular performance appraisal which limits meaningful feedback from any manager to his/her reports. Essentially many employees have no real idea of how they are actually doing, or where their strengths and weaknesses lie on the ideal candidate spectrum.

Avoid complacency

Many of you will also say that it’s no way to live, or work, in a state of permanent insecurity always worrying about someone coming in to take over your job. That’s also true. But complacency isn’t a good state either. One of the things we have all learned in this current economic crisis is that there are no certainties in life. So perhaps it would be foolish to sit and wait for someone else to take responsibility for your career and ultimately your life. Many people who are moved sideways, demoted, have promotion disappointments or who get fired,  very often don’t see it coming. Many of us are wedded to our tried and trusted ways of operating. Even though we might acknowledge a need to do things differently at one level (mainly intellectual), we still struggle to implement  practical change. It doesn’t matter if it’s C-suite level of Fortune 500 companies  or middle managers in SMEs, taking that step to honestly and brutally self appraise is never easy.

It’s also not just about the arrogance of captains of industry such as Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, or the senior executives of General Motors or Lehman Brothers who failed miserably to understand the limitations of their own performance, until of course it was too late. It’s important for us all to consciously examine our own roles in relation to the market and be aware and take care of any short fall.

So start asking yourself the following questions:

  •  How qualified am I for this position, not necessarily always  in  terms of educational certificates, but in experience?
  • Is my knowledge current?
  • What improvements could/should I make to may own skill set and performance to achieve better results?
  • What other changes would I make ?
  • What is my mission statement?
  • Can my contribution be measured?
  • Do I look for, process and act on constructive feedback?
  • What value do I add?
  • Do I know my own worth? Do my bosses, peers, and reports?
  • Who could replace me?

So… would you hire …you?

Could you get your own job?

Coaching: The Susan Boyle Effect

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxPZh4AnWyk]

Susan Boyle’s audition on  the show “Britain’s Got Talent” is apparently the most watched with 280 million hits in the first 6 weeks. We’ve all seen it – some of us multiple times ( .. me !)

We rejoiced and delighted at so many myths and stereotypes being debunked in just a few minutes right in front of our eyes. Ageism, look-ism ( is that a word?), economic demographics, personality types, educational backgrounds, academic ability. This wasn’t some bo-toxed, surgically enhanced, pelvis gyrating, cleavage heaving, teenage fashionista making it  – but  someone we could all relate to. A neighbour, an aunt,  a friend… our mothers . Despite the slick editing and the clever stage management of the event  (the producers had to know surely of the potential talent,) we all felt the sheer joy of the establishment having the wind taken out of its  smug, self important, arrogant sails. Someone unexpectedly was defying all odds and achieving their dream right there on our HD flat screen or lap tops. And ironically of course, that was the name of the song.

Core talent 

But there was one thing that was very different about Susan Boyle. She really could sing. I believe wholeheartedly that we are all good at something. Does this mean overnight  stardom or success is guaranteed, no matter how hard we work or try?  Regrettably – no  it doesn’t!

The celebrity obsession

We live in an era where  for many, being famous or a celebrity has now become a goal in itself . According to USA Today 51% of 18- 24 year olds want to be famous  – but they are not quite sure how or why. This culture of celebrity envy and worship, changes our expectations. But the reality is that most of us every day people have to content ourselves with what Napoleon Hill sums up:

If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way

Keep it real

As coaches we support clients in identifying their passions and pursuing their dreams. But at the same  time we also have to introduce a  reality check. It’s not easy to fly in the face of the culture of wholesale, bumper sticker type positive thinking slogans. Although I love the fairy story element of success stories such as Susan Boyle’s, or anyone else fulfilling life long dreams – goals need to be as realistic and achievable as possible.  Otherwise we are set up to fail.

Keep it achievable

I know this is  going to be percieved  in some circles as more of an equatorial downpour  than rain on the general parade.  But sorry,  if  you don’t have a good voice – you will probably never be a great singer. But that doesn’t mean to say you can’t still enjoy singing or improve.   In the words of Albert Einstein, somewhat cleverer than myself,

“ Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”

Look at other avenues

There is also no law that says all personal satisfaction and recognition should come from your job or pursuing a career. There are lots of other avenues for personal development that can be equally rewarding.  If you like working with numbers you can  volunteer as Treasurer for your church, a local club or your kid’s school.  If you have a good, but not amazing voice, you can join a choir or attend Karaoke events.

