Before you break out the party hats and festive beverages for that year-end office celebration, you might want to give some thought to where this year has taken you professionally and what you want next year to look like. While your “wants” won’t necessarily predetermine how the new year plays out, failure to take them into consideration when making your career management plans could leave you with having next year look pretty much like this year.
If this year was great, that’s fine. But what if it wasn’t so hot?
Job Satisfaction and Career Progress
We tend to feel more satisfied with situations in which we have a sense of control, at least to a reasonable degree. A job situation that makes you feel as if you’re at the complete mercy of factors beyond your control will probably leave you with a strong sense of job DIS-satisfaction. If you’ve been stuck in that kind of situation this year, now might be a good time to plan and execute some steps to address the root of your frustration and at least open up some possibilities for forward movement.
Job satisfaction and career progress don’t happen through passive endurance of undesirable circumstances on the job. No matter how much you do the “moan and groan” routine, it won’t change (improve) your situation, and waiting for someone else to wave a magic wand and transform your situation simply isn’t productive. In fact, it’s actually counter-productive, because that false hope can fool you into thinking something good is bound to happen, when you’re not doing anything to help it along.
How to Have a Productive Year-End Celebration
Now that you’ve recognized the futility of waiting and crossing your fingers for a better year next year, how do you go about ensuring that you have a productive year-end celebration, one that will leave you feeling much more satisfied than a brief (and maybe disastrous) blow-out at the annual holiday office party?
One key requirement is that you develop a clear sense of purpose, enhanced with a healthy dose of realism. You take the time and make the effort to identify and analyze what didn’t go well this year. Then you assess what needs to be different (i.e., better) next year and how big a gap there is between that point and where you are now.
Celebrate Even if You’re Not Employed?
It might seem a lot easier to plan a year-end celebration that’s satisfying when you’re currently employed and reasonably secure in your position. However, even if you’re not employed, a celebration isn’t impossible and might improve your chances of having a better year ahead. I’m not just talking about positive thinking here, although that can’t hurt. What I’m referring to is looking at your situation from the view that things do need to change and that you can take steps to help make that happen.
As the saying goes, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” That doesn’t preclude you from having help along the way–such help can be invaluable to your job search and ultimate career success. It simply means that you need to be the one who takes charge and begins to plan and implement active job search steps designed to get you unstuck and moving ahead in your professional life. Take a fresh look at what you’ve been doing or not doing–maybe you’re missing something.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before the end of this week, my blog will be moved to my newly renovated resume website. I invite and encourage you to take a look at it there and bookmark it so you can find it again easily.
Whether on the job or in your personal life, you more than likely run up against the “tyranny of the clock” at some point. Time management experts tell us we need to focus on the most critical factors to get the most out of each day and accomplish the most we possibly can. You might feel on occasion–such as around the year-end holidays–that no matter how good you are at time management, you’ll never dig yourself out of the pit you’ve fallen into (or been dragged into by others).
Don’t lose all hope, though. I recently read an article in Reader’s Digest that suggests you and I are worrying ourselves needlessly in our efforts to somehow get ahead of the game.
A Case Against the Clock
The article, titled “A Case Against the Clock,” was published in the December 2015-January 2016 issue of Reader’s Digest (originally published in Quartz, 2015). It mentions that “we haven’t always been this obsessed with time. In fact, before the Industrial Revolution, clocks were largely irrelevant.” However, the Industrial Revolution changed society in massive ways. Now we over-schedule our days, trying to make them as efficient as possible. We think we would be more effective and happier if we just organized our time better, but this belief is “damaging our careers and the rest of our lives.”
Here’s a quote from the article that makes a telling point about our misconceptions regarding time management and its potential benefits for us:
“Research shows that if you increase people’s awareness of time–by placing a big clock in front of them–they do more stuff….it’s one of the great fantasies of time management: If you get more organized, you will get on top. However, that works only in a finite world. We haven’t lived in that world for quite a while.”
