I’m not really normal

tulsa-200px.jpgWhile visiting relatives in our hometown of Tulsa last week, I found myself on kitchen duty with my brother-in-law one afternoon. Cleaning the kitchen during the holidays is somewhat like trying to hit a moving target, because the activity never really ends — it just reaches a lull between two peaks.

But we eventually conquered the task, and with a final triumphant flourish I closed the door of the dishwasher and bent down to start the machine. When I hesitated for a moment to familiarize myself with the settings, my brother-in-law stepped in and instructed me “Just select ‘Normal’ and then push the ‘Start’ button.”

And then we thought… Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just select a “Normal” button for our family or work, and then everything and everyone around us would function in some pre-ordained and predictable fashion?

No guesswork.

No worries.

No problems.

Predictable, perfect, autopilot.

Imagine a brief pause here as we both ponder and savor this idea while looking up at the ceiling and thoughtfully rubbing our chins. Hmmm…

As enticing as it sounds at first, we decided we really wouldn’t enjoy a “Normal” button very much. We enjoy the differences among us and appreciate the uniqueness of each person in our family (most of the time). We love the surprises, the challenges, and the occasional chaos that come with the differences. We find comfort in the uniqueness of our family because it gives us a sense of identity and belonging. We have our own inside jokes and sometimes we even speak our own language. We’re probably the only family in which eggnog is called Steve. That’s just not “normal.”

And we like it that way.

Unfortunately, a lot of organizations are trying to press the “Normal” button. While companies often say they want innovative and risk-taking employees, they usually try to assimilate new employees as quickly as possible into a strict company culture. (i.e. “Normal.”) Ultimately, they value predictability and compliance.

When an employee doesn’t fit the mold, they may get poor reviews and be passed over for promotions, leaving management to wonder how they ended up with such an ill-suited employee. The employee is probably a wonderful and skilled person, but just doesn’t fit the organization’s definition of “Normal.” The sooner that both employee and employer recognize this, the better off both will be.

Do we really talk about this kind of stuff after cleaning the kitchen? Yep.

But I’ve already told you… we’re not Normal.

“A Brand You World” recordings now available

brandyou.jpgGreat news! A few weeks back, I encouraged you to sign up for the Personal Branding Telesummit on November 7. If you missed this excellent event, you can still listen in by downloading the session recordings. These sessions are loaded with great information. And best of all, they are free! Enjoy…

Informational interviews

The informational interview is one of the most useful and yet under-utilized career management tools. I’ve become a big proponent of informational interviews ever since conducting my first one several months ago. When I’m among job seekers, I often ask if they are including informational interviews as part of their strategy. Many have never heard of them, and many of those who have tend to shy away from them. If you are not using informational interviews, you are missing a great opportunity.

What is an informational interview?

Sometime called an informational meeting, a referral meeting, or a research interview. It is a brief meeting (usually anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes) between you and somebody currently in a career or industry that you want to learn more about. You can use the interview to gain new knowledge, or to validate your understanding, or to sharpen your focus.

An informational interview is not about asking for a job. Never, never ask for a job. That is the cardinal rule of informational interviews.

And therein is the rub for many job seekers who disdain informational interviews. They seem to view them as an underhanded and sneaky way to get a foot in the door when the interviewee knows they are really looking for a job. Or, they may feel that the informational interview puts them in an awkward position by making them appear desperate.

What these job seekers don’t realize is that informational interviews are not strictly the domain of job seekers. Such interviews are an essential part of networking for both the unemployed and the employed. (Note that I earlier referred to the informational interview as a career management tool, not a job search tool.) Most professionals recognize this as an ordinary part of business and are not offended by being approached for an interview. In a 2004 Career Journal article, Pamela Peterson, director of business development for IPSA International, said “Eighty percent of the time people are delighted and willing to meet and to help, primarily because they recognize the value of networking as well the satisfaction that comes from being able to help someone.”

What are the benefits of an informational interview?

Compare the informational interview with a job interview.

  • Informational interviews are generally easier to get.
  • With an informational interview, you ask the questions and are in control.
  • An informational interview is typically more relaxed for both parties.
  • Informational interviewees may become part of your network, and may provide referrals.
  • Informational interviewees may be less guarded in sharing information.

In addition, you build your professional network. You gain knowledge of a career or industry. You gain confidence in presenting yourself and your ideas to others. And you develop name recognition and a positive reputation in your professional circle.

