Is there such a thing as mistake-free career management and job search? In a perfect world, maybe; however, you probably don’t live in a perfect world, so the odds are that you’ll make a mistake here and there throughout your career. That said, you can certainly make a concerted effort to avoid mistakes that have a devastating (or even somewhat disrupting) effect on your professional career progress.
Two Mistakes to Avoid
I could list dozens of career management and job search mistakes that my clients (and I, in a former life) have made over the years. The full list might make for depressing reading, but I do want to mention a few, starting with what I might call the “top two.”
- Assume that you can always be in control–and “manage” your career and jobs from that mindset.
- Assume that you’re never going to be in control–and “manage” your career and jobs from that mindset.
I firmly believe that no one–up to and including senior managers and executives–can control every aspect of his/her career progress and job performance. On the other hand, savvy career managers and job seekers know they can exert substantial impact in those areas. In short: you can and should avoid the two mistakes just mentioned.
Five Other Career Management and Job Search Mistakes to Avoid
- Fail to track your progress toward goals–or fail to establish achievable goals in the first place. That can lead to wandering aimlessly and never reaching the desired outcome.
- Believe that others are responsible for your progress or lack thereof. Undeniably, others can have an impact–sometimes a significant one–but that doesn’t mean you should abdicate your responsibility to manage your own career or job search.
- Ignore warning signs that trouble lies ahead, whether in your group, your company, your industry or the world at large.
- Become complacent when everything seems to be going smoothly. Yes, enjoy the ride while it lasts, but don’t assume it will last indefinitely.
- Put all your eggs in one basket. Just as your company can’t afford the risk of depending on one major customer for its long-term success, so you can’t and shouldn’t depend on your company to provide long-term career success and financial prosperity.
Mistake-Free Career Management and Job Search? Seriously?
As we enter the last month of 2013, consider this: If you want something to change for the better in your job or your career, you need to put serious muscle behind making that happen. So, what are you going to do about that? You can start by avoiding the mistakes I’ve mentioned or identifying others you might have made in the past and taking remedial action to prevent repeating them. You can’t pass the responsibility off to someone else. It’s up to you–Santa isn’t going to put it underneath your Christmas tree!
With Thanksgiving just two days away, I’ve been reflecting on the subject of appreciation (aka gratitude). If you’re at all like me, you might not always remember to express appreciation for the good that has come into your life, your work, etc., from various individuals. Without minimizing any challenges you might be experiencing or anticipating, I wanted to take a moment to talk about how appreciation enriches our lives in a variety of ways.
Appreciation is Best When Reciprocal
I believe everyone wants–even needs–to feel appreciated (valued). This is true both in our personal lives and in our professional career and job search activities. It’s not that you have a burning need to hear appreciation expressed at every turn–just that hearing it now and then provides a lift to your enthusiasm and energy that you might not experience otherwise.
To give a couple of work-related examples:
- Your job probably encompasses a number of expected performance factors. If you fulfill those as expected, you don’t necessarily need constant validation of your work. However, if your boss seldom or never indicates that he/she values what you have accomplished, you could wonder if it’s worth the effort you put into it. On those occasions where you go above and beyond to produce stellar results, appreciation would definitely be in order (although it doesn’t always happen).
- Someone has provided you with a possible job lead and maybe even offered to speak to the hiring manager about you. Whether or not that results in a job offer or even an interview, appreciation for the effort is appropriate.
For the flip side of the coin, you might consider whether you yourself can be more alert to opportunities to express appreciation to those you work with or for–that goes for customers, team members you manage, peers you collaborate with, and even your boss. Remember that bosses can take a lot of heat from the ones they report to, and they don’t necessarily receive expressions of appreciation as often as they’d like.
What or Whom Do You Appreciate?
When I sit down and think about what I am thankful for, it doesn’t take long for the list to grow. Yes, there have been challenges (in any given year), but on balance, I have to honestly acknowledge that I’ve been fortunate. By that, I mean that I’ve had some delightful family members, friends, colleagues, bosses and, of course, clients in my life over the years. At this particular moment, I’m thinking of all the ways in which 2013 has been marked by growth, opportunities and appreciation from others.
So even as we look forward to Thanksgiving Day, I’d like to emphasize that appreciation isn’t a once-a-year thing. It can happen any time, and it should. I’d also like to share a couple of quotations that reinforce what I’ve just been saying:
* Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. [Voltaire (1694 - 1778)]
* Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary. [Margaret Cousins]
Sometimes a job search lasts much longer than you’d expected–even a year or more. If you’re sure your qualifications match well with the positions you’re targeting, what’s causing the delay in landing a new position?
It could be due to more than one factor, of course. Life isn’t often cut-and-dried, and that includes job searches. However, you could benefit from looking at three phases of a job search: (1) your resume; (2) the interview process; and (3) the job offers you receive or don’t receive that you expected to. The subject of job offers is complex and too extensive to go into here, but I do want to touch on resumes and interviews and their relationship to each other.