Don’t forget the hard yards

So if your current job is blue-collar or staff level the chances of you becoming CFO any time soon are pretty slim, unless you take steps to make that happen. You will have to graduate from high school, go to university and take professional qualifications. Like Susan Boyle or any other amazing success story, their achievements may seem instantaneous, but there are usually many years of hard yards behind the scenes.

If you have dreams of being an Olympic athlete but need to lose 20 pounds and smoke a pack a  day,  then that too will remain a fantasy.  Kriss Akabusi, author of “Success comes in Cans” and himself a record breaking athlete makes the following comment

Yes, the overnight success syndrome is a real misnomer.  It took me 15 yrs to become European Champion. Of course it is appealing to just show up, be accepted for a gushing testimonial and people’s good feel factor, but in reality lasting success comes with determination, discipline, dedication to a course over time where one hews success out of failure and the core talent is sculptured from inside out”.

I can’t add to that !

Cave in… or leave the cave?

I’ve  had  lots of comments on my series of posts on women :  salary negotiation and the gender divide ( Let’s go girls… Negotiate!   and   Don’t be Afraid of “No” ). Thank you!

One topic still to be covered is the issue of us ladies stepping up to the negotiating table in our current organisations, as much as six times less than our male counterparts. This can mean a loss to net life income of up to half a million dollars. So, let’s look at what can be done about that.  Just to be clear, this is only about women taking control of their own situations and dealing with passivity, rather than covering flagrant cases of outright discrimination (bullying?) where there are separate procedures both internal and legal to take care of those sort of issues.

Easier than you think!

It’s complex, but  not harder, or impossible, or any of other those self sabotaging words  to initiate salary negotiate at this point. The process just needs a minimally different type of preparation and understanding.  And can be learned which is very important. So it’s all good.

So where to start?

This has been going on for a while, right? Feeling discontented and “put on”, so another few months won’t make any difference, seeing these guys making more money than you? But  you’re in a marathon, not a sprint, so intensive training is required to undo lots of bad habits and perceptions (theirs and yours)  to position yourself for the finishing line.

Laying the foundations: Now is the time to be strategic, active  not re-active.

Reality check : The suggestions that I am going to make are based on the premise that you are at least a competent performer! If you have any chinks in your armour – absenteeism, missed deadlines, any performance warnings – deal with those first.

Also make sure that your understanding of your situation is based on fact. Perception can be  misleading. You may have been in the job longer, but if Joe and Pete in the next offices earn more than you,  if they have an MBA and a PhD in Rocket Science, speak 3 languages or are more measurably productive in some other way, then your case isn’t necessarily clear-cut.  Sitting at your desk whingeing about your workload, miserable conditions and generally playing the victim will not help.

Squeaky wheels sometimes get changed instead of oiled.

So back to basics

Salary negotiationKnow yourself.  Decide on your life and professional goals. Where are your strengths and skills and where do you ultimately want to go with them? Understand your transferable skills.

Know your metrics ( e.g  turnover, transactions per day, customer satisfaction ratings, etc.) You are the product, so manage your business! What have you achieved and contributed or could possibly contribute further in the future? This is something that women tend to struggle with; especially those in soft functions. It is imperative you know exactly how you add value to your business.

Positioning : try and volunteer for projects with strong visibility. Some shameless self promotion never goes amiss when preparing for salary negotiation. What you are doing is paving the way to create opportunity. Start taking greater initiative, even if your efforts are turned down at least you are practising  being assertive. If you keep getting negative responses,  establish  if there is a pattern. What can you change?

Ask for feedback:  get into the habit of doing this and also asking if there’s anything you could be doing differently to meet expectations.  Do not use the word better.  Respond with an email of thanks to positive comments.  It’s good to have a trail, even a soft one, so that everyone starts believing your message about how good you are and the high standard of your work.  Including you!

Personal Development : if there is an area of personal development you can undertake which will increase your added value – do it, even if currently it might be at your own expense. Discuss this with your boss – and make sure that he/she is aware of what you are doing and connect this effort  to future added value for the company.

