Job Search: “It’s Not About Me!”

The fall hiring season is upon us, and I’m spending a good deal of time each day coaching clients on a few basic principles to increase their chances of getting hired sooner rather than later.

As a job searcher, it is essential to understand the nature of your relationship with a hiring manager, whether you are meeting him or her in a formal job interview or speaking to them informally in their office, at a conference, at a networking event, or any other venue.

1. The most important person in the hiring process

Unless you start your own business and hire yourself, you will always be dependent on someone else to hire you. That person is the most important person in the hiring process. We call that person a “hiring manager,” not because they spend all their time hiring—far from it!—but because they have the power to hire you. The person you report to in any organization is your hiring manager.

2. Hiring managers are human beings too

When you go looking for a job, you are preoccupied, naturally and rightfully, with your own needs and priorities– you want a solid ROI on all that education and experience you’ve already invested in your career. You want a job that is fun, or lucrative, or easy, or challenging, or close to home, or any combination thereof.

In the same way, a hiring manager is interested, first and foremost, in protecting and promoting their own career. And, s/he is not going to make a decision or take an action that might jeopardize their career. Remember, too, that in many cases, managers are not trained to hire (they are trained to manage plans, priorities, programs, projects, budgets, schedules, and so on), or they don’t enjoy hiring, or they are not very good at it. As human beings, they are looking for an easier way to do things, including hiring.

3. Hiring is a risk assessment exercise

Put yourself in their shoes: they don’t know you. It is human nature to fear what we don’t know. To increase your chances of getting hired, it is important to understand the hiring process from their pov. And, from their pov, the hiring process is a risk assessment exercise.

There is a lot of truth to the old cliche that ‘people hire who they know.’ Managers know that nobody is perfect; everyone has shortcomings, weaknesses, faults, biases, and prejudices–-things that pose a potential threat to the safety of his or her career. Everyone has a downside. It is easier to hire somebody you know because it is easier to assess their downside : “I know Bob, Janet and Ricardo, each has strengths and weaknesses, but when I look at their shortcomings, can I still manage them? Are they a threat to my career?”

Think about formal interviews, and how many questions are designed to uncover weaknesses and shortcomings: What is your greatest weakness? Describe a situation in which you were unsuccessful achieving a goal, and how did you respond? How would you rate your ability to resolve conflict on a scale of 1 to 10, from low to high, then give me an example?

Sure, managers want employees who are competent in terms of knowledge and skills but those employees aren’t much good to them unless they can manage them easily. Above all, a hiring decision for a manager is about feeling “safe” with them, safe in terms of protecting and promoting their own career as a manager.

4. “Why should I hire you?”

Every job search campaign is a response to this simple question. It’s one that may be simple to ask, but it’s difficult to answer, especially when you focus your answer on the “you” part of the question. Your first inclination is to start your sales pitch, to convince a manager that you are a good choice. You want to highlight your features and benefits, such as “I’m reliable, dependable and hard-working.”

But, the truth is, you will do better in any interview when your focus on this question is on the “why” not the “you.”

5. Tapping into pain points

I realize that this approach is counter-intuitive. In fact, I ask my clients to write down the phrase, “It’s not about me!”…to remind them of this fundamental principle, since our inclination is almost always to focus on our needs and priorities first; or, our lack of experience, education, or credentials; or, our accomplishments. These things may be relevant to a successful job search but they should not the primary element of your job search strategy.

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the priorities of a hiring manager again. Managers are not focused on you when they are thinking of hiring. They are thinking about their needs and priorities. Managers are responsible for achieving the goals and objectives of their organizations…that’s why they get paid big bucks, have fancy job titles, and get perks. However, it is not easy to attain those goals. If it was easy, they could do all the work themselves and wouldn’t need employees!

But the nature of reality is adversity : things get in the way of corporate goals and objectives, such as problems, challenges, issues and pressures. To a sales professional, these “things” are known as “pain points.”

In sales, it is important to understand the goals of your prospects and their pain points in order to determine how your product or service can make their pain go away and reach their goals. The only difference between sales and job search is that you are the product or service for pain relief!

This is the agenda behind every hiring decision, i.e. the manager is looking for help around specific pain points. Your job in a formal or informal interview is to uncover that agenda. Once you are in the door, it is important to get a hiring manager talking. Listen for clues to their pain points. Respond not with the features of your value proposition (i.e. your education, experience, personal traits) but with benefits (i.e. how you can help them with their pain points).

Obviously, we cannot cover here every possible scenario. I am outlining a strategic approach. The implementation of this strategy is up to you. That is why I strongly suggest that job searchers get professional help. There is a lot at stake in terms of your career. You want to optimize your time and energy.

Summary

Establish rapport with a manager by focusing on their needs and priorities. What is their agenda? What challenges, issues, problems, pressure points are driving this hiring decision? Flush out concerns. Find out what red flags the employer may have about hiring somebody they don’t know. Listen carefully for “sensitive” questions.

