6 reasons why it’s important to keep learning at work; avoid stagnation

It’s important to stay current in your career to prevent stagnation. Stagnation has killed many a promising career. We are naturally inquisitive beings who require mental stimulation.

People who allow stagnation to set in end up hating their job and perhaps making those around them miserable as well. We must avoid stagnation at all costs. here are six reasons why:

  1. The landscape of the labor market is changing rapidly. Employers are paring back on apathetic employees and sticking with those who demonstrate an ability to grow with the company. In other words, they’re cutting out the dead wood. They want hungry, lean, ambitious workers. This is simply the trend of the present and future, and it makes complete sense.
  2. You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. Forget for a moment that you don’t make as much as you’d like, or that you find it a bit odd to read work-related literature before bedtime. (Guilty as charged.) Keep in mind that when you stop bettering yourself, you essentially stop reaching the goals you strive to obtain.
  3. You’re a role model for your colleagues. The more effectively you work, the more effective your colleagues become; the better the company or organization for which you work becomes. You are concerned with the success of your company. You want your colleagues to feel the same. Success for your colleagues and ultimately the company won’t come unless you are proactive in your quest to become better.
  4. You are judged by your expertise and performance. If not by your boss, you’re judged by the customers who depend on your service or products. When you can’t keep up with the demands of your customers, you have become stagnant. You shrink into the shell of self-defeat. Don’t give up on your goal to be the best in your area.
  5. When people ask you what you do, you’ll want to tell them with enthusiasm; have a glint in your eye and excitement in your voice, when explaining the job that offers you stimulation and challenge. Some interviewers ask the question, “What did you like most about your last job?” When you can’t answer that question, you come across as someone who wasn’t challenged and motivated to perform. And that’s your fault.
  6. The final, and one of the most important,  reasons to avoid stagnation is preparing yourself for future employment. One thing employers are looking for is increased responsibility at your former job. Have you stayed idle, or have you shown the willingness to do more? Think about your future in this precarious economy.

Staying current in your job may not be a priority of your employer. It may require that you read literature on your own, or take a college class on your dime, or reach out to other experts in your field. It may seem implausible at the moment, but if you think about how damaging stagnation can be to your career, you’ll either make the effort…or find a new job.

10 ways to prepare before leaving your job

soccerOne of my good friends is gainfully employed as an accountant at a large company. He’s pulling in a nice salary and enjoying the great things in life. But he’s worried about his future with the company for which he works. He’s probably no different than most people. No job is entirely secure. No job.

We had a moment as we were watching a professional soccer match. The kind of moment that isn’t the most comfortable, but a good reality check. It began when he told me he comes home everyday feeling like he hates his job and fears that most days will be his last.

I asked him if he’s looking for another job, and he gave me a response that’s very typical for people who are paralyzed by the fear of losing a miserable job. No, he hasn’t and doesn’t know where he’d look. Furthermore, he’s afraid that he’ll be unprepared if he has to look for another job. “I don’t even have a résumé,” he admitted.

I was glad that he at least realizes he needs a résumé. Many people don’t think about this until they wake up the morning after when their job no longer exists. Further they don’t realize they should be updating their résumé while they’re still employed, adding accomplishments as they are achieved.

I asked him if he’s touched his LinkedIn profile lately. No to that. No time with the kids’ activities. “Do you want help with your résumé and profile,” I volunteered. He’s not one who likes to reach out for help, a proud guy. No, his wife would whip one together when the time comes.

If we had time to talk more…rather if I wanted to push the issue, I would have laid out a plan for him in terms of looking for a job while working. I would have included 10 ongoing steps I’d recommend to everyone in his situation:

