Friday, July 31, 2009

Facts Talk

Last week I posted a blog about dealing with negative thinking. Surprisingly, two words prompted more response and questions than any other part of that piece. Facts talk. What did I mean? My response was met with disbelief! Facts get us out of our comfort zones.

Here’s why it shouldn‘t be!

A commonly used acronym for FEAR is: False Expectations Appearing Real. I first saw that phrase in the early 90s, but ironically, I have actually seen it twice in the last week alone in blogs written by Lolly Daskal and Conrad Palmer. It's worth repeating.

When we feel any sort of pressure or stress, we all have a tendency to lose sight of things as they really are. This is no "holier than thou " stuff, so don’t think I've got it all sorted . You are reading someone who has begged for air-rescue from a bunny ski slope! Essentially we become fearful (full of fear).

When we all lived in caves that sensation very conveniently kicked in to make us more alert for any potential "attacks". To protect ourselves against lions, tigers and bears our bodies are hard- wired to educate us to anticipate risk ( things that may or may not happen). So adrenalin kicks in and we shift into fight or flight mode, activated by the best kind of stress - motivation, energy, whatever you want to call it, the upward part of the curve. Now this good feeling switches to anxiety, when at a basic level we "fear" that we don't have the resources ( physical or psychological) to cope with perceived threats to our security and well being. We believe rightly or wrongly, that ultimately we might fail. Good stress therefore becomes bad stress (de-motivation). When lions, tigers and bears are involved, one could reasonably be forgiven for preparing for a gory death, a horrific maiming, or perhaps a long hard run for it.

Clearly now in our more evolved state, that is less likely to happen. However, our primal response facilities are still in place. Nobody told our DNA that. These fears are activated by more subtle circumstances: the unknown, rejection, or people discovering who we are, with all our weaknesses and flaws and that we will be deemed unworthy. For most of us, being full of fear is not the greatest sensation ( racing pulse, churning stomach, sweating, high pitched voice) The best way to avoid feeling out of breath, nauseous, sweaty and sounding squeaky, is simply to avoid fear inducing situations. Makes sense right? This means that we withdraw into a nice safe place when we feel fearful. Or we don't act at all. This means we stay in our nice safe place to prevent feeling fearful. In my case the hotel lounge!

We all have different things that make us anxious ( our weaknesses, actual or perceived ), so it is impossible to make sweeping statements in any generic fashion. But happily that too enables us to escape discovery. Someone might skydive with impunity, but worry about writing a mission statement. An engineer might deal with complex technical problems, but feel nervous about interviews. A graphic designer might make brilliant lay outs, but have no idea how to write a CV. Who would have thought? Exactly! No one. We're free and clear plus totally undiscovered. But wait...

At the same basic level we know that we should be out doing the things that make us breathless, sick and sticky, ( aka guilt). We have bills to pay, expectations to meet and our partners or friends are asking probing questions, so we have strategies in place to convince ourselves and "others" to create smoke screens. A computer is great for "busy-ness" and not doing anything. We tell ourselves that it is simply events or circumstances that are conspiring against us. Today, more than ever we are able to pass on our individual responsibility ( blame) to something amorphous and unaccountable. The recession.

But sometimes "others" don't buy into what we're saying , because they have "other" fears and somewhat inconsiderately, they feel perfectly comfortable with the job search process. Then we start making excuses. I could fill a whole page with the reasons I have invented not to ski so I wouldn't look "less than" or disappoint people who were important to me. Some of them were very creative. So in the words of Peter Williams " Unworthiness is the foundation of the comfort zone" .

Finally we're here. This is where facts talk. Facts are a big step. They get fear and guilt out into the open. You can then see that although everything is not perfect (nothing is ever perfect) , but they can be perfectly manageable. Facts provide messages. Messages lead to thought. Written thoughts leads to actions. Actions lead to solutions.

When looking for a job everyone should keep a job search log/progress sheet whatever you want to call it. Doesn't matter. You can make one yourself or use an online tool such as Jibberjobber ( Keep an accurate record of all the positions applied for and each stage of the process with dates: position, company, contact, date CV sent, method ( direct, on-line), response( telephone interview, direct interview etc) feedback. Most people, when asked, have no idea how many jobs they've applied for. Most people claim that they spend 6-10 hours a day looking for jobs. I can usually tell by the results, how engaged they are. It's quite often less than 6 -10 hours. If they need to network and only have 10 LinkedIn connections - I know they're not putting in the hard yards and so do they. More guilt. Having all that information laid out in factual form enables you to easily track all the detail relating to your job search and time management. Even not having feedback sends you a useable message.

So, if you are sending off CVs (more than 10- 15 depending on level, function, geographic location) with no response at all, what is that telling you? You need to play around with the CV, change something and monitor that result. Change it again if that doesn't work. If you get no further than a telephone screening - could it be that your telephone interview techniques needs some work? Same if you fall at the interview stage. If you can't find any jobs to apply for ( and there are still some jobs, they are just not advertised as openly) then perhaps you need to expand your network or online presence. But unless you can see it written down you will convince yourself that you are active on the job market, when really, although you're in front of your computer, perhaps spending more time reading something of personal interest (sports results, celeb gossip, international affairs) than researching openings. So track your time too - keep a time management log. Be brutally honest. Are you really engaged as much as you say, or just fooling around on Facebook or Twitter? Facts talk.

