It’s a New Year: Are your career goals organized around solving problems or creating what you want? – part 1

You have a job now, right? And maybe you don’t like it. Or you’ve been thinking about a midlife career change but you don’t know what else you could do and still make money.

So, now your life is taken up with reacting to the circumstances of your situation. How can I work less and make more? I hate the office, how can I work 3 days at home, 2 days at the office? My colleagues annoy me, how can I transfer to another unit? I’m stressed out, how can I get leave with pay?

In short, these problems start to dominate your everyday life. You are trapped into reacting against the prevailing problems of your life–they suck up your time, energy, and money as you seek a way out.

Problem solving is one of the worst ways to try to build the life you want. Here is a simple truth: you can solve all of your problems and still not have what you want. For example, you get leave without pay only to find that the same position is not waiting for you when you return to work; instead, the new job is worse! Or, you transfer to another unit, only to find the work is boring or the workplace toxic. Or, you find no motivation for working by yourself at home, you can’t get the work done, and you get laid off.

When you are trapped into reacting against the prevailing problems of your life, you are led away from thinking in terms of desired outcomes. When you are in this problem orientation, you get ‘stuck’ in your career. You can’t create from that orientation.

Creating the career you want is certainly possible when you approach it as an orientation and a skill. A creative orientation is a process that involves proven steps that move you from where you are now to a state of being that doesn’t yet exist. If you were to create a painting, a sculpture, or a poem, you are creating a product that doesn’t yet exist. You can do the same thing with career change—you can create an outcome that doesn’t yet exist.

If your career is the subject matter of the creative process, then you need to have some idea of the outcome, what it might look like, feel like, knowing what you want. That might sound simple but it is where most people get stuck. Instead of working on what it is they want, they work on answering other questions: What will make me happy? How should I live my life? What is my purpose? What is meaningful to me? Important questions, to be sure, but the answers are not necessary for creating what you want in a career.

Most people get stuck in their career because they can’t “see” another option. They don’t think about what they want, but rather, what they think they should want from a limited menu of available items. The subtext is: find the proper response. For example, at this age, you should be in this kind of position earning this amount of money in your career. We are supposed to think there is a proper response. If your circumstances don’t match that “proper response” then your life becomes a problem, rather than what you truly want based on your natural inclinations. This is how problem-solving rather than creating becomes the organizing principle in your life.

This is an important part of the work I do as a job change expert—to create a ‘new’ picture, an accurate and reliable picture, of what that work or career might look like, based on a creative orientation, by focusing on your natural strengths, motivations, values and preferences.

Then, on the skill level, you create that new picture. Creating the career you want is not rocket science but it is a skill and like any skill needs to be learned and applied in an efficient and effective manner to get the outcome you want.

That will be the subject of my next post.

Why does networking work? – Part 1

A large recruiting company did a survey recently of about 250 of the largest companies in the U.S., mostly well-known brands of national and international scope that cover a range of major industries. They wanted to find out what were the major sources of hiring for these companies.

They found that most hires, about 45%, are done internally by promoting or transferring existing staff. The biggest source of hiring outside the company was from referrals, about 25% of hires. What is true for these huge companies is true for most companies of 500 employees or more in Ottawa or anywhere.

Moreover, a job seeker who is referred is conservatively 3-4 times more likely to be hired (some studies have found that a job seeker who is referred is 14 times more likely to be hired) than someone who applies for a position without a referral. This is essential information for anyone seeking a job or wanting to make a job change.

In a recent article, I explained how networking works, but WHY is it so effective?

The answer is simple: human nature.

The problem with human beings is that we are not perfect! We all have weaknesses, shortcomings, faults, biases, prejudices and vices. In short, there is a downside to every individual. Every potential employee is a risk to a manager… a risk that might jeopardize his or her career!

You are an unknown quantity. Human beings are full of rational and irrational fears when it comes to protecting their self-interests. You need to understand how hiring works from the employer’s point of view.

As a certified job change expert, I have also been in the position to hire others. Believe me, when a hiring manager looks at resumes from people whom they don’t know, they might be thinking: “This person looks good on paper but what if they have a personality flaw and can’t get along with anybody here, we get into a dispute, end up in a grievance or, worse, end up in court? What if they have a secret addiction and fall to pieces as soon as I give them a deadline or put them under pressure, and we lose our biggest account, millions of dollars in revenue, and the CEO fires me? What if they have a secret agenda to [insert your irrational fear of choice]?

We live in a litigious society, and managers must protect themselves from litigation, not to mention all the aggravation that comes with making a bad hire. One of the easiest ways to do that is to minimize risk. Since you, as a job seeker, are a potential risk, the easiest way to minimize that risk is to NOT hire you.

In other words, a manager will not hire you until they feel SAFE with you. And, they cannot feel safe with you, unless they meet you face-to-face. In most cases, managers are not going to jeopardize their careers by hiring candidates with whom they don’t feel safe.

