How To Ace Job Interviews: 5 Secrets Backed By Research

Image Source: Shutterstock

Image Source: Shutterstock

It’s the moment of truth in any career change: the job interview. You sweat. You prepare and hope for the best. But it usually feels like a black box.

That’s going to change with this article. Based on the excellent research from, “Pedigree: how elite students get elite jobs,” by Lauren A. Rivera, we’re going to break down job interviews.

During her PhD research at Harvard University, Rivera “went undercover” to find out how elite firms (high end law firms, consulting firms and financial firms) hire new staff from America’s top universities.

Do these insights apply to all hiring situations? I would say yes based on my personal experience and research. Of course, there are some nuances specific to the firms Rivera studied (e.g. the case interview in the management consulting industry).

Reporting From The Front Lines Of The Elite Job Market

In her excellent book, Rivera reports on how individuals at elite companies actually think and behave in hiring and recruiting. How? Rivera interviewed numerous profiessionals and personally worked in these firms during recruiting season. This book is the most detailed and robust explanation of how job interviews and hiring work in the wild I have ever seen.

Rivera describes the job interview as a four act process:

  1. Icebreaking chitchat
  2. Autobiographical Narrative
  3. Technical Tests
  4. A Question and Answer Period

You will learn how each step works in this article because knowing is half the battle!

Secret 1: Your Interviewer Probably Has No Training

Hiring decisions matter, especially in professional services firms that sell high priced labor. So you would expect plenty of time and attention would be applied to training interviewers? Rivera’s research on professionals at top firms finds the opposite:

Sociological accounts of hiring often portray hiring decisions – including interview evaluations – as being conducted by professionalized HR staff who have in-depth knowledge of interviewing techniques…However, in the firms that I studied, interviews were conducted almost exclusively by full-time revenue generating professionals who balanced recruitment responsibilities with full-time client responsibilities. Interviewing was a secondary responsibility for them… Because firms gave evaluators little guidance regarding what merit is and how they should measure it, identifying talent was largely up to each interviewer’s judgement.

That means that if you and friend both interview at the same company, you can expect quite different results. How so? Rivera founds that some interviewers rated candidates highly on “fit” if they happen to share the same hobbies (e.g. SCUBA diving or Varsity athletics).

Secret 2: Icebreaking Chitchat Matters More Than You Think In Job Interviews

As you walk down the hallway with the interviewer, the job interview is underway. How you talk about the news, the weather and more all factor into the impression you make. Here is how Rivera reports on this phase of the job interview:

The interviewers I spoke with often began by asking job candidates which they liked to do in their spare time. Yet this conversation was not “cheap talk”, tangential to the the evaluation process. It was the primary basis on which interviewers judged the key criterion of cultural fit… Firms, in essence, sought surface-level demographic diversity in applicant pools but deep-level cultural homogeneity in new hires.

Surprisingly, certain hobbies and interests were considered more “worthy” than others in this process. Having time and resources to indulge in fun is not always possible. Rivera points out: “Concerted cultivation of leisure is a hallmark of the more economically privileged social ranks.” The types of activities that evaluators participated in and valued were also those most commonly associated with white, upper-middle class culture.” If you leisure activities are expensive (e.g. golf), that is more likely to earn your bonus points. However, good leisure activities are not the only factor; your personal story matters as well.

Secret 3: Telling Your Story Is More Than “Just The Facts”

What comes to mind when someone asks you the typical job interview question, “Tell me about yourself.”

At first glance, this appears to be a highly personal question that could be answered in many different ways. In fact, there is right way to answer and a wrong way to answer. Rivera observes the key elements in crafting and delivering an effective autobiographical narrative in job interviews:

A strong narrative had two distinct but interrelated components: the applicant’s past experiences and his or her future trajectory. Interviewers used stories of the past to assess a candidate’s level of “drive,” an evaluative criterion that combined ambition and a strong work ethic. They used stories of the future to assess a candidates level of “interest” in a career with their firms.

