Monday, December 21, 2009

Changing the Habit of Negativity and Depression

The most difficult thing about an extended job search is maintaining a positive attitude and staying confident. I used to say that it was so ironic that I have to be my best self in interviews, when I am feeling the most insecure and incompetent! It certainly did challenge my "act as if" capabilities. I found that when I succumbed to my fears and anxieties, I performed very poorly in interviews. When I summoned up confidence in my abilities and skills, I performed very well in interviews. Confidence is attractive, and anxiety repels people. I don't know why that is, and luckily, I don't have to know why. I simply need to act on the information.

OK, so how did I summon up that confidence? And how do other people summon up self-confidence for interviews, when they're feeling depressed, negative and a little hopeless? Here are a few ways:

1) Review your resume to remind yourself of your abilities. There is plenty of reinforcing material in it, if you have followed the best career advice and included measurable accomplishments and real impact statements. Believe what you have written! Step outside your own brain (always a dangerous neighborhood when alone...) and view yourself as other people will view you. Feel the pride you felt in producing results. Remember how excited you were about a project or set of responsibilities. Take those feelings with you on the interview.

2) Ask someone you trust what they think you do best. This person could be a colleague or a close friend who has seen you in action, or even a spouse. Listen to them. Ask them to be somewhat specific. And believe what they say - as long as it's positive. This is not the time for them to suggest you need additional training. This is simply a time for them to say "you are a great project manager! You organize projects from start to finish and remember every detail. I wish I could do that, and thank goodness, I have you around to do it."

3) Reread the job description of the job you're interviewing for. Underline or highlight the parts that get you really excited or enthusiastic. Jot down ideas you have for what you could do in that position. Make a note of similar responsibilities you had in the past and what you achieved in those areas. See for yourself how your past experience makes you perfect for fulfilling this new job and producing the kind of results the prospective employer wants. Bring that excitement, passion, and specificity to the interview.

4) Make a list of questions you want to have answered. Reread the website and job description, and make a note of areas you find interesting, and places you'd like a little more information. Bring the list with you and have it handy. Remember, too, your "must have" list. You want to know if this is a job and place where you can do your best work. Having your own list of questions can be very empowering and engender your own sense of confidence as well as conveying a confident message to the employer.

5) Wear something professional and comfortable. I recommend an outfit you've already tried out, either on an interview or at work. I heartily recommend polished shoes, but not new shoes unless you are absolutely certain they won't be too tight and hurt by the time you get to the interview.

6) Rehearse the answers to questions you may not be comfortable with. When I'm prepared for almost anything, I perform better. The goal is to reduce all the anxiety-producing factors I can, so I am not worried about anything like clothes, answers, questions, and showing up on time.

7) Act as if you are going to meet great people who want to like you. Because that is true. The employer wants to fill the position with someone, so why not you? If you've already gotten to the interview stage, they liked what they saw so far. Why wouldn't they like you? Be yourself, and have confidence that it is good enough. An affirmation I suggest is:

I did the best I could. If it's the right job for me, it will be enough.

8) Quiet the negative voices when they come up. Everyone has those negative voices. Really, everyone. And they will come up and insist on being heard. More than that, they will insist that they are the Truth. They are not the truth, however. I have found they quiet down pretty quickly when I have a short conversation with them. It goes something like this: "Oh, here you are again. Well, thanks for sharing. Now I'm going to focus on feeling good about myself." And I repeat an affirmation of some sort to replace the negative thought (see my December 15, 2009 post for examples). It is important to keep to a minimum the amount of air time a negative voice gets. The more air time they have, the more believable they are. So as soon as you notice the "I can't" and "I'll never" voices come up, have the conversation with them and return to telling yourself how terrific you are, how the right employer will be fortunate to land you, and that the right job is on its way to you right now.

9) Allow yourself to want the job, and also let go of the results. It's great to want a job, and to tell the employer that you want it. Tell them why you want it in terms that are flattering to both of you. While at times you may feel desperate for ANY job, you don't have to act or sound desperate. You have solid reasons for wanting the job based on your "must have" list - use them! If it is the right job for you, you will get it. If you don't get the job, the right one is coming up.

I know how hard it is to have confidence and faith. I guess the alternative is to give up, and then what? I've come to see that giving up is temporary. My experience is that eventually, I picked myself up and again was willing to take action. That has been the experience of many other people. Sometimes we just need a little break from the search, in order to come back renewed and recommitted. And then these steps can be helpful once again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hidden Job Market

Most people get jobs through their extended network connections. This is even more the case in a tough economy. Employers want to pre-screen as much as possible, especially for a "culture fit." They know that employees or colleagues tend to refer people most likely to meet qualifications and fit into the company culture.