Many times informal interactions with a hiring manager can turn into formal interviews because a manager has a genuine need to hire. They warm up to you as the person asking the questions, and they want to make the most out of their time with you.

The truth is this : there are always jobs and managers are always hiring. Be prepared!

“Get Your Spiritual House in Order!”

I heard this fervent command not from the lips of a Sunday morning television evangelist but in a commercial on a prime-time radio show.

The ad features the CEO of a training company who uses short radio spots to promote to business owners his sales training programs on how to motivate and manage a sales force.

What does spirituality have to do with selling products and services in the marketplace? A lot, according to this sales trainer.

He suggests that sales people need to clean up on the inside in order to present a positive attitude on the outside. If they are holding onto any anger or resentment, then it is only a matter of time before they dump that negativity onto prospects and clients, thereby hurting the bottom line of the business owner.

We’ve all been knocked down in life because failure and defeat are part of life. Failure is inevitable. That’s why so many parents are keen to have their children participate in competitive activities, such as sports, chess, spelling bees – anything that can provide an experience of victory and defeat. The sooner they ride the roller-coaster of life’s ups and downs, the sooner they have a chance to adjust to reality.

As young children, we need our basic requirements handed to us because we cannot fend for ourselves. As we age, we are supposed to learn skills to help us do so. If we don’t learn those skills, or if we don’t apply what we learn, the world will often teach us in the manner of a harsh taskmaster. You can’t cheat life.

One of the most difficult transitions we make from childhood to life as teens and then as adults is to discover that our selfish needs are not the center of the universe. At some level, we need to learn compassion for and service to others.

The sales trainer mentioned above knows that even the best sales performers will face rejection more often than they will get a sale. One of the key factors of success for any salesperson is to persist in the face of rejection, to know that each ‘No’ brings them closer to a ‘Yes.”

Anybody can make a sale, given a proven product and a proven method for selling that product. What gets in the way of a sale is very often a person’s attitude towards failure and their ability to get up after being knocked down by rejection.

A rejection is often felt personally and can foster feelings of anger or resentment or fear. When that happens, it can show up in your attitude towards others. As the sales trainer knows, a negative attitude produces negative results.

Rejection is just a part of life. Successful people know how to process the negative experiences of life. I think it is important to recognize that most successful people have a spiritual dimension to their lives to help them process those experiences. They connect to it; they realize that their work is part of something bigger than them and their needs.

Too often we focus only on the financial aspects of work. When we do so, we let work undermine our hunger for spirituality. The world of work tends to make us dry and weak spiritually. By contrast, successful people often exhibit an air of enthusiasm about their work. They are their own best spokespersons for what they do. They inspire confidence in themselves and their work.

The roots of both words, enthusiasm and inspiration, are related to spirituality. The source of the word ‘enthusiasm’ is Greek , for “having the god within.” The word “inspiration” comes from Latin, which meant originally “to blow into”, to describe God giving Adam the breath of life.

Successful people have learned that their achievements are predicated to some extent on the good energy they bring into the world. They have poured their energy, love, talent, and creativityinto others through business, public service, teaching, coaching, volunteering, art, or some kind of investment in others.

And, by doing so, they have achieved success in the more important dimensions of life, such as their health, self-respect, happiness, courage, self-worth and relationships.

When your spiritual house is in order, it shows up in your work. It’s part of living a better story for your life.

George Dutch
www.jobjoy.com

How high do you bounce?

Everybody gets knocked down in life, everybody. When you have a goal or objective in life, does the universe allow you to achieve it quickly or easily? Not likely. We live in a universe of adversity.

Our best laid plans, our deepest desires, our clearest objectives will run into opposition. Whatever path we are on, we will run into roadblocks and obstacles. The nature of reality is adversity.

This is a new year. And you can expect to get knocked down this year at some point. For example, I just got off the phone with a client who recently made a career change, one that has changed her life dramatically. “I feel like I can breathe again,” she says. “I’ve got my life back.” She loves her new job and is very happy she switched careers.

However, there is adversity in her situation. She has been parachuted into a key position with this company, and she is facing resentment from co-workers who undermine her enthusiasm with gossip and petty actions. The director of her division regularly criticizes her performance, sometimes with verbal abuse. On the worst days, she wants to quit.

Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher, wrote: “Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of failure and decay.”

Everybody fails, everybody. It is normal. You can expect to fail this year at some point. You will have a strong desire to do or get something and you will not attain it. You will set a goal and not achieve it. In fact, the year starts with resolutions, most of which are never fulfilled. But the odd setback here and there does not a year make.

Life goes on. The setback does not last. Don’t confuse failure with defeat. I love that quote from General George Patton, the WWII hero: “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” Failure is a temporary condition; defeat is an attitude.

