Your Year-End…Professionally Speaking

New Year in London

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.

Frustration

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.

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Reference Checking & Your Job Search

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!


First Impressions Matter–They Last

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):

  1. Qualifications
  2. Enthusiasm
  3. Preparedness
  4. Communication style
  5. Body language
  6. Attire (clothing, etc.)
  7. 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.


Organized Job Search – Organized Career Planning

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.

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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.


Gratitude and Career Success Can Go Hand-in-Hand

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.

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Job Search & Career Resources for the 55+ Crowd

Whether you’re in the 55+ job seeker category yet or not, the job search and career resources available for that group will undoubtedly become important to you at some point. That’s especially true if the tendency of too many companies to base their hiring decisions on perceived age-related drawbacks stays as active as it has been in the past.

Job Search Challenges for 55+ Job Seekers

According to Experience Works (formerly Green Thumb), “Finding a new job is never easy. For the growing number of Americans age 55 and older the road blocks to employment are many.”

To name just a few employment obstacles:

  • Growing numbers of people staying in the work-force past age 65 through either economic necessity or through a desire to stay active.
  • Factory, plant, and other business closures that have forced many employees into unemployment–even companies that have been in business for many years.
  • Employer’s misconceptions about the ability of older workers to cope with the demands of modern business, technology changes, etc.

Resources–What’s Being Done for 55+ Workers?

Experience Works places a high priority on helping older workers improve their employability by increasing or broadening their skills. As their brochure indicates, they provide support through “training, community service, and employment.” The brochure also makes an excellent point about the trend toward more and more older workers throughout the United States, with 1 in 4 being age 55 or older by 2020–that’s just 5 years away, folks! Also, women and other groups, such as veterans, will make up a growing portion of those older workers.

Experience Works also mentions that a key piece of their activities involves the U.S. Department of Labor effort called “Senior Community Service Employment Program,” which began as part of the War on Poverty aimed at getting older people back in the active work-force. So what other resources might exist that could benefit 55+ workers with their job search?

AARP: This organization used to be called the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons, but today it serves a much broader population than that, including job seekers who are in their late 40s and early 50s and might be several years (a decade or more) away from retirement.

AARP’s resources include:

  • The Work channel
  • The National Employer Team
  • The Water Cooler (online community group)
  • Employment assistance through the AARP Foundation’s WorkSearch Assessment System and the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)

The AARP website includes a list of more than 15 online job search and career resources for 55+ workers. You don’t have to limit yourselves to just Experience Works or to AARP itself. Take some time to explore those sites and see what you can come up with that might help you (or someone you know) who’s facing the 55+ job-seeking challenge and put you back in the “game.”

If you’re currently working and feel reasonably secure in your present situation, count your blessings! (And don’t get too complacent–keep this information handy for future reference.)


Can You Negotiate Your Salary for a New Job?

Maybe the question should really be, “How can you negotiate your salary for a New Job?”

Recently an article titled “Negotiating Employment Agreements or the Real Reason Jennifer Lawrence Got Paid Less Than Bradley Cooper,” published on LinkedIn’s Pulse, talked about negotiating your salary from a different slant than I’d seen before. It definitely caused me to think about some of the assumptions we tend to make that might not be as soundly based as they seem to be.

Employment Negotiation–No Excuses?

According to the Pulse article, actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote a piece stating that she received lower pay for her role because Hollywood was sexist and because she didn’t want to appear difficult or silly by negotiating a much higher salary. Her essay in turn stirred up a big brouhaha about the gap between what men and women are paid.

The main point the article makes, however, is that Lawrence’s experience was a “glaring violation of the cardinal rule of employment negotiations – IF YOU DO NOT ASK FOR IT, YOU WILL NOT GET IT.” Author Elisaveta (Leiza) Dolghih contends that this isn’t directly driven by gender but by personality (how an individual functions). She goes on to state that “if your personality is like Jennifer Lawrence’s…and does not allow you to ask, find a person who will ask and negotiate for you….”

When to Talk Money

One issue that often bothers my clients is when to discuss salary during their search for a new position. If you’ve ever been in that spot, you know what I’m talking about. For years I’ve been advocating the view expressed by many professionals, including author Jack Chapman, that “he who mentions money first loses.” Just this week, however, I read a column by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter) in which he flatly contradicts that view and insists that job seekers need to take the initiative in order to avoid missteps such as going through multiple interviews before finding out the range for the position–which might be thousands of $$$ below their target.

I have to say that this whole situation has raised issues I need to think through carefully before I do more salary negotiation coaching with clients! Apparently there aren’t any simple, straightforward answers. Maybe the best we can do is look at each interview process, each salary negotiation aspect, on a case-by-case basis. However, I think there are at least a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Do your homework even before you submit your resume to a potential employer. Within reason (don’t take weeks!), gather the best intelligence you can about the company’s situation, background, etc.
  2. Explore what people who do what you do are making, taking into account things like geographical differences, to get at least a general, ballpark range. Compare that information to your anticipated target salary.
  3. Decide how you plan to bring up the subject of compensation (if you do) or how you will respond if it comes up before you feel you have enough information about the opportunity.
  4. Be ready to negotiate based on solid value, but be prepared to politely walk away from an opportunity as soon as you can tell that it’s not going to be worth your time (or the company’s) to push ahead.

So, yes, you can negotiate your salary for a new job–at least sometimes. At other times, the answer might be, probably not–or–it’s not worth the effort you’d have to make.