Okay, I’m sold… Now what?

Watch for additional posts in the coming days about

  • How to obtain an informational interview
  • How to conduct an informational interview

Update 11/20/2007: Be sure to see Part 2 of this discussion.

Finding your passion

In her Shifting Careers blog this week, Marci Alboher shares an interesting self-assessment exercise. It is designed by career coach Michael Melcher (aka The Creative Lawyer) for people who are searching for passion in their careers.

According to Melcher, many of his clients don’t know what they want to do with their careers; they may have multiple interests and don’t know how to choose among them. They may have done so much self-analysis that they can “speak very fluently about the issues but find it difficult to make actual decisions.”

One way to get unstuck is to use a Zagat-style approach. Melcher suggests that you interview five to ten people who know you well, using a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire approach is important because it will probably yield more thoughtful responses, and thus useful data, than a casual conversation with the same people. Some recommended questions for your interviews:

  • What are three things I do really well?
  • What are three things I don’t do so well?
  • Based on what you know about me, what job or experience have I liked the best in the past?
  • Based on what you know about me, what job or experience have I liked the least?
  • What are three things you can imagine me doing?
  • What’s something you can’t really imagine me doing?
  • How do I get in my own way?

A Caveat

While this is a great way to solicit feedback from your circle (I am a big advocate of 360 assessments an other feedback mechanisms), I’d like to offer one caveat: Do not let feedback from your circle serve as a substitute for doing reasonable self-analysis. Self-analysis can be daunting and uncomfortable for some, while others tend to wallow in so much self-analysis that they can’t get unstuck. Despite its potential pitfalls, however, self-analysis is critical to discovering your passion.

Because people are often conditioned to behave contrary to their true nature, feedback from others may simply reinforce the negative conditioning if you haven’t first done the proper self-analysis.

Flexible careers: a new model?

Many companies are starting to offer flexible work arrangements as one way to retain the best talent. But is that enough to attract and retain talented employees over the long haul, or is it a stop-gap measure? Is it time to fundamentally change the way we think about careers?

In an interesting article from today’s Financial Times, Alison Maitland reviews the concept of “mass career customization” developed and used by the consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tomatsu. The model encourages employees to tailor their careers around their own needs, goals, and priorities, allowing them to choose from a graduated list of option is foura areas:

  • pace of career progress (“accelerated” to “decelerated”)
  • workload (“full” to “reduced”)
  • location and schedule (“not restricted” to “restricted”), and
  • role (“leader” to “individual contributor”)

It’s too soon to know if the pilot model is working, but early results are encouraging.

Shifting Careers

I referred to a column written by Marci Alboher a couple of months ago, and that led me to start reading her columns periodically. I was pleased to discover recently that Marci is now writing a new blog for the New York Times called Shifting Careers.

If you haven’t discovered Marci’s writings, you should check out her blog. It is very well written, entertaining, and insightful. She writes about what she calls the “slash” or “/” career, as in her personal experience as a “corporate lawyer/journalist/speaker/writing coach/and now columnist/blogger.” Perhaps I enjoy her writing so much because she makes me feel better about all the slashes in my career, as in “journalist/retail manager/CPA/technical writer/trainer/career coach.”

As soon as I get a chance, I’m going to pick up a copy of her new book, One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success (Business Plus, 2007).

From Soft Serve to Iron Lady

softserve-150px.jpg

Are you thinking about changing careers? If so, you are in good company (more about that in a moment).

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports that the average worker makes more than three career changes during their working life. That’s career changes — not job changes. Careers can transcend many job changes, so the actual number of jobs can be much higher (I’ve heard estimates ranging from five to eight job changes during a working life).

Career changes can be risky, scary, and overwhelming — especially the older you get. Career changers may risk losing pace with their peers. They may lose benefits and compensation. They may discover that their new career is not as fulfilling as expected.

So why do people change careers? In a recent Yahoo! HotJobs article, Richard Bolles offers a theory:

“It’s not enough to keep busy. [People] want to have meaning in their lives and they want work to give them that meaning. [Many people] wake up one day and ask: ‘Is this all I was put on Earth to do?’”

People want to feel that they are doing something meaningful. That they are making a contribution. That they are doing what they were created to do.

