Are you headed for burnout? – by Barbara Babkirk – July 24, 2014

It’s a term that’s bantered around a lot these days. But, what is burnout, really?

Herbert Freudenberger, a German-American psychologist first coined it in 1974. It’s broadly defined as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress”.

If you are asking yourself “Could this be me?” here’s a self test to help you determine if you are among the many Americans who are exhibiting signs of burnout.

Americans are not alone with this problem. In fact, dozens of countries have experienced their own versions of burnout. From Karoshi disease in Japan, which literally translates to “death by overwork”, the increase in stress-related sick days in Germany, to work-related suicides in France, the impact of working too hard is taking a worldwide toll.

There are many reasons people overwork or stay in a state of perpetual busyness.

Most reasons are based in a fear of losing something important—jobs, financial security, respect of co-workers, the next raise or promotion or even the affection of a parent or loved one.

Making choices out of fear usually takes people in a direction that is counter-productive and even dangerous to their health and well-being.

Yet for many, acting out of fear evokes a knee-jerk response that’s rooted in self-protection, made without a rational thought process.

Over-doing it can become a habit, but one that can be unlearned with the first step of awareness.

Then next time you find yourself overworking and wishing you could enjoy more of life, think about what is driving you.

If it is fear of something that has not yet happened, bring yourself back to today and consider your options in real time. Perhaps some of the resources listed on our website may help you gain a different perspective.

Bring clarity to your professional brand – by Scott Woodard – July 21, 2014

In an earlier post on “Developing Your Professional Brand”, I mentioned Dorie Clark’s quote that your professional brand ”is about figuring out who you really are and what you do best, and then living that brand out. It’s the essence of authenticity;” and that there are four cornerstones to be addressed when developing your professional brand: PurposeClarityFocus and Strategy.

This post focuses on Clarity.

Clarity is about determining what you’re good at; what you like to do; what you don’t like doing. Related to this, is where you would like to do what you’re good at.

Getting clarity around your professional brand is a critical element of knowing the value you bring to a prospective employer or client. It’s about knowing your unique talent, or as Laura Garnett calls it,your “inner genius,” that which you do better than anyone else.

For many, it’s hard to assess your inner genius simply because what you do well, you do intuitively. You don’t think about what it is you do best and how you do it. You see an problem, jump in and solve it. However, it’s really important to be able to articulate how you add value to a project, a team, an organization. You can’t assume a prospective employer or client will figure it out.

When I meet with a client for the first time, I ask a series of questions that are designed, in part, to get clarity around their professional brand. I’ll ask about their favorite job and what was most appealing about it. I’ll ask what they liked least about it as well. I’ll want them to tell me their top strengths and skills; and conversely, their weaknesses. I’ll ask them what they are most proud of in their career. Then I’ll ask, “in a sentence or two, what is it you do well?’

Typically, their response to that last question provides a great deal of clarity around their professional brand. In fact, it often is the basis for their professional tagline that we use in their LinkedIn profile and resume.

Some folks, though are stumped by these questions. They’ve never given them much thought. They’ve just proceeded through their careers doing what they do, without giving it much thought. They may have a sense of what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing in their job, but they can’t articulate it in terms of their value.

For these people, we’ll often have them take the StrengthsFinder assessment. This timed, online assessment lists their top five strengths or themes, which provide a framework for them to articulate their unique talent. Armed with these themes, they can determine their unique talent and the value they can bring to an employer.

Being clear about what you do best and how you do it, gives you a competitive advantage in the world of work. You can position yourself as a potential asset to an organization — someone who adds value — as opposed to a commodity, who is easily replaced with someone younger, cheaper and faster.

So, over to you…Can you be clear about what you do best, about the value you add? Can you articulate your inner genius?

Four steps toward a more professional social media presence – by Amy Jaffe – July 11, 2014

So, I just joined Facebook! I know, I know, I’m very late to the party.

One of the reasons I hesitated for so long is that social media can be scary. It’s a place where our professional and personal lives intersect, and one simple click can damage a reputation permanently.