Simply thinking about your relevant past experiences and plans for the future is a starting point but not enough. However, Rivera reports that HOW that narrative is delivered makes a big difference.

Not all candidates’ stories were equally successful in eliciting high marks on drive from evaluators. This is not surprising but it is problematic. It means that artful storytelling about one’s experiences is awarded greater weight than one’s actual experiences (enumerated on resumes) in job interviews.

What are the key elements of a successful story in a job interview?

  • A series of decisions in a coherent, linear account
  • an emotionally, exciting narrative
  • a portrait of experiences similar to the interviewer OR a dramatic/unique story line.

Rivera goes on to point out that many job applicants struggle to excel with these expectations. For example, what if your choices reflected surprise opportunities, unexpected tragedies or other limitations? Based on my reading, it looks like candidates are likely to be rejected if their narrative contains anything other than a series of heroic triumphs.

Secret 4: Getting It Right On Technical Tests Still Matters

In some job interviews, you will be tested on technical skills. Years ago, I remember completing a series of tests (including written essays!) for a position in Canada’s civil service. I passed all the tests but did not succeed in the French language test. That level of evaluation in technical skills appears rare for the firms that Rivera studied.

Why?

There are two reasons for this lack of concern about technical skills. First, recruiters assume that elite colleges and universities, by virtue of their challenging admissions processes, have already selected highly intelligent students. Second, elite professional services firms are noted for their extensive training programs (i.e. you are not expected to be economically productive right away) so new hires are not expected to have job skills.

Let’s take an example from the consulting job interviews which stress the importance of case interviews:

Although case interviews incorporate the most systematic tests of job-relevant skills across the industries that I studied, their purpose was not to screen for previously acquired job-specific knowledge but rather to identify candidates who displayed a generalized knack for problem solving.

The discussion goes on to provide commentary on how interviewers perceived case interview answers. An effective answer has an explicit structure (e.g. 3-5 bullet points summarizing the main issues was considered ideal). One unexpected surprise? Candidates were sometimes rated favorably in this section based on structure and logic, even if there were errors in the detail of the analysis. In contrast, less organized answers – even with perfect math – often led to lower ratings.

Secret 5: Navigating The Question And Answer Period

Demonstrating interest in a company and profession help in job interviews. Rivera’s research found the following about asking questions during job interviews:

Like other acts of the interview, the Q&A was a ritualized interaction and good performance within it followed a particular script. First, the interviewee has to ask the interviewer something… Interviewers interpreted having questions about the firm or the job as evidence of genuine interests in the firm and an absence of queries as a sign that the candidate didn’t really want the job.

Asking questions in a job interview serves two purposes: obtaining information AND demonstrating your interest in the role. However, some questions are better than others. Here are some of Rivera’s further observations on that front:

A wrong question, though, probed the time commitments entailed by these jobs. For example, asking too many questions about travel demands or working hours made interviewers question applicants’ commitment to the job or the firm and their underlying personal character… Several female evaluators, mostly lawyers, reported having particularly negative reactions to applicants – primarily other women – who asked about work-life balance or family leave policies during the interview.

There’s nothing wrong with being curious about hours, travel and related points. These questions to be discovered through networking rather than a job interview. Ultimately, the Q&A portion is helpful but it does not overcome other parts of the interview. The one exception? Asking “bad” questions (e.g. about hours, benefits, pay) during a job interview tends to produce a negative reaction.

Question of The Day (Write Your Answer In A Comment!)

What have you learned to improve your job interview skills over time?

30 Networking Resources To Grow Your Career

Networking Coffee Meetings

The art of networking is something that readers ask me about all the time. Usually, the question comes in the form of “how do I network to find a job?” That’s just one aspect of networking. In this article, you will find a wealth of material to aid you in building networking skills.

Networking Books

Get started with these networking books. I have read (or I’m working through!) all of these titles and have learned from all of them.

1. Networking With the Affluent by Thomas Stanley

After seeing this book recommended by several authors, I started to read it. It is excellent even though it was published in the 1990s. The book is directed at sales and marketing professionals yet it can be used by others if you apply some imagination. This book’s unique insight is to propose ways to add value to your network. One example  – enhance revenue! Before trying to sell someone, first provide introductions to customers for them. What an excellent idea.