  1. Resign yourself to the fact that it’s your right to prepare for your next job would be my first bit of advice for him. When you know your company is hurting or you’re unhappy for any reason, it’s fine to look elsewhere. Loyalty is a great attribute to possess and well admired, but being loyal may not be to your benefit, especially if your company cannot sustain itself. Many people try to ride out the inevitable only to find themselves unemployed along with hundreds of other people.
  2. Don’t use the company’s office equipment, including computer, phone, and fax machine. Conduct all you computer work at home or at a public place. Use your cell phone during lunch, not during office hours, as this is most likely a violation of company policy. Most companies/organizations understand you’ll be looking for work if you’re unhappy, but don’t flaunt it in their face.
  3. Get that résumé in order. Let me reiterate the importance of having an updated résumé that includes, most importantly, quantified accomplishments with numbers, dollars and percentages. How have you increased revenue or productivity? Have you decreased cost or time? Improved processes that increased productivity? Scrambling to write a resume, as my friend intimated, will only put more pressure on him…and his spouse who’s writing it.
  4. Compile an accomplishment sheet that includes 10-15 accomplishments. I put this challenge to my workshop attendees because this can be a great networking tool, as well as nice to have by your side during a telephone interview. In addition, it gets you to think about the value you bring to employers. Take the accomplishments already on your résumé and try to add more, even if they’re from your volunteerism.
  5. Update your LinkedIn profile. Many people are starting to realize that LinkedIn plays a major role in hiring authorities vetting talent. For them it doesn’t involve reading a huge pile of résumés and interviewing many strange people, thus enabling the Hidden Job Market (HJM). Rather they visit people’s profiles to see if the skills and experience they’re seeking are on them. If so, a nice conversation or two may ensue, leading to a real interview…for the formal process.
  6. Speaking of the HJM…get out of the office and do some networking. My friend works where he can get away for an “hour” lunch, which is a great opportunity for him to meet up with some targeted networking partners. Locate people through LinkedIn or referrals from a group of trusted people, and call them for lunch or discrete meetups. “Honey, I’ll be home late” may be a necessity in this situation.
  7. Don’t confine your networking to people who are in your industry; let other people know you’re unhappy at your current company and that you would consider new opportunities. My friend volunteered that he’s unhappy, which set my job-search advice wheels into motion. Now I’m thinking of ways to assist him in his job search, perhaps by writing his résumé. Sometimes it’s the superficial connections who come through with leads when you least expect it.
  8. Think beyond your comfort zone. I asked my friend if he would consider companies smaller than the one at which he currently works. He was slow to answer, which makes me think he’ll need some persuasion. While larger companies are appealing–offer higher salaries–smaller companies combined hire more people per capita. Plus there’s more competition from a slew of people who are applying to the blue-chip companies.
  9. Start cutting back on the luxuries. If you see the writing on the wall and know your days are numbered, make plans to spend less money. Perhaps start paying off bills so they won’t be hanging over your head should you lose your job.
  10. Have an earnest discussion with your boss. If you trust your direct supervisor, ask for a moment of his/her time and discus your concern about the future of your position. Perhaps your concerns are unwarranted, or as my wife would accurately tell me at times, I was being paranoid.

This was an uncomfortable conversation between my friend and I, and it’s a difficult topic to write about. Nonetheless, it is a reality that anyone’s job is not 100% secure. It’s important, therefor, to take measures to prepare for the possibility of losing your job. Perhaps my friend, who’s been at his company for 30 years has nothing to worry about, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, as the cliché goes.

2 facts about how introverts communicate and network

introvertnetworking

Career advisors, when advising certain jobseekers, have you ever noticed that small talk–breadth of knowledge–is not their forte? Rather they’d prefer to talk about more substantive topics–depth of knowledge–and appreciate the time to formulate their thoughts before talking. What you get from them is rich, deep discussion that’s very purposeful.

Have you also noticed they don’t seem excited when you encourage them to network? It’s not their thing, entering a room full of strangers with whom they have nothing in common. It drains their energy even thinking about it. They may tell you they’d rather walk over burning coals than attend an organized networking event.

If they exhibit these behaviors, it’s likely they’re introverts (read this post from the Huffington Post) and may not realize this, unless they’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I didn’t know my preference for introversion until I took the MBTI when I was 45-years-old. And when I got my results I was shocked because I considered myself to be outgoing.


Communicating

As you’re meeting with your jobseekers, be mindful of how they communicate with you. Introverts are innate listeners who are not as comfortable with small talk as their counterpart, the extraverts, who are quick to start the conversation and would like you to listen. Your conversation with introverts will be deep and thought provoking, but you’ll most likely have to jump-start it.

