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?

Employers: Key reasons to invest in outplacement services – by Barbara Babkirk, November 25, 2014

Perhaps your company needs to cut costs or the management has decided to go in a different direction—whatever the case may be, the result may call for a layoff.

The news will be painful for those impacted and you want to do the right thing for employees who have worked hard and will lose their jobs due to no fault of their own. In an effort to ease your employees’ transitions, you may offer everyone a severance package, depending on their length of time with your company.

An important part of a severance may include “outplacement services” – assistance provided by career counseling professionals skilled in navigating career transitions. Outplacement services not only help the impacted employee establish a new career direction and professional focus after a layoff, but have also been proven to minimize the risk of a lawsuit. Over 70% of employers include outplacement services as part of a severance. However, only 40% of recipients take advantage of this offering.

As an experienced outplacement provider, I have found that most recipients of outplacement support do not clearly understand the benefit of what they’re offered. Consequently, the generous gift of assistance with a job transition may not benefit anyone in the end.

In order for outplacement services to accomplish what they were intended, employers need to have a plan that addresses all aspects of the services:

  1. Initiate preliminary conversations with one or two outplacement providers to decide on what services and provider would best meet company needs and goals.
  2. Consider how the message about outplacement services will be communicated to the impacted employees (e.g. introductory letter from the provider, plan for the provider to be on-site the day of the layoff, and/or a carefully crafted message from the employer about the intent behind outplacement services).
  3. Clearly identify and communicate the specifics, duration and benefits of the outplacement services offered.
  4. In the severance agreement, introduce the outplacement provider you’ve select with email and phone number and a date by which employees should contact them.

Outplacement services range widely from customized one to one career counseling services, professional branding and LinkedIn workshops and mock interview sessions, to less personal online portals that allow access to job information.
Think about what you want from outplacement services and make sure that the provider you select has the experience, qualifications and up to date knowledge you require for the best possible outcome.

Say yes to outplacement and here’s why…-by Barbara Babkirk, November 18, 2014

A recent study found that roughly 20% of Americans have been laid off from their jobs during the past five years. So, the chances  are high that you or someone you know has been affected by this increasing trend in the marketplace.

When you get the word that you no longer have a job, you’re understandably shaken and in shock, so you’re not necessarily taking in all of the information provided by human resources.

If you are fortunate, you’ll receive a severance package with compensation for years of service as well as assistance in making a transition to new employment—officially referred to as “outplacement services”. Over 75% of employers nationwide offer this benefit.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, only 40% of employees who receive the benefit of outplacement services actually utilize them. Why? I suspect most don’t understand what they are or assume they would be of no use to them.

What are outplacement services and just how can they benefit you in a career transition?

Services broadly range from customized one to one sessions that include a comprehensive plan with experienced career counselors or coaches to access to impersonal on-line portals. The best services include:

  • Career counseling to help you identify a new direction and determine where your competencies, values and interests align with marketplace opportunities.
  • How to communicate your consistent and crisp “career story” .
  • The key elements of your professional brand: resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile.
  • Essential tips in preparing for an interview.
  • Introductions to business and community contacts to extend your job search success.

Ignoring outplacement services is a professional mistake.  Even if you quickly find employment after losing your job, outplacement services with an experienced career counselor can help you effectively transition into your new job and then organize and virtually communicate your new professional brand.

If outplacement services are not included in your severance agreement, request them!

Most employers realize that it promotes goodwill to offer resources to ease the transition during a layoff, so your chances are good that you’ll be granted some type of service.

What’s in it for the employer? My next blog will focus on outplacement services from the employer’s perspective.

Are you at one end of the “I love/hate my job” spectrum? by Barbara Babkirk – November 5, 2014

“I hate my job” and “My job is destroying me” are two powerful statements clients recently made as they gave me their reasons for coming to their first career counseling session.

While not every client expresses such striking disdain for their work, everyone has a story about how it affects them, and that information informs how I will ultimately help them.

Depending on the severity of the impact – e.g. physical signs of stress, shifts in emotions and communication with loved ones – I might decide that quick action is necessary. That may mean a referral to a therapist or physician and/or discussion about an exit strategy that would provide relief to a highly stressful situation.