Most of us play or watch sports because sports reflect the nature of reality—adversity. In each game or contest, every player is trying to score or win. In order to do so, the players and teams must overcome their adversaries. Every player gets knocked down. The key is to get up and focus on what really matters to you.

Life is not a game but it is a structured event, full of circumstances around which we have no control as individuals. Adversity is woven into the very fabric of life. Life owes us nothing. We are entitled to nothing. We are simply given the opportunity to face adversity head on.

We consciously or unconsciously do the things that make us successful or unsuccessful. For example, we are in control of our attitude, of how we respond to circumstances. You will encounter both good and bad circumstances throughout your life; how you respond to them is your choice.

You can choose to be passive, and simply accept whatever life sends your way. Or, you can choose to take actions that will move you closer to what really matters to you. Yes, there will be roadblocks, obstacles, and adversaries that get in the way. By we can choose to meet them head on. That takes courage and strength of mind. To quote General Patton again: “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.”

Let me close by going back to my client who got a new job but inherited a bad boss and jealous co-workers. As bad as this might appear to be, it is nothing in comparison to the toxic work environment she left last year. I have seen this scenario hundreds of times over the past 20 years. A new year rolls around with a new set of challenges. We live in a universe of adversity; what does not break us makes us stronger.

She is learning to stand up for herself, setting boundaries, and focusing on priorities. Vitality is nurtured by overcoming adversity. We grow personally and professionally by confronting and overcoming challenges. May you bounce back all year long!
BounceBack

Put Horse before Cart

In matters of career, I suggest we start by listening to our heart–an ancient discipline that has fallen into disuse due to the primary place of logic and reason in our culture. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using our heads, but it’s a little like trying to put the cart in front of the horse.

When explaining this principle to clients, I often draw a picture of a cart in front of a horse. It looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? This person is not going to get far. And yet, this is exactly where many of us end up in our careers when we learn early in life to adapt to the expectations of others.

Our social conditioning starts very early in life, as we learn to please significant others in our lives, such as parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and so on. There’s tremendous pressure on each of us to make career decisions based on certain social values and priorities—such as measuring our success according to the power, prestige and material wealth we accumulate.

Many individuals are channeled down a certain professional path using ‘can do’ skills long before they’ve had a chance to discover and nurture their natural talents and motivations.

So, many of us go to college because that is the expected thing to do. We select a major because we have to select something. In the process, we fill up our cart with what we told are the essential tools of success: education, qualifications, credentials, skills, knowledge, contacts, relevant experiences, awards, recognition, and so on. Then we look for and land a particular job for all sorts of reasons, most of them related to pre-conditioned notions of money, prestige, power and status.

What is true for college is true for trade school, the family business or the army. From grade school through high school and college and on into our careers, we strive to become somebody, some ideal. Inevitably, that somebody is different from who we are already. This is the result of developing only our social self at the expense of our authentic self.

I’ll never forget Ken, a second generation Canadian I met at university in Vancouver. He had just graduated with a BSc, and was enrolled in a Master’s program for Pestology. British Columbia is full of bugs threatening various kinds of natural resources, and Ken was going to specialize in destroying those bugs. However, he was first going to treat himself.

As a dutiful son of Asian parents, Ken was brought up to respect and obey his elders. Family honor is a primary value among Asian communities, so Ken had dutifully taken math and sciences through high school and university. But he harbored a secret passion for art. Growing up near Commercial Drive in Vancouver’s Chinatown, his home had been situated next to a sign shop where Ken spent many happy hours of his youth helping the proprietor draw and paint signs with vivid and wonderful colors. Although he found some opportunities to draw, this artistic side of Ken was neglected as he nurtured the social side of his self and worked hard to meet the expectations of his parents and community.

But, after entering grad school, Ken decided he was entitled to finally indulge his strong desire to learn more about art, and so he took an evening art class. That was it! He was hooked. He dropped his Pestology program, and focused on art. Finally, he was working with passion using his natural talents and motivations. He completed a BGS in Arts & Culture and went on to become an internationally-renowned artist, and teach art full-time at university.

His story is particularly poignant to me not only because I knew him way back when but because I’ll never forget the double-take I did when I saw four large billboard banners hanging on the outside wall of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in 2002. His exhibition paired life-size studio portraits of individuals and families of various ethnic backgrounds with bold-coloured, corporate style logos of their names on enamel and Plexiglass. They appeared as huge signs!

And, the text with the photos raised questions of identity, gender, race and class. They took me right back to the long and heated discussions I often heard at university on those issues. A review in The Ottawa Citizen at the time slammed the exhibit for its “politically correct tone.”

But Ken succeeded in doing what artists are suppose to do—get the public talking and debating about what is often taken for granted in everyday discourse and behavior. Art is suppose to foster strong opinions on both sides of a question! I can just imagine how pleased and happy he would’ve been to see his ideas bandied about in a nationally recognized newspaper.