3 Results of Time Management “Miss-thinking”
The article mentions 3 outcomes of the misdirected notion that better time management will somehow bring you out on top:
- You Just Get Busier
- Your Attention Suffers
- You’re Less Effective
So getting better and better at time management, as applied by conventional wisdom, appears to be an empty promise in terms of beneficial outcomes for us. According to the article, what’s needed isn’t more “repetitive, synchronized activity…[but more] thinking, creativity, and problem solving.” How are your thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills shaping up these days?
And a final message from the article: “…it’s time for us to develop a different strategy–one that starts from the recognition that, in our overloaded world, the greatest shortage is not of time but of attention.”
With less than 3 weeks left in 2015, maybe now you should seriously consider re-thinking time management and enable yourself to master time–don’t let it master you. Look at your days, weeks, months from a new perspective. What you DO with your time matters–in terms of quality even more than in terms of quantity. Ultimately, the quality of both your professional life and your personal life will reflect the choices you make.
You might be concerned about your references for a variety of reasons–uncertainty about what former employers will say, how they’ll say it, whether anyone might respond to inquiries with a negative reference, and so on. Especially if you left your last position under less than ideal circumstances–either voluntarily or involuntarily for reasons you weren’t happy about, you might have genuine reasons for concern.
References–What You Can Control & What You Can’t
To start with, you can provide potential employers with a list of references that includes people who know your work and respect what you’ve accomplished–and, of course, have indicated their willingness to act as a reference for you. That much you can control.
What you can’t control is factors such as the prospective employer’s reference checker going beyond the list you’ve provided to contact other people at your former employer whom you haven’t asked as references and who might have undesirable comments to make about you or your work. Because employers know you’re only going to provide references that will speak favorably about you, they can tend to view your list with a dose of skepticism and want to dig deeper and wider.
In today’s litigious society, companies have gotten more cautious about giving references that could open them up to a lawsuit. That doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that you’re home-free if you had an unsatisfactory departure for some reason. It’s possible, for instance, for someone to respond like this: “Oh, yes, he/she worked here as a [position title] from 2012 to 2015.” It looks innocuous enough in print, but if said in a tone of voice that indicates lack of enthusiasm about you or maybe even hints at actual dissatisfaction with your work, the damage could be done without your ever knowing it.
Can you control that? Not really, at least not much. One obvious course is to line up a few references who can provide information that’s solidly grounded in fact and that clearly demonstrates the stellar record you’ve achieved while working with or for them. Nice-sounding but basically general reference responses won’t cut it in this case.
Reference Checking that “Blows It”
My old “friend,” Nick Corcodillos of Ask The Headhunter (he actually doesn’t know who I am; I just like his style and refer to him frequently), made some typically blunt comments about reference checking in a recent blog post, titled “Incompetent reference checking.” Among other things, he states:
“Asking for references seems dumb because it has been made trivial; so trivial that companies routinely outsource reference checks rather than do it themselves. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.) They’re going to judge you based on a routine set of questions that someone else asks a bunch of people on a list. How ludicrous is that?”
If you want a hair-curling read, check out the entire article!
Although I think what he says makes sense in many ways, I’m going to diverge from it to say that I still recommend your having a reputable reference checking service do a test run for you if you have any reason to think people at your former employer might bad-mouth you in some way. The service I’m familiar with (used by many of my colleagues or their clients) is Alison & Taylor. However, there might be others that are worth checking out.
Is there any easy answer to this dilemma? Unfortunately, I don’t know of one. If you find a solution to the reference checking aspect that’s fool-proof for you and your job search, I’d love to hear it and maybe pass it along to my clients!
In job interviews and on the job, first impressions matter because they last. In fact, they often take effect in an instant but can be difficult to change, if not impossible (depending on how strong they were to begin with).
I’m not talking about something like “is my tie straight?” (if you wear one). I’m referring to more subtle examples, such as the way you greet someone (the interviewer, maybe a new boss or colleague). Do you come across as friendly but professional, interested in others but not nosy, and so on? Job seekers are often told to “act natural” or “be yourself,” but cautioned to be wary of missteps which can cause them to stumble.
If you’re well up in the ranks, you might be thinking you already know basic stuff like this. But bear with me, because even the best of us can sometimes overlook things that could put us at a disadvantage when meeting someone who’s important to our long-term career success–whether it’s during the job interview phase or after we’ve landed our new job.