The best approach to take with an introvert is to start the discussion by stating some observations and then following up with questions. Now stand back and wait for your introverted jobseeker to deliver some insightful statements. Try not to interrupt.

For example, “After looking at your résumé/LinkedIn profile, I am impressed with the detail in which you describe your past jobs. You list a great number of duties. But what I’d like to see are some more accomplishments. What do you think?”

This question gives them the open door to express their thoughts. “I see your point, and I think I could explain how I was close to 100% accurate in my accounting responsibilities. In fact, I was often acknowledged for this and won ‘Employee of the Month’ many times.” You give your jobseeker the opportunity to express her thoughts, and then you do what any good counselor does, sit back and listen.

Joyce Shelleman, Ph.D, offers this sage advice: “Offer [introverts] the opportunity to follow-up with you the next day with any additional questions or thoughts. It usually takes time for an introvert to think of all the things that they want to communicate if they haven’t been able to anticipate your question in advance.”

Networking

It’s no secret that structured networking makes many people uncomfortable, especially introverts. One quote I share with my workshop attendees is from Liz Lynch, Smart Networking: “At the first networking event I ever attended by myself, I lasted five minutes—including the four minutes it took me to check my coat.” This quote clearly illustrates how networking for the first time can be like trying to speak another language.

Now imagine how an introvert feels presented with the prospect of entering a roomful of strangers, expected to make small talk, and (most difficult) promoting himself. He will feel tired just thinking about having to talk to people he doesn’t know, particularly after a day full of looking for work. He may also experience bouts of reluctance prior to a morning networking event.

But here’s the thing; networking is a vital tool in the job search and it’s your job to encourage your introverted jobseeker to attend networking events. Suggest 5 points of attack:

  1. Tell him to have a goal of how many people he’ll talk to at the event. If three is what he decides, that’s fine. Introverts prefer to talk to fewer people and engage in deep, thoughtful conversations.
  2. Suggest that he takes a friend or two. There’s more comfort in having someone by his side to talk with if things are not going as planned. Advise him, however, not to spend all his time at the event with his networking buddy.
  3. Provide encouragement by reminding him that he should focus on asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to what others say. People like to be listened to, and introverts are great listeners.
  4. Enforce upon him that he doesn’t have to be fake; rather he should be natural when speaking with other networkers. He doesn’t have to launch into his 30-second commercial as soon as he meets each person, which will serve to push people away.
  5. Lastly, he doesn’t have to be the last one to leave; although, he might be the one to close the joint if he’s having a grand time. This is in the realm of possibility.

As a career advisor, be cognizant of how introverts communicate. Give them space to express their thoughts and remember that the meetings you have are not about you; they’re about helping your jobseeker express their thoughts so you can better help them. Networking can be unpleasant unless the introvert has realistic expectations, so remind him that he’s in control of the situation.

Book Cover

10 ways that test your courage in the job search

courageAlthough I understand my workshop attendee’s reluctance to speak in front of their peers, I also think when given the opportunity, they should take it. They should, for example, deliver their personal commercial/elevator pitch without warning. “Tell me about yourself” is a directive they will most likely get at an interview.

They should also not pass on answering interview questions I spring on them. Can they take the fifth during an interview? Hell no.”Tell me about a time when you solved a problem at work,” I’ll ask. “I’d rather not,” they say. Okay, see how well that goes over at an interview.

Some of you might disagree with my insistence that they deliver their unrehearsed commercial or answering an interview question when they least expect it. You might think it’s putting them on the spot, making them feel uncomfortable, testing their courage. Darn tooting it’s testing their courage. Despite what anyone says, the job search requires courage in certain areas.

1. Being put on the spot in front of other jobseekers by having to deliver your personal commercial or answer difficult interview questions on the spot, are some ways that test your courage. There are nine other difficult ways your courage will be tested in the job search:

2. Telling people you’re out of work. I know to most people this seems like a no-brainer; how can people help you if they don’t know you’re out of work? People tell me they’re embarrassed because they lost their job, even if the company was suffering and had to release employees. I encourage them to let as many people as possible know they’re looking for a job, even if it means they’ll be embarrassed. It takes courage to do this, but it’s counterproductive to try to go it alone.