Resumes Can Lead to Interviews
If your resume doesn’t represent you effectively, you might never get to the stage of having job interviews. Even if you actively network to get close to hiring managers, it’s probable that you’ll need a good resume at some point to garner interviews. If you don’t generate potential interviews from your resume and are submitting it to positions whose key requirements are a good fit for what you offer, you need to take a hard look at the resume you’re using for your job search. Here are just a few questions to ask yourself:
- Does my resume look “dated”? In other words, does it give the impression it was created years ago and never really updated for current conditions (despite adding the latest jobs)?
- Have I rambled on with dense paragraphs and long bulleted lists that detail my duties and responsibilities, which could describe many people besides just me? A “job description” resume doesn’t promote you as a candidate; it just describes what someone in that type of position might be doing.
- Is my value-added/ROI message to employers communicated early on–clearly, concisely and compellingly? If not, what do I need to do to make sure it is?
Interview Mistakes You Can Avoid
Sometimes the mistakes you make in connection with interviewing are fairly obvious. You might, for instance, realize you didn’t give the strongest answer you could have offered for a particular question. Another example would be failing to listen carefully to what the interviewer was saying, so that your comments and answers were off-target.
Other mistakes might be more subtle and hard to pinpoint. For example, you could have a visual habit you are totally unaware of but that is distracting to the person you’re talking with. I once had a college instructor who continually stroked his goatee while he was lecturing, and I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying if I looked at him!
One way of identifying such mistakes and working out a way to overcome them is to have someone do a mock interview with you so he/she can identify and discuss them with you. A related idea is to record a video so you can view yourself as others would see you.
In a real interview situation, you can also request feedback at the end of the interview. You can ask whether the interviewer had any concern about your responses, which might give you a chance to address whatever the issue was. You could also contact the interviewer after you receive the “sorry” letter and indicate your genuine desire to understand what might have kept you from being perceived as a good fit. Although companies are cautious about saying too much (due to legal concerns), you could get lucky and elicit helpful feedback.
It doesn’t hurt to ask, as long as you ask politely.
Long job searches might sometimes be unavoidable, but often there are things you can do to help reduce them.
Relationships don’t just happen–at least, the ones that matter don’t. And in my book, those are the only ones worth spending much time and energy on. Whether it’s in relation to your ongoing career success or to your non-work-related life, you can’t afford to ignore the value and importance of building and nurturing strong relationships. That’s true whether or not they produce any short-term benefits for you personally.
That’s the title of a recent post by Jon Gordon on his blog, which I follow regularly. I can’t reproduce the entire post here, but you can click on the link above and go right to it. Briefly, Gordon explains how a positive relationship with a high school friend led to two television program appearances spaced 9 years apart, even though he had had no contact with the TV producer during the intervening years.
As he states in the blog post, “relationships are everything and you never know which relationships will change the course of your life.” He then goes on to give four pieces of thoughtful advice:
- Don’t chase dollars or success. Decide to make a difference and build meaningful relationships and success will find you.
- Don’t be a networker. Invest in relationships not because you want something but because you want to build something!
- Don’t ignore those who are closest to you. Identify the relationships in your life that need to be stronger and then make a conscious effort to focus on them, make time for them, develop them and invest in them.
- And be nice to everyone. Because you never know.
Selectivity in Building Career Relationships
Now I’m going to say something that might at first glance seem to run counter to Gordon’s wise counsel. You need to practice selectivity in building your career relationships. It’s not that all such relationships have to be calculated for their potential near-term payback. However, it’s a fact that you can’t be all things to all people all the time. That’s humanly impossible. So what are your options?
For one, you can dabble in career relationship-building, splitting yourself into as many “pieces” as possible to touch each relationship frequently but briefly. Alternatively, you can focus on fewer relationships but make sure to give each one careful attention more often and for more meaningful periods of time. I’m a proponent of the latter approach. You might still want to check in more rarely with some of those other relationships, as long as you recognize that they won’t flourish the way the more carefully tended relationships will.
Why Do Relationships Matter?
I believe they matter because we’re stronger and possibly better individuals when we put genuine effort into connecting and staying connected with others–not just by clicking a button on LinkedIn or Facebook, but by investing something of ourselves in the relationship. We might not be completely selfless (saintly), but we don’t have to be self-serving either.
I have clients, for instance, that I first did work for 10, 15 or even 20 years ago, back in the early days of my business. They come back for updates–sometimes several years later–and refer friends, relatives and colleagues to me. They don’t do that just because I’m a good resume writer or career coach, although that’s probably part of it. Mostly I believe they do it because we have established a connection–a relationship–that they value and that they’re happy to share with others.