Know your market. Where do you sit on the salary spectrum both within the organisation and outside it? Facts.

Craft your elevator sound bites: your USPs and success stories.

Anticipate objections :  “no budget, it’s a recession, you’re a poor performer (yes, they might play dirty,) we’re going bankrupt, “boss is busy “etc.)  If there is any implied criticism you should have your feedback email trail to back you up. In any situation that is potentially intimidating,  ask for precise examples and dates of the issues.  That normally de-fuses situations.

Rehearse your  constructive communication strategy:  Socratic questions ( What makes you say/think that? How do you reach that decision?  etc.)  and Attentive Listening  (“Help me understand”,  I feel that… my experience is “)

Set your ideal outcome and the fall back position you can live with ( benefits in kind, shorter hours, review in 6 months, childcare , working from home, flexi-time etc.) benefits in kind have a high monetised value when grossed up.

Prepare for “No:”  Remember you love “no.. , ” make it work and use all the strategies you’ve prepared. “No” is when the negotiation starts, but have a clear plan if the  answer is final.

Know your audience :   You  have  worked in this organisation for some time and have a relationship with the players. You know the corporate culture and have observed him/her in other or similar situations. What are their own goals and aspirations  and what is the business plan for the department? You are prepared,  but be cautious. You might have coached yourself into neutral mode  for this  transaction, but there is no guarantee that the person sitting across the table from you will be in biz mode too. They might see this request as some sort of personal slight on their managerial skills and become ego defensive. That is not your problem.  Maintain  your cool no matter what,  but  be aware that this is the point when  any negotiation could become adversarial.  They  may not even have realised that there is a new, evolved, assertive you in front of them.

Living in the village

Now it is important to be clear in your own mind what you are prepared to settle for and what happens if your request is firmly rejected in any form. You still have to  “live in the village  ” to quote my friend Wally Bock . So if you decide to let it go, it’s important not to close doors and to remain measured and business like. The alternative is of course outside the cave.

One size fits all

A number of you emailed or messaged me, truthfully a little angrily and frustrated. Your stories were of being single parents, living in areas of  high unemployment, with domestic circumstances that limited your flexibility and mobility. Plus your company is the main employer in the region and could call the salary shots, so voting with your feet was not an option. “What  have you got to say about that? You’re targeting high fliers! ” you commented  somewhat belligerently!   But coaching is not elitist.

Without knowing all the individual circumstances and if these concerns are real, or FEARs  (false expectations appearing real)  the answer is that there is no one answer.  But no I’m not – these strategies are a one size fits all. They can be tweaked and adapted to fit most situations.

My suggestion is that you focus on you. Add to your skill set and if this can’t be done in a professional context in your existing company, set yourself some goals for personal development. Think long-term. No situation is ever static, so at least you will be prepared for any changes that may arise. Kids graduate, companies get taken over, recessions end and opportunities come around when you least expect them. Can you work from home or take on-line classes for example?

There are always a multitude of possibilities. You just have to be open to seeing them. In the words of someone even  older and definitely wiser than myself  (Seneca)

 “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Facts Talk!

Last week I posted a blog about dealing with negative thinking. Surprisingly, two words prompted more response and questions than any other part of that piece. Facts talk. What did I mean? My response was met with disbelief!
 
Facts get us out of our comfort zones.
 
FEAR
 
 A commonly used acronym for FEAR is: False Expectations Appearing Real. I first saw that phrase in the early 90s, but ironically, I have actually seen it twice in the last week alone in blogs written by Lolly Daskal  and Conrad Palmer. It’s worth repeating.

When we feel any sort of pressure or stress, we all have a tendency to lose sight of things as they really are. This is no “holier than thou ” stuff, so don’t think I’ve got it all sorted . You are reading someone who has begged for air-rescue from a bunny ski slope! Essentially we become fearful (full of fear).

