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.

Phased retirement: an idea whose time has come – by Barbara Babkirk – September 4, 2014

“The American workforce is aging and this trend will reshape the U.S. workforce for the next decade and beyond.” AARP

In 2002, people over 55 accounted for 14% of the American workforce. Today, that percentage has jumped to a whopping 31%, with enormous implications for the nation’s employers.

Traditional retirement is fast approaching millions of Americans and there are inadequate numbers of younger workers behind them.

Consequently, employers will need to implement appealing and innovative work arrangements that attract and retain workers over 50 to stem the “silver tsunami” of those exiting the workforce, leaving employers with an estimated three trillion in losses.

One work arrangement that has the potential to address a number of issues associated with is “phased retirement”.

With no specific definition or set of standards, a phased retirement program allows employees to reduce work time in his or her job. It’s one strategy used to encourage hard-to-replace, experienced workers to postpone leaving the labor force all at once.

Across the United States, there are dozens of companies and organizations that have successfully implemented phased retirement programs. A few of them include: Cinergy (OH), Scripps (CA), Mercy Health Systems (WI), Securian (MN), Kelly Services (MI) and here in Maine, The University of Maine System.

Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work, SHRM and AARP have teamed up to provide information and resources to organizations wanting to explore this option.

Does your organization offer a phased retirement program? Please let me know.

Developing your professional brand: Strategy and Execution – by Scott Woodard, August 27, 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
Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about the cornerstones of your professional brand. So far I’ve addressed Purpose, Clarity and Focus. Today, I’ll address the final cornerstone: Strategy.
You will recall that  Purpose is about your why — the cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do. Clarity is about determining what you’re good at; what you like to do; and where — or with whom — you would like to do what you’re good at. Focus is about the stories you tell that conveys the value you bring.
Strategy then, is how to get to where you want to be. It’s the execution phase of developing your professional brand.
Strategy is about identifying opportunities — organizations and the people in those organizations — that will help you realize your professional brand. It’s about leveraging your professional (and, in many cases, personal) relationships. It’s about networking, informational interviews and strategic conversations.
Above all, strategy is about people: “People hire people they know, or people they know know.” Key decision makers and hiring managers tend to meet with those who have been referred by trusted sources. And it’s access to these decision makers and managers that will generate the requisite action you’re seeking — a role that optimizes your professional brand.
One of the best tools to use in executing your strategy is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the key platform for conveying your professional brand and for executing your strategy in connecting with those all important decision makers. There are over 300 million individual members and over 100 million corporate members on LinkedIn. It’s the major recruiting tool for organizations seeking new talent. So, if you’re not there…you’re not there.
The trick in using LinkedIn effectively is to have a strong profile that conveys your professional brand and to leverage your network to gain access to decision makers. Use your first-level connections to gain face-to-face introductions to significant second-level connections, i.e., referrals.
Once you meet with those selected decision makers, ask key questions that will convey information you can use to align your brand with their needs. Such questions include:
  • What’s the biggest challenges your organization is facing over the next six-to-nine months?
  • What are the implications of not meeting those challenges?
  • What are the resources that can prevent you from meeting those challenges?
Within the responses to these questions lie the opportunity to be the solution to their problems. Decision makers hire people to solve their problems. Show them that you’re the solution they’re looking for.
So, over to you…Can you execute an effective strategy that aligns your brand with an organization’s needs. Can you convey your value? Can you be the solution they need?

What’s your post retirement plan? by Barbara Babkirk – August 20, 2014

I overheard a conversation at a restaurant recently that went like this:

“Jenny is retiring from her teaching career next year, but she doesn’t have a clue about what she’ll do next, because she doesn’t want to stop working altogether.” Does this sound like you or someone you know? Chances are the answer is “yes”.

Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, comprise 30% of the population in Maine—a significant slice of the workforce.

Research shows that the majority of boomers expect, for a variety of reasons, to work at least until they are 72—but not necessarily in their primary career and definitely not in the same way.

Boomers who retire from careers of many years may return to the workforce, but want to have more control over their time at work, less responsibility, flexible hours, opportunities to learn on the job and to make a difference.

From my perspective as a career counselor who works primarily with this demographic, I’m noticing the following:

  • Just entering their 50’s, the younger boomers have not begun their exodus from primary careers, but they are starting to think about what’s next.
  • Middle boomers seem to be floundering as they prepare to enter retirement and leave positions, organizations and careers that have been a significant part of their identity. They are floundering, in part because they are pioneers reinventing this life stage and because they are not clear about options since employers have not yet figured out a way to incorporate them back into the work place.
  • The older boomers seem the most ready to end working altogether and focus on family, travel and leisure time pursuits, while still interested in being of value in their communities.

