Saturday, June 27, 2009

Choose your words wisely!

Inspired by @WallyBock

Chatting on Twitter the other night, Wally mentioned in passing that he was a vet. Wow I thought. He's an international leadership guru , writer, poet AND a vet. That's pretty amazing. I went into recruiter mode. Thoughts about wide ranging skill sets , the long years he must have spent in college and training, plus potential career paths all raced through my mind. Then I realised (just as quickly) that we were probably having a cultural mis-communication moment. In UK English "vet" is a commonly used abbreviation for veterinary surgeon, but in the US it tends to replace the phrase "war veteran".

The importance of word choice in communicating a message in job search strategies is a vital part of my coaching programme. It's key in CV writing and drafting internet profiles not only to be identified by Applicant Tracking Systems, but to identify your personal brand, which is the essence of your message. Strong language is absolutely essential in developing a correctly pitched elevator speech used in direct networking and interviews. They all require precise vocabulary, but presented in different styles and formats. Living in an international environment where English is the global business lingua franca, I also see people both communicating and confusing in their second, third or even fourth languages every day. It then occurred to me if two Anglophones can mis-communicate so successfully and we use vocabulary and word choice as a professional tool all the time, what are the implications for those that don't? I'm not talking about advertising spin either, but just presenting our message in a succinct and positive fashion, that everyone can understand and easily digest.

I coached someone recently who used this phrase "Used to work in a multicultural environment : continuous contacts internally with US and European colleagues. Daily contacts with customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa mainly"

What he had actually done was this: successfully identified market development opportunities in key emerging markets,( some very challenging countries which I can't specify for confidentiality reasons) created multi- cultural and cross discipline teams (requiring the management of significant cultural differences and business practises) to spearhead the launch of the product portfolio. The result was x increase( large number) to his company's bottom line. Was that obvious? Not at all. Same role, but which one is going to attract attention?

I have observed over time that there are generally two parts to this communication process: communication with yourself (internal message) and then communication with others (external message). Sometimes it is only about the use of effective "brand" language ( vocabulary), but quite often it's more than that.

So what needs to be done?

Internal communication: this is about self awareness and self insight. You need to identify and understand your own challenges and achievements - I know I keep bashing on about this - but it is key. If you don't know what you're good at - how can you expect anyone else to know? You are your own best asset. Recruiters don't have time to look for sub - text and to analyse the possible implications of what you've been doing in your career. We need to be told in very precise terms. Self insight also facilitates the interview process so you present yourself strongly verbally as well - this is your own brand development . It avoids the awkward pauses, repetition and embarrassing moments in interviews. But it is equally vital that you own your personal message. How do you define yourself? As the person in "daily contact" or the person who " spearheads"?

External communication: Choosing powerful vocabulary and phrases to get your message across in the best possible way in all media is really important. This is not boasting (that's about personality and delivery) or falsifying( that's about lying). It's your brand marketing. Would we buy Coke if it was advertised as a "brown fizzy drink" Probably not. Suggesting "refreshing" and "thirst quenching" or whatever else they say, produces a different and successful picture. Same about you! Use words such as: identifed, created, instigated, enhanced, extended, exceeded, generated, conceived, won, strengthened, secured, restructured, transformed to list just a few. Lose weaker words such as: facilitates, co-ordinated, set up, played a key role, contact etc. Let the facts speak for themselves and back up your achievements with incontestable examples or numbers.

If you are not a wordsmith, or English isn't your first language ,enlist support to help craft the most convincing CV possible to send a message you believe in. Why run the risk of being rejected because of some weak words? You don't want to be a "brown fizzy drink"!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom” Aristotle

Multi - tasking is our norm.

Many of us are so caught up in corporate “busy-ness” that we operate on automatic pilot, lose focus and stop paying attention, not just to our surroundings, but to ourselves. We do as many things as we can at one time in and actually take pride in it. Even boast about it! Constant contact is often not only expected, but demanded by bosses, peers and our families. For the few remaining hours before we finally sleep, we field never ending demands generated by our partners, kids, parents, hobbies, friends, homes and any other relationships in our “free “time.

At the same time there has been a marked cultural and economic shift to self- help. Many activities which were previously managed by a service provider we now do ourselves. Our personal hard drives are overloaded with processes we didn’t need to know before: shopping, banking, checking-in, ticketing and reservations, are all done on line. So our “busy-ness” has increased even further, but it has also led to a loss of basic daily interaction that makes us stop, think and engage with other human beings. A smile, a touch, an idle chat. Twitter is the new water-cooler time. Now, if we don’t pay much attention to ourselves, we pay even less to other people.