Back in the cave

When we all lived in caves that sensation very conveniently kicked in to make us more alert for any potential “attacks”. To protect ourselves against lions, tigers and bears our bodies are hard- wired to educate us to anticipate risk ( things that may or may not happen). So adrenalin kicks in and we shift into fight or flight mode, activated by the best kind of stress – motivation, energy, whatever you want to call it, the upward part of the curve. Now this good feeling switches to anxiety, when at a basic level we “fear” that we don’t have the resources ( physical or psychological) to cope with perceived threats to our security and well being. We believe rightly or wrongly, that ultimately we might fail. Good stress therefore becomes bad stress (de-motivation). When lions, tigers and bears are involved, one could reasonably be forgiven for preparing for a gory death, a horrific maiming, or perhaps a long hard run for it.

Clearly now in our more evolved state, that is less likely to happen. However, our primal response facilities are still in place. Nobody told our DNA that. These fears are activated by more subtle circumstances: the unknown, rejection, or people discovering who we are, with all our weaknesses and flaws and that we will be deemed unworthy. For most of us, being full of fear is not the greatest sensation ( racing pulse, churning stomach, sweating, high pitched voice) The best way to avoid feeling out of breath, nauseous, sweaty and sounding squeaky, is simply to avoid fear inducing situations. Makes sense right? This means that we withdraw into a nice safe place when we feel fearful. Or we don’t act at all. This means we stay in our nice safe place to prevent feeling fearful. In my case the hotel lounge!

What makes you anxious?

We all have different things that make us anxious ( our weaknesses, actual or perceived ), so it is impossible to make sweeping statements in any generic fashion. But happily that too enables us to escape discovery. Someone might skydive with impunity, but worry about writing a mission statement. An engineer might deal with complex technical problems, but feel nervous about interviews. A graphic designer might make brilliant lay outs, but have no idea how to write a CV. Who would have thought? Exactly! No one. We’re free and clear plus totally undiscovered. But wait…

Guilt

At the same basic level we know that we should be out doing the things that make us breathless, sick and sticky, ( aka guilt). We have bills to pay, expectations to meet and our partners or friends are asking probing questions, so we have strategies in place to convince ourselves and “others” to create smoke screens. A computer is great for “busy-ness” and not doing anything. We tell ourselves that it is simply events or circumstances that are conspiring against us. Today, more than ever we are able to pass on our individual responsibility ( blame) to something amorphous and unaccountable. The recession.

But sometimes “others” don’t buy into what we’re saying , because they have “other” fears and somewhat inconsiderately, they feel perfectly comfortable with the job search process. Then we start making excuses. I could fill a whole page with the reasons I have invented not to ski so I wouldn’t look “less than” or disappoint people who were important to me. Some of them were very creative. So in the words of Peter Williams Unworthiness is the foundation of the comfort zone” .

Facts provide messages

Finally we’re here. This is where facts talk. Facts are a big step. They get fear and guilt out into the open. You can then see that although everything is not perfect (nothing is ever perfect) , but they can be perfectly manageable. Facts provide messages. Messages lead to thought. Written thoughts leads to actions. Actions lead to solutions.

 When looking for a job everyone should keep a job search log/progress sheet whatever you want to call it. Doesn’t matter. You can make one yourself or use an online tool such as Jibberjobber (http://www.jibberjobber.com/) Keep an accurate record of all the positions applied for and each stage of the process with dates: position, company, contact, date CV sent, method ( direct, on-line), response( telephone interview, direct interview etc) feedback. Most people, when asked, have no idea how many jobs they’ve applied for. Most people claim that they spend 6-10 hours a day looking for jobs. I can usually tell by the results, how engaged they are. It’s quite often less than 6 -10 hours. If they need to network and only have 10 LinkedIn connections – I know they’re not putting in the hard yards and so do they. More guilt. Having all that information laid out in factual form enables you to easily track all the detail relating to your job search and time management. Even not having feedback sends you a useable message.

Facts and job search- be brutal

So, if you are sending off CVs (more than 10- 15 depending on level, function, geographic location) with no response at all, what is that telling you? You need to play around with the CV, change something and monitor that result. Change it again if that doesn’t work. If you get no further than a telephone screening – could it be that your telephone interview techniques needs some work? Same if you fall at the interview stage. If you can’t find any jobs to apply for ( and there are still some jobs, they are just not advertised as openly) then perhaps you need to expand your network or online presence. But unless you can see it written down you will convince yourself that you are active on the job market, when really, although you’re in front of your computer, perhaps spending more time reading something of personal interest (sports results, celeb gossip, international affairs) than researching openings. So track your time too – keep a time management log. Be brutally honest. Are you really engaged as much as you say, or just fooling around on Facebook or Twitter? Facts talk.

