Archive for the ‘Careers’ Category

iStock_000012681402XSmallJust about everyone acknowledges that making contacts through networking is one of, if not the best ways to land a new position.  In fact, some estimates suggest that about 80% of all jobs are not advertised, and the openings are communicated through word of mouth.   So it stands to reason that the best way to learn about these opportunities is through the contacts you make. You can go to dozens of job events, hand out countless business cards, join the hot online groups, and connect with the universe, but the best way to make networking pay off is to turn those contacts into relationships. 

As a psychologist I am acutely aware of the importance of building relationships with clients.  By relationship I mean a state where people trust one another because of openness, honesty, and a sincere demonstration of willingness to help. An article in The Wall Street Journal by Dennis Nishi (March 24, 2013) reminded me of the critical role that the development of relationships can play when seeking a job.  Nishi’s article emphasizes going beyond brief contacts by developing ways to get in front of the right people.  Nishi relates the experience of a job seeker who, instead of asking for help, offers to help, thereby building strong relationships with individuals who might in turn be helpful to her.

A colleague of mine does a lot of networking to build his business and employs the same strategy.  He meets a lot of really nice, successful, energetic people, but often there is little they have in common.  However, when he comes across someone whose interests are aligned (professionally or socially) he starts to build a relationship by asking, “What can I do to help you? “  Sometimes there’s payback, sometimes there’s not, but on balance my colleague believes that giving is a good way to start getting.

Sometimes being more open about your situation with casual acquaintances can also be helpful.  I had a client who found himself engaged in conversation with another father while both were watching their daughters’ soccer match.   At first, my client focused on a conversation about the game and raising daughters.  At an appropriate time he mentioned that he had been laid off from his job as a salesman for a building supply company. It turned out that the other dad owned a roofing and siding company and was looking for a salesman.  He invited my client to come in for an interview and hired him.

Certainly there’s no harm in asking everyone you meet if they know of any jobs.  It’s just more likely that people will give it extra thought and go out of their way to help if you have some kind of relationship established.  It doesn’t have to be a life-long commitment, just a mutual demonstration of interest and caring.  You’ll find It helps to build a connection as opposed to just a conversation about your need to find a job.


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BookCover_v1Unemployment has more than just an economic impact on our lives. M. Harvey Brenner (1973, 1999) in Mental Illness and the Economy estimates that every 1% gain in unemployment over 3 years is accompanied by 20,240 cardio failures, 495 alcohol deaths, 920 suicides, 628 homicides and 4,227 admissions to psychiatric hospitals. Yet, little attention is paid to the psychological impact of unemployment.

In my new Kindle book, How to Stay Up in a Down Job Market: Survival Skills for the Unemployed, I address 9 strategies you can begin implementing immediately to start fighting the emotional storm that often accompanies unemployment. This concise book is not meant to be a panacea; I can’t give you a 30-day money back guarantee. However, I can assure you that there are psychological strategies you can learn to employ that will prove helpful. Because unemployment is such a threat to our well being, it is critical that you reduce the psychological impact of job loss. While it is hoped this book will be helpful, it cannot replace the help a physician or mental health professional can provide when needed.

The research clearly indicates that unemployment creates a level of prolonged stress which can be debilitating in terms of one’s physical and mental wellbeing. There are a number of simple strategies presented in the book that focus on reducing the stress you are experiencing.

Central to my approach is that if we want to change how we feel there are two buttons we can push. We can change our thinking and/or change our actions. When an event occurs, we immediately begin to evaluate it. Our evaluations might be rational and helpful. Unfortunately, sometimes they are irrational and lead to emotional upset and self-defeating behavior. This can especially occur when confronted with adversity. The book addresses how you can challenge irrational thoughts and the necessity to replace them with positive thinking. A simple example would go something like this: “I lost my job, I’ll never find another in this economy.” A more helpful and rational thought would be: “It will be tough to find another job and might take awhile. I better work on it everyday.”

If we want to change how we feel, we also need to focus on our actions. Of course, we need to engage in job search activities, but the book emphasizes the need to also engage in activities that improve our mood and motivation. In my opinion, it is critical to include activities such as reading, gardening, walking, exercise, or anything else you enjoy.