In fact, quite a few employers have ceased posting some jobs. There is a bigger "hidden job market" than ever before. Because the job market continues to be very competitive, it is simply overwhelming for them to wade through the piles and files of resumes submitted by people. Many applicants are complete mismatches for the position because they lack the required qualifications or experience.

In addition to looking for referrals from people they know, employers and recruiters also are combing job sites and LinkedIn for people who have resumes containing plenty of relevant key words. If a job requires certain skills and experience, the search engines are now able to find those people among the many who have posted on Monster or HotJobs or LinkedIn.

This HotJobs article has some great tips on how to find the "hidden jobs."

A key to finding "hidden jobs" is knowing what you want to do, what skills you love to use and want to use again, and the kind of companies you want to work for - industry, market position, culture, impact. Being specific about your goals allows you to do a few things better than most people. You can:

1) Tell people in your extended network - those people one, two or more degrees removed from your immediate circle - exactly what you are looking for. They may not have anything, but they may be able to refer you to someone who does.

2) Craft a resume and LinkedIn profile (and VisualCV) that emphasizes your core strengths and skills, shows off your accomplishments, and makes clear what you want to do next. Employers can then find YOU.

3) Search online for companies that could use someone with your abilities, and target them for introductions, informational interviews, and connections through your existing network. Maybe that company doesn't have jobs open now, but you may be top of mind later if they get to know you and see how interested you are and enthusiastic about working for them.

Getting specific about what you want to do helps you rise above the rest of the people looking for jobs. It conveys self-knowledge, self-confidence, and a sense of the value you can really provide to an employer.

Have Confidence!

Have confidence that you will land the right job for you! It's the theme of the week.

Several people have told me about the little negative, hopeless voice that plagues them. You know the one: "I'll never find the right job!" "It's hopeless." "I've been looking so long, what's wrong with me?" My stomach just turns over when I write these words. They are so demoralizing and depressing. And NOT TRUE!

I suggested to each person that they adopt an attitude of confidence that they will find the right job. And each one of them said "yes, I do know I will find something." So even in the midst of their fear and quasi-despair, each person knew at a fundamental level that their search would be successful. Each person simply had to be reminded of that fact. And each immediately calmed down, leaving that space of anxiety and entering a space of serenity.

Now, each one also hedged their bets right away by saying something like "yes I know I will get the job I want BUT I don't know when!" Somehow, it wasn't OK for them to remain peaceful and confident. Perhaps worry feels like you're doing something. "Well, at least I'm worrying!" It creates the illusion of activity. One of the hardest things to do is take action and let go of the results - really let go, including not worrying about the result.

Sometimes I do something and then think about it later and it occurs to me there is something more I can do. That's different from worry and anxiety, which are simply rehashing what I did and trying to foretell the future. I stay out of the future - it's a scary place of "I don't know what will happen." The present, with all its complexity, is a far more comfortable place to be.

I encourage you to quiet those anxious, hopeless voices with a few phrases:

I have done all I can with this employer. It's now up to the universe.

If it's the right job for me, I will get a call.

I have confidence that I put out my best effort.

I know deep down that I will get the right job for me.

I am getting closer to my desired job.

The more specific I am about what I want to do, the closer I am to getting it.

I am gathering information about my industry and field, information that helps me get clear about exactly what I want to do.

I am doing all I can to find the right job.

I am open to new ideas about where to find my "right fit" job.

I ask for help and suggestions from people who are experts.

I use information to refine my search, I don't let it control my mood.

I have a unique set of skills and ability that will be incredibly valuable to the right employer.

I allow myself to have some fun so I stay balanced and happy while I search for work.

I read career blogs and articles to get new ideas and perspectives for my search.

It's OK for me to feel down for a little while, as long as I vent it and then move on.

The right job is out there for me - I know it in my bones!

Every day, with every action, I get closer to landing the right job for me.

I have so much to offer, it's inevitable that I will be working soon.

When I know what I love to do, I am assured of a way to do it.

I leave no stone unturned in my job search.

I thank people for their advice, suggestions and information, and then take what is useful for my search.

I am clear about the challenges I love to tackle, the problems I love to solve, and the impact I can make.

I know exactly how to answer the question "so what are you looking for?" so people know how they can help me.

My resume presents me effectively so people know what I have done and would like to do again.

When I am stuck, I get even more specific about the impact I want to make.