The point is that Ken had traded in his ‘can do’ skills for his passion. And he was making his mark. For me, to see his art hanging on huge signs on the outside walls of a national gallery was like a loud shout of joy declaring Ken’s love of life! It was a validation of his passion and purpose. What I saw was a triumph of natural talents and significance over the safety Ken could’ve had by sticking to a career as a pestologist using his ‘can do’ skills.

That is not to say he may not have destroyed bugs in B.C. that deserved it, and gone on to make a contribution of significant economic impact, using his ‘can do’ skills. But I can’t help but think that the world would now be a poorer place if Ken had not honored his authentic self and nurtured his talents and motivations through his passion for art.

I encourage individuals to discover and develop their passion into work that will sustain them for a lifetime of employment and enjoyment. The key to self-fulfillment is to enjoy what you do day-in and day-out. Why would you stop doing something you love?

She Left a Toxic Workplace with her Dignity Intact

There is a turning point in every career transition, and that is the time when an individual stops identifying with their fears—both rational and irrational—and chooses to identify more with their hopes.

I love this story because it is real and true and typical in so many ways. For the past year, I assisted a professional woman through a career transition. Bright and talented with two university degrees, she was stuck in a toxic work environment, but couldn’t let go.

This client had already made one career change in life, moving from the health sector to the financial sector. She was a rising star, often winning performance awards, and was being groomed for senior management. But she hated going to work each day.
In our initial session, she outlined the overwhelming pace and stress of the job in general. In workplaces organized around targets and quotas, there is a lot of pressure to make sacrifices for the team and do whatever it takes to succeed.

She also complained about abusive behavior from bosses and co-workers. For example, if she asked for an explanation, she was publicly yelled at and told to just do it without any explanation. In team meetings, she was afraid to raise some issues for fear of being censored by the rest of the team. This from a woman who was not timid, nor did she lack confidence or communications skills.

In addition, my client alluded to pressure from her family—some of whom also worked in the financial sector–to continue earning the same high income and enjoying the status that came with being an up-and-comer. These were direct messages from people she loved and respected about what she needed to do to be smart in this situation.

On the one hand, she would tearfully admit that she had lost her self in this job, that she had sold her soul in order to meet the corporation’s goals. She felt empty inside, more dead than alive. On the other hand, walking away from this career, even one she knew deep inside was all wrong for her, meant risking the esteem of those who loved her most.

There were other practical considerations too, of course, such as meeting her financial obligations, and exploring a tough job market. She had the same fear we all have, the fear of negative consequences, i.e. if I change my life, it will get worse not better. Better to stick with this pain than risk even more!

We don’t like reality because it often includes unpleasant things. She described a toxic workplace but for months she questioned her perceptions, and wondered if the problem was her, not the abusive behavior.

Why, she asked, am I falling to pieces, while everyone else seems okay? Everyone pays a price for tolerating pain. What was yours, I asked? She outlined sleeplessness, anxiety, smoking, drinking, and other ‘coping’ behaviours. Common behaviors shared by most of her colleagues, I’m sure.

Insisting that things are not what they are doesn’t make them change. So, we either use drugs and other strategies to deal with pain, or we remove ourselves—-physically or mentally–from the circumstances causing the pain.

Then she reached a point where she was truly tired of coping—It’s killing me!–and was ready to re-claim her life. She did my JobJoy exercise and wrote out her life story, which helped her to see her natural talents and motivations, and the different points in her life where her choices honored those strengths, and points where she disregarded them in favor of pleasing others or reacting to fear.

More importantly, this accurate and reliable picture of her in action, gave her hope. We reframed her career experience, so that she could see that there were many good options for her to move forward as a professional.

She set out to explore other career options, even as she continued to struggle with her toxic job. She stopped smoking. She took small steps to let go of “some things” in her life to create enough space to explore something new. She applied to another graduate program but decided not to proceed after visiting the campus. She looked at buying an existing business, as well as a franchise, but after crunching the numbers of both opportunities, she decided against it. She investigated an offer to cross the street and provide as an indepedent the same service she did for her institutional employer.

In the meantime, the abusive behavior in her workplace continued. It takes time and discipline to learn to see reality as it is. It takes skill, because we have been trained to think accordng to concepts, theories, speculations, beliefs, ideas, and so on. Much of our thinking has been reinforced by past experiences that we presume to be the same as what is going on in the present. In order to really see reality, we have to unlearn then relearn.

As my client explored other career options and met with other professionals, she was looking and observing reality in a new way, one that was not influenced by her experiences in her toxic workplace. However, observing reality is not the same thing as changing our reality.

Taking action requires some tolerance of uncertainty. There are no guarantees in life. But our minds hate not knowing the future, not knowing outcomes…and so, when we don’t actually know something, instead of looking to find out, our minds wants to fill the space with answers that pretend to know what we don’t know!

