The right way to network by Barbara Babkirk and Scott Woodard – February 25, 2015

“Networking”—it’s an overused and widely misunderstood “must do” job search strategy these days.

Anyone who is looking for a job has probably heard that most open positions are not advertised in traditional ways and the key to any successful job search is “networking”. After all, we’re told, “people hire people they know, or people who are referred to them by people they know.” So networking carries a lot of weight in today’s job search strategies.

But, what does that really mean? I’ll bet that everyone has their own assumptions about it, but I’m also sure that most versions come up short in their ultimate impact and effectiveness. At Heart At Work Associates, we encourage our clients to “network” in the best way that suits their personalities. We do stress that networking is a process, not an event; and that there are some critical factors you must follow however you decide to network.

First you must build relationships. Relationships need to be reciprocal. That is, you need to be prepared to give as well as take. In fact, giving assistance is more important than receiving it. Be prepared to help new people you meet in your networking, rather than ask for help from the start.

Second, relationships need to be nurtured. That means that you don’t just connect with someone new, obtain their business card, and move on. You need to engage them and follow up. Check in with your new contact on a regular basis. Send out an personal email once a quarter or so, checking in on their progress and offer any help you can provide.

Third, don’t just “network” when you need a job or when you need help from your contacts. If you do, your effort will be viewed as entirely one-sided.

In the “what not to do when you’re networking” category, I’ll recount a recent experience at a professional gathering.

The first person I met was a young woman who introduced herself as a life coach (but it could have been any occupation). When I asked her to explain (hoping for a description of her target client or how she approached her work), her response was a rote sounding “elevator speech”. Her lack of strategy was evident when she didn’t even ask about my work!

I came away from the one-way interaction unclear about what she actually offered and was turned off by her lack of spontaneity and interest in me.

Whether the person across from you is a stranger or a longtime colleague, effective networking involves a two-way conversation. When done well, networking blends attentive listening with appropriate questions.

When you make the conversation more about the other person than about you, you’re more apt to engage the person you’ve just met.

We’ve all been “taken hostage” by someone who drones on about himself or laments about the difficult time they’re having finding a job. Don’t follow their example.

Be aware of what you’re doing and saying and notice the body language of the person with whom you’re speaking. You’ll see if you are boring them and if so, move on or shift the topic back to them.

Be strategic when you network! Think about the particular networking opportunity beforehand—imagine why others are attending and create relevant questions that will engage people in a conversation.

Meaningful connections are memorable in a positive way—just the impression you want to cultivate in your job search.

Are you prepared to promote yourself? by Barbara Babkirk – February 16, 2015

At some point in your career you’ll need to promote yourself—be ready.

When you’re looking for a job, contemplating a career change, or vying for a promotion, you need to articulate the skills, talents and personality traits that make you stand out. While this is key to moving to the next level in your career, it’s difficult for most people.

One of the reasons is rooted in our cultural conditioning that has us downplay what we do well, ostensibly to keep us from appearing arrogant or self-centered.

I’m not sure how many people are saved from inflated egos as a result of damping down how they view themselves, but I do know that the idea of keeping a lid on our best traits can backfire when it comes to the job search, a career transition, or a raise.

Each of these goals requires you to put your best foot forward in a confident and believable way—verbally, virtually and in writing. An inability to communicate your value is likely to cost you what you want.

I’ve met with many capable and experienced clients who are unable to articulate their marketable skills. While they can detail the job responsibilities they’ve assumed over the years, they fall short of translating them into skills and a professional statement of value.

In these cases, I suggest the following exercise as a way to increase awareness:

-       Select three of four individuals who know you well in any of a variety of contexts (volunteer, work, personal) and ask them for a favor.

-       Tell them you are assessing your marketable skills and need their objective opinion and feedback.

-       Ask them to email you three to five skills that they have clearly seen you demonstrate and describe the context(s) in which they have seen you

use each one.

-       Then review the feedback and note any themes or patterns in the responses.

-       Evaluate your career and work history and determine where and when you used any or all of the skills identified in the feedback.

Another tool to help you assess your skills is the book Strengths Finder 2.0. After completing an online assessment provided by the book, you’ll be given a list of your top five strengths and descriptions of each.