We can use such activities to reinforce the completion of less inherently interesting chores like searching job boards each day. It has been my experience with clients who find themselves really stuck, that focusing on activities proves more useful at first than attacking irrational thinking. For one of my unemployed clients, taking the time some mornings to drive her children to school gave her a sense of satisfaction and helped start her day. When she was working, she never had been able to drop them off or pick them up. Another client, an unemployed father for the first time could help his children with homework. It helped him feel he was contributing to the family’s welfare even though he was out of work.

While we know that finding a new position takes hard work, we often ignore our physical and mental health. Just reading this book will not change how you feel. If you want to limit the potential damage of unemployment to you and your family’s well being, you will have to work just as hard everyday to sustain your physical and emotional health. The book is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

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1. “How long have you been looking?”
Always say that you’ve just started looking in ernest and had been doing something else (such as traveling, or helping a friend start their business) until 1-2 months ago. This is why it is key to stay involved during unemployment, whether you’re consulting for free or active in industry organizations/the community, keep your skills and experience fresh.

Mention how great your job search is going, that the economy is really picking up in your industry, and you’ve been meeting with a lot of companies.

2. “Why did you leave Company X?”
For involuntary departures, always begin by complimenting your former company, boss, and team. Then explain and “agree” with the company’s business reason to eliminate your position.

Always keep it positive – you could mention that you still see your old boss and colleagues regularly. And again, reinforce that you’re in a fortunate position regarding your job search.

3. “Tell me about yourself.”
If you are asked this, try to postpone any lengthy answers until you have gotten them to talk about their priorities. Once you hear those, discuss your prior performance and successes that match the 3 key needs the company has for the open position.

4. “Take me through your resume.”
If you’re speaking with a hiring manager, they don’t want to hear every single bullet or line from your resume. You should give a very abbreviated version that is entirely relevant to the position. If you’re talking to a recruiter, you can be a little more complete in your response. Unless they are asking you for more detail, skip over irrelevant jobs.

Keep in mind, they are looking for red flags, so make all your transitions sound logical and very positive.

Sarah Stamboulie is Ivy Exec’s Senior Career Coach who helps executives accelerate careers and build company and industry visibility. As a Career Coach, Sarah helps clients conduct a more efficient and effective job search in a wide range of industries and functional areas.  Contact Sarah at http://www.ivyexec.com.

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Many years ago I tried to start a new business.  It had many moving parts and included a large group of people.  It failed to get off the ground.  I spent the next year and half ruminating over my failure.  During that time, a colleague was attempting to entice me to join him in a new venture.  Still hurting from the failed experience, I kept refusing to get involved.

Eventually, my colleague and I sat down and began to map out a plan.  We started a company that proved financially successful and lasted for twenty years.  The lesson I learned from that experience was that it is not failure that defines you but how fast you recover.  When I took the time to analyze the failure of the first project, I began to see why it didn’t succeed.  Essentially we had not developed back up plans for the roadblocks that inevitably developed.

Because of my personal experience, I have often counseled clients and participants in my workshops to reframe how they view failure.  I have urged them to review what went wrong and then to move forward with new endeavors.  Unfortunately, many of today’s unemployed hold themselves responsible for their situation. They dwell on past decisions or what they consider missed opportunities.  A more realistic assessment would lead to the understanding that the present economy has had a tremendous impact on the availability of jobs.   It is important to take a look back and not get caught up in self-blame, but to discover if there are clues that can lead to one’s next job or career.

Resilience refers to the process of recovering from adversity.  Psychologists have examined how people deal with setbacks. In fact, the American Psychological Association has developed a pamphlet entitled The Road To Resilience that can be found at http://www.apahelpcenter.org.  I recently came across another great resource that examines resilience.  Rick Newman has written a book entitled Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.  Both of these resources present the major characteristics associated with resilient people.

There are some common traits among individuals who quickly move past failure and indeed benefit from it.  They are able to step back and evaluate their failure.   Their evaluation helps them pinpoint the factors that contributed to the setback.  They learn to plan for failure in the future.  More simply stated: they always have a plan A and a plan B.  In this way, they use failure to adjust their approach to new ventures or projects.  Essentially, they extract positive information from their failed experience.   Profiles of individuals who have recovered from failure always point to their persistence and confidence.  Unlike me, they do not become paralyzed by their failed experience.