This is where are preconceived notions of reality sweep in—notions based on previous or current life expericnes : it’s hopeless; it’s never work; I can’t do it; there are no jobs; you’re throwing your life away; and so on.

If you are serious about change, about moving out of your pain into a better jobfit, then you must appreciate NOT knowing something until you find out. In other words, you need to acquire a taste for reality, and prefer it to the pain you know so well.

When my client got to this point, two strange but predictable phenomena occured. I had even warned her that it would happen because I’ve seen it happen almost every time a client makes a transition from one kind of work to another.

One,following my advice, she approached a previous business contact—a CEO of a mid-sized company–to outline the kind of work that she was looking for, and this person offered her a job on the spot, a job in which she had no direct experience. But the CEO knew a good and talented person when he saw one, a person who could add a lot of value to his company.

Two, she handed in her notice with her toxic employer, who immediately offered her a promotion and a significant raise. She thought about it, and realized that the offer was really an acknowledgement of how much pain she was willing to put up with for her previous salary, and now they were offering her more money to put up with more pain!

She admits, it wasn’t easy, but she declined that offer. In doing so, she took back the power over her life. She felt free! She still harbored doubts about her new job—what if it didn’t work out? What if the people there turned on her? What if she can’t do the job? Reality being what it is, not perfect, crap does happen. And she can’t know everything before she starts.

But she did start her new job, and sent me a hopeful message : Wow, what a different experience I am having – amazing – just in terms of a whole new focus on learning and development versus how to cope with stress and negativity.

She is free to choose what she wants. She has the power to decide what is best for her. She is choosing hope over fear!

Using the flip side of life to find your right work

How to use negative life experiences to uncover the truth of your right work

Why does autobiographical writing help you discover and develop your right work? Writing stories from your life helps you understand your own life in terms of the forces that have defined and changed you over the years. The facts, people, and events of your life have formed a seamless web of meaning that help you answer the questions : Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish with my life?

I know it sounds strange but even negative life experiences help us uncover the truth of our right work. For example, I am particularly ashamed of a shoplifting episode during my teens. I got caught. However, I really enjoyed playing a different character in order to avoid incarceration.

I have a gift for story-telling. Sitting in a police station, I walked out without charges by weaving an elaborate lie a la Frank Abagnale Jr., played by Leonardo Dicaprio, in the movie Catch Me If You Can. Unlike him, the person I impersonated found me out and turned me in. I was charged and put on probation.

This was morally reprehensible, I agree, but when we are looking for clues to our right work, we should not neglect those negative experiences. Every event has a flip side. We need to strip away the moral fabric of these events because we often “sin out of our strengths.”

The examined life lets you see patterns of behavior. It lets you see lessons learned the hard way. You learn the value of failure, and the value of accomplishments. Your life is your stock in trade. Even if you think your life has been unimportant to the world, it’s important to you, and that’s what counts!

One of the Success Stories on my website features a natural promoter who has a knack for getting things started. As a college student, he jerry-rigged a payphone in his dorm to permit free long distance phone calls. It wasn’t legal, but it was enterprising.

He was always starting money-saving, or money-making ventures. But he lost interest once the crank was turning and required daily attention to details to keep things running smoothly. He was criticized his whole life for his very strength. The people around him who had a knack for managing had no talent for getting things started; but once a venture was started, they criticized him for not having their talent for managing. Those criticisms cut deeply into his self esteem until he understood the value of his talent.

The key here is to identify our natural skills and abilities. How we use those talents is another issue. We choose virtue or vice; we use our gifts in the service of good or bad. It is, of course, difficult to write about emotional events in our lives, especially painful ones. But when you are writing your autobiography, try to portray the events of your life with accurate and honest descriptions. Leave out the moral judgments.

Try it. Pick one negative event from your life, and write about it according to the following format :

1. A clear statement of the activity (in one sentence)

2. What caused you to get started in the activity?

3. Write a detailed story of what you did, how you did it, where, when, and with whom. Stick to the facts. Focus on the how not the why.

4. What parts gave you the most sense of satisfaction and fulfillment?

5. Was there some significant reason you stopped the activity?

In my book JobJoy : Finding Your Right Work through the Power of Your Personal Story, I provide a format for charting and writing your stories quickly and easily.

From your stories, I generate a JobJoy Report. This report gets to the essence of who and what you are in terms of work. Career decision-making becomes easy. It taps into the motivations of each individual.

I analyze your stories and prepare a comprehensive detailed report that will identify and define your Key Success Factors. This report answers the questions: What are the natural talents you use and consistently bring satisfaction to you when you are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well? What is the subject matter that you gravitate to without even trying? What circumstances or conditions have to exist in the job environment to bring out the best in you? How do you naturally build relationships with others?

From this analysis we can generate an Ideal Job Description and match it with specific opportunities in the real world of work.

