Friday, January 30, 2009

What do you do in your spare time?

According to Peter Bregman in his article The Interview Question You Should Always Ask, employers should always ask job candidates "what do you do in your spare time?"

This makes perfect sense, as Bregman outlines in his article. In coaching people to do work they love, I always ask this question in some form or other. In it is the germ of an occupation. An occupation is how we spend our time - it's come to mean how we spend our work time, yet we do occupy our time with lots of other activities. Much of our time is spent on required activity - chores, family time, community obligations. Hobbies, however, are what we CHOOSE to spend time on. Our hearts sing, our spirits come alive, time flies when we are occupied with our hobby.

Entrepreneur development programs often suggest that people turn their hobbies into a business, an income-generating proposition. This may work for some people, while for others the business aspect kills their enjoyment of the hobby. So I don't advocate turning your hobby into your job. What I do advocate is identifying aspects of the hobby that could be part of a job you love.

Bregman uses the example of Captain Sullenberger who piloted US Airways Flight 1549 to a safe landing on the Hudson River. His main hobby? Piloting gliders. I love his quote:

Obsessions are one of the greatest telltale signs of success. Understand a person's obsessions and you will understand her natural motivation. The thing for which she would walk to the end of the earth.

What are you really good at, naturally gravitate to, and enjoy doing? That's the key element to find in your work. As Bregman says, someone who enjoys giving dinner parties might be a better receptionist than a committed reader.

I suggest you use this information to target jobs you are more likely to enjoy and in which you will excel. Your enthusiasm will help you differentiate yourself from the pack during the interview process.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hiring today

Watson Wyatt Worldwide reports that as of December 2008, 47% of US companies have frozen hiring, up from 30% in October. Another 18% plan to freeze hiring in 2009.

The situation is a little brighter for seasonal workers. 28% of companies froze hiring in December, up from 17% in October. 16% plan to freeze hiring in 2009.

Anecdotally, I am hearing from non-profit colleagues that there are formal and informal hiring freezes throughout the NYC industry. Several large non-profits have laid people off, including the ACLU and 92nd Street Y.

So the hiring situation stinks right now. And yet...

There continue to be job postings and interviewing for what we call "mission-critical positions." Those are the jobs without which the company or organization cannot function. Right now, I know of three people who have had interviews in the past week: one for an HR job, another for a marketing job, and another for a senior management position. All at relatively large NYC non-profits. A fourth person is considering COO positions at a couple of for-profit technology companies with about 200 employees. One would pay her less than she needs to meet her basic expenses, however.

High level and high skill jobs will continue to open up, as people's life circumstances change in unexpected ways and they leave their current positions. Some companies are growing and maturing, so they need different and new positions filled. Clearly, however, there will be much more competition for those positions than before.

The greatest slowdown is obviously in the financial services sector. And I see on job boards and hear from colleagues that low-level, less-skilled jobs are being eliminated and not filled when they become vacant.

Understanding some of the dynamics of the market can help us shift our expectations about job searches. Here are some implications:

* Searches will take AT LEAST twice as long. If you hoped to have a job in three months, lengthen your time horizon to six or nine months.

* This is the time to engage in what I call the "leave no stone unturned school of job search." Do EVERYTHING that occurs to you and is suggested by others. This is not the time to say "oh, I don't think that will work" or "I don't think I'll like that job." How do you know, until you get the interview? And you don't know where an opportunity or idea will lead you.

Today's economy is relatively uncharted territory for most job-seekers, so abandon the idea that your road map is sufficient. It is NOT. So get off the beaten path, venture into the unknown, try something a little beyond your comfort zone. My philosophy is that if something comes up in your path - whether someone suggests doing something or a wacky idea floats through your brain - it is there for a reason. So take a couple of steps to follow up on it. You'll know soon enough if it's right or not for you - either because you get a big fat "no" or because the path turns too rocky and difficult (a sure sign it's not a road to keep following), or because you gather enough information to see that your minimum "must haves" won't be met.

