Thursday, September 17, 2009

What to Do When You've Run Off Into a Career Ditch

If I could leave you with one thought today, it would be this: You are a work in progress.

Rather you're trying to get a job, starting a new career, in mid-career, or thinking about retiring, you can never write the ending to your story. Because once you do, you lose sight of what you've accomplished and enthusiasm for what is still out there.

I see job seekers become demoralized when someone asks them, "So, what do you do?" They stammer around and then say something like, "Well, I used to be a pilot for a major airline, but I got laid off. And now there are no jobs and no one wants to hire me."

Or, I see people in mid-career who believe in this bad job market they are "stuck" in jobs that cause them to lose sleep and snap at their kids when they get home at night. Even those nearing retirement are sometimes on auto-pilot in the later days of their career, believing there's nothing new for them to learn, no new paths waiting to be explored.

Even some college graduates who can't get a job have lost confidence in their abilities, believing they have nothing special to offer employers.

To all of you I say: Don't write yourself off yet.

If you're a college graduate, it wasn't a piece of cake to get that degree was it? If you were a pilot, didn't it take thousands of hours of training and self-discipline to fly a plane? If you're mid-career, you didn't walk in off the street and get that job, did you?

Look at your past. Think back to what it felt like when you failed, and what you did to recover. Think about what it felt like when you succeeded -- what did it take for you to achieve that goal? Those are all abilities that are unique to you. No one else did exactly what you did in the same way.

What would your life have been like if you'd never had those experiences, those chapters in your life? That's how you need to look at your career: as chapters to be written, as a work that will progress with time.

Don't ever think your skills and abilities aren't worth telling others about, and that you don't have something worthwhile to offer. Once you show others you're ready to reach for the next experience with enthusiasm, they'll be more interested in helping you so they can see how the story turns out.

How do you keep yourself enthused about your career or job hunt?


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Monday, February 9, 2009

5 Ways to Put the "I" in Team

Teams are pretty commonplace in the workplace these days, but that doesn't mean they're fun. Or pleasant. Or useful. Or efficient. Or productive.

Certainly, there are lots of folks who love teams. These are usually the people who put teams together, or make a living out of touting how teams are fun, pleasant, useful, efficient and productive. But for those who have to work in teams, the experience is often frustrating, unproductive and annoying.

Is there a middle ground? I think so. What makes teams useful is when you understand they can be helpful in getting work done, but they can also be a bottleneck. You need to understand that while you can reap the rewards of being on a team, you also need to watch out for yourself and your own career interests.

In other words, it's time to put the "I" in team.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Companies who get all warm and fuzzy when talking about teams aren't going to take kindly to you breaking away from the pack to promote your own contributions. And certainly your other team members aren't going to like it. But I think in this economy, with this bad job market, you need to find ways to make sure your skills and abilities don't get overlooked.

How to make that happen? First, you've got to take stock of your team dynamic. How does it function? What is its purpose? Do you understand exactly how your specific skills are being used? If you can't answer these questions, then you're in trouble. Why? Because it clearly points out that you are letting the team happen to you. And if you're not participating totally, then you could be overlooked for your contribution -- not something you want when a layoff could be hovering around the corner.

So, let's look at how you need to put yourself into a team equation that most benefits your career future:

1. Find your niche. Every team has certain people, such as the leader, the troubleshooter, the cheerleader, the risk taker etc. All these roles are essential, so find one and grab it. You want a role that is visible enough you come into contact with key people within your department and company. You want to make sure that other team members will consistently need you, or look to you for support or leadership. In other words, you want to be memorable.

2. Focus on bottom-line impact. These days, you can't afford to do anything else. When you participate in a team, constantly ask yourself -- and others -- what the impact of your efforts will be on bringing in revenue. If you can't come up with an answer, it's time to re-think your efforts.

3. Enter the fray. You may think that all you want to do right now is keep your head down, and hopefully you won't do anything to lose your job. Wrong strategy. Right now companies are operating so lean that it's critical every worker be thinking like an entrepreneur. That means you don't stand on the sidelines, but wade into the middle of a problem and start helping. Phones ringing like crazy? Help answer them. Files piling up and everything becoming a disorganized mess? Grab some paperwork and start filing. Difficult customer than no one likes? Jump in with a smile.

4. Use a lifeline. Sometimes working in a team can be like working in a vacuum. You start a group-think mentality where everything you come up with seems like a good idea. Even if you might have a niggling doubt somewhere, you squash it. But that can be a deadly mistake, because if the team bombs, you're going to be one of the casualties. To avoid such a scenario, always have someone -- a mentor or senior manager -- within the company that is aware of what you're doing. You can update this person through e-mails or phone calls about your contributions. That way, if things go terribly wrong, you may be able to save your own skin because someone understands you have value.

5. Focus on PR. When working on a team, always make sure you're looking at the public relations angle. Say positive things to others about team members while you're promoting your own accomplishments. By doing this, you're much more likely to get them to say equally positive things about you. This is critical in case a key role comes up either on your team or within the company. Lobbying for that job will be much easier if you've already started your PR campaign.

What are some other suggestions to promote yourself in a team environment?

Lijit Search

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Monday, January 12, 2009

How Teaching Can Make You Unforgettable

Recently, I posed this question on Twitter: "What was the name of your favorite teacher and what did he/she teach?"

I immediately got nearly a dozen responses, and the enthusiasm was palpable. English, history, economics, drums and literature teachers were lauded by fellow Twitterers who noted how the favored teacher was "encouraging," "brilliant," had "patience" or a sense of humor.

What I also found interesting was that no one forgot the name of that great teacher, which is kind of amazing when you think how many people claim they are "bad with names" even if they've met someone in business many times.

So, this got me to thinking about the power of teaching, and how we can use that in our careers.

While using LinkedIn and Facebook and other online networking tools can be helpful, and attending business and industry functions can be beneficial to your career, don't forget that teaching may have one of the greatest positive impacts on your success.

Teaching, I believe, can take many different forms in the workplace. You can teach the new employee how to use the phone system, you can teach an older employee how to streamline a process, you can teach your boss how to access material on the Internet or you can teach a co-worker how to handle a difficult colleague.

The point is that you're doing what great teachers do: Giving of your time and efforts with the purpose of passing on the gift of knowledge so that the student's life will be enhanced, better and richer for having met you.

Don't ever believe that you're not patient enough, or smart enough or giving enough to be a teacher in the workplace. Even the smallest effort to pass on your knowledge can have a huge impact on someone else, and that's very valuable in a workplace culture that is often so fast-paced and stressful that we forget someone's name the minute we delete their e-mail.

Think back to your favorite teacher. What did he or she offer you that made you always remember him or her? How did they help you expand your mind and absorb the knowledge they offered you?

Now, consider what you have to offer someone else in the workplace. How can you use that knowledge to make yourself memorable, to form a connection that will last? Because let's face it: Solid connections in the workplace not only benefit you now but in the future. Who do you think will help you when you're looking for a new job or an important business contact -- the person you helped teach, or the person you brushed off because you were too busy to help show the ropes?

"Teaching," Albert Einstein said, "should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.”

What are some ways you can "teach" in the workplace?

Lijit Search

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