A final note about the value of being specific: My friend JY just sent me an update. I helped her figure out exactly what she wanted to do, which was very different from what she originally thought. Because of my non-profit background, JY asked me for help in switching from financial services into non-profit work. However, she was not applying for jobs or networking - even though she knew she should. We went back and reviewed her core accomplishments - things she is proudest of doing and really loved doing. Lo and behold! It turned out that what she really loves is training and development, and she'd done that in all her positions. Her new intention was to get a training and development job in financial services. Within 2 weeks, the job of Director, Training and Development opened up at her employer. And within 2 months, she was in that position. Here's what she said:

Just checking in - I haven't worked this hard in over a decade and I'm loving every minute. It really underscores just how important it is to be true & honest about what you want. Sounds trite but so true. Thank you again for leading me to the trough.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Target The Work and Job You Want

Here's the story of one woman I helped. S is an architect specializing in commercial interiors for financial services companies. She decided that she wanted to move into biotech or pharma. S lives in Boston and the market up there for architects is abysmal. Plus she's well over 50 years old. So she was getting all sorts of advice from people to broaden her focus.

What was in her heart, however, was this deep desire to get experience designing lab environments. And guess what? She landed a contract position doing exactly that, working with the kind of people she wanted to work with, at a place that offered great benefits for FT people, and within a 20 minute commute. The only thing not on her must have list was being hired full-time.

The company was hesitant about hiring someone so senior for a full-time job in part because they wondered what would keep her there. We crafted a letter directly addressing this issue, that persuaded them to give her a chance in a contract position. She got a four month contract to start.

Now her contract has been extended for another six months, and it may be that she will be hired full-time. The important thing is that she now has lab experience which opens up a whole new arena for her.

She's just one of several people who got very specific about what they wanted and then got exactly that. I tell you this story to say that you, too, can get your "right fit" work.

It will take commitment and patience. Usually, within the first eight weeks of using the system I describe in my e-book, you will have done enough work to develop a new resume that better markets you toward positions and work you really want to do. You also can have at least a draft of a cover letter that you can adapt to different positions. As you might suspect, the best cover letters are developed with a specific job in mind, and then that method is the template for future ones.

In the book, you'll see what looks like a pretty linear process. I find it vital to use all the tools yet sometimes in pretty random order. It all depends on your sense of urgency. If there's a job you want to apply for RIGHT NOW, work on a cover letter that makes you more competitive. The information from creating that cover letter will help inform how to reposition you and reconstruct your resume. Or perhaps you have the time to go through all the questionnaires and the Must Have List, and then it's time to reconstruct your resume.

Whatever your situation, you will have better luck finding a job if you focus on finding a "right fit" job - one you love. Remember, job search requires work. If you're going to do the work anyway, why not put the effort toward getting a result you really want?

You can get a copy of my e-book Your 'Right Fit' Work: Guide to Finding Work You Love by giving me your e-mail in the blog comments. Because I moderate comments, your information will NOT appear on the blog, as I will reject it after I send your e-book.

If you have requested an e-book and haven't gotten it, somehow your e-mail address was incorrect or you didn't leave it. So let's try that again!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

The most difficult interview questions are the ones you aren't prepared to answer. So be prepared! Anticipate that there WILL be difficult questions.

Often, these questions fall into these categories.

1) Questions you wish won't be asked because you haven't come to terms with or become comfortable with the answers. These include "why did you leave your last job?" when you were laid off or fired, "why are you interested in this field?" when you really want to change fields because you hated your last one, "what did you like least about your old job?" when you hated your old boss and are tempted to bash him or her. If you don't exactly match the job description requirements, it can be tricky to explain why you are still the best candidate.

The best preparation for handling these questions is rehearsing the answers with someone else, until you are comfortable - honest and not defensive or attacking. An interview is not the place to criticize a former employer, ever. Figure out how to phrase things in a positive way, as in "this situation was challenging and I realized that I would be able to contribute much more in a role similar to this one."

If you can, return the focus to the job for which you're interviewing. I was fired and had to develop an answer that indicated that I was not to blame, that it was run-of-the-mill organizational politics, and besides, I'd accomplished all I intended there, so it was actually a good time to leave and find something that offered me new challenges, such as this job.

2) Salary questions also can be difficult. A good thing to say is "I'm hoping to make between $X and $Y, and of course am flexible because I really would like to work at this organization." $X is your “live with” number and $Y is your “want to have” number. Your “live with” number is usually lower than your "want to have number" - it is the number you need to live with yourself. With this pay, you can meet your basic needs and then some; you can look yourself in the eye; you will not have a resentment about your pay; and, you will stay at this job for a reasonable period of time (1-4 years) before looking again.

An alternate response is "I'm sure we can come to a mutually agreeable number if this job is the right fit for me and I'm right for you. I don't want money to stand in the way of my getting this job, so perhaps we can continue talking and see whether this is the right fit." If they don't love this answer, use answer number one.