2. Never Eat Alone, Expanded and Updated: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz

If you are only willing to read one book on networking, it has to be this book. Informed by Ferrazi’s experience at Deloitte, Starwood Hotels and other research, there is much to be learned here. A great insight from the book is to develop a relationship action plan in order to meet your goals. I have read the book in print and listened to it twice via Audible.com. It’s that good.

3. Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success–and Won’t Let You Fail by Keith Ferrazi

Do you have a small group of friends who can give you advice, support and accountability? That’s the central premise of this book. The book goes into practical suggestions on how to organize such a group and make it work effectively. After you start to master the basics of networking, “Who’s Got Your Back” will take you to the next level.

4. Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships by Jeffrey Gitomer 

Aimed at sales professionals, this short book is a fun approach to networking. There are lists, bullet points and other devices to make the book for easy reading. If you are looking for a quick introduction to networking, this is helpful. If you are not involved in sales, you will have more work to translate this book to your context.

5. How to Work a Room, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections–In Person and Online by Susan RoAne

I discovered this book a few months ago when the author appeared on a podcast interview. What a great find. Making connections in person at events is one of the best ways to build your network. This book is filled with encouragement and great tips. You will find tips on questions to ask, conversation ideas and examples showing the power of events.

Networking Articles: Scripts, Cold Emails and Success Stories

Use the following articles to address specific networking problems. In some cases, all you need is a script. These resources will point you in the right direction.

6. All You Need to Know About High Level Networking: An Interview With Geoff Woods

Published earlier this year, Geoff Woods has reinvented his career from medical device sales to entrepreneurship. How? He changed his peer group, he went to the right conferences and started a podcast. What’s the key lesson I learned from him? Check out the answer to question 5.

7. Ramit’s definitive guide to building your network (with scripts)

Author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” Ramit Sethi offers actual scripts you can use in networking. Not sure what to write in an email to that impressive person? Start with these scripts. A key insight from this material? If you receive a piece of advice from a mentor or VIP, put it into action! Then send the person a follow up message describing your experience. That’s what Ramit calls “closing the loop.” Michael Ellsberg advocates for a similar practice in his book “The Education of Millionaires.”

8. 6 Steps to Writing Great Cold Emails

Cold calls have a bad reputation. Are “cold emails” any better? It all depends on your approach including your research and how much you think about the other person. In this article, entrepreneur Noah Kagan describes a cold email that he received that worked on him. Key insight here: “make it easy to say yes.” Ask a simple question or make a basic request – that’s how you start the connection.

9. How to Get Busy Influencers to Share Your Stuff

Some people are more influential than others. That’s why so many authors used to work hard to get onto Oprah’s TV show. Getting an endorsement from one influential person is a powerful way to advance your career or your company. How do you actually do that? In this article, author Tim Ferriss deconstructs a successful email pitch he received. Similar to the Noah Kagan article above, a key practice is to make it easy. If you want people to write a Tweet about you? Provide example Tweets to them so they can copy and paste. The article includes links to other helpful resources.

10. How I Hustled to Get the Perfect Job: From Tradecraft to Zumper

I read this article a few weeks ago and WOW. Ina Herlihy has dedication and gives you the details on how her job hunt. What’s her secret? Keep trying! Want to work at a company? Ask multiple people! Go to an event where you will see people from the company. Ina Herlihy also invested in herself by participating in an educational program called Tradecraft. Even if you’re not in Silicon Valley (I’m not), there is plenty of insight and inspiration to be drawn from this article.

11. Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings

When I interviewed Donald Asher last year, he encouraged readers to “take the call and take the meeting.” That’s an important attitude if you want to win in networking. In this article, Mark Suster shares his experience on networking broadly. Mark Suster has built several successful companies so there is much we can learn from him.