Having joined, I’m excited to catch up with old friends, follow local businesses, and connect with community groups and events. But I have another motive:  I want to better understand how Facebook plays a role in the networking strategy of a job seeker.

As a career counselor, I already recognize the power of LinkedIn: surveys show that recruiters and HR managers source up to 90% of their candidates there.  As LinkedIn has become a top source for companies to find job candidates, it’s an indispensible resource for anyone looking for a job. As my colleague Scott Woodard says: “if you’re not on Linkedin, you’re not in the job search game.”

Yet many people are reluctant to join LinkedIn.  In my work – helping young adults and clients in their 20s, 30s and 40s establish their career path – I sometimes must struggle to convince others of its importance. I share the statistics. I suggest Scott’s LinkedIn workshop. But they sometimes still hold off. And I get it – joining a network of one billion is intimidating, especially for younger people with limited professional experience.

While Facebook may not be the primary site where recruiters discover candidates, it can certainly be a site they visit to learn more. And it can also be a useful resource for job seekers – a place to research organizations, follow brands, get a sense of a company’s culture and communication style, and, of course, connect with other people.  When targeting a potential employer, you may be able to find connections through Facebook in addition to LinkedIn.

Regardless of the site – LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest , or others – it’s critical to establish and maintain a professional image in cyberspace. Here are four steps you can take:

  1. Keep it professional. Include basic information about your background, experience and interests. If you are actively searching for a job, be aware that recruiters may use LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media to screen candidates. In some cases, employers have rescinded job offers after discovering inappropriate material or a misrepresentation of a candidate’s qualifications on social media.
  2. Keep it clean. Avoid references to drinking alcohol or using swear words. A recent survey showed that more than 40% of recruiters avoid candidates who refer to alcohol on social media. And type carefully! More than two-thirds of recruiters say they avoid candidates with grammar mistakes in their posts.
  3. Keep it private. Be mindful of your privacy settings. Share sensitive information, photos and news only with people you know and trust. Make sure you retain control of who can post information and photos of you.
  4. Google yourself. Do a thorough check to see what others see when they search for you online. It’s important to review this regularly and stay in control of what’s out there. If there is something less than professional, research and work to have it deleted from ber-space.

In 2014, it’s not enough to have a great resume and cover letter. Your online and social media presence is part of how the world – and current and prospective employers – sees you.

Don’t lose it if you lose your job – by Barbara Babkirk – July 3, 2014

You may think it will never happen to you.

Yet, an average of 54,000 Americans lose their jobs each day due to a variety of reasons from restructuring to company closings.

freaked out kittyIf you’ve been laid off, you’ll likely feel shocked. Then you can expect a series of emotions that come and go in no particular sequence. These emotions often reflect the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. It’s important to know that these feelings are normal and that they will pass.

One of the most difficult aspects of being laid off is feeling that something has happened TO you. If you had been thinking about resigning for a while, you might even become self-critical that you didn’t act first.

Rather than dwell on the circumstances, begin to create a plan to regain control of your career.

You may be asked by your employer to sign a document outlining the terms of your separation and requesting certain conditions of confidentiality.

Under these circumstances, you might seek legal counsel before signing to make sure the terms are clear and to determine the fairness of what is offered in light of years of service, position and particular circumstances.

While there is no Maine law that mandates a severance package when a person is laid off, in my experience, it is common for employers to offer one.

This may include compensation for a period of weeks (often it’s one week of pay for each year of service), continuing health benefits, and outplacement/career counseling services to help you transition to new work. It’s always a surprise to me that not everyone who is offered this service takes advantage of it.

Even if you feel confident about your ability to find work, outplacement/career counseling services are offered by experts, and chances are you’ll learn something that will help you transition more effectively and quickly.