Basics You Might Need a Refresher On
Over-confidence can be every bit as damaging as lack of confidence, sometimes even more so. For example, if your body language or your words suggest an arrogant sense of superiority, you just might rub someone the wrong way, only to discover that the person has a say in whether or not you land the position.
Briefly, these are key aspects to consider when you’re getting ready for an important interview, because they’re what interviewers are likely to notice about you (found in an article titled “The 7 Things Interviewers Notice First“–they were listed in reverse order in the article):
- Communication style
- Body language
- Attire (clothing, etc.)
- Arrival time
I’d like to add a side note on the item about arrival time–which is something that’s very important but can be difficult to judge on occasion. As the article indicates, you definitely don’t want to be late. On the other hand, you don’t want to show up in the lobby 30 minutes ahead of time either.
In these days of cell phones being everywhere, there’s not much excuse for failing to notify someone if you’ve been unavoidably delayed; however, it would be much better, in my opinion, to build in a generous cushion of time and then find something to do with yourself during any “left over” time you might have–while staying near the location you need to be at for the interview.
First Impressions On the Job
Regardless of your rank in the organization, you’ll undoubtedly be meeting new people a lot–co-workers, subordinates, key customers or vendors, and more. To the extent possible, you’d be smart to bone up ahead of time on those you’ll be meeting, so you’re well prepared to achieve a positive first impression. Then all you have to do is maintain that positive impression in subsequent meetings!
Sometimes, of course, you won’t have an opportunity to prepare for a first meeting. It can happen unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. However, if you’ve been making the right kind of effort all along, you’ll probably come out of the encounter satisfactorily. By that, I mean that you’ve prepared yourself to make a first impression that will present you favorably in diverse circumstances–and will create a long-lasting impression you’ll be happy to be associated with.
If you’re by nature or inclination a disorganized person, the thought of conducting an organized job search or applying organizing principles to your career planning might strike fear into your heart! Okay, so that’s a bit of over-dramatization, but the point is, whether you’re innately drawn to organization or just the opposite, a certain amount of organization is pretty much critical to a successful job search or to smart, long-range career planning.
Just think about those times when your job has worn you to a frazzle, and you wonder how in the world you got into that predicament–and how you’re going to get out of it. Wouldn’t a little advance organization have helped prevent that stressful dilemma?
The same goes for your job search and career planning.
What Does It Take to be Organized?
Out of curiosity, I started looking at job postings for professional home organizers (by the way, the ones I saw didn’t pay wild salaries, but that’s not the point at the moment). As an example, here are several of the key qualifications listed:
- Thrive on finding solutions to complex problems.
- Prepare a customized action plan and timeline for each organizing project.
- Implement organizing processes and customized solutions.
- Ability to work with a variety of personalities.
- Ability to visualize and transform a space.
- Confidence and the ability to take charge.
I’ll bet that if you give it some thought, you can see a way most if not all of these could be applied to your job search and career planning activities. For example, you might not need to “visualize and transform a space,” but you probably do need to “visualize and transform” your job search if you want it to achieve a successful outcome, especially if you’ve been going at it in a more or less haphazard fashion.
Failure to Have an Organized Job Search or Career Planning Process
What are the consequences of not achieving an organized job search or career planning? For starters, as I mentioned above, you could be jeopardizing the possibility of a successful job search–needlessly. That’s a consequence (cost) you don’t want to incur and shouldn’t have to, but it’s up to you to take the actions necessary to avoid it.
Positive alternatives do exist. One way is to get help from someone who is more organized than you feel you are–for instance, either a professional (such as a career coach) or a friend or colleague whose methods you respect. Brainstorm with that person on what you need to do yourself and what you can readily have help with.
Another possibility is to take a class in organizing. No, I’m not being facetious. I haven’t checked specifically, but I suspect there are classes available somewhere (offline or online) to help people become more organized. If time and travel are concerns for you, online might be a good option because it’s more flexible. If you’re the kind of person who does better with personal interaction and group participation, a physical class situation might be better. The main issue in this case is finding a class that you can translate into your professional career needs, rather than one designed to be so specific to physical home organizing that translating it would be difficult at best.