Scientists believe that as little as 1% of our brain is actively engaged in the activity we are presently “focused “on! I use the word “focus” lightly! This is not even when we are stressed when problems become our central focus when our capacity to pay attention is reduced further. According to Pareto, 80% of our activity generates only 20% of the results. Have you ever opened the refrigerator door and forgotten what you were looking for? No? Lucky you! You can see, with the complexity of modern living, how easy it is for “life” to take on a momentum all of its own, and how effortless it is, to drift. To re-act, not act.

David E. Meyer, Professor of Psychology, in the Cognition and Perception Program, at University of Michigan, writes extensively on multi-tasking. He believes that excessive multi-tasking “can lead to chronic stress, with potential damage to the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems”. He maintains that flitting from task to task interferes with demanding and complex mental activities such as reading, having conversations and planning. This all contributes to an increase in the incidence of error. Tasks then take as much as 100% longer than they should to be completed. When we under perform and expectations (perceived and actual) are not met, stress levels increase yet again.

Clients in transition often expect me to write their CVs for them because they believe that I will do a better job than they would. Superficially, that might possibly be true. I could certainly write a successful looking document, but it would lack depth and as a career search tool its value would be for a limited period only. As I strongly believe “Find the key to yourself and every door in the world is open to you”, I have to refuse.

Some career coaches maintain that no one knows you like you do! I’m actually not so sure. My observation is that quite often people are so wrapped up in “busy-ness” that they don’t take/make the time to get to know themselves. So I always think it’s a good idea to at least check where they are on the “know thyself” spectrum. I ask clients to set aside some time, to do one small thing differently, anything that prompts them simply to think, to engage in what they are doing and to be in the moment they are actually doing it in. I encourage them to slow down and to get to know themselves, just thinking.

When I outline this idea many clients look at me askance, as if I’m asking them to sit cross legged in a corner, wearing orange robes, chanting and using “F” words ( no not that one – the other ones …Feelings.) ” What’s this got to do with my job and you writing my CV?” these hard headed executives ask. My personal belief is that it’s all key.

As coaches we all recommend different strategies to create some moments of focused thought - mono-tasking. To purists it’s not even mono-tasking – but I live in the grey world of approximation! Just eating, just jogging, just driving, just looking at a view, with no other distractions – only thoughts. Most people find it harder than they imagine.

We spend about 76000 hours in our lives working, so it’s important to get it as right as we can. So what do I suggest clients should be thinking about?
*What am I passionate about?
*What do I believe in? ( values)
*What are my life goals ( general)
*What are my professional goals (specific)
*What have my challenges in life been?
*How did I deal with them?
*What did I achieve?
*What skills did I call upon?

We then need to check that all these thoughts are aligned, so our chosen professional path is what we want to be doing, or somewhere close. I am passionate about tennis, but given my skill level, and any potential to improve being close to zero, clearly I can’t make a career out of it! So compromise and prioritising is required and some will be deal breakers and others won’t.

When we have completed this process and start to get to know ourselves, we can begin to take control and articulate our own message successfully and independently, in all circumstances. We might need some help – but no one can do it all for us. To make this happen, we need to be prepared to stop and just think.

For many of us, making even the smallest change can offer many new and exciting options.

First published June 16th 2009 edition of MindTram: Coaches Mojo.

Contact Colin Lewis : email: web site:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Small decisions can create BIG changes

We all think we do absolutely the best we can to resolve issues that challenge us. Losing weight, getting fit, looking for a job. But do we really?

As a recruiter and coach I play an active part in professional networks and also Linkedin discussion groups. I hear and see individual cries of frustration and anger every day: confused posts in group discussions or I take part in anxious telephone conversations or meetings. There is always the same underlying theme. Individuals are sending out their CVs to all and sundry, networking flat out, and are doing absolutely everything they possibly can to get a job. But something simply isn’t working. The economy, recruiters and HR are all working against them. Their pain is palpable.

There are a few that specifically catch my attention and I always check out their Linkedin profiles or look at their web sites and when I do, I can immediately see, as most career transition coaches could, where some difficulties might be rooted. It can be any number of things, incomplete Linkedin profiles, spelling mistakes, poor lay out on CVs and confusing web sites, a low number of connections and so on. So although these are tough times, there are still ways to improve those job searching odds of at least participating in the process.

It may just mean you have to do something different, something very small.