Consider the following tips if you lose your job:

  • Let yourself experience a range of feelings and know that you’ll get back on an even keel later in your job search process.
  • Carefully read the severance agreement from your former employer and consider seeking legal counsel before signing.
  • Request outplacement/career transition services and ask to work with a local person or company. If your employer offers services with a national firm, they are not likely to have information on the local marketplace. (A typical range of outplacement service is from one to six months, depending on your length of time with the company and the position you held.)
  • Ask your former employer if they will support your pursuing unemployment benefits and whether or not they will provide a reference for you.
  • Avoid unproductive conversations with former colleagues who want to “fill you in” on current chatter in the organization. These conversations will impede your efforts to move on and keep you mired in a sea of difficult emotions.
  • Update your resume and LinkedIn profile and line up professional references.
  • Contact your local Career Center and find out how to file for unemployment compensation as well as the amount you’ll receive and when you can expect your first check.
  • Establish a plan of action that focuses on strategic conversations with people in your field or in a new arena you’d like to pursue.
  • Seek assistance from a qualified career counselor/outplacement consultant for help with your plan.
  • Stay positive and think about the outcome you want instead of what you fear might happen.

Purpose, meaning and work – by Scott Woodard – July 2, 2014

In my post, “Developing Your Professional Brand“, I noted Dorie Clark’s comment that your professional brand “is about figuring out who you really are and what you do best, and then living that brand out. It’s the essence of authenticity.” I mentioned that four cornerstones need to be addressed when developing your professional brand: Purpose, Clarity, Focus and Strategy.

Today, I want to address the first of these, Purpose: your why – the cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.

I’ve been re-reading a terrific book by Geoff Bellman: Your Signature Path: Gaining New Perspectives on Life and Work. Bellman wrote this book in the mid-90s, but it is a timeless piece on how to reframe what you see and how to act on it. His premise can be summed up in this quote: “We don’t always need new skills to be successful; we often just need a new perspective.”

Many of us seek purpose through our work. Bellman’s ideas dovetail nicely with Simon Sinek’s admonition to “start with why”; to begin with your motivation and purpose as the basis for what you do and how you do it. Like Sinek, Bellman notes that we’re most comfortable talking about our practice — the “Whats” and the “Hows.” However, “the focus on practice can lead us away from our purpose.  Our methods can lead us away from our meaning.” The “Whys” drive us toward discovering our higher purpose; they speak to our motivation, our passion.

Bellman goes on to address the intersection of passion and work, which he notes, are seldom considered together. He mentions that while the world of work is more demanding and less secure, people are hopeful about work as a path to life meaning (and this was 1996). He offers some exercises to assist in linking passion to work, entitled “Romancing the Grindstone.”

As we seek purpose in our work, we are more motivated and passionate about that work — more engaged. And engagement produces mastery — becoming better at something that matters. In a world where only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work, achieving a sense of purpose seems vital to everyone’s well being.

In this era, where it’s critical to develop your professional brand — bringing who you are to what you do — knowing your purpose – why you do what you do — may well lead to a whole different set of actions, maybe even a new job, that provides more meaning in your life.

So, over to you…Can you gain a new perspective; one that focuses on your purpose? Can you begin with why – focus on your motivation and passion, rather than on the what and the how? Can you provide meaning to your work? Can you define your work with meaning? Can your passion drive your purpose?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Are you more than your job title? – by Barbara Babkirk – June 19, 2014

“What do you do?” was a dreaded question for a client who had recently lost her job. Sally, as I’ll call her, was embarrassed that she lacked what she thought would be an acceptable response and consequently avoided most social gatherings.

Wanting to come out of hiding, she asked me for ideas about how to address these awkward situations that brought to light a larger issue with deep roots in our current culture.

To many Americans, a person’s work is part of their identity. How they introduce themselves colors our perspective and sometimes our opinion of them—even before we know anything else about them.

I thought about how this phenomenon is prevalent in our country, but not in others.

Having spent over 30 years traveling in France, I could not recall an instance when I was asked, or when I thought it appropriate to ask, about a person’s “métier” or work at our first introduction.