At other times, having a plan to move forward is enough to shift a person’s perspective, give them a sense of hope and alleviate the feeling of dread that precedes every Monday morning.

In contrast, some clients actually report that they love their jobs, but because of a company re-direction they find themselves reluctantly seeking outplacement services due to a job elimination.

In these instances, it’s important to identify what aspects of the job pleased them so much: using skills they enjoyed, work that focused on topics that engaged them and/or a company mission that aligned with an important value or priority.

The idea is to find a new job that matches all three factors that contribute to job satisfaction.

Where are you on the spectrum? Is it time to reflect on what’s behind the way you feel about your job? Perhaps you’ll discover what’s keeping you or repelling you—in either case, you’ll be the wiser for it.

Do you have an inner directive? by Barbara Babkirk – October 29, 2014

“Do you have any thoughts about what you might want to do?” I asked Alice who had recently been laid off from her job of 12 years.  Her former employer offered her career counseling (also called outplacement) with my company, Heart At Work Associates, to help her transition to new work.

“I was hoping you’d give me some ideas about what I’m qualified to do”, she responded. Fair enough I thought.

Alice’s expectation was not off base. After all, it’s my job as a career counselor to know the marketplace and help clients recognize where their skills fit. Most often, I base these ideas on clients’ interests and values as well as their competencies.

When I asked Alice what topics or activities engaged her, she leaned forward and without hesitation said “writing”.  “I just have to make time for it”, she added convincingly.

It wasn’t only what she said, but how she said it that made me realize that Alice was speaking about an “inner directive” – a compelling message that won’t go away or be ignored.

Not unlike many people who have given voice to this type of inner mandate, Alice had been thinking about writing for a few years. But, now, as she pondered a change, it seemed like the time was right to honor it.

We discussed how she might begin: find a writing class, a writing coach or both, buy a special journal. I could see the excitement in her eyes as her plan of action unfolded.

Over the course of our work together, Alice kept to her part of the plan and appreciated a sense of accountability she felt from her appointments with me.

Her writing practice began to take hold and it found a place amid her life commitments. Her job search also picked up momentum.

While a focus on writing could have been seen as a detour from her need to get reemployed, it actually had the opposite effect. Alice’s willingness to address her inner directive (which had been weighing on her for some time) put her mind and heart at ease and freed up attention so she could fully engage in her job search.

Do you have a “must do” that deserves your attention?

Dear niece…why your resume won’t work by Scott Woodard – October 21, 2014

My college-aged niece needed a resume to seek paid internships for the summer.

She had taken a template she found online and inserted her relevant information. She asked her mother to pass it along to me for approval. Here’s my response:

Hey kiddo,

Your mom forwarded your resume in which you asked for approval. Sorry, I’m not going to approve this version. Let me tell you why. Resumes are over rated. That’s not to say you can get away with not having one, but they tend to exist primarily for HR. As long as we have to adhere to HR requirements, we need to have one of the darn things.

You can probably guess that I’m a bit of a contrarian. While I hate the darn things, they are necessary.

So let’s look at the purpose of a resume. The primary purpose of your document is to obtain an interview. The way you get an interview is to separate yourself from the herd. DO NOT be like everyone else! Don’t be too far out there, but write a document that calls attention to your strengths, skills and qualifications….accentuate the positive, big time!

So what does your current document show?

  1. You’re a college student;
  2. You’re looking for a position in museum PR or marketing;
  3. You’ve taken some media courses;
  4. You know first aid;
  5. You’ve had some work experience.

Let’s talk about what you should be showing:

  1. LEADERSHIP! … I can’t stress this enough. You, my dear, are a leader. You’ve sought out leadership challenges in every role that I’m aware of. The most obvious, of course, is your Gold Award in Girl Scouts. You’re someone who steps up and assumes responsibility and leadership roles. You have to work on this message.
  2. Stories that demonstrate your leadership and showcase your abilities. I seem to recall a newspaper article your mom sent a while back about a resolution you convinced your local city council to pass. I’m not seeing it in your current document. Why not?! People remember stories Tell stories – briefly and crisply – about your leadership accomplishments
  3. A communicator…Communications majors communicate, darn it! Don’t just list course work. Oh, and by the way, check your spelling and tenses.