You can strengthen your ability to deal with larger setbacks by keeping small adversities in perspective.  Begin by avoiding catastrophizing them.   Try to learn from small setbacks and move forward incorporating what you have learned.  It is also important to maintain social support in your life.  Many times after a failure, such as loss of a job, people tend to withdraw from family and friends.  Social support is critical if you are to move forward.

As Rick Newman points out, some of the most successful people have met failure.  They ultimately succeeded because they learned what they could from the experience and continued to take on new challenges.

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It’s a cardinal sin to go into a job interview without planning and preparing to manage the opportunity for maximum impact. First of all, be aware of the six criteria by which most interviewers will rate your interview skills and qualifications for the job.

1. Personal impression you make: neatness in dress and manner; self-confidence; and maturity.
2. Preparation for the interview: knowledge about the business of the potential employer; list of questions to ask the interviewer.
3. Communication skills, written and oral.
4. Attitude: enthusiasm, sincerity and interest in the opportunity.
5. Competence: education and experience.
6. Personal chemistry: suitability and “fit” with the culture of the organization.

By way of preparation, learn as much as you can about the kind of interviews the company usually conducts. Are they formal or informal? Are they deliberately stressful? Should you expect “tricky” questions? How long do the sessions last? Are you likely to be interviewed by more than one person? Get a fix on the people who will be conducting the interview. You can develop this kind of information by reviewing the history of the company and its current activities as reported in the news media. Seek out others who have been interviewed by the company, as well as those who work there or do business with the firm. What is the environment like? How do people dress?

Use Negative Thinking In Your Planning

Negative thinking has an important role to play. Ask yourself what could ruin your chance to get the job?

1. Being late for the appointment.
2. Making a negative physical appearance in dress, neatness and posture; reflecting low energy or a lackadaisical attitude.
3. Being too informal and familiar; trying to be humorous.
4. Letting attention and eye contact wander.
5. Being unprepared, indifferent and unresponsive.
6. Dropping names and relating irrelevant life experiences.
7. Being overly concerned with benefits and compensation.
8. Talking too much; interrupting; not listening.
9. Being evasive; unable to explain voids in file.
10. Criticizing past employers.
11. Failing to ask intelligent questions about the job.
12. Being overconfident or under confident.

Interviewing Is A Two-Way Process

Be guided by the fact that interviewing is like any other form of communications process. It’s a two-way process: sending and receiving messages. Unfortunately, a great many people spend too much time with the former and too little with the latter. Here are five tips that will help you improve your listening skills:

1. Be aware that waiting your turn to speak is not listening.
2. Focus like a laser beam on what the interviewer is saying. Listen to the words as well as the spaces of silence.
3. Assure the interviewer you are interested and that you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and occasionally acknowledging you understand.
4. Concentrate on the facts. Collect them carefully. Take notes. Don’t get diverted by looking for hidden meanings. You’ll have time to analyze what you hear and see later.
5. Don’t get sidetracked by the interviewer’s personal appearance and mannerisms. Overlook any biased or irritating statements.

Greg Olsten is an Associate in Professional Services at IvyExec.com.


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Communication can make or break a relationship at home or at work.  Let’s view communication from the perspective of the sender and receiver.  How often as a sender of a message have you had to say: “That isn’t what I meant.”  Sometimes the message we try to send does not clearly express what we are trying to say. Examining what psychologists refer to as “I messages” versus “you messages” can help improve your communication skills.

I first encountered the phrase “I message” in Thomas Gordon’s book Parent Effectiveness Training (1970).  While he initially proposed the concept as a communication tool for parents, it quickly became apparent that the use of “I messages” could be generalized to many settings.

An example should prove useful. A wife who is worried about her unemployed husband’s wellbeing tries to check on him by stating: “You look defeated.”  Her husband, the receiver of the message, immediately begins to defend himself.  He responds angrily because he misinterprets her message.  He feels she thinks that he has given up and is not working hard enough to get a job.  He responds sarcastically, “I’m doing just great.  I’m looking as hard as I can.” Remember, the wife is worried about her husband’s wellbeing, not how hard he is working at getting a job. Yet the message she sends arouses defensiveness. From the perspective of communication theory, her mistake was to start her message with “you.” Another approach would be to start with an “I message.”  “I’m worried because looking for a job has to be frustrating and stressful.  I wish there was something I could do to help.”  Response by husband: “It is stressful, but your offer to help is really appreciated.”