As human beings, we fear what we don’t know. I’m not saying it’s right or equitable or fair; it’s human nature!

When you approach potential employers as a stranger, their automatic fear response kicks in because they don’t know you, and they fear what they don’t know.

Here is some key job change advice: networking is not first and foremost about you, about your needs and priorities for a job. It’s first and foremost about a manager’s need to protect his/her career, to ensure that they can proceed with developing their career without looking over their shoulder. They want you to cover their back.

This is why the old adage, “People hire who they know” is so true…not because of nepotism, cronyism, or corruption (all exist of course but rarely operate in a hiring situation which is governed by law and common sense)…but because of human nature, the desire for a sure thing, the desire to first, protect, then promote our own careers.

In this context, my next article will explain why referrals are so highly regarded by managers, why it helps make a hiring decision easier.

Running Off the Rails on a Crazy Train

In our society, it is normal to conform to the expectations of others. Most of us learn early in life to act on what others say, value and expect, especially from parents, teachers, family, experts.

In some ways it easier to do what others tell us: “In order to get ahead in life, I need good grades in school, so I will tell my teacher what s/he wants to hear, jump through the hoops, get it over and done with, so I can do the same thing in a job—and get paid for it.”

Subtle Messages

We listen to subtle messages that steer us into a particular career: “my mother said I was good with people and belong in a caring profession”; “my father always said I was no good at finishing things”; “you can’t make any money doing what I love!” So, we follow others into the family business, or the military, or a profession, or try to guess where the jobs will be in 20 years.

We get on a career track and stick with it. In other words, what our parents tell us, what society expects of us, what skills are required by the economy—is rational—and if we don’t conform to those messages, then we, as individuals, are irrational!

And, for most of us, that works for much of the time…until it doesn’t. Like train travel, a safe and efficient mode of transportation, we ride our career track until we reach a destination—the expected one of retirement of the unexpected one of a layoff.

Career goes off the rails

We usually aim at becoming something without ever taking the time to shape our own identity…then, we suddenly realize that we had no desire to get on that train at all.

It’s enough to drive any sane person a little crazy!

Internal conflicts (often represented by toxic stress or mental health issues) and external circumstances (change in life circumstances, such as job loss, illness, divorce) may require big changes in our lives…changes that can only be achieved by finding personal power and meaning in life.

Science to the Rescue

During the past 25 years, over 200 scientific studies have been published pointing to the power of narrative therapy to positively affect biological processes (including immune function) associated with health and illness. In addition, the power of expressive exercises, involving both emotional and cognitive topics, has benefited many individuals dealing with a range of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual issues, such as cancer, heart disease, depression, cystic fibrosis, asthma, arthritis, alienation, isolation, and more.

Narrative counselling or therapy is designed:

– to help you resolve certain work/life issues;
– to give you a better understanding of your personal life story in its many dimensions and how it shapes or influences your work, career, relationships, and life;
– to repair your story;
– to create a better life.

In short, your current personal narrative is deconstructed so that a more adaptive story can be re-authored, a new or second story that gives you more power to make effective changes in your work and life, including better relationships with yourself and others.

Visit my counselling page to get more info on how narrative therapy can clear space in your life to generate a new beginning, a new work identity, a new role in society, or new opportunities.

If jobs are created around scarce resources, what is lacking in our new economy?

When we had a scarcity of food, we had an Agrarian Economy. When we had a scarcity of tools, equipment, machinery, clothes, houses, we had an Industrial Economy. When we had a scarcity of data, facts, and methods to make decisions, we had an Information Economy.

Some people say we are now in a Knowledge Economy because we have a scarcity of principles and logic to understand, explain, predict certain phenomena in the world. But, if economics is about scarce things, then we don’t actually have a Knowledge Economy because these days knowledge is freely available on the Internet.

In addition, billions of people in Asia are learning math, science, and English and our ‘knowledge’ jobs here in North America are being outsourced to cheaper labor markets, which dampens employer demand for knowledge workers on this side of the pond. For several decades, economists have been encouraging workers to get more education in knowledge industries to ensure job security. And they were right…until now!

The job market is subject to supply and demand economics. Twenty years ago, the economy was hot and growing due to the hi-tech boom. There was so much demand from employers for skilled labor–especially IT, telecom, and other hi-tech skills—and such a shortage of IT talent, that employers had to look beyond their local areas, across the country, even across the world to find enough skilled people to fill those jobs.

Job boards were developed as brokers to put these buyers & sellers of labor together, and they were very effective. As more and more people were sucked into the hi-tech sector, lots of openings were created in other sectors, including financial services, education, health, manufacturing, retail, food & beverages and so on. If you had any kind of skills, education, or experience, you could throw your resume online and you were sure to get calls from internal & external recruiters. Those were the days!