  • The math on this approach is compelling. My standard order at Starbucks – a tall medium – comes to $2 in Canada. If I implemented this strategy, the cost would be around $200 per year (assuming I pay for the other person and they have a similar order). That’s an incredible value to be earned on a small investment.

12. How Do You Get a Job Doing Marketing for a Start up?

Many people will tell you that applying to a job posting is one of the most difficult ways to get a great job. So what should you do instead? Brandon Croke offers his perspective on breaking into marketing. There is great tactical advice here such as the importance of learning high demand skills like copywriting. How Brandon Croke add to the conversation? He points out there is a big difference between a marketer who says “I can write write” and one who states “My copy delivers results because of this revenue (or this analytics data).

13. 4 Things Networking Can Help You Do (Besides Get a Job)

Many people think the only purpose of networking is to find jobs. That’s just not true. Lily Zhang shows four our “use cases” where it makes sense to network. For example, gathering intelligence on an industry (I would add that it makes sense to start with some reading of your own first so that you can ask good questions) and learning from mistakes others have made. Want more examples? Click through and read the article.

14. 5 Email Templates That Make Following Up With Anyone Way Less Awkward

Staying in touch with your network matters. Just think of how many people you met at events last year – how many of them are you still in touch with today? This article includes scripts that you copy and paste into your email service.

15. 7 Networking Mistakes Even Harvard MBAs Make

Learning what NOT to do is also helpful. Joel Comm’s advice includes going to events (online networking helps but it is not the whole game).

Networking Podcasts, Videos & Courses

I love to read and make it a daily practice. What if you prefer to learn from other types of media? I’ve got you covered with this section.

16. How to Connect with Powerful and Influential People

In this video, author Michael Ellsberg explains his approach to connecting with people. He brings a member of the audience on stage to demonstrate his approach. For more on Ellsberg’s approach, read his book “The Education of Millionaires.”

17. Susan Cain: Networking For Introverts

Most of the time, I see myself as an introvert (i.e. I recharge through alone time). If you see yourself as introvert, the benefits of networking are still available to you. In this interview, author Susan Cain offers advice for introverts seeking to connect.

18. How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time

In this episode of the Tim Ferriss show, you will learn about Tim’s approach to networking. Before he became an entrepreneur and best selling author, Ferriss built his networks by volunteering at associations, focused networking at conferences and other means. This resource is most helpful to those seeking to maximize the value of participating in a conference.

19. Staying In Touch – Examples

An excellent Manager Tools podcast that provides templates you can use to stay in touch. Meeting new people is important. Yet, the “fortune is in the follow up.” Use this resource to maintain and grow your relationships.

20. How To Use The Holidays As A Networking Opportunity

In this Fast Company article, you will learn the mindset and tactics needed to achieve success during the holidays. I’m writing this entry right before the Canada Day holiday so the topic is on my mind. A key insight from the article:  “Ever look at a business card and think, “How the heck do I know him?”.. Consider doing what [Dorie] Clark does: “Don’t forget to write identifying notes on the back of people’s business cards, or enter their information into your database as soon as possible,” she suggests. “Because if you leave it until the new year, you’re likely to forget who was who.”

21. Your #1 Relationship Building Strategy

In this episode of the Mentee Podcast, Geoff Woods shares his strategy for conferences. Based on Geoff’s teaching, I have made two key changes in my approach to events and conferences. I aim to sit near the front and I work to ask a good question. How? I have a notebook with me during the presentation and write down a few possible questions. By being one of the few people to ask a question to the presenter, everyone in the room notices you and you have the opportunity to connect with the speaker after the session.

22. Productive Networking Dinners with Dorie Clark

Serving as the host of an event is one of the best ways to build your network of relationships. How do you put that idea into action? Listen to this podcast where author and consultant Dorie Clark shares her approach to networking dinners. Read “Mastermind Dinners: Build Lifelong Relationships by Connecting Experts, Influencers, and Linchpins” by Jayson Gaignard for additional insight including step by step directions if you are interested in pursuing this strategy.