You don’t need to suffer the consequences of failure with regard to having an organized job search or career planning process. Take charge of the process and put in place the techniques you need to have for it to work well.
If you operate with the philosophy that looking after #1 is all that counts and you’ll stick with your current employer only until you think you see something better on the horizon, that’s a questionable rationale. On the other hand, blind loyalty to your employer that ignores any other considerations is going to the other extreme. Neither choice is great, and neither is likely to provide you with solid career success.
Company Loyalty vs. Focus on #1
As is often the case, you’re probably going to see a better outcome for your efforts if you position yourself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. That is, you acknowledge that the company that pays your salary deserves a certain amount of consideration in return, which means you invest the emotional energy to produce the value you’re getting paid for. At the same time, you don’t sacrifice everything (such as close family relationships) to satisfy an employer’s expectation that you’ll be available 24×7, 365 days a year, regardless of your personal needs and well-being
If you’re at the senior management/executive team level in your career–or pushing hard to get there–you might find this a tough issue to deal with at times. Just be aware that each time you make a choice, you usually have to give up something else–in most cases, you can’t “have your cake and eat it, too.” It ties back to the concept of opportunity costs; spending your available time or money on one thing means that you don’t have it available to spend on something else.
Your best course, in many cases, is to adopt a practical approach to protecting yourself and your career at each job you hold, while not short-changing your employer.
Company Loyalty–So How Much is Too Much?
Company culture can influence expectations about performance, about what you will be expected to do versus what you might have thought you agreed to do when you took the job. If a company has a very “driven” atmosphere from the CEO on down, you might have to either toe the line or be prepared to bail (find a hopefully less demanding job elsewhere).
When you’re evaluating possible actions to take, keep in mind that your employer is a business organization, not your lifelong buddy. Even the best companies might sometimes make pragmatic decisions that run counter to your preference. The rest of them will probably exhibit a wide range of attitudes (if a company can have an attitude), all the way down to responding with “you’ve got a job, you should be grateful and just do what you’re told” to any concerns you might raise about what’s being expected of you.
An article I read by Alan Henry, titled “The Company You Work For Is Not Your Friend,” makes some good points about not counting too heavily on the company (and in particular, HR) to look out for your interests. Among other things, he maintains that HR primarily exists to protect the company, not to help you, and it shouldn’t be your first choice in seeking to remedy a troublesome situation. He also mentions the double standard that expects employees to give two weeks’ notice before leaving but allows companies to lay off employees with little or no warning.
Basically, your goal is to maintain a balance between practicing smart career management and giving full value to employers for compensation received.
In any business environment, meetings are probably an inescapable fact. While not bad in and of themselves, they create a hugely negative impact when they aren’t well-organized and managed. The sad fact is that this happens much more often than it should–and it can be avoided (at least for the most part).
Way back when I used to organize meetings, I would become very frustrated at the lack of cooperation from people who were supposed to attend those meetings. Sometimes I felt as if it would take a miracle to get them to the meeting on time! Those people were all department managers who reported to the VP, not lower-level workers, but they seemed unable or unwilling to get their act together. The result was that other attendees would give up, say “let me know when you’re ready to start,” and leave.
If you hold a position that requires you to be the meeting leader, you have both the opportunity and the responsibility to set expectations and then communicate those expectations clearly to your team–with some consequences if they don’t follow the plan.
Ways to Avoid Time-Wasting Meetings
Since we’re dealing with human beings, there might not be a perfect solution, but you can do some things to move in that direction. I just read a short article titled “Effective Meetings: The Top Three Challenges,” which gives a few useful tips on dealing with ineffective meetings. These are the three issues the article mentions:
- “Do you have any tips on encouraging people to be on time to meetings?”
- “We hold regular staff meetings but often we spend a great deal of time on nothing at all. What can we do to be more productive?”
- “No matter what we do, our meetings go on and on and on. What can we do to shorten our meeting?”