I learned about this job search mode during the last historical period of high, high, high unemployment - the early 1980's. I left graduate school in June of 1981, and found my first real job in October 1981. Looking back, I see that it happened pretty quickly - just four months. But it felt like it took forever, because I was temping in some very odd places (like the company that published all the UN reports and books). Just out of school, I needed an entry level job. I went on interview after interview, and nothing really worked out. Finally, I took my father's advice and help, and networked with his colleagues and friends. Ultimately, this led me to landing a three day a week, $10,000 a year job as the all-in-one fundraiser/PR/events/planning person for a community development organization in the South Bronx.

* Lower expectations. Maybe you can do part-time work for a while, take consulting gigs, take a pay cut. This situation is temporary - how long that is, who knows. It usually takes about three years for the employment situation to really pick up out of a recession, and this is far worse than what we've seen since 1980-82.

* Avail yourself of all the advice out there, much of it really good. There are good strategies for positioning yourself, networking, getting yourself out there and noticed, and getting interviews.I'll write more on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Discussing salary

A friend is talking to an HR person today about a job possibility and she wrote me this question:

What if salary comes up? I know the ballpark number from my
friend, but I am loathe to talk about that now. How do I get out of it
gracefully? Or should I?

Regarding salary, most employers now want to know that you are looking for pay within their ballpark range. Otherwise, it's pointless to interview you - because there is almost no flexibility today to increase beginning salaries. The days are over when employers would interview someone above their budget because they knew they could somehow find the money. That money isn't available anymore. So my friend can't put off answering the question if it arises. She can, however, answer it in a few different ways:

1) "In my last position, I was making $x and am hoping for a comparable salary in next position"

2) "I think we can come to an agreement on salary if we decide I'm the right person for the job, so I'd really like to learn more about what the job is and tell you what I bring to the table in terms of my experience, skills and enthusiasm"

3) "I have a range I'm targeting, from a "live with" number to a "want to get" number, depending of course on the opportunity. Let's first see if the job and I are a good fit."

4) "I'm looking for between $xx and $yy"

I like #2 best because it indicates your flexibility and focus on the job. If you know that you'll be offered something within your "live with" and "want to get" range, then you can be confident in giving that response.

If you don't know if the bottom of the pay range would be acceptable for you, then you might use response #1 first, moving to #3 or #4.

If the HR person pushes to get a number, then you can use #1 or #3. Only use #4 if s/he really insists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Networking Works

“Three-quarters of people find jobs through being out there, engaged and meeting people,” said John A. Challenger, C.E.O. of Challenger Gray & Christmas, the outplacement firm. (Quoted in the New York Times article: Can Volunteers Be a Lifeline for Nonprofit Groups? by Kelley Holland, 1/24/09.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New POW! Book by Andy Nulman

Andy Nulman is giving away 200 copies of his new book Pow! Right Between the Eyes! on his site at It looks like a really good take on marketing, catching people's attention, using the power of surprise to grab people's attention so they will look more closely at your product or service.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Express Your Passion & Enthusiasm for the Prospective Employer

From a recent ad for Oceana, a non-profit, here's evidence that it really matters whether you emphasize your desire to work at a place:

The Office Coordinator will support the Vice President of Global Development and will assist in fundraising efforts of Oceana. Oceana will only consider an individual who has a clear passion and interest in the oceans and marine conservation. (see for more detail on job.)

I sometimes see this stated, and believe it is implicit in every single job posting: employers want to hire the person who really wants to work specifically for them. This goes for both non-profit and for-profit organizations. Just because they may not have a "feel good" mission like a non-profit, don't think for a minute that for-profit companies are exempt from wanting to hire "true believers." Just like non-profits, for-profits want to hire someone who cares enough to learn about their company, industry, and business model. When you demonstrate your knowledge and enthusiasm for a company or organization, you demonstrate how you will be on the job - eager to learn and enthusiastic about your work. As T. Harv Eker says, "how you do anything is how you do everything." This applies especially in job seeking.