Brain Food for Job Change

Science has learned a lot about how the brain works during the past 50 years. For example, the physical brain, made up of brain matter, blood vessels, nerves, neurons, and so on, can be repaired, even rewired, and circuits regenerated. The brain is capable of creating new structures that can make it more effective—an awesome wonder indeed!

The mind is our intellectual ability to use our physical brain. Yet, often the mind holds back the brain because it gets stuck in certain patterns that it likes to repeat over and over, repeating so often that the pattern becomes a structure or habit we cannot break.

For example, you enter an elevator with Muzak playing one of those 70s songs from the Carpenters, like “I’m on the Top of the World” for a dozen bars, before you exit. The next thing you know that song is humming in your mind for the rest of the day. You didn’t choose to get hooked on that song; you just kind of fell into it with no conscious choice on your part.

Your mind was exposed to what in music is called “the hook.” A hook is a musical phrase that is structured in such a way, that as it begins to end, it throws itself back to the beginning, and begins all over again.

After hearing a dozen bars of “I’m on the Top of the World”, your mind is trying to resolve the unfinished bars, the ones you didn’t hear. That’s why you can’t get it out of your head, unless you consciously play the song, or sing the song, and finish it so that the tension is resolved, allowing your mind to move onto something else.

Similarly, our minds can get stuck with a belief, or attitude, or habit related to our work. If you hate your job, and want to quit or change careers, your mind will focus on that tension.

If a hook is constructed in your mind in the following manner: I hate my job but if I quit I will become poor, or lose my pension, or lose face with family and friends–then your mind will get stuck on that one track.

The hook is a fear of negative consequences. Your mind plays that tune over and over in your mind and all you can hear are the negative consequences that might result from quitting your job.

While your physical brain is ready, willing, and able to add new and better wiring, your mind wants to play the same old song: “I hate my job but I fear poverty.” This is the tape that plays over and over again in your mind.

The key is to give your mind different material to focus on. It’s the only way to break the endless loop. Most people don’t realize that their mind works as a simple tension-resolution system. It’s always looking for a tension to resolve.

That’s why we are susceptible to Muzak. Trapped in an elevator, most of us are exposed to the musical hook and we exit the elevator before our minds have time to resolve the tension.

If you give our mind junk food to work with, then the outcome will be junk: the “garbage in, garbage out” feedback loop.

The mind will work to resolve any tension that it considers. Be kind to your mind. Give it some stimulating tension to resolve. Whatever you focus on is what it will try to resolve.

Instead of focusing on negative consequences that might happen if you quit or lost your job, which plays like an endless loop in your mind—trust the fact, that your brain is wired to find a new and better structure for you.

Your brain is an awesome wonder. Give it good material to work with. Develop a vision of what you really want in terms of work. Then focus on that.

Think about your current reality; not the negative stuff that is holding you back but the stuff you already have that supports you attaining your vision, such as relevant experience, training, contacts, collateral, and so on.

In your mind, think of an elastic band and stretch it out. Now picture your current reality at one end of that elastic band, and the kind of work you want at the other end. Then let your mind do what it wants to do anyway, which is to resolve that tension.

This is the beginning of a successful career transition.

Of course, there are actions to take, strategies to employ, tactics to use, but now your mind is working with you instead of against you.

Blow Your Horn

Job search studies regularly show that it is not the best qualified candidate who gets the job most of the time. Instead, it is the strongest communicator. Why?

We live in a storytelling culture. We learn about each other and the world around us through story. Think of all the time you spend reading newspapers, magazine, blogs, or watching tv, DVDs, movies, or listening to radio, audiobooks, or podcasts. We are immersed in story.

A resume, a job search, an interview, a negotiation are each just another narrative, a chance to tell your story. Strong communicators have a gift for storytelling. Who is the most popular person at a party, wedding, dinner, or special event.? The one who tells the best jokes, the most interesting stories, the fascinating anecdotes. We are storytellers and listeners first and foremost.

A successful career transition or a job search requires some storytelling competence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the listener, i.e. your next employer or client. A story does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a social or cultural context. Here is how story fits into your job search.

Every organization has goals and objectives. They hire managers to achieve those goals. Managers, in turn, hire staff to do the work under their direction and guidance. These managers have the power to hire (and fire) individuals. In fact, over 40% of jobs are created for individuals who meet face-to-face with a manager outside of a formal job interview process. When you understand why, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting job offers.

Does the universe line up to facilitate the achievement of those organizational goals quickly and easily? Not likely. We live in a world of adversity. Defensemen seemed to be strategically positioned to knock down our best efforts to score a goal. In the world of work, these defensemen often show up as serious problems, formidable challenges, impact issues, pressure points, and a range of other social and economic variables difficult to control.

Just when a manager thinks they have everything stabilized and under control, life throws another spanner into the works. For example, employees die, retire, go on stress leave, go back to school, go on the mommy track, go to court, or go to another part of the country. There is a regular churn rate among staff in every organization. That is why there are always jobs; any good manager is always looking for good people because they always need new employees to cover the regular turnover of about 25% per year.