In France, it’s often the case that a person is introduced and immediately identified in terms of their connection to another person (e.g. Roger’s aunt, or the cousin of the banker). It’s not part of the French culture to be so bold or personal as to ask, “What do you do?” especially in the first meeting.

Yet, in the U. S., most of us don’t hesitate to broach the subject of someone’s profession as soon as we know their name. In doing this, we act as though there is no boundary between who we are and what we do.

Our culture’s implicit connection between work and identity can have a damaging impact on a person’s self esteem when they lose their job or when they decide to take time out from the workplace to raise children.

While it is natural to experience loss when any particular aspect of our life ends, it is not healthy to believe we are without value or worth when we find ourselves without a job. Yet, this is a common feeling for people who are not working.

While the experience of being without a job has its particular difficulties, it also has rich opportunities for growth and increased self-awareness. When a person can no longer look to the superficial contexts of job title, employer, or salary for their identity, they are more likely to discover the deeper, more meaningful aspects of who they truly are.

Developing your professional brand – by Scott Woodard – June 10, 2014

Your professional brand “is about figuring out who you really are and what you do best, and then living that brand out. It’s the essence of authenticity.”

~ Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future


There has been a great deal of discussion these days, in the career development field, about “personal branding” — bringing who you are to what you do. At Heart At Work Associates, we use the term “professional branding” for the same issue. We want our clients to focus on the value they bring to an organization. That’s what will differentiate them from others competing for the same positions.

In the “new normal” of careers and work, there are several factors driving the need to develop your professional brand, to articulate your value proposition, demonstrate the impact of the work you do:

  • 83% of current employees are looking for new jobs this year;
  • Hundreds of applications are received for each position posted;
  • Employees stay an average of three to five years at their jobs;
  • People may change careers several times during their lifetime; and
  • People are working well beyond traditional retirement age.

Given these dynamics, it’s imperative that you can speak to your professional brand.

“In today’s market, your career is a business that you own, and your employers, current and future, are your customers.”

~ Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Professional branding has changed quite a bit in the last ten years. Back in the day, as late as 2004, your brand was your job title as assigned by your employer. It was typically defined by responsibilities and tenure (“15+ years’ experience…Responsible for…”); and it was conveyed by your resume.

These days, your professional brand is how you market yourself to others. You get to decide. Your brand is defined by results and focuses on value (“Generated X% increases in savings/revenues/efficiencies/etc…”); and it’s conveyed by social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Google+ and others.

As you develop your professional brand, there are four cornerstones you need to address:

  • Purpose — Your why – the cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.
  • Clarity — What you like to do, as well as what you don’t like doing. What you’re good at.
  • Focus — What is the story you tell about yourself and the value you bring? What is the story you tell others about that value?
  • Strategy — Moving to action; what are the key steps you need to take to get to where you want to be.

These four cornerstones provide the framework for your professional brand.

So, over to you…What is your professional brand? Can you clearly and concisely articulate your unique value? Can you share stories that effectively convey that value?

Are you in America’s 13%? by Barbara Babkirk – June 5, 2014

en•gage: to occupy a person’s efforts or attention.

A recent Gallup poll indicated that a mere 13% of Americans are engaged at work.

So, which describes you—focused and attentive at work or bored and distracted much of the time?

The desire to feel more engaged at work is one of the most common issues presented by our career counseling clients—and it’s the primary reason why individuals want to change jobs or careers.

The initial cost to employers to train a new employee is about $3,000, not to mention the on-going investment employers make in professional development as years go by.

It’s not surprising that employee engagement has become a key buzz phrase in human resource circles as employers seek to increase retention in a labor pool that is increasingly getting older.

Here are questions to consider as you explore your own work engagement:

  • What aspects of your work engage you?
  • How do you know when you’re engaged?
  • In any given week, what percentage of your time do you spend in activities to which you feel connected?

As you think about your responses, do you see patterns? Are that clues about how you might restructure your work?

Perhaps a conversation with your boss is in order before you assume you have to move on to another position.