If you don't care about a cause now, is there a chance you would care later? It's OK not to know if you care about an organization, mission, industry, or business purpose - as long as you put in the effort to find out if you do. So go ahead and find out quickly. Do a little research:

* read the company website
* go to Wikipedia to find out more about the topic
* do a search on the organization to see what press they get and what others say about them
* ask your friends what they know and think
* do a "gut check" to see if you have even the flickering of concern, enthusiasm or passion

You may find that you really DO care about the cause in which case use that enthusiasm in your cover letter. You can even be more enthusiastic in your letter than you actually feel, as long as you authentically care to some extent. Passion for a cause often grows over time.

Or you may find that you don't care, so you can cross that job off your list. Don't waste your own or the employer's time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Researching Keywords in Employment Ads

Katharine Hansen, Ph.D. wrote a terrific article on how to tailor your resume to match keywords in jobs for which you are interested. Visit the site to read her very wise words.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More evidence that networking works!

On CBS's The Early Show on January 7, 2009, financial contributor Vera Gibbons gave a bunch of tips on how to find work in this economic environment - including on networking. She says:

In this challenging economic environment, networking is more important than ever. I consulted with several career counselors, and each told me that 65 - 80 percent of jobs are obtained through networking. Only 15-20 percent of job openings are even publicly advertised, and only about five percent of job-seekers end up getting jobs through ads or job postings.

Figure out what you want to say to people about what you are looking for and be clear on what kind of help you want. By all means, tell people you are looking for a job. Make it clear that you don't expect them to get you a job. Hopefully, they can pass you on to someone in an area related to your interests. Eventually, you will get to someone who actually has a job opening.

Roles of Resumes, Interviews and References

Here's a perspective from Bridgespan Group Partner Wayne Luke, head of executive search:

Resume screening can provide insights into career progression, what the person views and values as major accomplishments and contributions, and how he/she packaged and leveraged experience into an engine for career progression. But it’s in "deep dive" interviews, based upon detailed discussions of real-world professional situations, that you will always expose styles, personal measures of success, specific actions taken, and lessons learned in any person's background. Then, of course, the comprehensive referencing process will help ensure that “what you see is what you get” in a candidate, and how best to surround and support the candidate in their new role.

This reinforces the value of having a resume "profile" that lays out your core value proposition in two to three lines, which you then support by listing your achievements in especially the two most current positions. Think of a profile as a way to summarize your career progression and provide a snapshot of yourself to a prospective employer.

The process of coming up with these two to three "profile" lines will be invaluable to you - even if you are convinced that an employer won't read it. simply by having it on your resume, you will demonstrate to the prospective employer that you did your homework, that you reflected on your career progression, and that you understand what you bring to an employer. Of course you need to back up your assertions in the body of the resume. The profile is simply an introduction, while the rest of the resume is the substance.

Reviewers will pay attention to what you list as an accomplishment and how you describe your accomplishments. I'm a big believer in highlighting only those accomplishments you want to repeat and those activities you look forward to doing again. If I read a resume, my assumption is that the person is a) proud of doing the work they list; and b) willing to do it again. So why ask for something you don't want to do again? In any job, we are asked to do things we don't really like anyway - that's why they call it "work!"

Accomplishments are measurable and directional and often time-limited, e.g. "Improved by 30% proposal turnaround time within six months of starting job." It's often good to leave open the question of "how" you accomplished something, because it gives the employer a reason to interview you. If the employer wants similar results, they may want to know how you did it. This will give them insight into how you think and relate to others. Exceptions are where some description of how you did something is needed to provide context, will shed light on an attribute that distinguishes you, or illuminates your values. For example, if the employer has stated that teamwork is a value and you are a team player, you may want to say "Led [or Actively participated in] a team that improved by 30% proposal turnaround time, within 6 months.

When you get an interview, you will be able to use the ideas from the profile to convey your value. You'll have answers for many of the interviewers' questions simply by thinking about how you accomplished things. And your ability to engage in self-reflection will come across in the interview.