3. Attending organized networking events. You’ve read that “no one likes networking events.” This may be true for you, for others, for most; but networking events offer the opportunity to engage in conversation with other jobseekers who are at these events to seek leads, as well as provide leads and advice to you. For many attending organized networking events takes courage.

4. Having others read your résumé or cover letter. Although you think you’ve written a great cover letter, you may be surprised by what others think about it. Like the time my wife told me she thought cover letter was “verbose.” I’m not sure she used that word, but I got the picture that someone reading it would think it intimidating or laborious. Asking her to read my cover letter took courage and prompted me to edit it.

5. Participate in a mock interview. This may be the closest you’ll get to an actual interview. Mock interviews are a valuable teaching tool and any organization that offers them is providing a great service. But they don’t have to be conducted by a professional job coach/advisor; a friend of yours can conduct them. Having a camera to record your answers and body language is a big plus. The pressure of a mock interview shows in my customers’ answers, voice, and body language. I give them credit for their courage.

6. Reaching out to your LinkedIn connections. Introverts may understand this act of courage more than their counterpart. Your connections are not bona fide connections until you reach out to them in a personal way, as in a phone call or meeting them for coffee. Some of the connections I’ve reached out to have proven to be great networking partners, while others had little in common with me. Oh well. Doing this takes courage.

7. Approaching former supervisors for LinkedIn recommendations. My workshop attendees often ask me if they should reach out to their former supervisors for a recommendation. My answer is a resounding “Yes.” This may take courage for some, but having recommendations on your LinkedIn profile is a must. What your supervisor feels about your performance weighs heavier than how you describe yourself. What’s the worst your supervisor could say? Yep, “No.”

8. Getting off the Internet. Not completely, but use it seldom and in different ways. Instead of defaulting to your comfort zone like Monster.com and other job boards, use LinkedIn to find relevant connections through its Companies feature, and visit your target companies’ websites to conduct research on the labor market. Contact those companies with an approach letter to ask for informational meetings. This takes courage but will yield better results than using the job boards alone.

9. Speaking of informational meetings. Informational meetings have been the reason for many of my jobseekers’ success in landing jobs. But they don’t come easy, as many people are busy, so it takes courage to ask for them. Once you’ve secured an informational meeting, remember you’re the one asking questions about a position and the company, so make the questions intelligent ones. You’re not there asking for a job; you’re there to gather information and get advice.

10. Going to the interview. You’ve prepared for the interview by doing your research and practicing the tough interview questions, both traditional and behavioral. You’re prepared, but still you don’t know what to expect. How will the interviewers react to you? Will they ask you questions you’re not prepared for, ones you didn’t predict? Job interviews will require the most courage you can muster…even you veteran interviewees.

Reader, what I’ve described as courage may seem like logical  and comfortable job search activities. You may thrive on networking, feel comfortable showing others your résumé, and, above all else, attending interviews. To you I say “touché. Many others may understand exactly what I’m talking about. To them I say embrace the challenges presented to you in the job search. Show courage. Show courage. Show courage.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: clichés on your résumé

The summary statement began with: “Results-oriented Marketing Professional…” As if my hand had a mind of its own, I circled Results-oriented and wrote “Ugh” next to it. I thought twice of erasing my first comment but in the end left it there. My customer did a double-take and pouted, hurt by my crudeness.

With all the negative press about using clichés, or outdated words and phrases, on your résumé and LinkedIn profile, there’s now a push to show how you possess important adaptive skills rather than to simply tell employers you have them.

Résumé experts say words like creative, team-player (ouch), innovative, hardworking, diligent, conscientious, and more are being thrown out the window. They’re seen as fluffy words with no substance.

Words like designed, initiated, directed, authored are more of what employers want to see on a résumé and LinkedIn profile. The big difference is obviously the “bad” words are adjectives and the “good” words are action verbs. To complicate matters more; even some of the verbs have fallen in the cliché category, like led, managed, facilitated, etc.