My observation is that it is the very act of being open to change is absolutely key. So I suggest looking at the following as a first step:

1. Log your results: Keep a log of all your job search efforts by date and detail each part of the search process . Each call, each CV you send out. Each networking event. What were the results? Is there an underlying pattern? If you are not making it out of the CV reject pile then you should consider examining the early part of your search- what can you change there? If you are falling down after an interview, evaluate that part of the process. Sometimes people lose track of exactly what they’re doing and especially when we’re stressed, our memories play tricks. We also fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing things in a certain way, when we’re not. Keeping a log gives an incontestable factual record, where no one can be fooled, not even ourselves.

2.How well are you communicating your message? Make sure your message is clear and strong. We tend to think what we’re doing is perfectly obviously to everyone else, but sometimes it isn’t, especially if you have a hybrid or highly technically function. I frequently see documents where what the individual is doing or has achieved, is not really clear, or sometimes not even stated at all. I don’t have time to search through a rambling 3 page CV trying to figure it out. Ask someone neutral from outside your function to review your web site,CV or elevator speech. If it’s clear to them, then it should be clear to everyone else.

3. Is your message powerful enough? I recently coached someone who had trebled the turnover of his business unit in his last job,but that wasn’t even mentioned on his CV. Another guy had closed a $ 0.5 billion ( yes billion) deal at head of state level and he hadn’t stated that fact in those exact words. So use strong vocabulary to market your skills and qualify all achievements with numbers. Don’t worry about boasting. Stating a fact isn’t bragging. It’s all in the delivery and manner and it is possible to recount your achievements without seeming egotistical .

4. Networking: Are you effectively tapping into your direct network and maximising all your contacts? The more people who know about your job search efforts the better. If you struggle with this as many do because being in transition isn’t easy, take steps to build up your resilience and confidence. Read my post: Action does overcome Anxiety. Do this before anything more serious such as depression kicks in. That is clearly going to lead to general health issues, as well as being a barrier to career success.

5. Connectivity: How well connected are you? Look at the number of connections you have on Linkedin. If you are not widely connected you will appear on a limited number of searches only. Remember this is a global database for recruiters and it's all about the maths. Numbers count. If you pride yourself on only being connected to people you know – now might be a good time to re-think your strategy. People who don’t know you could be searching for you. But you don’t know that. I am not an open networker, but 26000 people joined my network in the past 3 days. Your direct network will of course be extremely useful – but it would still be very unwise to rule out indirect networking.

6. Visbility: Raise your professional visibility both on line and off. On Linkedin you can monitor the number of times you appear in searches - check that out on a regular basis. Change key words and see if that makes a difference. Join groups. Participate in discussions. Answer questions. All of these things help raise your profile. Off line, volunteer for any sort of activity that will raise your visibility in your community, sector or profession. Attend networking events, write professional articles, join professional associations. Once again anything to raise your profile. Do you have business cards? How many do you give out a week?

7. Ask for feedback: Ask for feedback from any or all of the players in the recruitment process. If that’s not possible, many say they can’t get past gatekeepers or only get indifferent and unhelpful neutral answers, brainstorm with a trusted friend, peer or mentor who can communicate constructively possible areas needed for improvement.

If any of this fails consider enlisting professional help.

Socrates said that " Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change" As all of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum - give change a whirl.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When does " tailoring" your resumé become falsification?

I have recently become involved in several quite heated discussions about both "beefing up" resumés, or "dumbing" them down. Where do you draw the line when you are desperate to find a job that might be crucial to your economic survival? As a coach , I am obviously empathetic to the challenges of being unemployed and encounter clients’ job search frustrations daily. From a purely ethical point of view, my personal position is to always suggest that honesty is the best policy. But ethics and integrity aside, which can only be a matter of individual conscience, as a recruiter I can tell you some of the practical dangers of crossing the line.

By this I don’t mean writing a powerful resume, enhanced by strong vocabulary and key words to give a “ sales spin”. Or “tailoring” your CV towards a specific opening, emphasizing certain qualities and down playing skill or experience deficits. Unless you are applying to companies with a high churn, where clearly employees are not a high priority, or encounter an incompetent recruiter , then I suggest you factor in some of the following before you make a decision, because misrepresentation it is not without risk:

• A skilled recruiter will research you prior to interview. The internet is a global data base and recruiters use it constantly – so any changes or modification to your CV would need to be made consistently on every platform. You would need to check where you are listed, or if any reference has been made to you on any other documents, or in any circumstances, anywhere, even photo tags, which can be traced in cyber space.

• You will need to be prepared to account for any missing years , or perhaps convey that your seniority and experience in your previous employment was different to the reality. This might involve economy with the truth or outright lying. If discovered later there might be negative consequences which could damage your later career.