Finally, be careful about choosing references. It's important that you are confident in the kind of answers someone will give. It's likely that prospective employers will ask the kind of questions listed in the above quote, so prepare your references accordingly. I don't think it's good to ask someone after the fact what they said and then get upset about it, if you haven't forewarned them and had some discussion about what they will say when called. If someone isn't comfortable presenting you in a good light, they will not be a good reference. If you know someone as critical, they might not be a good reference. Good references may talk about your shortcomings, which is fine as long as they can answer "yes" to the question "would you rehire this person?" That is the ultimate good reference.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Realizing Ambitions

A young woman lamented her lack of ambition to me, comparing her current state to my condition at her age when I said I was ambitious and always looking for new work. It struck me that the issue for her is more likely that she doesn't know clearly what she is ambitious to achieve.

I find this young woman to be incredibly ambitious - she idolizes Vera Wang and wants to have a similar impact on the world of fashion and design. However, she hasn't yet settled in her mind where exactly she wants to have that impact - is it interior design? fashion design? product design? something else? In some way, she hasn't yet identified the object of her ambition, the first big step on her journey to realizing her ambition.

It's impossible to know exactly what kind of impact one will have on the world by the end of one's life, nor is it possible to dream fully of the potential impact one can have. We're simply limited by our current reality, by the examples that surround us, by our belief in our own capabilities, by those who surround us, by the risk tolerance we have, and by our willingness to face down our fears.

It is possible, however, to envision the first big impact we want to have. That dream may feel risky but it will feel achievable.

So step one of embracing one's ambition is to identify the goal of our ambition. What do I aspire to be, achieve, think, do?

Step two is to discover what it takes to realize that ambition, to reach that goal. What do I need to learn, know, do?

Step three is to become willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that ambition. Am I willing to take an action every day? Am I willing to confront and then walk past my fears? Am I willing to ignore criticism and self-doubt? What sacrifices of time, money, relationships, immediate gratification am I willing to make in order to achieve my goal?

Step four is to actually do what it takes to reach my goals, realize my dream, achieve my ambition. Am I taking daily action? Am I tracking my actions, ensuring they are taking me closer to my goal instead of further from it? Are my actions and intentions aligned?

The first step involves self-reflection, self-assessment, and courage. The second step requires research - on-line and in person with people in similar positions, industries, stages of life, dream states. In the third, it's essential to dig deep inside and be honest. This is where time frames can be adjusted - maybe it will take me longer to achieve my dreams because I have other obligations or needs I can't ignore or sacrifices I am not free to make. The final step is critical, for without action, the previous steps will lead to naught but disappointment.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Networking into a job

The chances of getting a job via networking are much better than any other method. In May 2000, 64 percent got them by networking. I'm unable to find more updated statistics, but anecdotal accounts on various HR and news websites indicates that recruiters want personal recommendations more and more. Why?

1) It's too difficult to wade through the on-line applications, many of which are completely unsuitable.

2) Using software to do keyword searches means that recruiters can miss someone fantastic who doesn't have the whole keyword thing down pat.

3) People recommended by employees in good standing will generally share that employee's values and to be a good fit with the organization.

4) Current employees won't risk their reputation by recommending a "dog" so trust is already built in the hiring equation, giving you a leg up on the competition.

Resume Rabbit looks like a new service that could be very helpful to job seekers. On it, you can post your resume "on up to 87 of the top job posting sites" and "choose from our long list of categories for online job banks."

They claim to "save you over 60 hours of data entry time." And you can target specific sectors or be more general in your search.

This is useful because while I recommend being specific about your intention, your desired job may show up under different categories than you use. Words mean different things to different people, so take a broad approach.

One example of how a simple change makes a big difference: On, you select criteria to search for non-profit jobs. You will get a different list of jobs depending on what criteria you use - even if you use the same key words. If I use "Marketing," New York State," and "New York City" as criteria, I'll get a big list that might include jobs that wouldn't appear if I used those AND "within 50 miles."