The key is to listen first to a manager, listen for the problems, challenges, and other obstacles getting in the way of their organization’s goals and objectives. Understanding their story is the first step to telling your own story with power and purpose. As every good storyteller knows, first know your audience.

If you take the time to listen, then orient your story for the needs of your audience, you will build rapport and establish top of the mind awareness in the manager. He or she will not soon forget you. And, when they need you, they will hire you.

Let me illustrate with a story about Tony. I helped him transition from a hi-tech career as a product manager to a new career working with NGOs. As part of his transition, he visited different organizations and spoke with managers, including the CEO at the Digital Opportunity Trust. They had a good discussion but she did not respond to a follow up. Tony moved on with further education and landed a job with another NGO.

As a result of some volunteer work, one of Tony’s colleagues crossed paths with that CEO, and mentioned Tony’s achievements. The CEO remembered their previous meeting, and requested another. They met again and had an engaging discussion about international development. There was no job opportunities at the time with DOT but Tony asked her to keep him in mind if things should change.

Well, a few years later, things did change, as the Trust grew and expanded its core executive team. They called Tony, he applied, was interviewed, and hired into his “dream job“ as Senior Director, Global Operations.

One of the reasons I put so much emphasis on having my clients write out their stories about enjoyable events and achievements is to help them build a vocabulary of success, a portfolio of stories. Communicating your stories with clarity and confidence is one of the best things you can do in a job search situation.

Tony changed his career by revisiting his personal story, mining it for his authentic talents and motivations, so that he had a new story to tell, one that communicated a new message.

He did not blow his horn in a loud or obnoxious fashion to gain attention; he listened to the music playing around him and added his own voice to the melody. Now, he will travel the world with job joy, doing what he loves and matters most to him.

Break out of Zombieland!

Zombie movies point out how our human inclination to go through the motions of life at work and in relationships are eating us alive. Take courage and smite that zombie on the nose!

Thirty years ago, I got hooked on George Romero’s Dead movies, starting with Night of the Living Dead. And I enjoyed the 2004 spoof Shaun of the Dead. Now, the sub-genre lives on through the new movie, Zombieland.

Some critics consider these Dead movies to be a fitting metaphor for our times—the idea that zombies return from the dead to eat the living! It is entertaining to see how this idea is channeled through the creative talents of regular folks, such as one of my clients, Morris R., who helps organize a local Zombie walk each year in October. See if you can spot him in the video—he’s the one in the black suit with the red tie and dangling eyeball!

Zombie walks recreate key scenes and ideas from zombie movies. For example, as the credits roll at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, your eyes follow the camera panning right through scenes of regular people moving supermarket trolleys, working behind tills, waiting at the bus stop, or mindlessly listening to street music, all staring and acting zombie-like. At the end of the movie, when the zombies have taken over, the camera does the same thing again, underscoring the point that nothing has REALLY changed—zombies now and forever!

Every time I see such scenes, I am reminded of clients who come to me in a state of calamity, including a local teacher who was desperate to find a better job fit. He said, “I come alive in summer. The rest of the year I am dead, a walking zombie, going through the motions of life.”

The living in these zombie movies are often characterized as people living in various states of limitation—making them easy targets for the Undead. Some are physically handicapped, others suffer from poverty, while others are stuck in institutions, or trapped in specific social settings, such as a mall or a amusement park. Others manage to escape a gruesome fate, but only for a short time, before their fears, beliefs, doubts or assumptions put them in the path of the flesh-eaters. In the end, they all fall victim to the insatiable appetites of zombies.

Limitations are part of the reality we don’t like. How much easier life would be if we could remove the barriers to career advancement and shoot forward into success! In Zombieland, the main characters literally shoot their way through the barriers posed by the Undead.

Many of us simply surrender to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If zombies surround us, why fight them, it’s easier to join them. Today, the number one workplace disability is depression. Millions of workers in North America cope with job stress and dissatisfaction by popping pills that have zombie-like side effects.

We can also react to negative situations with flight or fight. We might run from the zombies or beat them off…but then what? Being creatures of habit, it is too easy to backslide into our previous zombie-like existence—the exact point made in Shaun of the Dead.

Paul Tillich, a 20th C. philosopher, said “Courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature.” When we have the courage to really live, we find joy, for as Tillich says, “Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous ‘YES to one’s own true being.” This takes courage in a world where choices have trade-offs.

Making hard choices is the essence of the hero’s story in any movie, including the Dead ones. How do you start being less fearful? How do you keep from falling back in the same old decision patterns? In my experience, the only way out of the career trap is through it.

It takes courage to honor the ambiguity that accompanies any transition process. We oscillate between hope and fear when we go from childhood to adolescence; from a student to a worker; from a single to a married person; from a childless adult to a parent–they all require some faith in the process of life.