I know all this because I know you. But HR or a hiring manager won’t get it from this document. You’ll just go into a pile with everyone else. Low percentage job seeking. Be different – not weird – but stand out.

So, if you were my client, here’s what I’d suggest: Draft a document that showcases leadership and responsibility. Then get on LinkedIn.

I just did a search on LinkedIn for people who went to your college and got about 17,000 hits in my network, and you’re the only one I know there. When I filtered for your hometown, 1,378 people show up. Get on LinkedIn and connect with these people. Alumni networks are powerful resources for referrals.

The point is you need to tell the story you want heard. That’s not happening with the current document. Moreover, you can’t do just one thing. You have to use a variety of methods to find the job you want. Alumni networks are one of the best ways to reach out to people. Alums love helping budding young professionals from their alma maters. Take advantage of their networks.

So not what you expected, huh? Not to worry; all is not lost. You’ve got a good start, but it needs work. Let’s talk about the best way to make your resume stronger.


Uncle Scott

Are you ready to change your career? If not now, when? by Barbara Babkirk – October 7, 2014

Conclusions of a recent study conducted by the University of Phoenix was consistent with past similar survey results: over half of Americans want to change their careers.

Having spent two decades listening to people’s career stories, I have my ideas about why so many Americans are disenchanted with their professions.

First, most people don’t feel that they intentionally choose their career direction. Clients often tell me that “opportunities just fell in my lap” or “I took what was offered to me and it led me to this career”.

Our 20’s and 30’s set the stage for a lack of direction when most of us are trying to figure out who we are in the world and what value we could offer. We plod along and develop skill sets that may or may not be what energizes us or gets us up in the morning, but at least we begin to make contributions to the larger world.

Some of us follow in our parents’ footsteps or in the direction expected of us without regard to our own particular interests.

Embarking on a career path that is focused on the outer world rather than on our inner reality is neither wrong nor right. In fact, in some instances the end result can be a positive blend of our skills, interests and priorities. But, it’s a bit of a gamble.

A less risky way to establish a career (or change one) is to look at ourselves first before being influenced by the next shiny opportunity or clear expectation from someone important to us.

Here are questions to consider that will shift you from outer to inner priorities and encourage a real choice on your part:

  • What are your key strengths that call on your natural tendencies and talents? (Think about those things that you just can’t help but do no matter what job you’re in.)
  • What are the topics/interests/ideas that engage you? (What do you enjoy reading, thinking and talking about?)
  • At this stage of your life, how do you want to make a difference? (Identify priorities, values that are key to you and your life and think about where they are needed in the marketplace.

Once a career idea or direction comes into focus for you, it’s important to do a reality check that includes your finances and other factors that will determine your success.

Kerry Hannon wrote an excellent article in the September 2014 issue of Money Magazine titled “Map Out Your Next Act”. It includes good sound tips for evaluating a career change.

What’s next for you?

