It would be great if you could answer the question, “What’s your career success record?” by rattling off a long list of major contributions you had made to employer after employer during an illustrious executive career. Right. Maybe a few of you actually could do that in all sincerity, but what about the rest of us?
What Career Successes Have You Achieved Recently?
How do we answer our current employer’s inevitable question (either express or implied): “What have you done for us lately?” OR to put it another way, when coming from a prospective employer: “What have been your greatest successes that we should be interested in as your possible new employer?”
Often I work with clients who have trouble identifying the contributions they’ve made to employers over the years. In nearly all cases, I know it’s not that they haven’t made any worthwhile contributions. More likely, one or more of these 5 obstructive factors have come into play:
- They’ve completely forgotten some of the things they’ve done that benefited their employer(s).
- They didn’t realize at the time how important something was and didn’t make particular note of it for future reference, so they can’t recall the details.
- They think it would be bragging about themselves and are uncomfortable doing that.
- They didn’t do the whole thing alone and therefore think they can’t include it in their resumes.
- They completed their part of whatever it was, but the company pulled the plug on the overall project, so they think it’s not a successful contribution and isn’t worth mentioning in a professional resume.
Dispelling Those “Career Success Record” Inhibitors
If you’ve been guilty of allowing one or two of the above factors to inhibit you from claiming due credit for your valuable contributions, take heart. It’s not too late to mend your ways! To get you started on the right track, here are some suggestions for fixing the factors so they become non-issues in the future, whether during a job interview or a performance review:
- Understand that human memory is both a wonderful and an unreliable function. Write down anything you’ve done that you felt particularly good about, received verbal accolades from managers and/or colleagues for, etc. Keep the log where you can find it and access it when needed.
- Similar to #1: Make a note of things you are confident are important, but if you’re not sure, check with others who are in a position to know. Include the critical details in the log you’re keeping (just the key points–it doesn’t need to be a whole book).
- Recognize that employers who have a need you can fill–and fill well–have to know that in order to consider you seriously, and they won’t find it out by osmosis. You have to tell them. That’s not bragging; it’s giving them information they need in order to make an informed choice. Of course, use appropriate terms–it doesn’t have to be over-the-top, save-the-world language.
- Claim only the credit you are entitled to, naturally. If it was a team effort, you certainly don’t want to make it sound as if you did everything yourself. At the same time, you have every right to take credit for the value you did contribute as part of (or the leader of) the team.
- You did your part and did it well. That part was a success–it achieved the goal(s) set for you by management. The fact that the company ran out of money to complete the project or scuttled it for some other reason outside your control does not negate the potential value of what you did. There are legitimate ways to include this kind of information in your professional resume. Use them!
Whether you’re gainfully employed and reasonably secure or in the market for a new job to replace the one you lost, stress is probably a factor–something you’re forced to deal with if you don’t want it to overwhelm you.
That’s the common perception of stress as a bad thing, and certainly if you’re experiencing potentially harmful stress, you need to find a good way to manage it. However, we also hear from time to time that there’s such a thing as “good” stress. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s worth keeping an open mind about.
Should You Accept Stress or Avoid Stress?
An article by Lisa Evans titled “The Surprising Health Benefits of Stress” makes a case for taking a positive attitude toward stress–the right kind of stress, that is. Evans offers 4 tips on “how to use stress to your health advantage”:
- Assess what type of stress you are experiencing.
- Boost brain power with an adrenaline rush.
- Keep stress short lived for improved body function.
- Allow for recuperation.
Although all four points are good, I believe #1 is most important. If you’re experiencing stress that’s having a major negative impact on you and could damage your health, that’s something you need to know ASAP and take strong action about.
Why Not Ignore Stress?
If you ignore negative stress, the results of doing that can be severe–physically, mentally/emotionally and job or career-wise.
If you ignore positive stress, you could miss an opportunity to increase your effectiveness and achieve desired goals more quickly–earning a promotion in your current company, conducting a job search campaign for a new position, acing an important interview, and more.
Make Stress Part of Your Career Management
Since it’s probably inevitable that you’ll experience stress related to your job or career many times throughout your working life, I advocate developing a plan to increase your ability to head off or dispel the negative kind, benefit from the positive kind and recognize early-on which type you’re facing. Then incorporate that plan into your overall career management, so you’re fully aware of it as a factor in your long-term career success and short-term well-being.
Does this mean you need to be constantly on the alert about stress? Not really. In fact, I doubt whether anyone could lead a satisfying and healthy life by trying to stay that “fired up.” However, if awareness is part of your career management planning, you’re more likely to spot the signs and identify opportunities to take positive action.
A key point: Manage your stress–don’t let it manage you.
Quite some time ago, I wrote about an emerging job search trend–using something called “e-notes.” At that time, it was a fairly new concept as a job search tool. However, since then it has gained significant momentum as an alternative to a traditional cover letter.
What an E-Note is and is Not
Let’s start with the “is not” part. An e-note is not an attachment to an email when you send your resume somewhere electronically. A cover letter is. An e-note goes in the body of your email message.
An e-note is designed to communicate the core message you need and want an employer to see, in a nutshell. While not as short as a Tweet, it usually holds about half the content of a traditional cover letter and takes about half the space to do it.
In other words, where you might have a one-page cover letter (hopefully not crammed TOO full), your e-note should be approximately 1/3 to 1/2 a page.
Should You Use E-Notes?
While they’re not for everyone all the time, you can use an e-note almost any time you are submitting your resume to a potential employer via email. If you do it right, your e-note has a better chance of being read by the recipient than a traditional cover letter in many cases.