As I said earlier, you as the meeting leader have a responsibility in all of these areas. If the people who need to attend the meeting report to you, the situation is a little simpler than if they don’t. However, it’s up to you to do whatever is in your power to improve the situation. In my view (and that of the article’s author), that would include:
- Start the meeting on time, even if some people show up late (if they miss something they wanted to have input on, maybe they’ll plan to be on time for the next meeting!).
- Create an agenda ahead of time and stick to it–don’t let the discussion get sidetracked or allow someone to go on forever and monopolize the meeting.
- Eliminate or postpone items that aren’t critical at that time (either they can be given to someone individually to do or they can be postponed to a later date).
What if You’re Not the Meeting Leader?
If you’re not in charge of the meeting, your options are more limited. For example, if your boss is the leader and allows unproductive meetings to become the norm, you might not be able to change that. In such situations, you might have two ways to go:
- Talk privately with your boss if he/she is receptive to getting feedback; let him/her know that you want to be a valued contributor to the meetings but are finding it difficult with the way those meetings are playing out. Be ready to offer a constructive suggestion or two that might improve the meeting process.
- Resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to be stuck in a few meetings you’d rather not be in and do what you can to make them productive for you in spite of the lack of good meeting leadership. For instance, is there anything you can reasonably do while the interminable discussions are going on (or even ahead of time) that will help you do your job better?
You can do a lot of things on your own, without help, and that’s true not only personally but in your professional life. It’s important not to delegate actions to others that are integral to your professional growth and career success.
But that’s not all there is to the story. You need collaboration–in the best (most positive) sense of that word–to carry out career management plans that offer the greatest possible chance for ongoing career success. According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What Can Collaboration do for Your Career Success?
Wikipedia says that “teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.” That reference applies to an activity going on in the work environment. It could fit equally well in terms of a job search. The main point is that you can often achieve more or better results if you work collaboratively with others, especially if all of you share common goals.
Will everyone around you be equally interested in your career success? Very likely not. However, collaboration can still have a valuable role to play. What might be needed is for your group to have a common business goal that all of you can gain value from achieving. That could inspire the sense of purpose and determination that will enable you to achieve your career success goal while benefiting the others as well.
In other words, collaboration can create a true win-win situation that goes beyond your individual goal but still enables you to achieve it.
When is Collaboration Not Good for Career Success?
In any situation where you are expected to accomplish a task on your own, turning to others to get it done can backfire. You could be making a serious mistake because the results are supposed to come from your efforts alone. In other words, it’s not all right to try to get out of some specifically assigned work by offloading all or part of it to someone else. Collaboration in that case would be the wrong answer.
Except that such a situation doesn’t really involve true collaboration. There’s no shared goal, no potential for mutual benefit. Basically you’re abdicating your responsibility, not collaborating. Also, if you’ve ever tried to achieve a goal where one or more people in your group had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or in advancing their success at the expense of others, you’ll know that collaboration simply isn’t happening under those circumstances.
Collaboration, Cooperation & Leadership
If you hold a leadership position and are trying to achieve career success, you might need to take a fresh look at what the concept of collaboration means. Another term sometimes used today is “collaborative leadership” or “cooperative leadership.” What does that entail?
Merriam-Webster defines cooperation as “a situation in which people work together to do something”–sounds a lot like the definition of collaboration, doesn’t it? And a gentleman names William Arthur Wood once stated that “leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.”
In such cases, your career success might depend at least partly on how effective you are at both exhibiting and encouraging others to exhibit a genuine spirit of collaboration.
Think about this: It might be theoretically possible to prepare and launch yourself in a hot-air balloon without help, but it’s a safe bet that collaboration would get you to your goal much faster and more effectively.
If things aren’t going well with your professional life–maybe you’re engaged in a frustrating job search–you might feel as if you don’t have much to be grateful for right now. You could be viewing Thanksgiving Day as “Turkey Day” at best and as a waste of time at worst.
I’m not going to deliver a Pollyanna sermon to you. At the same time, focusing the lion’s share of your attention and energy on the highly unsatisfying situation you seem to be stuck in will not help you get out of it. I can almost guarantee that.
Refocus Your Job Search Outlook
Whether you’re into visualization or not (many people aren’t and that’s fine), you can consider your situation pragmatically and begin identifying any potential positives about it or any that you can realistically see a way to make happen somewhere down the road. For those of you who do use some form of visualization, you might decide what kind of different attitude or approach you want and how that might look.