Applying for jobs can be tedious, so it makes sense to check out Resume Rabbit and reduce data entry work load.

Caveat: This service costs money. "The normal one-time fee for Resume Rabbit is $59.95 for a one-time resume posting on up to 87 different job posting sites."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Resume Format Matters!

Format really matters because it repels or attracts readers.

The content and format of resumes are interrelated. My experience is that format is even more important at first than content. If someone doesn't read your resume, all that content is wasted.

Successful resumes are resumes that a recruiter reads and responds to by scheduling an interview or somehow responding in a personal way. Period. If you are not getting interviews, phone calls, e-mails, or "gee, loved your resume, you're not right for this, can I keep you in mind and call for something else" - you need to review and change your resume. And if you are getting calls and interviews for jobs you don't want, it's time to review and change your resume.

I suggest looking first at your format and deciding whether your resume is readable. Then look at content to make sure it accurately reflects what you love doing and want to do again.

Developing a successful resume involves an iterative process of writing and editing the content to make sure that key accomplishments and duties are highlighted by both words and format. There is a constant interplay of font, format and content involved in producing a successful resume.

To get an interview, your resume needs to make you a friendly and familiar person from the get-go. So we want to make sure that the humans reading your resume find you approachable, "easy on the eyes", and able to quickly convey important information.

My philosophy is that it's our job to do most of the work for the recruiter. They get so many resumes, we want yours to stand out as the one that makes it easy for the recruiter to know THAT they want to interview you.

There are fairly common ways humans read. By using that information , we can to create a readable format and invite someone in. I spent more than 25 years writing direct mail copy that raised millions of dollars, and learned tools and tricks that apply very well to resumes.

* We definitely want good use of white space so people have a chance to focus and to rest their eyes. That enables them to move easily from section to section.

* Short sentences are easier to read than long ones. Take note of the direct mail pieces you actually read. How do they look? What language do they use? The best ones use short paragraphs, sentences and words.

* Use action verbs and directional language. These words engage readers because they tell a story, and who doesn't love a story?

* Choose a type font that conveys who you are, your personality, your style.

* More people find serif type face (like TimesRoman or Garamond) easier to read. Most direct mail uses serif fonts. And usually direct mail sticks to one font throughout the package.

* Others prefer sans serif fonts like Arial and Gautami. Most commercial media use sans serif type. They may use two different fonts in one piece. Usually, they decide on a dominant font as representative of their brand.

* Whichever font you choose, remember that different fonts lend themselves to a different style of dates and headings. Garamond's elegance, for example, lends itself to using a "January 2008 - present" format rather than "1/08 - present."

* You can mix fonts if you choose. Do it very judiciously, for there is nothing more off-putting than a jumble of fonts. It tells the reader that you cannot make a choice, that you don't know what to focus on, and you certainly can't direct someone else to the important bits. I recommend using a different font only for section headings.

I live by the "truth in advertising" rule: make sure that people know what they are getting, give them what you promise, and be consistent throughout the experience. So choose a font that is true to you. Do the "gut" test: look at it and if you feel good, it will work for you. If you feel sick to your stomach, it's time to try another.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Network?

Networking for job search, business development, or career growth is valuable for a few reasons.

1) You have to get clear about what you want to do and why you want help. Writing down your intention or goal is the biggest step toward actually realizing it. And asking someone else for help both forces and guides you to get very clear about your intention.

2) You'll make the connections that will lead to a job or work or customers. The vast majority of jobs are filled through referrals and networking, most consultants build their businesses through referrals from happy clients, and businesses rely on "word of mouth" to generate sales and build their brand.

3) The very act of talking about your goal will help you reach it that much faster. When you are out there talking about your intention, the universe can step up to support you.

Remember, while you are preparing to get your "right fit" job or embark on your "right fit" career, that job or career is preparing to meet you. Employers are writing job descriptions, businesses are developing consultant specifications, people are beginning to understand that they can't do something by themselves and need to hire someone.