But, when the recession of 2008 hit, employers in America laid off 10M+ workers. Suddenly, and since then, employers have had very little demand for new employees. Except in certain places, like the oil&gas sector of northern Alberta, and other pockets where certain skills are in demand.

Some people say jobs are scarce, but they aren’t. There is never a shortage of jobs, although often there is a shortage of money or will to bribe people to do some of it. Generally speaking, we are in a ‘jobless’ recovery as corporations hoard money due to lack of confidence in economic prospects.

Besides, most people who want paying jobs have paying jobs. That’s why governments have foreign worker programs to bring in people to do jobs at a pay that most other people won’t accept. For many people in developing countries, who have next to nothing in terms of material things, they are quite happy to work just for money.

This only proves there is no job scarcity. Jobs go begging because most people do not have a burning desire to do certain work for its own sake–e.g. clean hotel rooms, flip burgers, pick crops, butcher beef, and so on—because they cannot see a point to it all. In short, their work lacks purpose.

Our higher levels of education increase our expectations. Once our physiological needs are met, we pursue love and belonging, which will give us self-esteem, confidence, and the respect of others. Our expectation is to become all we are capable of. Flipping burgers doesn’t cut it any more.

When something is in high demand and short supply then people become obsessed with getting it, whatever “it” is…but the “it” is no longer knowledge. Job security be damned, it’s gone in many knowledge industries. So, what’s the next scarcity? What do we call the new Economy?

The Purpose Economy, according to some economists. What is scarce now is meaning and purpose. Jobs are being redesigned to give people more of both. Boring, mundane, predictable jobs will continue to be outsourced. Many jobs organized around math and science will be done in cheaper labor markets.

Professionals and other educated workers here in North America may need to push from the inside out, to pressure employers, especially large institutional employers of big government and big business, to invest in a Purpose Economy. Social entrepreneurs, like Sal Khan—a former hedge fund manager who founded Khan Academy to provide a free world-class education to anyone anywhere–are at the leading edge of this new economy.

As individuals, they are carrying much of the burden to re-engineer their work accordingly. In order to understand how to re-craft your job for more purpose, you need to understand what motivates you intrinsically, where you learned and acquired skills intersect with your natural strengths, deeper values, higher aspirations—and how to leverage these key success factors into work that benefits not only you but your employer and the wider Purpose Economy.

A new economy is rising, and it will offer security to workers who can leverage meaning and purpose into their work.

Focus on Interests not Positions to Resolve Workplace Conflicts

We are social beings with an inherent, natural desire for connection and attachment to other humans.  One of the core functions of work is to provide us with a broad social connection to our world, as well as more intimate connections with our colleagues, clients, and others.  When we lose a job, we often lose key relationships that can add to a sense of isolation, even loneliness.

At work, we experience a range of relationships–positive and negative, simple and complex, routine and unusual.  These experiences can energize or drain us.  We go through periods of harmony and conflict.  Learning to manage our workplace relationships is a key skill for career survival and advancement.

We might strive for harmony, but work is often a theatre of conflict because there are competing interests at every level.  Conflicts arise between colleagues seeking to advance their careers in a hierarchy with limited opportunities; between employer priorities and employee needs; between employer policies and union rules; between company deadlines and technological failures…and so on.

Learning to resolve conflict is part of managing our workplace relationships.  In our recent free webinar 3 Secrets of Conflict Competency,* we learned about the difference between Positions and Interests, as the single most important part of preparing for any negotiation or effort at Conflict Resolution.

Clarifying your own interests is often one of the few things in your control.

You may not be able to discover what the real underlying interests of the other side are but at least you can clarify your own interests. For example, as a front-line supervisor, we might seriously object to a subordinate’s performance and characterize him or her as incompetent, unreliable, undependable…so we take the position that they must be terminated.  However, we may not have the authority to fire or layoff that individual, so our position hardens, poisoning our milieu at work, increasing tension and conflict.

We can reduce these negative effects on ourselves and others by focusing on our interests as they relate to the employee’s performance.  Our interests might include the following notions:

  • He breaks all the rules about hours of work and personal calls which undermines my leadership;
  • I am worried about losing my job because of declining sales;
  • He could be making more money for the company than he is and I can’t seem to motivate him.

These interests reveal a range of needs and values—e.g. authority, job security, leadership ability.  Understanding the needs and values represented by an individual’s interests now uncovers a range of solutions that will meet all or some of the interests of both parties.  Interests are what a person really wants!

In summary, positions are responses or actions a person will take to meet their needs.  Taking a position closes off communication and reduces the opportunity to find a mutually satisfying solution.  If you are caught in a conflict, your task is to clarify your own interests first, and then uncover those hidden interests of the other party.