3) "What's your biggest weakness?" is always tricky to answer, as is "what's the most difficult work challenge you've faced and overcome?" It's best to thread in a little self-deprecating humor there - if you say you have no weaknesses, the interview will think you're arrogant or blind to yourself.

On weaknesses, I like to say "weaknesses depend on the job, of course - I'd like to think I have none but of course I have some! I find myself apt to give people more time to prove themselves on the job when it might be better to let them go." To me, that is a real weakness cloaked in kindness. Then I add "so I've learned to establish very clear monthly benchmarks at the beginning of their employment. That way, I can tell very quickly if someone is or is not going to work out." That's the trick - to follow up any discussion of a weakness with a description of how you have learned to compensate for it.

Regarding your biggest work challenge, choose a story where you succeeded when there were odds stacked against you (e.g. tight time frame, few staff or other resources, external partners or circumstances you had no control over). Rehearse telling this story until you can tell it in about 4 or 5 sentences: Here was the goal, here were the circumstances, here's what I did about them, and here was the successful outcome.

4) "Tell me three words that describe you" is another fun one to prepare for, as is "what would one of your employees tell me about your management style?" That last one was one of my favorites, because it asked people to step outside of their own perspective and look a bit more objectively at themselves.

For both, be prepared with responses that fit with your skills and personality in a positive way, and that correspond somewhat with the job. In a vacuum, my three words are "kind," "smart" and "high integrity." Employees would describe me as "fair," "great leader," and "inspiring."

5) Questions clearly related to the specific employer. Perhaps they ask you to respond to an imaginary scenario and tell them what you would do in that situation. The response clearly should involve some knowledge of the company, but you might not have gone through the website in enough depth.

Maintain Your Composure

When an interviewer asks you a question you didn't expect, there's no need to panic - you know the answer. All you need to do is give yourself some time to remember the answer and formulate the beginning of your answer. Here are some tactics that buy you time, giving your brain a chance to quickly come up with an answer. (Plus each of these tactics has some added benefit.)

* Pause before answering if you are unsure of the answer

* Say "that's a great question" (Saying "great question" flatters them and people like that subliminally even if they think they are cynical about it.)

* Repeat the question back to them "so you're wondering if I _____________" and wait for
them to nod or say yes (Repeating the question mirrors them back to themselves, makes them feel smart, AND makes them feel like you were really listening to them.)

* Use the question as the beginning of your answer. For example, if the person asks "tell me about a time you had to organize a project in a short time frame," you say "An example of when I organized a project that had a short time frame is..." (Repeating the question or using it in your answer focuses YOU and your brain on the question and helps you come up with an appropriate answer.)

Take a pause after you have answered the question - in two to five sentences max - to see if the interviewer has a followup question. I call it "the pause that refreshes."

If you're not sure you've adequately answered the question, STOP TALKING. Say "I hope I've answered your question" or "Have I answered your question?" The interviewer will either say yes or no. If s/he says "no," they will then clarify what they wanted you to tell them.

Finally: Remember to breathe.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Kind of Work Do You Want?

If you are just discovering what you really want to do for work, you are not alone. According to this article on, most people learn what they want they want to do "when they grow up" when they are grown up.

In a survey conducted by British independent education foundation Edge, less than one-third (31 percent) of respondents said they found what they are good at in the classroom. Instead, they discovered their career talent through their first job (26 percent), later in their careers (25 percent), through work experience (18 percent) or through a hobby (15 percent).

That is great news for all the people I know who wonder why they are unhappy in their current work or why they want to change careers or fields. It's normal! That is what happens for we human beings. We do something, gain experience and gather information. Then we process that information in light of our feelings:

* Am I happy doing this?

* Does this work make me smile?

* Is this work fun? Do I like it?

* Am I engaged in and challenged by my work?

* Do I enjoy doing this day after day?

* Is it satisfying my need to feel productive, useful, effective and creative?

* When I do this work, do I feel like myself?

* Is it easy to jump out of bed? Do I look forward to going to work?

* Do I feel good about myself in this work?

* Am I growing in and through this job or career?

If the answer to some or all of these questions is "no," this is good news! It means you are ready to identify what you DO want to do for work. And there IS something you love to do. Just as there are clothes that fit us better, so too are there jobs that fit us better.

Freud said that love and work are the two main tasks of a human being. Others say "love and service" - service being how we help others. And most often that can be done via a job.

There are many tools available for you to uncover what you love to do and can do for work. I have a free e-book you can get as one way to start on your path to your "right fit work." To get it, follow the instructions in my post of November 10, 2009.