If you are struggling with any parts of the process over an extended period, please look at seeking support from friends, family, your network or a professional. You are your best asset - it's an investment in your future. If you don't act, you won't fail, but you won't succeed either.

Remember .. as Audrey Hepburn suggested, the letters in impossible also write I'm possible!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mind Management - No More Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly - but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (" busy-ness") when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage "mind over matter". Or mind matters!

I'm not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don't know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase "drowning in my own thoughts" to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times " being out of work for 2 years" and a need to explain a " 2 year gap on my CV". I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we're now July 2009 - how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was " opting out" and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is - a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you're reading this!)

So if you feel that anyone doesn't understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can't see what you're about - perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you're choosing to work with.

Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let's pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

ORIGINAL THOUGHT " Hmmm... I should apply for that job" write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait... if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won't know what to say ... **then I'll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview... **then they'll know how useless I am..** then I won't get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone....**then everyone will know I'm stupid and laugh at me.. **then I'll let my whole family down... ** then I won't get any job anywhere, ever... **then I'll never work again... then I'll have no money so I'll be bankrupt ... **then I'll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I'll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box ... **then everyone in the world will hate me...then

Hmmm ... OK.... I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower ...I'll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you're a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn't know you. Keep a job search log so you can't convince yourself into thinking that you're active when you're not. Facts talk.

The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink to job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don't want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The recession's silver lining: FunEmployment:

We are now heading towards the summer and those that can afford a holiday are looking forward to a break. Some are nervously awaiting half year results. Companies in all sectors are trying to find ways to reduce their salary bills, to synchronise operational activity with reduced customer demand. Some have made straight lay offs and redundancies, others are able to be more creative. Organisations from BA and KPMG to smaller companies in addition to forced lay offs, are offering employees voluntary extended vacations, sabbaticals,and reduced working days or weeks. The hope is that when the economic upturn does kick in, they will not have lost the pool of talent that has taken years to recruit and train.

In the past 6 months as a coach I have seen individuals transition from grief, shock, panic and despair, through adaptation and acceptance, but increasingly (in the last weeks only) to the slight beginnings of optimism, even from those who had to deal with the out- of- the- blue shock of losing their jobs. This is not to detract from the reality of everyone's situations. I am absolutely not doing that. Pensions and property values have been slashed the world over, bills still have to be paid and life savings are dwindling wherever you live. Out of work young adults are returning to the family home, with other unforeseen consequences, plus a myriad of other things too numerous to mention

What I am saying is despite all of these clearly negative experiences, it is amazing to observe a shift in response. People still claim, somewhat surprisingly, to see an unexpected "silver lining" in their circumstances.

I talked to an HR Director in the hospitality sector last week and he maintains that the response to his company's offer for employees to voluntarily reduce hours or take extended vacations has been very positive. "Employees seem to be jumping at the chance, even to take an unpaid sabbatical." he stated.

I wondered if my observations were regional. To test the water I put a mini-poll out on LinkedIn and found that the international responses did actually coincide with my own personal and local experiences. Yes, there was residual anger and unease about the future, but for most people there had been some very positive outcomes. Those that have opted to take reduced hours or were forced out of the job market, have now found that once they cut their cloth to match their new, reduced budget, they are enjoying a slower paced life.

So what are the overall benefits can individuals see in this dark cloud?

  • people have more time and energy to spend and share with their families and partners or nurture other close relationships
  • people enjoy waking up in their own homes and eating proper meals
  • some are travelling - perhaps on a budget, but getting to see new places now they have time
  • others are studying, renewing old qualifications or learning new skills
  • some are volunteering
  • almost all said they were focusing on their health dealing with weight or exercise issues
  • many said they are taking up the hobbies they had always wanted to, or picking up old ones
  • others are enjoying the extended vacations or sabbaticals - they had simply never been able to take the time out of the office or workplace before
  • some are working from home or looking into new business ventures
  • many said they hadn't been happy in their jobs anyway

Paul, a Customer Service Manager from Minnesota had his working week reduced to 4 days in January wrote " I initially panicked, wondering how we would survive financially. But then I realised I had been working 50 hour weeks, maybe more for years. With a 32 hour week ironically my hourly rate is probably higher than it has been for a long time! "

Christophe, was laid off in the chemical sector in Belgium earlier this year and as a gifted linguist is using his period of unemployment to add to his skill set by learning Dutch. He is also supervising the remodelling of his house himself, something he really enjoys, but would have previously outsourced to an architect simply through of lack of time. The upside of Michael's period out of full time employment is feeling fitter, healthier and weighing in 14 pounds lighter! He is spending time with his wife and kids, as well as playing some golf. With a long career in the IT sector he is working from home as a consultant and looking at joint ventures and start ups.