Are you an agent of change? by Scott Woodard – September 29, 2014

Last Friday, I attended the annual Agents of Change Digital Marketing conference, organized by Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media. This was my second time attending the conference, and like last year, was struck how digital marketing strategies closely resemble success in one’s career.
Key takeaways for me as a career coach…the importance of creating value for your audience; the importance of “raving fans” — people who will advocate on your behalf; the importance of small, quick wins; engaging our audience/community; and taking them to the next level with your content.
Regardless of where you are in your career — just starting out as a new grad, or seeking your last gig prior to retirement — these are issues you need to pay attention to.
The Importance of Creating Value
Creating value for an organization is the touchstone of today’s careers. Regardless of your field, if you rely solely on a body of knowledge; acquire, organize and interpret data; or provide functional, logical and rational products and services; then you are a commodity and in danger of being replaced. Regardless of your education or training, your skills are in abundance; your work can be automated and outsourced for cheaper, faster products.
Assets on the other hand, continually add value to an organization. Assets are creative, designing new products and services that improve the bottom line. Assets interact and empathize with clients to help define their needs and design solutions that fit. Assets are of continual use to their organizations. Strive to be an asset.
The Importance of “Raving Fans”
Pat Flynn, a thought leader in online entrepreneurship, was the conference keynote. He spoke about building a thriving community of fans, especially “Raving Fans.” Pat spoke about the Affinity Pyramid to build an audience. At the bottom of the pyramid was a broad base of the “Casual Audience,” people who occasionally or just one-time come into contact with the organization.  As the pyramid narrows to the top, interaction becomes more regular and intense, until finally, at the apex of the pyramid are the “Raving Fans.” These are the people who can’t live without your brand. They refer others to your brand.
In your career, Raving Fans are the people in your network who will refer you to potential employers. They will actively seek out opportunities on your behalf. They may be mentors, colleagues or clients. Take care of these people. Nurture these relationships.
The Importance of Small Wins
Flynn had a great quote: “If you want to change someone’s life, start by changing their day first.” He noted the power of achieving immediate results. They don’t have to be life changing, but they have to “move the needle;” move progress forward. Providing value is often just a matter of small changes that, over time, have significant impacts. You don’t necessarily have to save the company or the project, just make it easier for colleagues or clients to accomplish the tasks at hand.
The importance of Engaging Your Audience
One of the biggest takeaways from the conference was that to be effective in online marketing, you must engage your audience. Engagement is what moves people up the Affinity Pyramid, from casual interaction to Raving Fans. Flynn quoted Jay Abraham, “if you can define the problem better than your customer, you’re automatically assumed to have the solution.” In order to define the problem, you have to listen, to ask questions, to ask why and how. In other words, get the audience — or hiring manager or client — to engage in talking about the problems they’re challenged with. At Heart At Work Associates, we call these engagements strategic conversations and coach our clients on how to conduct them with people in organizations they’re interested in working for.
Taking Your Audience to the Next Level
Chris Ducker, another online entrepreneur, spoke about building your online brand and the significance of P2P relationships. P2P relationships are “people to people” relationships. P2P, Ducker believes, is where marketing is headed. People want to do business with people, not nameless organizations and brands.
To build your brand and take your audience (boss, client) to the next level, Chris suggests the following: Build more, better relationships: business runs on relationships; people hire people they know, or people they know know (referrals); Build your tribe: a group of people who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea; Build your platform: whether it’s blogging, podcasting, or your LinkedIn Profile, you need to create and curate content that is directly helpful to your audience — content that sparks new thinking or action.
So, over to you…Can you see how the key aspects of digital marketing apply to your career success. Can you be an Agent of Change?

Transitions call for trust – by Barbara Babkirk – September 15, 2014

The fear of the unknown that’s inherent in any transition can take its toll on the most courageous of us.

There’s just something about a blank slate of possibilities that prompts creative minds to conjure up lists of “what if” scenarios—most of which instill fear in our hearts and minds.

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear clients expressing trepidation about their career change that’s based entirely on what they fear will happen, as opposed to what they hope will occur.

Any transition involves facing the unknown and that typically triggers anxiety.

While you may believe that your negative projection into the future is necessary to feel prepared for anything that might occur, it actually works against you.

This often spontaneous and habitual thought process is a waste of time, energy and attention because it is likely to interrupt your momentum or stop you in your tracks.

Successfully maneuvering through a transition requires nimbleness and openness to possibilities. Fear elicits the opposite, and has you “pull in the wagons of your life” in anticipation of some threatening outcome.

Consciously thinking about what you desire is an effective alternative to the scenarios that typically make you want to hide under your bed covers.

I’m not suggesting that you just “think happy thoughts”, but rather, that you become clear about the intention and desired outcome(s) for your transition.

While you cannot control all aspects of any change, you can control your thinking and your response to your transition.

In doing so, you will shift your attention from what you don’t want to occur to more appealing prospects. With this shift to a more trusting mindset, you should feel calmer and more able to move forward and complete the tasks that will make you successful.

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

career counseling • outplacement & career transition services • relocation services • retention programs