From a reader’s point of view, this makes sense. Someone who claims he’s outgoinghighly experiencedseasonedresult-driven, etc., seems to…lack creativity. Someone who can show that he is results-oriented by showing he began and finished multiple projects in a timely manner while also consistently saving the company costs by an average of 40% will win over the minds of employers. Showing is always better than telling.

Keywords and phrases: Here’s the rub—many job ads contains clichés; and if you’re going to load your résumé with as many keywords/phrases as possible, you’re almost inclined to use these outdated and useless words. Especially if you know your résumé is going to be scanned by an applicant tracking system (ATS). After all, you want your résumé and LinkedIn profile to end up at the top of the pile.

I performed a quick experiment where I looked at three job ads and attempted to find some of the overused words. Sure enough words and phrases like team player, hard worker, ability to work independently and as part of a teamdetail-oriented, to name a few,  showed up in many of the ads.

Why do companies write job ads that contain words that are almost comical? Part of the reason is because the fine folks who write these ads don’t know any other way to phrase effective ads; and partly because these are qualities they’re looking for. Almost every company is looking for a team player who can work independently as well. Every company desires people with excellent written and verbal communication skills (unfortunately, this phrase is now also considered a cliché).

This leads us back to our conundrum. What to do if you’re trying to write a résumé or Linked profile that includes the keywords and phrases? Not only to game the ATS but also to appease the eyes who’ll be reading your written communications?

The answer is: you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. You can write your résumé and LinkedIn profile employing clichés, or you can avoid the them on your marketing documents, documents that are, after all, examples of your written communications. I say take the high road and don’t sell yourself out.

10 Lame excuses for neglecting LinkedIn

No excusesAre you on LinkedIn? That’s my favorite question of the day. Some of my customers say no, and we leave it at that. But others turn their nose up at the greatest online networking application out there and give me excuses as to why they’re not on LinkedIn.

Of the many excuses I’ve heard for not being on LinkedIn, here are three of my favorites.

  • A self-assured jobseeker told me that he doesn’t need to be on LinkedIn, that he’s found jobs before without social networking. That was before LinkedIn existed.
  • One person told me she was going to get her job back in a few weeks, so why waste her time with LinkedIn. Nothing for certain, especially a verbal promise that you’ll have a job.
  • Another jobseeker once told me he wouldn’t lose his current job. He looked so smug as he said this that I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t bet on it.

Here’s the thing: life happens. The guy who told me he’d always have a job is now serving coffee. Well technically that is a job, but I’m sure not the job he imagined. I remember vividly the day I asked him if he was on LinkedIn, to which he answered, “I’ll never be without a job.”


These are people who’ve made a conscious decision to avoid LinkedIn, and I suppose I have respect their choice. So I wonder what’s worse, not being on LinkedIn or being on LinkedIn and putting in very little effort? These are but a few excuses I’ve heard from people for not conducting a strong LinkedIn strategy.

My LinkedIn profile is great. One day I received a phone call from a gentleman who wanted to skip my LinkedIn Profile and Using LinkedIn workshops so he could attend the third and last one. While he was explaining over the phone his expertise in LinkedIn, I was looking at his profile which was sparse and only showed 94 connections.

I don’t want to connect with people I don’t know. Here’s the thing, networking–whether it’s in person or online–is about meeting people and developing relationships. Not everyone will turn out to be a valued connection, but if you don’t extend yourself, you’ll never know the potential networking offers.

I don’t have the time to use LinkedIn. I hear this often in my LinkedIn workshops. This is a huge excuse. I only ask them to spend 20 minutes, four days a week on LinkedIn. Just because I am on LinkedIn approximately 30 minutes a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year doesn’t mean my workshop attendees have to do the same. That would be crazy.

I posted my résumé on LinkedIn, so I’m done. Whoever told you this has his or her head in the sand. Start your profile by copying and pasting the contents of your résumé to your profile. But that’s just a start–from there you’ll turn it into a networking document. Your résumé is a document you send out when applying for a job, while your profile is a place people come to learn about you as a person and professional. Keep in mind that your résumé and profile can’t display contradictory information.