•You will need to prime your referees. They might have to misrepresent or even lie - same possible consequences as above.

•You might be asked to take psychometric tests or be given a behavioral interview where skills levels, either claimed, exaggerated or missing, should normally be identified.

•If discovered, you may alienate a company who could be a potential future employer.

•While you do all this you might miss a job, for which you are perfectly qualified, because word recognition software will by-pass you, because you are now presented differently in all media.

This is before even going into what might happen if you are hired and become that square peg in a round hole, combined with the stress of possibly being found out and the fear of constantly slipping up.

If you can openly and genuinely persuade a company to hire you at any level, with authentically presented qualifications and skills, that is very different to withholding or distorting information to get a job. As Mark Twain said “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”

This article was first posted in CareerRocketeer on June 12th 2009,
at the kind invitation of Chris Perry: Brand and Marketing Generator Twitter Follow @CareerRocketeer

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Job Search: Action Does Overcome Anxiety

I frequently hear clients telling me of their struggles to let people know that they are now unemployed.

Small things like writing an end date on their CV or Linkedin profile, for what is now their old job, are very challenging. Responding to the inevitable questions in networking events “Who are you with?” or “ What do you do?” leaves them feeling profoundly inadequate and nervous. Adjectives they use to describe themselves are “ stupid” and a “loser” .

In the words of Nina Ferrell "No pronouncement about you has value unless you agree with it." But when those thoughts are internal messages coming from YOU – how do you manage your mind to maintain motivation? Fortunately, your reaction to anything is one of the few things you can control and here are just a few strategies to help put these experiences into context:

Reframe the experience:

Examine the facts:

  • How many people are unemployed in your country, region or sector? You are one of many I would imagine, so the odds are stacked against everyone. When unemployment levels are at over 9% today there is no stigma to being without a job.
  • You are “ stupid” or a “loser” - lets look at this. One dictionary definition of stupid is " marked by a lack of intellectual acuity". What are your educational levels? What has your career and personal experience been to date? How would you describe anyone else, a neighbour or a colleague, with these levels of achievements, either academic, personal or professional? Where on the spectrum would you put “stupid” ? I imagine - nowhere. You are simply between jobs and in transition. Actors call it “ resting”, an excellent phrase.
  • Look at those same achievements and understand and acknowledge what you are good at. Keep a log of that list and read and update it regularly.
Turn transition into a positive experience

  • Look at your skill sets and identify areas where you could enhance existing skills, or gain new ones: learn a language, do an on-line course, do voluntary work. How you are responding to this “resting” period will be useful later on.
  • Use the time to formulate an action plan and set new achievable goals
  • When you achieve these goals –acknowledge that success, write it down and reward yourself. Remember this is a numbers game and initiative is better than inertia and action and activity overcome anxiety or angst .
  • Keep a log of your job search efforts so you can see in quantifiable terms exactly what you are doing.
  • Monitor your progress. Ask for feedback in case you need to do something differently.
  • Stay flexible and open minded.
Learn from previous experience

Look at the other challenges in your life and how you dealt with them. The skills that you had then and called upon, are basically unchanged ( unless there are health issues, which should be dealt with separately) and therefore still in your “tool box ” So you should be able to carry on using them.

Which challenges impacted you most?

  • How did you deal with them? Can you use those skills again?

  • Did you seek support? If so from whom?

  • What did you learn about yourself and others?

  • How did you inform yourself?

  • What made you feel more positive about the future?

  • Have you ever supported anyone else through a similar situation?

  • What did you say to them?
Log your negative messages

  • Identify and log your negative thoughts and see if they have appeared in your internal dialogue before. If they do, what are they? You will be able to see the ones that reoccur most frequently - check if there’s a pattern, and try to identify the ones that you are most anxious about. Acknowledging the existence of these thoughts is the first step at dealing with them. If you find this difficult, imagine advising a friend or colleague with the similar thoughts. Write down what you would say to him or her.
  • Sit down and challenge the negative thoughts that you have identified. You have them written down so examine every thought on that page. Now look at each one rationally. Ask yourself where you would place these thoughts on a “reasonableness scale 1- 10”? What actual evidence is there for and against? If you have a thought " I am never going to work again... ever" spend some time researching economic trends and re-frame your thought in the light of what experts are saying.
Take care of yourself

Now especially it is really important to look after your physical health and emotional well -being. Eat healthily, exercise and keep an eye on any symptoms of stress. But if you do struggle with anxiety over a long period, please do consider seeking professional career support, consulting a doctor or a counsellor.

But above all remember “There's no failure, only feedback. No mistakes, only outcomes" Thomas Hardman