Networking Part 1

Networking can sound intimidating. Yet you do it every day without thinking about it. Every time you ask someone to recommend a plumber, you’re networking. Every time you send your friend to another friend for advice about something, you’re networking. Every time you meet someone at a party and end up calling that person later, you’re networking.

In this phase, networking is solely for the purposes of gathering more information about the various options. Using your statement of intent, you let your “natural network” know that you want to learn more about your areas of interest and ask for their help. Your “natural network” is family, friends, neighbors, trusted colleagues and former colleagues – people with whom you feel comfortable. Ask them if they know anyone who works in your area(s) of interest to whom they’d introduce you. All you want is 20 minutes of that person’s time to learn more about what s/he does and the field in which s/he works.

It’s best if you have some idea of what you think you could do in the area of interest, so people have enough detail to grab onto. If your intention is too broad (“I want to learn more about TV”), it’s hard for people to think of people you could interview. A better statement of intent is “I want to learn more about TV production, especially what goes into making a reality show or a talk show.” This gives your contact enough information to think of people who work in TV production, on reality shows, talk shows, and even cooking, travel or home design shows.

Networking Part 2

Networking is natural and easy when you start with people you know really well (your natural network) AND when you have a script!

Once you identify someone to contact, decide whether to contact them by e-mail or phone. E-mail is easiest, especially for busy people. A phone call is better for someone you know really well.

It's important that you have a clear intention that you can explain to the person. Here's a format that works:

I am looking for a job that allows me to play this role and use x skills, and where my work will contribute to this goal and impact.

When approaching someone you know fairly well, you can simply say "I'm exploring career options and wondered if you'd have 20 minutes to sit with me and give me some feedback and suggestions."

Often, the person will start the conversation right there with the question "so what are you looking for?" At that point you can say something along the lines of your intention - or shorter! Follow that by saying "I can tell you more when we meet."

If you're lucky, your first few contacts may actually know of jobs! It doesn't matter if they do, however.

Your goal should be to get referred to at least one person who might be able to help you. Ask "is there anyone you can think of who might be able to help me?" If they have to think about it, make sure you ask them about it in a follow up e-mail or letter.

The follow-up communication should thank them for taking the time to talk to you and say that their feedback [suggestions, referrals, etc.] was really valuable and you appreciate their help and support.

Here is a script for contacting the next person along the line:

“So and so recommended that I contact you regarding my job search. S/he thought you might have some great insight and advice to offer. Would it be possible for me to get 20 minutes of your time? I’m exploring the possibilities in the ________field, and would appreciate any advice and suggestions you might have. You can reach me by e-mail or at ###-###-####. I’ll contact you if I don’t hear from you. Thank you in advance! I look forward to meeting you.”

If you want to make the initial contact by phone, use the same script.

I suggest practicing the conversation before you make the call. It is incredibly helpful to rehearse so you get comfortable with what you are asking. Ask a friend to go through it with you two or three times so you role play your part and experience what it feels like to make the request.

It is rare for people to refuse to give you 20 minutes in person, and even rarer for them to refuse to give you 20 minutes over the phone. If they do refuse, it’s either because they have no time or they believe they have no advice to offer. In both cases, it’s about them – it’s definitely NOT about you. So thank them for their consideration and say good-bye. No burning of bridges is necessary. Who knows? You might run into them again in another context, and it can then be a pleasant introduction: “oh, I’m so glad to meet you! So and so has said such nice things about you.” And you might gain a new friend or colleague.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

P is for Planning, Purpose, Perspective, etc.

Years ago, I spoke on a panel at Fundraising Day in New York on how to effectively lead a non-profit organization. At the time, I was Executive Director of City Harvest, one of New York City's best-known charities - because of my leadership and the team I assembled.

I organized my talk around several words that begin with the letter "P" - especially passion, planning, purpose, participation, patience, persistence, and practical.