Here are a few great resources to help you explore your options in retirement:

The Third Chapter by Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife by Marc Freedman, and Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose by Richard Leider.

How is your personality impacting your career? by Barbara Babkirk – August 12, 2014

Once very happy with her company and career progression, Jane was now rethinking her career direction because of how she related to her new manager.

“I just can’t seem to get my point across to him”. “He is very different from me and I feel intimidated and as though I can’t meet his expectations.”

That was how Jane recently reported her frustration and concern about her relationship with her new boss. She was on the verge of quitting and wanted to explore options beyond her current job. One of my tasks as her career counselor was to help her determine her options and ultimately decide if a move was in her best interest.

After hearing examples of difficult interactions with her manager, I decided that she would benefit from a different perspective on her situation—one that considered differences in personality type between herself and her boss.

Developed to better understand the personality theory of Carl Jung, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a widely used assessment that’s been translated into 21 languages and administered to over 1.5 million people annually. The MBTI is a way to better understand ourself and develop greater appreciation and tolerance for other’s differences.

Jane took the assessment and felt confident about her four-letter type after reading about characteristics and behaviors associated with it. With her newfound knowledge of personality type, she began to understand how she differed from her boss and how those differences impacted her interactions from communication to expectations.

Through the lens of the MBTI and her personality type, Jane was able to consider her less-than-stellar performance review in a way that allowed her to see her work from his perspective.

She acknowledged that her boss was expecting her to stretch beyond her comfort zone in several areas. Type knowledge helped her understand why this was difficult for her, but also helped her see how she could do this in a variety of ways, not just how her boss would do it.

As a result of her increased understanding of personality type, Jane felt determined to stay with her company and challenged to improve her performance.

For those who have taken the MBTI and want to explore its relevance to work, read Do What You Are, by Paul and Barbara Tieger for an in-depth view of how knowledge of one’s type can help clarify appropriate options and shape career decisions.

Bring Focus to Your Professional Brand: The story you tell about yourself and your value – by Scott Woodard – August 3, 2014

In his book, The Power of Story: Change Your Story, Change Your Destiny in Business and in Life,” Jim Loehr notes that we tell stories to help us navigate through life because they provide structure and direction. The stories we tell give our lives meaning.

Loehr argues that the most important story we tell is the one we tell ourselves: “if you aren’t the author of your own story, you’re the victim of it.” At the heart of our story is purpose. Purpose gives our life story meaning, it is never small, but grand, heroic and epic, it’s our ultimate mission in life, that which continually renews our spirit. Our ultimate mission spells out our most overarching goals and how to achieve them.

As one of the four cornerstones of your professional brand (the others being PurposeClarity and Strategy), Focus is about the stories you tell that conveys the value you bring.

Are you telling the story about your career that you want people to hear? Are you telling it in a way that they can hear it?

Regardless of where you are in in your career – looking to achieve the next level, from tactician to strategic decision maker; or as a senior leader to an organization – you need to tell a story that demonstrates value.

If you’re relying on old stories, you won’t be successful in achieving your goal. If you’re a subject matter expert that wants to rise to a leadership role, and you are telling stories of your technical prowess, you’re not showing how you can exercise leadership. If you’re a senior leader that relies on stories emphasizing 25 to 30 years experience, you’re telling potential employers that you’re too old, too experienced, too expensive.

Your story needs to convey value. Stories that speak to responsibilities don’t show accomplishments; stories that begin with 20 plus years experience, don’t demonstrate current value.

So how do you tell a story that conveys value?  This is one of the most difficult challenges for people seeking new positions.  What you do well, you do intuitively.  You don’t think about it.  You come into a situation, size up the challenge and act.  While you’re often relying on past experience, you’re also influencing outcomes, that is, creating value.

Your story needs to show how you have influenced positive outcomes; how you’ve improved the situation.  This is not reflected in technical competence or in past responsibilities.  It’s reflected in accomplishments.

Tell your story in a way that can be heard by the potential employer.  First, it needs to be relevant to their situation.  If you’re telling a story that’s not relevant, you’re not conveying value.  Second, your story needs to be concise.  Briefly outline the challenge; describe your actions to resolve the challenge and conclude with results – the impacts of your actions.  Sometimes, these results are expressed quantitatively – revenues generated, cost savings, increased sales.  Other times they’re qualitative results.  Regardless, make sure you convey their significance.

So can you tell stories that reveal accomplishments; that show how you’ve influenced positive outcomes; that demonstrate value?  Can you tell them briefly and succinctly?

What’s your story?

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.

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