These two exercises should help you find the words to articulate your value through your experience and associated skills.

Know that there are times when it is appropriate and important to speak confidently about yourself. Shift the notion that this is bragging and replace it with the idea that you’re telling the truth and helping someone select the best person for the job—you!

Stay engaged in your job search after an interview by Barbara Babkirk – February 2, 2015

I know it’s tempting…you’ve had a great interview and so you decide to wait on pursuing other job prospects until you receive word (of an expected job offer).

Even though that may seem to be a reasonable thing to do, it’s a bad idea and here are three reasons why:

  1. Waiting is deflating. If you put your search on hold, you’re likely to lose positive momentum, which is key to a successful outcome.
  2. You could lose a sense of control over your process if you count on someone else’s response to trigger next steps in your job search strategy.
  3. You may not be the top candidate. Even with an outstanding interview, you may lose out to another applicant and then you’ll feel like you’re back at square one.

So, move ahead with your job search strategy, in spite of great feedback and what seemed like a winning interview.

If you don’t hear back from your interviewer in the timeframe that was mentioned, check back in ten days or so.

Any hiring process can be delayed for dozens of reasons you can’t even imagine. So, don’t jump to conclusions about what’s actually going on as to why the search is delayed. It’s common to make up stories, but they are often negative ones and not in your best interest. Stick with the facts and keep your fears at bay.

Return to your contact list and make a few phone calls to arrange “strategic conversations” to stay in job search mode.

There’s a reason why the adage “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” has withstood the test of time. It particularly holds true when you’re in the job market.

Begin with the end in mind by Scott Woodard – January 27, 2015

The beginning of the year is a great time for self assessment and the setting of new goals. Often these goals center around improving current jobs and careers or obtaining new jobs and new careers.

Clients come to me at this time of year struggling with these challenges. They’ve taken stock of where they are and have decided they want something different…a promotion within their current employer, a new job with a new employer, a new career altogether.

In our initial discussions, I spend a brief amount of time with their current situation: What do they enjoy most about their current work? What is least appealing? We quickly move on, though, to their aspirations: What would they like to do next? This is where most struggle. They’re just not sure.

So I get them to talk about How they see themselves in their next role. Are they part of a team? Are they leading the team? Are they leading the organization? What type of organization are they working in? Large, small, somewhere in between? What markets or industries are they interested in pursuing?

All these questions are intended to get them thinking ahead. Where do they see themselves next? What do they see themselves doing? Can they develop a mental model of where they would like to be? The idea is that if they can develop that mental model, then their reality will follow.

The late Stephen Covey outlined this concept in his famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “Begin with the end in mind” was so important that he listed it as the second habit. “If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.”

By looking ahead at what you would like to accomplish; how you would like be seen; you get to set the direction to a better job and career.

So, over to you. Can you visualize where you would like to be in your career? Does that vision set a course for you to follow? Can you begin with the end in mind?

Dare to dream about your life by Barbara Babkirk – January 22, 2015

Do you dream about what you want in your life—new job, different career direction, supportive friends?

If you’ve had dreams that did not materialize, did your disappointment or loss prevent you from daring to imagine other possibilities?

Dreams are part of a complex mix of desires, feelings, beliefs and actions that can eventually result in a physical form.

If you seldom experience dreams becoming real in your life, it might be because you are not consistent or motivated enough to follow through on your ideas. To realize a dream, you need to take action.

German poet Goethe speaks to the active partnership that is essential to making dreams reality:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

You can increase the chances of your dream becoming real by:

  • Putting your attention on your dreams (writing down specific details can be useful and help you to get clear about it)
  • Making a sincere commitment to them
  • Taking consistent action in support of the dream
  • Letting go of how and when your dreams will come true

It’s good to reevaluate your dreams from time to time to see if they fit with your current circumstances. Sometimes you outgrow your dreams or change your mind about them, so tweaking your dreams or shifting to another one altogether keeps your dreaming current and in sync with your life.

Having a vision of what you desire can keep your spirits up and give you hope for the future.

What are your three words for 2015? by Scott Woodard – January 13, 2015

I love this time of year…January is full of possibilities. We make New Year’s resolutions, set goals, make big plans. For many of us, it’s a time to take stock of our careers and think of what we’d like to accomplish in 2015…A new job, more responsibility, more pay, a promotion, or all of the above.