If you are struggling with any parts of the process over an extended period, please look at seeking support from friends, family, your network or a professional. You are your best asset – it’s an investment in your future. If you don’t act, you won’t fail, but you won’t succeed either.

Remember .. as Audrey Hepburn suggested, the letters in impossible also write I’m possible!

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 .

Job Search: Action Does Overcome Anxiety

  
I frequently hear clients telling me of their struggles to let people know that they are now unemployed.

Small things like writing an end date on their CV or LinkedIn profile, for what is now their old job, are very challenging. Responding to the inevitable questions in networking events “Who are you with?” or “ What do you do?” leaves them feeling profoundly inadequate and nervous. Adjectives they use to describe themselves are “ stupid” and a “loser” .
 
In the words of Nina Ferrell “No pronouncement about you has value unless you agree with it.” But when those thoughts are internal messages coming from YOU – how do you manage your mind to maintain motivation? Fortunately, your reaction to anything is one of the few things you can control and here are just a few strategies to help put these experiences into context:
 
Reframe the experience: 
 
 Examine the facts
  • How many people are unemployed in your country, region or sector? You are one of many I would imagine, so the odds are stacked against everyone. When unemployment levels are at over 9% today there is no stigma to being without a job.
  • You are “ stupid” or a “loser” – lets look at this. One dictionary definition of stupid is ” marked by a lack of intellectual acuity”. What are your educational levels? What has your career and personal experience been to date? How would you describe anyone else, a neighbour or a colleague, with these levels of achievements, either academic, personal or professional? Where on the spectrum would you put “stupid” ? I imagine – nowhere. You are simply between jobs and in transition. Actors call it “ resting”, an excellent phrase.
  • Look at those same achievements and understand and acknowledge what you are good at. Keep a log of that list and read and update it regularly.

Turn transition into a positive experience

  • Look at your skill sets and identify areas where you could enhance existing skills, or gain new ones: learn a language, do an on-line course, do voluntary work. How you are responding to this “resting” period will be useful later on.
  • Use the time to formulate an action plan and set new achievable goals
  • When you achieve these goals –acknowledge that success, write it down and reward yourself. Remember this is a numbers game and initiative is better than inertia and action and activity overcome anxiety or angst .
  • Keep a log of your job search efforts so you can see in quantifiable terms exactly what you are doing.
  • Monitor your progress. Ask for feedback in case you need to do something differently.
  • Stay flexible and open minded.

Learn from previous experience

Look at the other challenges in your life and how you dealt with them. The skills that you had then and called upon, are basically unchanged ( unless there are health issues, which should be dealt with separately) and therefore still in your “tool box ” So you should be able to carry on using them.

Which challenges impacted you most?

  • How did you deal with them? Can you use those skills again?
  • Did you seek support? If so from whom?dentify and log your negative thoughts and see if they have appeared in your internal dialogue before. If they do, what are they? You will be able to see the ones that reoccur most frequently – check if there’s a pattern, and try to identify the ones that you are most anxious about. Acknowledging the existence of these thoughts is the first step at dealing with them. If you find this difficult, imagine advising a friend or colleague with the similar thoughts. Write down what you would say to him or her.     

  • What did you learn about yourself and others?
  • How did you inform yourself?
  • What made you feel more positive about the future?
  • Have you ever supported anyone else through a similar situation?
  • What did you say to them?

Log your negative messages

  •  Sit down and challenge the negative thoughts that you have identified. You have them written down so examine every thought on that page. Now look at each one rationally. Ask yourself where you would place these thoughts on a “reasonableness scale 1- 10”? What actual evidence is there for and against? If you have a thought ” I am never going to work again… ever” spend some time researching economic trends and re-frame your thought in the light of what experts are saying.

Take care of yourself

Now especially it is really important to look after your physical health and emotional well -being. Eat healthily, exercise and keep an eye on any symptoms of stress.

But if you do struggle with anxiety over a long period, please do consider seeking professional career support, consulting a doctor or a counsellor.

But above all remember “There’s no failure, only feedback. No mistakes, only outcomes” Thomas Hardman