More Wisdom for Life’s Transitions

October 22, 2009
  1. The world fears a new experience more than it fears anything.  Because a new experience displaces so many old experiences…The world doesn’t fear a new idea.  It can pigeon-hole any idea.  But it can’t pigeon-hole a real new experience. D.H. Lawrence
  2. Every path to a new understanding begins in confusion. Mason Cooley
  3. The middle of every successful project looks like a disaster. Rosabeth Moss Cantor
  4. When things reach maturity, they decay of themselves. Lao Tzu
  5. Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you…Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition. Florida Scott-Maxwell Read the rest of this entry »

Wisdom for Life’s Transitions

October 20, 2009
  1. Most people do not resist change. What we resist is transition. Change is a situational shift. Transition, on the other hand, is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then taking hold of the way they subsequently become. In between the letting go and the taking hold again, there is a chaotic but potentially creative “neutral zone” when things aren’t the old way, but aren’t really a new way yet either. William Bridges
  2. Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood. Henry Miller
  3. There is a time for departure, even when there’s no certain place to go. Tennessee Williams
  4. Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. Anonymous
  5. The door into life generally opens behind us, and a hand is put forth which draws us in backwards. George MacDonald Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Meaning in a Job Search

October 15, 2009

In outplacement I once met a displaced executive who was very angry after being let go from his previous job. He had been treated unfairly and was so consumed with anger that he was unable to get on with his life.

To help him regain his balance, he’d met several times with his priest who said, “You must to get to the point where you can pray for your former boss.”

One morning my new-found friend boasted that he was finally able to pray for the one who had done him wrong. “Every morning,” he said, “I pray that my former boss will get run over by a bus.”

After a good laugh, we both agreed that wasn’t what his priest had in mind. What he needed was to forgive and then move on without hoping for revenge.

When I’ve been in transition, I’ve tried to find the purpose and meaning within the circumstances. Even though things usually seemed confusing at the time, I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. I’ve learned that if I’m patient, somewhere down the road understanding will come.

The biblical story of Joseph tells how he was treated unfairly, punished unjustly and then forgotten. It must have been a lonely, painful and confusing time, but it was not wasted time. Joseph sorted things out and later, after achieving great career success, said to those who had wronged him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”

Somewhere, embedded in your circumstances, you can find meaning. Somehow, even when you’re in a free fall, you can discover opportunities to learn and to grow. Heroes are made in the midst of strange and uncertain times. Be a hero.

Five Years of Living Strong

September 25, 2009

Exactly five years ago today I placed a bright yellow band on my wrist. Imprinted on it were the words Live Strong.

During the past half decade I’ve never taken it off—not even once.

Five years ago my life was forever and dramatically changed. I was totally shocked when the doctor found a large malignant tumor inside my left eye. I had a rare form of melanoma on—of all places—my retina.

With that sudden and jolting news, I quickly rearranged my calendar and within the next six weeks my wife and I had flown to Boston twice. There I received the very best medical care from a world-renowned specialist and ophthalmology professor at Harvard University’s School of Medicine. On the first trip I underwent general surgery to prepare my eye for the second visit a couple weeks later. Then, on the second trip, I spent five consecutive mornings in an underground concrete bunker adjacent to Massachusetts General Hospital where my tumor was zapped with a powerful proton beam.

During that time I had no idea what the future held, but I realized that each day is a very special gift from God. To keep that realization uppermost in my mind, I purchased the yellow wristband. There on my arm, the words “Live Strong” reminded me to be strong and to live life to its fullest. Read the rest of this entry »

What Can You Do?

September 24, 2009

—Making promises during a job search

I was once being interviewed for an executive job in Ohio. At the time I had not yet completed my master’s degree, so I asked the company CEO if that would work against me. “I don’t care how much you know,” he replied. “I want to know what you can do.”

During a job interview, the hiring manager is not thinking about you. He’s thinking about himself. He’s not concerned about your success, your knowledge or your experience—except as it relates to him and to his success, his profitability and his ability to look good.

With that realization, you should focus your job search communication on what you can do. Occasionally you may need to mention your degree, your experience or your achievements. But those should always be presented as evidence of what you can do in the future.

Twice I’ve hired candidates who presented me with a list of things they intended to accomplish during their first 90 days on the job. Admittedly the lists needed revision, but I was impressed to know that the applicants were already thinking about the work needing to be done. Both candidates sold me on what they could do, not on what they knew, where they’d come from or what they had done. They demonstrated that they were already engaged and eager to get started. Momentum was already building. I appreciated the thinking that both individuals had shown, and I rewarded them with key leadership opportunities on my already-successful marketing team.