A few years ago, I came across Chris Brogan’s 3 Words for the Year. Since 2006, Brogan has encouraged people to choose three words that will frame their goals and intentions for the year. I’ve done this for the past few years. Last year my three words were client, collaborator, and content.

Client referred to providing superior services to clients…to strengthening my coaching skills to better serve them, and being more responsive to their needs. Collaborator referred to collaborating with both colleagues and clients. I love the idea of collaboration; of Doing It Together (DIT). Content meant identifying differentiating issues that enabled my clients to be better prepared with leading edge tools to meet their goals.

These three words helped me focus my efforts for last year. Did it work? Pretty much. The feedback from clients suggests that I was helpful and attentive to their needs and their goals. They were pleased at my accessibility…that they could reach out to me for advice between appointments and even after our formal coaching time had ended. I would hear that they enjoyed and learned from the blog posts here at the Press Herald and links to articles posted on LinkedIn and the Heart At Work website.

So what are my 3 words for 2015? This year I want to make things happen, to develop new projects that serve our clients. I want to bring people together, both clients and colleagues, to make things happen. And, I want to help both clients and colleagues identify small actions that lead to big changes. My three words, then, are:

●      Launch

●      Convene

●      Trimtab

These words will frame the major activities that I engage in for the year as we develop new services for clients, bring people together to act on key issues and work with them to identify incremental actions that lead to major changes. Stay tuned.

Back to you. What 3 words can you come up with to frame your goals for the year?

What meaning does winter hold for you this year? by Barbara Babkirk – December 30, 2014

It is here again: winter in Maine. The season actually changed on December 21, the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, even though our lack of snow yet this year belies the season.

Whether you enjoy winter or merely put up with it, this season remains a predictable aspect of life in Maine. Understanding the significance of the season that holds both the demise of the old year and the emergence of the new as daylight increases, might give new meaning to your experience of freezing temperatures, snow covered terrain and icy footpaths.

At this time of year when we tend to remain inside much more than during other seasons, we can become closed off to the outside world. During this insular time, we are all invited into the paradox of experiencing the darkness around us in order to find our inner light.

With the backdrop of the winter solstice, consider your life and work at this time of passage from darkness to light. Here are some questions upon which you might reflect to tap your inner knowing and align with the season’s energy:

  • What does the darkness of winter evoke in you?
  • Is there an internal conversation that awaits you in this period of darkness and quiet?
  • Is there a belief or attitude that you might release, strengthen or alter in order to find this time purposeful?
  • Like the seeds deep within the winter ground, what lies dormant within you?
  • As you begin to prepare for increasing daylight, what are you hopeful about in your work and life?
  • What activities, experiences or people keep your hopes for these things alive?

“Without darkness nothing comes to birth,without light nothing flowers.” – May Sarton

Raising the bar for your career in 2015 by Scott Woodard – December 22, 2014

It’s that time of the year…when we take stock of the year winding down and look forward to what improvements we’d like to see in the coming year. One area of self improvement that many examine is advancement in their career — either with their current organization or in someplace new. If you’re looking to make a career change in 2015, you need to ask some key questions that will guide you to success.

As Stephen Covey notes: begin with the end in mind. Visualize where you would like to be at this time next year. Ask yourself “when I’m looking back at the end of 2015, what will success look like for me?” Your criteria for success can be anything you’d like: higher compensation, a bigger title, more responsibility, more meaning to your work. It can be all or some combination. You get to decide.

Once you’ve decided on what success in 2015 looks like, the next question to ask is “am I on track to get there?” Will your current path take you to where you want to be a year from now? If so, great; you’re on your way! If not, what changes need to occur to get you on track? Identifying and executing these changes becomes the challenge for success in the coming year.

Career success begins with knowing your purpose: “What is it I’m meant to do?” The leadership expert Simon Sinek says you should start with your why: the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do. Sinek notes that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. By knowing your purpose, what inspires you to do your work, you will feel differently about your job. You will be more productive and more creative. You will treat your colleagues and clients and customers better.