It could involve becoming aware of things you’ve been ignoring or were previously unaware of. For instance, maybe there are people who have expressed interest in your career success and/or willingness to be a resource for you, but for some reason you haven’t taken them up on it. In that case, what’s been holding you back? Taking a few minutes to refocus your job search outlook can open up possibilities you weren’t able to see before.
Gratitude for Major Changes Completed Successfully
Often, achieving a successful job search or career success goal can be less about moving from Point A to Point Z and more about going from A to D to M to C to K…. In other words, you don’t take a straight-line path. If you find it discouraging, particularly when you’re engaged in a really major change, gratitude might seem out of place. However, I encourage you to suspend disbelief for a while and give gratitude a try. It can’t hurt, and it could make a big difference in your overall results.
I might add that I’m speaking from experience here. In my former life (before starting A Successful Career), I went through many job search challenges and sometimes (though thankfully not often) through unsatisfactory job situations. I know I learned something useful from each one, though, and that helped offset the negative feelings I might have been experiencing at the time.
As some of you know, I relocated my family/household and my business from California to Massachusetts last June, which was a project of epic proportions! The disruption of my routine and necessarily of my ability to maintain full business operations was substantial. However, now that the dust has settled more or less, I am decidedly grateful for our new home and for being much nearer to a close relative whom I value. That makes the path ahead look challenging but do-able, and I’m “up” for it.
I find it helps to pair gratitude with a hopeful attitude. I can still look forward to helping clients achieve their goals–just in a new setting. That makes the struggle to get here very worthwhile.
The following scene isn’t exactly what I can see out my office window (we’re not quite that close to a lake), but it’s typical of this area in the fall. It refreshes me to look at it–and hopefully it will help me to get through the coming winter with acceptance if not enjoyment. I hope you will have–or find–your own motivating key or outlook in the weeks and months ahead.
Some of you probably knew what you wanted to be when you grew up, even before you left childhood behind. Many of us, though, take longer to figure it out, and some take a really long time.
Others never quite do choose a single goal. If you’re one of those, does that mean there’s something seriously wrong with you? Not necessarily, but it might mean you’ll have a more challenging career road ahead, with a lot of zigs and zags.
Multipotentialites or Multipods
This was a new concept for me, but a very intriguing one. I found it in a fascinating article by George Lorenzo titled, “Why Figuring Out What You Want To Do Isn’t Necessary For Success,” on FastCompany.com. The article highlights the career of Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike.com, which is a resource for individuals who can’t seem to focus on one career objective. As the article puts it, “These are people who simply cannot work in only one arena; they have multiple passions they might dive into with extraordinary zeal, often temporarily…. Or they have numerous finely tuned skills and hobbies….”
The problem is, of course, that such people don’t fit into the expected pattern. It can make your work life (and personal life as well) much more challenging than you might like, because people tend to label you as someone who “can’t decide what you want to be when you grow up” and dismiss you as doomed to career failure rather than career success.
You might be interested to know, though, that you’re in pretty good company if you’re a Multipod. Wapnick presented a TED talk in which the following were mentioned as Multipods: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo DaVinci, and Thomas Jefferson. Not bad company to be in, right?
So is Focus a Bad Thing?
Of course not! At least, not if you don’t happen to be a Multipotentialite (Multipod). Your career success might rest more on a focused path than on a diversity of directions. If you have a strong passion or a well-defined skill-set you enjoy using, you might decide that your best bet is to pursue a goal that takes advantage of it and focus on developing it into a viable career.
In that case, however, you might need to remind yourself from time to time that focus is not only a good thing but also important to your professional development and eventual career success. It’s not that you have to concentrate so hard on the chosen direction that you can’t ever do anything else in your life; you just need to invest a fair amount of time and effort in actions that move you in that direction.
By the way, some people who might be considered at least borderline Multipods find their satisfaction from pursuing one direction for a professional career and indulging many other aspects of their interests and talents outside the workplace–or even as a second-stage career after they retire from the first one.