Passion: To inspire others to support the organization's mission, a leader musPt be passionate about that mission. And a leader must express that passion in words and action - speaking about the organization's work in ways others understand at a gut level, and doing whatever is needed to advance that mission. Passionate leaders are on the front lines, stepping in to do things without regard for status or formal role.

Planning: This is how a great leader harnesses that passion and gets everyone on the same team, moving together in the same direction toward a common goal. Big plans, small plans, short plans, long plans - what they have in common is careful consideration of needs, resources, actions, consequences, and impact. Where are we now? Where do we want to be? When? How will we get there? What do we need to make it happen - resources, information, communication, alignment?

Purpose: All great leaders need a big "why" to motivate themselves and others, to inspire that passion, to organize a plan around, and to give meaning to actions. A great leader asks "why am I here, in this role, in this organization? What is my purpose?" The purpose is the fulcrum for aligning every part of the organization, and is the basis for all accountability.

Participation: By definition, leaders need followers. In my experience, followers are willing to stay behind a leader that welcomes, facilitates, demands, and rewards their participation in a wide range of organizational activities and processes. Organizations are by definition group endeavors. Participation transforms groups into teams, enables the expression of passion, facilitates the emotional engagement that prompts "above and beyond" performance, and constitutes organizational glue. Strong, confident leaders understand that by enabling full and planned participation, they share ownership of the organization with all its members and thus help ensure the organization's longevity and sturdiness.

Patience: Most leaders are really intelligent, capable people who got their positions because they did a lot of things really well. Being a leader means not actually doing very much, however. It means letting go of the "doing" and turning it over to others who will absolutely, positively do things differently than the leader. A great leader understands that "different" can and often is equal to or better than their own effort. A great leader also understands that a group enterprise is naturally going to move more slowly than a single person. That's just the way it is. Wishing things to move more quickly is a path to disappointment. Patience with the process of moving toward a goal is, on the other hand, the ingredient for a happy, productive leader and organization. People know when the leader is impatient, and it is demoralizing. Great leaders convey that they are confident in their team's commitment and ability to achieve the goals within the mutually-agreed on time frame, and that together they will deal with and dispose of obstacles. Impatience is not an option.

Persistence: Great leaders keep searching for the best solutions, the most impact, the clearest goal. They consistently monitor progress toward goals, are constantly aware of resource availability and need, regularly check in with team members and stakeholders, and routinely adjust elements of the plan depending on current and expected conditions. Persistence does not mean sticking with something to the bitter end. It does mean keeping your eye on the mission and continually working to achieve that mission.

Practical: This is the opposite of perfection, which can by definition never be achieved. We can do excellent work and have deep impact, though. A great leader is practical about what can be achieved, given resources, timing, external context, and all the other factors affecting an organization. Let's go for as much as we can, stretching enough to inspire others to get on board while not setting ourselves up for failure or disappointment by being ambitious beyond what is practically possible.

Probably I mentioned some other P words - I have huge list of them, and will blog about other ones in the future. Of them all, passion was and still is the most important one. I urged people to find and tap into their passion for fighting hunger, for helping others meet this most fundamental of needs. Our passion can ignite the passion of others, enlist them in this battle, and bring us closer to ending hunger - the unnecessary problem in a world capable of producing more than enough food for everyone and then some. My message was about expansion, abundance, making a huge impact - with passion as the fuel.

The audience responded enthusiastically to my talk, confirming my conviction in the centrality of passion as a motivational tool. I was then astounded when another panelist disputing the importance of passion; she claimed it was possible to develop and maintain a well-run organization without being passionate about your work.

She's technically correct, and that's the kind of organization she has built: well-run. It's not an organization with heart, however, that inspires loyalty and attachment. City Harvest was a place people wanted to work, both because it was well-run and more important, it allowed people to express their passion and creativity.

Here's an analogy: Microsoft produces very useful, necessary and generally competent products, whereas Apple produces elegance and devotion along with usability. Microsoft wins a lot of the market through its methods, but there's no soul in its products. If there is any passion at Microsoft, it's for winning rather than for excellence and responding to human needs for beauty, imagination, excellence.