What will you begin this spring? by Barbara Babkirk – May 13, 2014

Spring! It’s all about awakening and new growth when nature beckons us to join in the flow of new beginnings. What will you start anew this season?

Do new possibilities await you in your work or career? Whether you get clear on your marketable skills, update your resume, request a raise, or change career direction, spring can be a good time to align yourself with the rhythms of nature and initiate a change.

Imagine that you had the ability to instantly shift something about your work life. Think for a moment about what it would be. How would your life be different with this change in place?

What do you imagine is keeping you from this desired change? If you are like most people, at least some of your thoughts are based on false assumptions. Yet, you make decisions, eliminate options or dismiss perfectly good ideas because of them.

Rather than needlessly negating your desire for a work-related change, consider the following steps:

  1. Identify what you desire. Don’t let your assumptions limit you.
  2. Recognize the beliefs that negate what you want. Sort out the facts from your assumptions or fears.
  3. Shift your beliefs so they reflect your desire. For example, perhaps you want return to school and pursue a new career direction. But you may think that you’d fail because it’s been years since you’ve been a student. In this case, your beliefs would be based on fear, rather than fact. An alternative would be to identify your needs and the support you might receive to succeed.
  4. Stay focused on the result that would emerge from the desired change. Note how your life would be different and how you would feel.
  5. Let go of the details about how it will all happen. It’s more effective and less anxiety producing to think about the “what” of your desire, rather than the “how” of it.
  6. Make it manageable. Identify one step you could easily take in the next week to bring you closer to your desire. Make sure you continue to take steps each week and don’t underestimate the significance of any action.

As for me, my rock garden needs an overhaul and the team at Heart At Work Associates has just launched monthly “Networking Made Easy” events for our clients and their guests. While they are very different initiatives, they each give me joy and delight that will keep me motivated and engaged.

Determining Your Competitive Advantage – by Scott Woodard – April 29, 2014

Sustainable career success is being able to define and articulate your competitive advantage. It’s the foundation of your entire career strategy. It’s what you do better than anyone else. It helps answer the question, “What should I be doing with my life?

In their book, The Start-up of You, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha outline the three critical elements that form one’s competitive advantage: your assets, your aspirations/values, and the market realities – the supply and demand for what you offer relative to the competition.

Your assets are what you presently have: your strengths, interests and network of contacts. Assets in isolation don’t contain much value. A competitive edge emerges when you combine different skills, experience and connections. Moreover, your asset mix is not fixed. You can strengthen it by investing in yourself. If you lack certain assets that would make you competitive, begin developing them.

Aspirations include your deepest wishes, ideas, goals and vision of the future regardless of external forces or your asset mix. They include your core values – what’s most important in your life. You may not be able to achieve all your aspirations as they often change over time. You should, however, identify the guiding principles that steer your thoughts and behaviors and that attract you to others with similar values and aspirations.

Regardless of how strong your assets and aspirations are, if they don’t meet the needs of a paying market – an employer, a boss, a client – they don’t provide a competitive advantage. Your success depends on employers, clients or partners choosing to buy your time. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked or how passionate you are, if someone won’t pay for your services it’s going to be a very hard slog. You need to be aware of market realities and to be able to respond in ways that are better, faster or cheaper than the competition.

Assessing and evaluating your competitive advantage is a lifelong process, not something done just once. A good career plan accounts for the interplay of these three elements – your assets, your aspirations ant the market realties. They all need to fit together. Evaluate each element in the context of the others; and do so on a regular basis. Building a competitive advantage in the marketplace involves combining the three elements at each juncture of your career.

The late Tip O’Neill famously stated that “all politics are local.” Similarly are competitive advantages. Find a market niche where your assets shine brighter than the competition’s. Carve out a professional niche in the job market by making choices that differentiate you from other smart people.  Find opportunities where there’s less competition and stand out.

Over to you…Can you identify your assets and aspirations? Can you find a market – an employer, a client – that will pay you for your skills, experiences and passion? What’s your competitive advantage?

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