Shawna from Oregon describes herself as recovering workaholic. " For me, being laid off meant the opportunity to not be in an airplane all the time, the chance to work on home improvement projects that were too big to do when I had a full time job. .... "She explains how she wanted to get beyond the pain points " I typically chose to feel that since I don't want to regret the things that happened, I can always use the events to learn from and get stronger. That doesn't make the event positive or negative - it just means I re-tell the event as a positive so that I can work with it, instead of against it."

Marina from San Francisco added "If I had not been laid off recently I would have missed out on some wonderful and necessary things. "

Will this feeling of enjoying the moment last? I have no idea. One discussion the recession has generated is the perennial chestnut of work/life balance. I think we have all been profoundly changed by what has gone on around us - hopefully for the better. It will be interesting to see if when economies do pick up, whether we will have learned any useful lessons, or we will all drift seamlessly back to our old ways.

It seems that a year ago, we might have had more money in our pockets but perhaps we were less well off in other ways. Somehow, are we seeing that now?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How's your cyber footprint?

A Twitter connection asked me the other day, somewhat to my surprise , if I had an alias for my "fun and social side". I have to say an eyebrow was raised! The thought of myself skulking around cyber space with a nom de plume or an alter ego, stretched the imagination. However the question was actually entirely serious and raised a very valid point that I had been discussuing during the week with fellow professionals and coachees. What impact does our cyber foot print have and how much should we be mindful of it?

As a transition coach I talk to individuals constantly about raising visibility and the job search process changing from looking for a job, to becoming a need to be found. So they are coached through a process to raise their SEO and their Google ranking, to connect on Linkedin and to be active on other social media. Some I encourage to have a blog and a web site, all to enable job search specialists to easily locate them. All the time, this supposes that they are being tracked for their excellent professional backgrounds and first class, on- target experience, rather than photos of them stealing signs during their college days, or messages about whooping it up at some party. So my visibility suggestions are also accompanied by equal doses of cautionary tales to be careful about what is posted by and about them, not just in their own posts, but via other people's.

But it's not that that really concerns me now.

Shankar Srinivasan a Recruitment Technologist in his blog of July 1st ( Glimpse into the Future of Recruitment Technology) brings to our attention the future of recruitment ,with all the new technological developments in the pipeline. One of these is candidate profiling from social media content. Eventually he anticipates that profiles of candidates can be drawn up from input to sites such as Facebook,Linkedin, Twitter and so on. So all sorts of conclusions can be drawn from even the most harmless, innocent and banal details which send out messages to others about our personalities, our values and our skill sets: in photos, web sites, texts, messages and tweets. I suspect this might also ultimately have an interesting impact on psychometric testing.

I actually don't have an alias! I believe that people do business with and recruit people they like and trust and you can't give an all round impression of yourself if you only display one side of your character and keep the other half hidden. But then I don't have a terribly wild or mysterious life either and as many of you already know, the organisation of it all would simply confound me! I think I would also find having two different personas quite hard work. So no, I don't have a professional and a social account. But I do understand why some people do this, even though I believe that software spiders will eventually be able to penetrate even private social accounts to glean any information they're looking for. So in time it won't make any difference if they are separate or combined .

But I am also mindful that I am constantly leaving cyber messages on a daily basis, not just about my professional life, but also about my personality, my skill set and deficiencies (some of them very obvious) hobbies, interests, family, values, opinions etc . Each time we send a message, post a blog, write something on someones wall, tweet, answer a discussion,join a professional network, we are telling the world something about ourselves. How we engage, react, the vocabulary we use, the topics we that we pursue,all tell a story about who we are.

We can't control how people react to us, but we can manage the message. By that I don't mean being fake. For me it just means treating cyber space as you would any other networking or social arena. Social norms still prevail. Why should things be any different because you're on line? The only thing now is that everything is in writing and can be traced. Nothing will disappear the day after. It can come back to haunt you and it might well. They say that 47% of candidates are rejected based on on - line content, although that figure is not very meaningful. The same people may have been ruled out in a networking event.

So what are basic rules or guidelines? Same as in actual life I think. Don't be rude, bitchy, abusive , crude or aggressive. Don't swear. Anything private and intimate - should be just that... private. Don't over share! Just as it's inadvisable to drink and dial - don't tweet when tight. Don't bad mouth your boss, company or co-workers! They will find out . Keep language constructive and it might even be be wise if inflammatory topics are kept for email or phone contact. Would you try and flog someone a timeshare or marketing programme the minute you were introduced at a party? No. So why do it on-line? In all, it's just commonsense.

I actually think that people, whether fellow professionals or recruiters, do want to see the lighter sides of their professional on - line connections in the right and appropriate context of course. Just as you would off line. Otherwise the process becomes only about information exchange, rather than authentic engagement. I still think that despite all the technology that surrounds us, that's what we all want. To engage.