Good company

So, now back to the “good company” I mentioned earlier. You may remember the Iron Lady, the nickname given to former British Prime Minister Lady Margaret Thatcher. She was the first female and one of the longest-serving prime ministers in British history. She is credited by Ronald Reagan as being instrumental in ending the Cold War. She is among the 20 most admired people of the 20th century, according to Gallup polling. She was voted fifth on the “Greatest Heroes of Our Time” list by The New Statesman. And on and on. As political leader, Margaret Thatcher found her passion and life’s calling.

But what you may not know about Margaret Thatcher is that she was once an ordinary research chemist toiling away at J. Lyons and Company, where she was part of the team that researched methods for preserving ice cream and developed the first soft frozen ice cream (i.e. soft serve). Before she was the Iron Lady, she was the queen of soft serve.

Not a bad career transition.

Job search vs career management

There is a big difference between job search and career management. Job search is more like an event that commences when you need a job and ends when a new job is secured. Career management, on the other hand, is a mindset that transcends job changes.

Back when the average worker went to work for a company and retired from the same company 40 years later, job search skills were sufficient. In today’s market, however, the average worker is expected to change jobs as many as nine times. Our career is no longer tied to one company, one industry, or even one profession. Therefore, it is essential that today’s employees learn how to manage their own careers.

In a recent interview with Vancouver 24 Hours, Jason Alba of JibberJobber illustrates the differences between job search and career management by contrasting various attitudes. For example:

  • Job Search: I network to find immediate job opportunities, and hope that my network isn’t too stale.
  • Career Management: I have a very strong set of relationships and continually strive to add value to them.

There are many more examples in the article. Be sure to read it.

———-

UPDATE 10/18 – I forgot to add the link to Jason’s blog. If you haven’t already, you need to check it out.

Chimby search engine

I just recently discovered Chimby, an innovative career advice search engine. What exactly is Chimby? According to the site:

CHIMBY is a vertical search engine that lets you search over 400 career advice sites at once. We crawl the sites of career coaches, career blogs and other media sources in order to provide the best answers to your career advice questions. Each source is hand-picked to ensure fresh, relevant results from an exclusive club of career advice experts.

You can find current news, articles, and discussions tailored specifically for career search. I added a link to Chimby in my list of favorite web sites. Check it out.

Introducing Jobfox

I just discovered this really cool new career site called Jobfox, and wanted to pass it along. You can read more about it in this Forbes.com article.

The site is designed to compete directly with the mega job boards Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com. One might think it is crazy to take on these giants, unless you consider the fact that Jobfox was created by Rob McGovern — the founder and former CEO of CareerBuilder.com. Also consider the fact that jobfox is a truly innovative twist on the typical job board, and you have a pretty good recipe for success.

What makes Jobfox unique? Here are a few things I’ve observed. There are probably many more:

  • The site is not a typical job search site. Rather than allowing you to search for jobs, Jobfox matches you to the best jobs based on the 10 Dimensions of a Great Job Fit (sm). These 10 dimensions include your skills, experience, education and desires; like salary, travel, commute, etc.
  • The Jobfox Job Fit Matching Engine is designed around the 10 dimensions. As you enter details about your work experience, Jobfox asks questions about the specific types of activities and responsibilities, what tools you use, etc. For instance, one of my jobs was a technical writer for a software company. As soon as I select “technical writer” from the job function list, jobfox asks me if my role was editing, creating new documents, or updating existing documents, etc.. Then it asks if these were installation guides, user manuals, training materials, and on and on. Finally, it asks me which tools I used most frequently. You can select multiple items for most questions, and then rank them. I thought the tool was very comprehensive.
  • When Jobfox finds a fit, it score the fit on a 10-point scale. It also displays a comparison table of your fit criteria and how it matches with the job criteria, so you can immediately see where the differences are.
  • Jobfox offers “trackable resume” service. One of job seekers biggest complaints is the “black hole” of resume submission. When you submit your resume to Jobfox, they immediately send back a trackable version that looks just like the original. When you submit this version to potential employers, Jobfox will notify you — through SMS, and through a history log on their site — when the employer has opened and reviewed the resume.
  • Jobfox allows you to control who sees your portfolio, when it’s available for viewing, and many other security features.

Jobfox is not just an incrementally-better or prettier job board. It is a game changer with the potential to revolutionize the way employers and employees are matched. It’s not clear how many employers are using the site, though, which seems to be a critical component to the site’s success; McGovern gently sidesteps this issue by emphasizing that the site is more about quality of jobs posted than quantity. But if the site can reach critical mass in terms of number of candidates and employers, it looks like Jobfox will indeed be a winner.

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