Making “campaign promises” during a job search requires a combination of two important elements—introspection and research.

Introspection. Before you really know what you can do, you have to look inside yourself and become fully aware of what you have already done, where you’ve been successful and what types of work have made you feel most alive and productive. You then have a good idea of what you can do.

Research. To find the ideal match for you, you will also need to research market trends, study the major projects of targeted companies and understand the priorities of the hiring manager. You will be well positioned to achieve exceptional success when there is alignment between a) what you can do and b) what they need.

My advice to anyone in a career transition is to talk about what you can do. In other words, change the sentence, “I’m looking for a job in ______________.” to “I’m looking for an opportunity where I can ______________.”

Many LinkedIn status reports describe the type of job the person is looking for. I was impressed, though, when one of my jobless friends stated that he was “looking for a sales opportunity where I can generate exceptional revenue.” He talked about what he could do. Before long he found a great job and is now doing what he promised he could do—making sales and generating revenue.

So my question of you is:  What can you do?

What Have You Done?

September 22, 2009

—Telling your story during a job search

When I’m interviewing someone for a job, I’m always impressed when he or she confidently talks about career achievements. Those who interview well are those who describe their accomplishments in a story format, and the ones who rise to the top are those who tell their stories in three parts—a beginning, a middle and an end.

You can effectively describe your achievements if you tell stories that cover these three things:

  1. The situation. Describe the circumstances you found yourself in. Perhaps you were given a problem that needed to be fixed. Or maybe you were assigned to lead a project with declining revenues or eroding market share. Maybe you inherited a team with low morale or poor productivity. Describe the problem (but no whining, please).
  2. Your action. Then, talk about what you did to address the situation. Maybe you developed a plan and implemented new procedures or systems. Perhaps you hired and trained new employees, coaching them to work together cohesively as a team. Maybe you identified an untapped market for your product or services.
  3. The results. As a result of your actions, what measurable impact did you have? What positive results did you produce? How was your department, your organization or the community a better place because of what you did?

When describing what you’ve accomplished, talk in the first person, using “I” rather than “we“—even if you were part of a team effort. I’ve sometimes interrupted interviewees who were proudly describing what their team had accomplished. I asked them to tell me specifically what their individual contribution was to the team’s success.

I recommend that you develop nine success stories using this formula (situation, action and results). Why nine? Because I love the rule of threes. You can always remember three things when you don’t have access to your notes and the pressure is on. So here’s how I came up with nine stories for your portfolio:

Three Positioning Themes. Select three broad categories that represent your professional accomplishments. These should be three differentiating attributes you want someone to know about you. Your interview answers should be anchored on these themes so that at the conclusion of the interview the other person will remember at least these three things about you.

Three Success Stories. For each theme, develop three stories describing your success in that area. Stories are memorable and will bring to life the three themes. Each story should be written, edited, honed and practiced. Then, during an interview, you’ll be able to tell the stories in an engaging, conversational tone.

It works best to have various versions of each story so you can adapt it to the specific situation. Sometimes you might need to be very succinct, telling your story in just one sentence. (“Faced with declining sales, I identified an untapped market and increased our revenue by 12% the first year.) By the way, the one-sentence version of your story should also be a bullet point in your resume. Other times the listener will want more information and you’ll be able to flesh out the details and tell a more complete story.

With the right preparation, you can approach your next interview with a relaxed confidence, knowing you’re just having a conversation with someone who wants to hear an interesting story.

…and they all lived happily ever after!

How Are You Different?

September 17, 2009

—Standing out during a job search

Not long ago I was hiring for an open position on my marketing team. I was bombarded with 200 applications—and that was before the economy went sour.

I personally looked at every single application. Very quickly, though, my eyes glazed over. Everyone looked alike. They all seemed to be saying the same thing. They even used the same words to describe themselves. Every cover letter, it seemed, had at least one of these sentences embedded in it:

I am an excellent communicator.

I’m very organized.

I’m a problem solver.

I am very results oriented.

I want to make a difference.

I am an experienced project manager.

I’m a great team player.

(Insert your own cliche here)

Sorry. I don’t mean to be jaded. I assume each applicant was sincerely speaking from the heart, but here’s my point:  When everyone said the same thing, I felt like I’d walked into a Baskin-Robbins store where the only flavor was vanilla. Everyone, it seemed, had bought the same book on writing cover letters and they even selected the same buzz phrases to use.