Next gain clarity about your work. Ask “what am I really good at? What do I like to do? What do I not like doing?” What is your sweet spot, that thing you do better than anyone else? Your response to this question begins to formulate your value proposition. And yes, there is something you do better than anyone. You just have to explore the issue. Typically, what you do really well, you do intuitively. However, it’s incumbent on you to explain your strengths to others. If you’re having difficulty identifying your unique strengths and value, ask the people around you, those in your professional life and your personal life; get their assessment.

Once you have your purpose identified and clarity around your value, you need to focus on the stories you’re telling — to others and to yourself — about what you do, why you do it and the value you bring. These stories should highlight competence and accomplishments that illustrate your value.

Finally, you need a strategy; a plan of action that gets you to where you want to be. Knowing your purpose, getting clarity around your unique value and being able to articulate your value also requires execution: identifying small actions that lead to big changes. Don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the career change you desire. Take small steps that move you forward throughout the year. Enlist the help of others — colleagues, friends and family — who can help you along the way. You don’t have to do all this by yourself.

So, over to you. Are you ready to raise the bar for your career in 2015? Can you take the steps necessary that will get you to where you want to be?

Take charge of your professional life by Barbara Babkirk, December 11, 2014

Far too many people let their careers happen to them.

If you relate to this statement, but hate to admit it, there are steps you can take to shift from a passive to a pro-active approach to your work life.

  • Take stock of what you want from work. Ask yourself if your competencies, interests and values are adequately met in your work and workplace. If not, then consider negotiating another arrangement or a job searc
  • Be mindful of your assumptions about what’s possible. Keep in mind what you want as outcomes, not what you fear might not happen.
  • Understand the professional value you bring to the marketplace and seek out opportunities to communicate it verbally (meetings, performance reviews), virtually (with a great LinkedIn profile) and in writing (effective emails, outstanding resume, crisp cover letters).
  • Stay current with best practices in your field and be innovative in presenting new ideas and practices. Be prepared to communicate your knowledge of trends in interviews or in professional conversations.
  • Consistently attend to your needs. Take time to replenish your energy so you’ll be in good shape to seize the next best opportunity.

Defining your impact; articulating your value by Scott Woodard – December 8, 2014

Alice (not her real name) came in perplexed. “I’m a social policy researcher at the university. The group I’ve been affiliated with has lost its funding. I need to figure out how to market myself in a way that appeals to new funders.”

“Great! Let’s talk about what you’ve done.”

“Basically I organized webinars and conferences that brought nationally recognized experts together and defined best practices for practitioners addressing child welfare programs.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, for the most part. Our funder would identify issues and challenges that practitioners in the field were experiencing. It was my job to organize and convene the practitioners and experts to define ways that would mitigate the challenges.”

“And did they?”

“Oh yes; after each webinar or conference the participants noted that they found the event ‘very useful.’”

“Great! So what was your impact? What value did you bring to the effort?”

“Umm, I organized the webinar?”

“No Alice, you did more than that. You organized the event; you identified the subject matter experts and convened them at the scheduled time. But you also framed the issue in such a way that actionable results occurred. People went away from these sessions that you convened with strategies and actions that would make their work more effective.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess I did. I just never thought about it that way.”

“Of course not. Most really experienced people who are good at what they do, work intuitively. They don’t have to think about it. They see the challenges and work to resolve them naturally. Their challenge, and your’s, is to articulate what they do, how they do it, and the impact of their actions. Those impacts, the outcomes of the webinars and conferences you organized, are the real value you provided.”

“So, how do I do that, figure out the impact, my value?”

“One way is to think about what the problem was that precipitated the webinar or conference. Why did the funder need practitioners and experts to convene around those particular issues? Then look at what happened after the conference; what was better as a result of the work you did in bringing these people together? That difference is what you want to focus on. That difference is what made you a valuable asset not only to the funder, but to practitioners and the experts.”

Alice left with a new way of thinking about the value she brings to projects and to potential employers: She convenes experts and users to develop innovative strategies that resolve critical challenges. She has a unique impact on her field. She provides a valuable service.

Over to you. Can you define the impact — the value — you bring to either your current, or a prospective, employer? Can you articulate what makes you unique?

Heart At Work Associates offers career counseling and outplacement services for your life stage in Portland, Maine and globally.

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