“You statements” block effective communication because they often generate defensiveness, resistance or anger in the receiver.  Let’s look at some other examples:

 “You’ll get another job if you only keep trying.”  Receiver gets defensive. “You think I’m not looking as hard as I should.

 “You’ll feel better tomorrow.” Receiver gets resistant.  “No I won’t. Nothing will have changed. “

The above attempts to offer advice or support are well intentioned, but they serve to only block effective communication.

Recently, at a workshop I conduct for people who are unemployed, a participant pointed out that his wife was a “worrier” and frequently found it necessary to check on him while he worked on his computer.  He admitted that he often snapped, “ You keep interrupting me.  You’re driving me crazy.”  When he returned for the second day of the workshop, he pointed out that he had focused on using “I statements” with his wife.  He acknowledged that it took some effort not to respond impulsively.

But now, instead of responding defensively, he tried statements like, “I’m trying hard to focus on searching job boards right now.  I’ll check in with you when I take a break in about a half-hour. “ His response defused her anxiety without hurting her feelings or getting upset himself.

While it takes some practice, starting statements with “I” can eliminate unintended emotional baggage from your attempts to communicate clearly.

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Is it how smart we are, or how smartly we react?

In the struggle to succeed, we typically rely on our intelligence to produce positive outcomes to get what we need.  We do research, ferret out facts, think things through, and seek the opinions of others.

Our resumes are geared to promote accomplishments.  We compile references from respected colleagues to show that others believe we have what it takes.  We come to interviews armed with a wealth of information about prospective employers to show we’re prepared to jump right in.  And no one would argue that these are all good ideas and quite necessary in today’s competitive job market.

Even in doing all the right things, we face a lot of rejection. Someone else gets the job.  We get upset, frustrated, and start to lose motivation.  We begin to doubt our abilities and lose faith in ourselves. We begin a downward spiral of not trying so hard and spend less time looking at job boards or networking.  We find excuses not to apply for certain positions.  So, despite being “smart,” our enthusiasm to look for work diminishes.

So, to move ahead it becomes important to get out of – or avoid – the job search blues.  Unfortunately, stress, frustration, and all the negative emotions that accompany unemployment tend to cloud our thinking.  In his book, “Emotional Intelligence,” (2005) David Goleman writes “When emotions overwhelm concentration, what is being swamped is…the ability to hold in mind all information relevant to the task at hand…we can’t think straight.”(p.79) We get stuck. We fail to make progress.

In his book, Goleman discusses how hope and optimism can play important roles in achievement.  He describes the research of C.R. Snyder at the University of Kansas who found that hopefulness among students entering college was a better predictor of achievement than the SAT, which has a high correlation with IQ.  Snyder defines to hope as “believing you have both the will and the way to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be.”(p.87)

Later, Goleman describes an interesting experiment involving Olympic swimmer, Matt Biondi, conducted by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. Seligman had previously tested the swimmer for “optimism.” Biondi was told that his time during an event was slower than it actually was.  What might have been demoralizing to an athlete who wasn’t optimistic, was motivating to Biondi.  After being given a rest, Biondi tried again and bettered his previous time.  In contrast, when this experiment was repeated with “pessimistic” swimmers, their times were worse when given a second chance.

Seligman defines optimists as ”People who…see a failure as due to something that can be changed so that that they can succeed next time around…”(p.88) Goleman goes on to say, “For example, in reaction to disappointment such as being turned down for a job, optimists tend to respond actively and hopefully, by formulating a plan of action, say, or seeking out help and advice; they see the setback as something that can be remedied.”(p.88) In short, it’s not failure that defines you, but how quickly you regroup and try again.

So being smart (or really good at your profession) is important.  It is equally important to keep your goal in sight, maintain belief in yourself, be persistent, and use your intelligence to find ways to get over your job search obstacles.

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