I see evidence of this in how consumers and media respond to each company's products. When Microsoft launches a new product, it seems that people first look for things to criticize and only grudgingly acknowledge a product's good features. Look at the beating Vista received - deservedly so, given all the glitches in that platform. When Apple releases a new product, it receives encomiums, praise, and even awe. Any problems that may exist - and usually there are very few, if any - are mentioned and waved away as of little consequence in comparison to the product's myriad virtues.

Parenthetically, I suppose a fair question is whether it's possible to have excellence and elegance only in a niche market, such as Apple occupies. Perhaps the dominant product or platform is bound to fall short of expectations because of its very ubiquity; it is designed for the most common denominator and a huge audience. The sheer number of users ensures a broader pool of critics. And the vast diversity of needs cannot be met by such a broadly-conceived and designed product; Microsoft products are bound to disappoint aa wide range of specific expectations.

Back to the P's. I've watched the other panelist over the years find and express some passion for her organization's mission. As she has done so, her organization has attracted and retained talented staff, more funding and media coverage, and high-profile/celebrity supporters. It used to be that she was envious of City Harvest. I like to think that she used my deconstruction of how I transformed City Harvest from a good idea into a nationally-known, celebrity-endorsed, fun, cutting-edge, and extremely effective organization. Who knows? I do know that a little passion never hurt, and I have seen how a leader's passion awakens and reinvigorates moribund groups. For issues like ending hunger, we can never have too much passion.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Beginning a job search

I've observed that it is often the case that the first step toward getting a new job is making time to begin the search process. Separating from one's existing job is very difficult. Based on my experience and that of many friends and colleagues, it's far easier to complain about my job than to take steps to leave it. It's a known quantity and I know where I stand, even if it's really uncomfortable. A new job is simply an idea, a dream, ephemeral and possibly elusive. Beginning the search often feels like stepping into nothingness. My motivation has to be really high for me to take that action.

What I love to see is people beginning the conversation about finding more rewarding work. Complaints are a great sign that someone is getting ready to move on. A psychological truism is that we humans are motivated by pain and pleasure. We move away from pain and toward pleasure. When the pain is sufficient, we will move away from it - even if there is no tangible, guaranteed pleasure in sight. At this point, we simply hope that there is some pleasure awaiting us. Hope itself is more pleasurable than the pain of continued suffering with hostile co-workers, a miserable boss, really boring work, ridiculous hours, a horrible physical environment, an out-of-control commute, a demoralizing culture, low pay, or some combination of these factors. For many, the statement "there must be something better than this" is the beginning of the job search process.

Once you've had that initial internal conversation, there are then tangible steps to take. Action is called for. You need a new resume. You need to look for job openings. You need to apply for jobs. You need to write cover letters. And allof a sudden your brain goes: Whoa! Not so fast! This is too much!

Here's where one's motivation gets tested, for there are many reasons to put off taking those steps: "my job is so demanding, I can't find time to do my resume!", "why do I even think there is anything better out there?", " and "I can't commit to a time frame for leaving because my schedule is not my own" are excellent and often-used objections. All of those things make sense, and yet...they are simply fear in disguise. When I contemplate stepping into nothingness, I become afraid and balk. It's so normal!

The problem is that I've already begun to move into that nothingness. Once the inner conversation has started, it must be concluded one way or another. And if I'm really unhappy, I am motivated to continue taking actions. The pain is worse than any of my fears, allowing me to allay those fears long enough to take the next step.

Using a career transition coach is a great way to jump start the job search process because they can help you set and meet your job transition goals. That's why it's clear that someone is ready to leave their job when they are able to commit to a coaching time. Even the sometimes frustrating exercise of trying to schedule a mutually agreeable appointment time serves a purpose. You're engaged in the struggle to put yourself first, to focus on your needs instead of your employer's demands. It's part of the overall process of separating from one's current job. And that separation is the beginning of all successful job searches.