This is the choice : life or zombieland.

If you’re stuck in zombieland, you need to break out. Now is the time to explore options with an emboldened heart and an open mind.

The zombie movies remind us that our fears sometimes force us to retreat to what is familiar. We keep doing what we’ve always done. Habitual behavior creates a comfort zone. You may not enjoy your job duties but at least they are familiar. Better the zombie you know than the zombie you don’t know.

Now is the time to rise up and smite that zombie on the nose. Choose life! Break out of Zombieland today!

Stop horsing around and focus on strengths!

I recently worked with a young woman who has an unusual gift for understanding horse behavior. I’ll call her Lisa (not her real name.) She only discovered this talent in the last few years when she took up the hobby of horseback riding.

But her natural talent for reading the character of a horse quickly and accurately was so obvious to the owner of the stables where she rides that she was given a job to work with the “problem” horses there.

This teenage girl struggles to finish high school and has no aptitude for the hard sciences that are pre-requisites for acceptance into veterinary school which her family considers to be the only career option open to her.

She came to me feeling depressed and discouraged about her career prospects.

However, when she talked about her part-time work at the stables, her passion for horse behavior was obvious. Clearly, such work energizes her. Her aptitude for empathizing with horses, for communicating with them in a way that helps change behavior is a very valuable talent in the world of horses.

It got me thinking about the work done by The Gallup Organization over the past decade (http://www.gallup.com). Gallup delivers in-depth insights on public opinion polling, societal issues, education, management, and human
talent. They found that focusing on strengths brings about real business results.

“There’s always a greater return on investment when people focus on strengths – when they focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.” Gallup also found that when professionals can do what they do best, their organizations have lower turnover and higher customer satisfaction. These results lead to bottom-line success.

Lisa is at her first career crossroads in life. Should she nurture and develop her unusual gift into a career? If you believe in a God of some sort, you might think God created horses and loves them, and God created Lisa and loves her, and might have put her here to take care of horses. But how on earth do you make a career out of that?

Yes, it might be easier for Lisa to finish school and get a regular job as a teacher, or nurse, or computer programmer, even though she shows no aptitude in these areas. According to conventional reasoning, this lack of aptitude should pose no real hindrance to her career choices because she’s young, she can apply herself, and probably grit her teeth and get through some kind of training program that qualifies her for a good job.

By doing so, she’d be doing what most people do when choosing a career, according to Gallup. It seems that our culture is focused on pinpointing weaknesses and overcoming them. But imagine what life would be like if we
focused more on our strengths and less on what we think we need to do in order to achieve job security.

Gallup suggests that it is much better to use your natural strengths and motivations to excel in a field that will recognize and reward you for what you do naturally and effortlessly is the shortest route to excellence…and our economy rewards excellence of any kind.

Horses are big business in certain parts of North America. And there are many people who make a very good living in that field, people who are not veterinarians. I provided Lisa with a list of resources to research the many different opportunities in the field.

As I mentioned above, she showed a flair for communicating and informing others through explaining. She likes to meet with others to discuss horse behavior. She may want to look at a role requiring these talents.

For example, there may be horse-related professional associations, or industry groups, and administrative organizations that employ Education Officers, Information Officers, Licensing Agents, and other people who have to explain complex issues and matters to members, insurance reps, inspectors, as well as the general public.

Career choices have consequences, and often involve trade-offs. In order to attain career mastery and job security, The Gallup Organization says you will need to understand your unique patterns. You will need to become an expert at finding, describing, applying, practicing and refining your
strengths.

Lisa has a bright future with horses ahead of her (or not), depending on the choices she makes now. It may not be easy for her to find her niche in the world of horses but it certainly is possible.

Gallup explains that individuals have the greatest opportunity for success doing what they do best, rather than focusing on areas where they start from scratch.

“We found that when people report that they have the opportunity to do what they do best, they are more likely to stay with their company.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that professionals should ignore their weaknesses completely. But it does mean that they can bring more value to organizations by learning how to identify and use their strengths.

In order to determine our best jobfit, each of us would benefit from a rigorous and in-depth analysis of stories about times in our lives when we are doing what we enjoy most and doing it well.

In a sense, you need to know if you are suited to “sell the boat” or “build the boat” or “sail the boat” or ³maintain the boat.² Even if you are a “boat builder,” then what kind of a boat builder are you? what is unique about you? what separates you from other boat builders?

I am happy to report that Lisa, who only a few years ago was failing high school, has started on scholarship a Bachelor of Science at a university that has a strong reputation for animal sciences.

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” goes the old saying from Socrates. The passage of time may have dulled the sharp edges of this profound and provocative statement but not it’s significance. Self-knowledge is the key to success. A rigorous and disciplined examination of your life, your goals
and your personal values will reap a huge bounty of riches.