I don’t want to brag. Related to the previous excuse, what you’re really saying is you don’t want to promote your value to employers and potential business partners. You’re not bragging if you state facts and provide proof of your accomplishments and you stay away from superlatives, like “excellent,” “expert,” “outstanding”…you get the idea. Too many people have given me this excuse for not promoting themselves both on their résumé and LinkedIn profile.

I don’t know how to post a status update. I get this. You’re not sure how you can provide your connections with relevant information. You’ve just been laid off and lack the confidence to write words of wisdom. Don’t sweat it. Let others educate your connections. Read blog posts from your connections or from Pulse and share those. But please make sure you read them before hitting “Share.” Read how to share valuable content.

I don’t want to endorse anyone; it’s a disingenuous. The argument against endorsing others and being endorsed is that people endorse others without witnessing them demonstrating their skills, whereas recommendations are from the heart. This is valid. However, endorsements are here to stay whether we like it or not. But there is a solution: if you want to endorse someone, contact them and ask them which skills they feel are their strongest. Read my hints on endorsing others.

The fact of the matter is that people will find jobs without LinkedIn or not using it to its fullest potential, but by employing this platform you will only enhance your chances of landing a job. There are some instances where a person is just not ready, nor ever will, to use LinkedIn. With these folks I tell them not to get stressed out. You have to be committed to using it.

6 reasons why you still need to network after finding a job by using LinkedIn

linkedinCongratulations, you landed a job. You used LinkedIn to get introduced to the hiring manager at one of your target companies. Although no job had been advertised, she called you in for a preliminary discussion.  This was after perusing your LinkedIn profile.

At the meeting she indicated that they needed to fill a marketing position that would require your level of social media experience. She said she’d be in touch. When the company decided to fill the position, you were called for a “formal” interview.

You answered every question they asked to their satisfaction and even demonstrated your understanding of key issues the company had, and how you would solve them. The VP and hiring manager offered you the position on the spot.

LinkedIn played a large role in getting the job. Now you can take a breather from networking on LinkedIn, right? Wrong. Now you need to maintain and even ramp up your activity for six very good reasons.

  1. Don’t abandon your connections. Some of them were instrumental to your job-search success (especially the woman who alerted you to the unadvertised position). Keep your ears to the pavements for those who were also looking while you were. Reciprocate by introducing them to the people who can help them get to the decision makers.
  2. Build on your expertise and strengthen your brand. Continue to  contribute to your groups and join other groups to share your knowledge with industry leaders. You’ve become well-known in LinkedIn circles; you’re respected for your knowledge and are in prime position to further brand yourself as a social media expert.
  3. LinkedIn was part of your routine. You were on LinkedIn on a daily basis, connecting with new people, using the Companies feature to locate and get introduced to decision makers (remember the one who granted you the conversation?) Of course you attended personal networking events, but LinkedIn added to your overall networking in a big way.
  4. LinkedIn became a community. You met some great people who welcomed you to their network, exchanged messages with you, and encouraged you during your job search. Why would you give this up? LinkedIn is a community consisting of professionals with the same goal in mind, sharing information and social capital. You built some outstanding relationships.
  5. Your new company understands the importance of LinkedIn. The VP of marketing wants everyone in your group to be on LinkedIn to connect with potential business partners and customers. He also wants to enhance the image of the company. A company with employees who have great profiles is a company that means business. He’s looking to you to share what you know about using LinkedIn–you’re his expert.
  6. Continue to build your network for a rainy day. You were looking on LinkedIn for a job almost every day for the last three months, attending networking events, and connecting with people on a daily basis. Your online and personal networks are strong and served you well. Now, more than ever, you want to continue to build your networks for future job search activity. How does that saying go? The best time to network is when you’re working.

When you began your profile, struggled with making it strong, increased your activity, and really began to see its benefits; you never thought it would get you this far. You never thought you’d buy into it and be an evangelist of LinkedIn, spreading the word of its great attributes. Even thought you landed, you still need to network on LinkedIn.