Creating E-Notes: What You Should Know
E-notes have streamlined content, a relatively simple visual presentation, a to-the-point writing style (think few or no adjectives and adverbs), strategically selected information, and a focus on a specific topic with limited, relevant information.
Job Search E-Notes Tip: The subject line of your email message becomes critical in using e-notes as a job search tool. You need to concisely communicate a “message” in that space that will make your email stand out and motivate the recipient to open and read your attached resume.
E-notes can easily be customized to specific submission circumstances…and should be! There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” e-note. (Actually, there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” traditional cover letter, either, but that’s another matter.)
Do you need both an e-note and a traditional cover letter? Not for the same submission. However, if you want to physically mail a resume to someone, a cover letter is the way to go.
Need help incorporating e-notes into your job search tool kit? Creating e-notes is one of the services I offer–all you have to do is ask!
When you’re going for a possible promotion or other desirable job opportunity within your company, you might be tempted to think that the interview process will require less effort than for an external opportunity. Not so fast!
The Employer Knows You–Are You Sure?
You could well have an edge going in because you’re a known quantity versus a stranger trying to come in from outside, but it’s not a given. Several factors could play into this situation, including:
- You’re known by a number of people but not necessarily the ones where you would be working next.
- Although some of your work is known, maybe not all of it is. Something you really need them to be aware of might not be general knowledge.
- Even if you’re well regarded on the whole, individuals within the company could have their own, possibly biased opinions about you. How influential are they likely to be?
No Slam-Dunk Internal Interviews
Treating the upcoming internal opportunity interview as a snap could be one of your biggest mistakes. Presumed familiarity with the circumstances doesn’t excuse you from putting your best efforts into preparation. That’s right: homework, research, whatever you want to call it.
Failure to take the whole process as seriously as you would an external interview could put you out of the running, even if you started out as a front-runner. You might forfeit your chance to make a strong impression and show the interviewer(s) how much value you can bring to the table.
One thing that could trip you up is neglecting to ascertain the realities of the position you’re aiming for. You probably know that online job postings can’t always be relied on to give a true picture of the position. The same is true of internal opportunities.
Do’s and Don’ts of Internal Opportunity Interviews
Harvard Business Review recently published an article titled “How to Ace an Internal Interview” by Amy Gallo that offers some very practical advice on how to approach such situations. I encourage you to read the whole article, but here are a couple of the “do’s and don’ts” Gallo shares:
- DO: “Tell your current boss that you’re applying for another position.”
- DON’T: “Get defensive about mistakes you’ve made in the past — be honest and explain what you’ve learned.”
If you have an internal interview and don’t end up getting the job, take a good look at how you handled the situation before, during and after the interview, just as you would (or should!) for an external interview. Anything you can learn from that could help you capture the next job opportunity.
Remember: We live in a competitive world. You need to do whatever you reasonably can to maximize your positive impact.
If you’re not the one who leads meetings in your organization, this topic might not be for you. A better one in that case might be, “How not to Attend Time-Wasting Meetings”!
I have sat through too many long meetings that seemed to get little or nothing done, so I can sympathize with attendees who would rather be almost anywhere than the meeting they’re stuck in. However, I’ve also run a meeting or two, and some of them go better (or worse) than others for reasons that are outside the leader’s control.
Your ability to lead and contribute value to meetings might play at least some role in your success in your current job or in landing a new job, so this is a subject you might want to give some thought to.
Credible Meeting Leadership
You might hold a position of authority in your organization and ostensibly have meeting leadership as part of your management charter. However, that doesn’t mean you are automatically viewed as having credible meeting leadership. For example, if one of your direct-report managers habitually shows up late for meetings, that raises questions about your leadership. “Why can’t he/she get everyone to come on time?” might be the question other attendees are asking. It also appears that the individual in question doesn’t respect either the time of the other participants or of you as his/her manager.
If the flip-side is the case–that is, you are the one who is sabotaging the meetings by showing up late–your credibility could be called into question. How committed are you to the success of your organization? Why do you appear to put other things ahead of what your manager expects from you?
Valuable Meeting Contributor
Whether leading or attending meetings, you have some potential to be viewed as a valuable meeting contributor and help everyone get more out of the meeting than they would otherwise. Here are just a few tips to consider:
- Know going in what the meeting focus/goal is–and, if you’re the leader, communicate that clearly and strongly when you issue the meeting “invitation.”
- Regardless of whether or not you think others will come properly prepared, make sure you have your house in order when you arrive. You don’t want to be the one who appears to be indecisive, ill-informed, etc.
- Try to determine the expected length of the meeting ahead of time–and build some flexibility into your schedule so you don’t get put in a bind when it runs overtime.
- Bring work you can do while you wait for the laggard to turn up or engage other meeting attendees in meaningful dialog related to something mutually useful.
- Make sure your emotions are under control before you join (or start to lead) a meeting. Those who visibly lose control tend also to lose the respect of people they need to engage.
Hidden Aspects of Meetings
I recently read an article titled “The Hidden Side of Meetings” by Ron Ashkenas. It makes a good point about why the problems with time-wasting meetings never seem to go away, even though most people recognize the downside of not dealing with them. Briefly, Ashkenas sees three factors that can have a bearing on the success or failure of a meeting:
- “…when people show up at meetings, they come with different perspectives.”
- “…people have different (often-unconscious) personal agendas that may influence the character of the meeting.”
- “During meetings, people relate differently to leading or being led.”
I don’t know of any magic pill that will take care of time-wasting meetings once and for all. The best I can suggest is that you think ahead and do what you can to minimize the problem!