From the pool of applicants, some names drifted towards the top. I finally selected eight qualified candidates who looked different and intriguing. These were individuals who sounded as though they could engage with me in a worthwhile conversation. They also shared the following traits:

  1. They were unique. They did something to stand out from the rest of the pack. FYI, their ability to stand out was not by submitting a resume printed on neon orange paper. They differentiated themselves by a) what they said and b) how they said it.
  2. They were interesting. Several told me a story in their cover letter. (And yes, they were able to tell a story in a paragraph or less.) Their ability to tell interesting stories continued into the interview. That turned the interview into an interesting, interactive conversation rather than a one-way interrogation.
  3. They were themselves. That trait alone—being oneself—is often differentiating. As I looked for the right person, I was not looking for someone trying to fit a particular cookie-cutter mold. I wanted someone who was authentic, genuine and “comfortable in his/her own skin.”

My advice to any job seeker is:  Be different. Be unique. Or, as Simon Cowell used to tell American Idol contestants—”Be memorable!”

Who Are You?

September 15, 2009

—Defining who you are during a job search

Flying back from Phoenix, I was troubled because I hadn’t been “on my game” in a big job interview.

A major HMO was trying to recruit me for a senior executive position. On the surface, it seemed like the ideal job. The salary was excellent. The title would have looked very impressive on a business card. The responsibilities would have expanded my professional portfolio. I even liked the people I met with. So why didn’t I feel better about the trip? Where was the disconnect?

I searched for answers, and as I got quiet with myself, the reality became obvious:  I had no passion for that job. My heart wasn’t in it because the job responsibilities did not represent who I am!

At my core I’m a marketing professional. I love marketing. My degree, my experience and my heart are all anchored in marketing.

So what was I doing in Phoenix? Well, earlier versions of my resume were misleading. Don’t get me wrong—I hadn’t lied or deceived anyone. The problem was that my resume was too accurate and factual. It led people to make wrong assumptions about who I was. You see, my resume accurately listed the departments for which I had been responsible—marketing, planning, business development, physician services, medical staff recruitment, real estate (as in medical office buildings) and managed care.

Some of those areas—like managed care—were very hot items in the health care industry so recruiters were very attracted to those elements in my portfolio. I suddenly realized that my resume was so accurate that it was actually misleading. It failed to position me for who I am and who I wanted to be. I rewrote it to focus on my core passion—marketing. In the list of responsibilities, I refrained from using the term “managed care” and instead talked about how my portfolio had included building strategic alliances with business partners.

I honed my resume, cover letter and key messages to focus primarily on marketing. I then developed a professional profile (and an elevator speech) that met these criteria: Read the rest of this entry »

Where Are You Going?

September 10, 2009

—Focusing on your destination during a job search

Several years ago I was part of a methodical downsizing at a major suburban hospital. In outplacement, I went with my career coach to a job club. When it came time to introduce myself I stood and said:

I’m Duane Hallock, former Senior Vice President at Shawnee Mission Medical Center here in Kansas City. I am now looking for a job that will allow me to use the experience and skills I gained in that position.

Afterward my coach pointed out the obvious:  “Your entire introduction looked backward, not forward,” she said. “Others could see where you had been, but you did nothing to help them visualize where you are going.”

She then gave some of the best career advice I’ve ever received, telling me that a job seeker needs to:

  1. Be forward looking.
  2. Position yourself appropriately.

I’ve come to realize that, whether we like it or not, people are always trying to pigeonhole us. That’s human nature, I guess, and it’s especially true when someone is looking for a job. Read the rest of this entry »

My Personal Marketing Plan

September 8, 2009

You will never marketing anything more important than yourself.” My university professor paused for effect as he scanned the small group of us who were working on our master’s degree in marketing.

His comments caught me off guard. Quite frankly, I thought I already knew marketing, yet I’d never considered applying marketing principles to myself as if I were a product. My professor’s wisdom echoed in my mind, and through the years I grew to appreciate his sage advice even more.

Fifteen years later I stood before my own class of university students. With graduation approaching, these young people would soon be marketing themselves in a competitive job market, so I talked with them about applying marketing principles to their own job searches. I designed a tool for them to use in conducting a marketing audit on themselves. (This was a take-home assignment to be completed over spring break—the spiteful revenge of an instructor who noted that too many students skipped class on mardi gras to attend a sorority party.)

Later, when I lost my job as a marketing professional, I reached into my marketing toolbox, found that homework assignment and used it to develop a personal marketing plan for my own job search.

Read the rest of this entry »

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