As Gordon says in his post, “In the end we won’t be measured by our bank account, sales numbers or wins and losses but by the difference we made in people’s lives… and we make a difference through relationships.”
The employment trend for years has been to encourage (urge?) everyone to go for a college degree focused on a non-trades career. In fact, skilled trades stopped being even considered as a career path by many people, and those individuals who did choose such a goal have often been looked-down-on. However, that view could need to change drastically and sooner than you might think.
Should Everyone Target Senior Management?
A recent thread on one of my LinkedIn groups has carried on a lively discussion on the following topic: “Does everyone have to be a professional, manager, or executive? What’s happened to skilled tradespeople and their careers?”
One of my mentors and esteemed colleagues started the discussion with the following comment: “Although I work predominantly with senior-level clients, I’m currently working with a skilled tradesperson….He sent out his resume last Friday and responded to a number of job postings over the weekend. On Monday morning his phone started ringing at 8:05 am and, by the end of the day, he had 8 calls for interviews and 1 offer at over $50K/year!”
Among the many responses was the following post:
“At a recent job fair I asked a bunch of recruiters which jobs in their companies are the hardest to fill; the ones coming up most often: Diesel Mechanic, Plumber, Welder.
“A few weeks later I met with two guidance counselors from local high schools, whose population will largely not be successful at traditional 4-year colleges. However, both counselors told me that most students view technical or community colleges as beneath them. What a terrible disconnect!”
Can We Manage Our Lives Without These People?
How often do you need the services of a plumber, an electrician, a locksmith, an auto repairman, etc.? What happens if you can’t get one?
In the group thread mentioned above, a link was provided to a thought-provoking presentation made to a Senate committee by Mike Rowe (of “Dirty Jobs” TV fame). I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to read it. Even though it was given a couple of years ago, it’s just as relevant today–and just as disturbing in light of the fact that not enough has changed since then. I can’t include all of it here, but the following will give you some points to consider:
“Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The Skills Gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.
“Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.
“In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.
“In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch, that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.”
My business involves working extensively with senior managers and executives. It’s possible that most of the individuals who are in skilled trades don’t earn enough to pay a professional resume writer or career coach for help, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve help and respect. I’m no good at fixing my own car, installing electrical circuits or fixing a drainage problem underneath my house–just to mention a few things that aren’t in my skill set. I depend on people like them for that.
Maybe it’s time to think seriously about the idea that “not everyone needs to be an executive.”
What does it take to be a true organization leader…one whose business leadership makes a clear difference in the operations and outcomes of a company or other organization? And do you have what it takes?
Leader versus Manager
Managers play a major role at many levels in an organization; however, I think it’s important to note that there are differences between being a manager and being a leader. Not all managers are leaders, and some leaders aren’t managers–at least, not officially.
In exploring this topic as a matter of personal and professional interest, I came across an article on TheWallStreetJournal.com that directly speaks to the distinctions. Titled “What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?,” it says that “leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves….The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.”
Obviously, there’s a lot more to the article than I can reference here, but you can probably detect one of the differences in the last part of the quote above. Management is viewed as more what I would call structural–useful functions, etc.–while leadership is presented as something beyond that–a bit more vague or undefined, if you will, but no less important because of its less structured focus.
Words that Mark a Global Leader
I belong to a LinkedIn group named Top Leaders/Executives (whose members range from senior managers to C-level executives). Recently a group member, Michelle Tenzyk, conducted a survey among the members as to one word they felt marked an essential element for successful global leaders.
The resulting post, titled “Global Requirement for Top Leaders in One Word,” shared Tenzyk’s findings with the group. It presented the top 5 responses, in declining order based on number of votes, which were:
Can You be Both a Manager and a Leader?
According to an article I found on Inc.com, it’s not likely that you can be both. The article by Curt Richardson, titled “Are You a Leader or a Manager? There’s a Difference,” states that “the terms leadership and management are often used interchangeably, but there is a huge difference between a leader and a manager. Leaders aren’t always managers and vise versa [should have been "vice versa"]. It is a rare individual that is both of these things. They have very different skill sets, both critical to success at a high-growth business.”
Richardson’s article comes down firmly on the side of “no, you can’t really be both.” For example, he says that “leaders have a unique ability to rally employees around a vision. Because their belief in the vision is so strong, employees will naturally want to follow them….Managers, on the other hand, are more adept at executing the vision in a very systemic way and directing employees on how to do so.”
He also makes the point that if people can do both (sort of), one aspect or the other is not their core strength. However, in some cases you might need to be both–to the best of your ability–until other resources become available that will enable you to focus on what you do best and probably enjoy the most. If you want to be a difference-making leader, as the title of this post asks, you need to look at where your core strengths lie and determine whether you do, in fact, have what it takes to do that.