Interests are needs, concerns, and values that motivate each person. By understanding and communicating the interests of both parties, you have a very good chance of resolving the conflict.

 

* Note: For Webinar Link.  Select ‘Click Here to Listen In’ then select ‘View presentation with audio’ to see slides with audio.  If clicking on the link doesn’t work, try copy-and-paste link into your browser.

Job Seeker Free Weekly Broadcast

The Changing Labor Market — Threat or Opportunities
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Secrets of Cold Calling 102
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Returning to the Workforce
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Career Change Advice for Talented Women with predictable, boring, mundane jobs

Taba Cookey is an extremely talented woman who had immigrated to Canada from Nigeria to go to work in high level finance. She had earned her first degree in England and had got  a Masters degree in Canada some years later before returning to Nigeria to continue her banking career.

She said that while she was in Ottawa looking to move from her job in financial sector research, she thought she should “take advantage of the kind of career consulting (that I offer) that doesn’t exist in Nigeria,” and explore her options for career change.
I had Taba write “her story”–eight examples of experiences that had been very satisfying for her throughout her life. They didn’t have to be job related.

What came up again and again is that she thrives with new competitive challenges that force her to stretch herself beyond anything she had ever done before. She also needs those challenges defined with deadlines and guidelines for measuring success. For example, she was usually one of the best student in her schools and was the only student in her graduate school class to complete her master’s thesis in time to graduate on schedule.

When she moved from Nigeria to London at age 9, she quickly established herself as one of the star sprinters in her elementary school. Before long, having run out of female competition, talk in the playground was that she should take on the fastest boy runner in the school.

“Finally, a date and hour was set. It was close…but there was no doubt about the result: I won, and that was the end of John’s bragging about how fast he was,” Taba said.

At some point during this career audit, she accepted an offer as Standards and Insurance Manager for a Canadian government agency that was charged with protecting consumers’ deposits in event of the failure of federally regulated banks and trust companies. She didn’t understand why at the time, but found herself so bored and frustrated with her job.

We figured out that even though her position at the government regulatory agency might be the perfect job for someone else, it was “just pushing papers” for her. Many jobs, including the one she was in at the agency, organized to be predictable and mundane and often become simple and boring for talented people like Taba.

Using “her story,” we determined:

* The work environment she would thrive in.

* The type of work she would thrive in.

* The way she likes to be managed.

* The way she likes to be rewarded.

* What motivates her.

* And how she likes to approach tasks.

“My work with George made me realize this sort of work was thoroughly unsuited to me” says Taba.

She began to seriously consider returning to Nigeria and we talked about the need for African ex-patriates to return home and use their knowledge and expertise in developing Africa.  She decided to go back to Nigeria without any prospects for a job. I told her that she had lots of talents and people would recognize and reward her for that.

I think that one of the reasons ex-patriates don’t go back to their home countries after being educated abroad is because they’re worried they won’t get challenging jobs. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for Taba because she has talents that transfer across borders. It was just a question of packaging her talents to be recognized and rewarded in different cultural contexts.

So we had to put her talents into a resume to show what this person could do for an employer anywhere–a dramatic example of how her talents transfer across cultures and borders.

She sent me an email saying, “An amazing opportunity opened up in Ghana. I am a Program Manager with the African Finance Corporation (http://www.africafc.org), based in Accra, responsible for overseeing all IFC leasing development programs in Africa. IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank, promoting development through loans, equity and technical assistance to the private sector.”

A lot of businesses in Africa have difficulty in accessing traditional bank financing, and leasing provides an attractive alternative to such companies. The program aims to promote the role of leasing through training, public awareness, attracting new investment into the industry and working with the authorities in specific African countries to improve the legislative and regulatory environment for leasing.

This job is challenging for her because it is so varied and really stretches her capabilities. Also, she travels all over Africa and has to deal with different personalities in differing cultures. She needs to be in circumstances that stretch her, like beating the fastest boy in school.

“The other day I went through the life stories I had written and the analysis you had done four years ago now, and was amazed at the way it has all come together in my present job,” said Taba. “It is really quite uncanny. But then again perhaps not, since you had so accurately identified the kind of work and environment that would give me ‘jobjoy’ and I have finally found it. It is not surprising that I can now say without hesitation that I have never enjoyed work so much, and…yes, feel fortunate that I am actually getting paid for it. I come to work every day with a sense of anticipation, and hardly know where the time has gone at the end of the day. I actually have to tear myself away! This is such a change from so much of my previous life spent clock watching and day dreaming at work.”

When we get into a jobfit, other parts of our lives often fall into place.  After a few years in this job, Taba returned to Nigeria in 2008 .  “It is great to be back home, I think age is finally taming my itchy feet!”  She was recently married, and took a new position with the Nigerian Stock Exchange.  Congratulations, Taba, in  putting down roots!

–with Nick Isenberg