23. How to Build a Millionaire’s Network with Keith Ferrazzi

Another resource with Keith Ferrazi? Yes! I’m enthused about sharing his material with readers because he has achieved outstanding results in networking in several industries. The podcast has some great material on developing relationships with mentors.

24. How To Grow Your Business With Associations: 5 Benefits You Need To Know

I wrote this article last year to promote the value of associations. Taking an active role in associations, often through writing and serving as a volunteer, is one the best networking strategies. The best point of leverage is to become a leader in the association. Becoming a leader often takes time yet it is worth it.

25. A Complete Guide to Building Your Network by Keith Ferrazzi

In this Udemy video course, Keith presents short video lessons on various aspects of networking. Much of the material is based on “Never Eat Alone.” Is it worth it to buy the course if you have the book? I would say yes for two reasons. First, you may find video easier to use than books. Second, the course includes files and templates that assist you in networking activities.

Networking Tools

The right tool for the job makes a major difference. Use these tools to support your networking efforts.

26. LinkedIn

An essential resource that needs to be part of your toolkit. Here are two tips to get you started: add a professional head shot to your profile and participate in groups related to your interests. There is much more to be said on LinkedIn as a career research tool. Perhaps I will do another article exploring LinkedIn in greater depth.

27. Meetup.com

Conferences are excellent network events yet they have some drawbacks. Travel costs alone make conferences difficult for many people. What’s the alternative if you are interested in live events? Meetup.com is a helpful service that I have used over the past few years. If your first experience at a given Meetup disappoints, suspend your judgement until you have attended two or three more events.  In my experience, technology related interests are well represented on Meetup. If you are interested in technology or entrepreneurship, Meetup is likely to be a great resource for you.

28. Use Cards & Stamps

Buy blank cards and stamps! Use them to send thank you notes. Or postcards. In a digital world, sending a traditional letter is one way to stand out. That said, the possibility of a Canada Post strike in 2016 does pose challenges. That’s why the “tools” section of this article has multiple tools.

29. Contactually

At a certain point, you may realize that managing your network is difficult or overwhelming. In that case, consider using a “CRM” (customer relationship management) tool to keep track. I have not used this resource myself but it does come recommended by networking expert John Corcoran.

30. FollowUp.cc

Relationships take time to develop. You may want to meet for coffee tomorrow but your friend is busy. Will you remember to stay in touch? This tool helps to solve that problem.

Why Most People Fail At Career Change

Career Change

Are you unhappy with the direction of your career?

You’re not alone. Each year, there are new surveys on employee engagement that suggest millions are frustrated with their current job. In fact, Jobvite’s 2012 Social Job Seeker Survey found 69% of Americans they were either “actively seeking” a new job or “open to” a new job. According to Glassdoor research, common frustrations include poor leadership, technology and working hours (The Worst Companies to Work For).

What Forces Are Driving The Need For Career Change?

Several trends are powering a growing rise in career change. Think of these trends as powerful waves in the ocean. They can propel you forward or you can overwhelmed by them.

More Industries Are In Crisis.

Over the past twenty years, several industries have experienced major losses. In Ontario, a sharp decline in the number of automotive jobs prompted governments to provide billions of dollars to large car companies to boost the industry. In the travel industry, travel agents have been impacted by the rise of services such as Kayak and TripAdvisor. Whole books have been written about these trends.

What It Means For Your Career.

If you are currently employed in a declining industry, that trend will negatively impact for career advancement. To use a military analogy – while it is possible for a small force to defeat a much larger force (e.g. the defenders in the 1529 Siege Of Vienna), it is a high risk move. If career growth matters to you, competing in a declining industry is like running a race with your eyes closed. Do yourself a favor and move to a company with higher growth prospects – that will ease your path.

Megatrends Are Creating New Opportunities

Economic change often gets a bad reputation because the pain it causes attracts a lot of attention. A Fortune article reports findings from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas: nearly 500,000 layoffs were announced in 2015 (an increase compared to 2014). At the same time, other large scale trends are creating new opportunities. Here are three trends that I have been following over the past year:

  • Analytics and Data. This trend is creating new jobs at large companies (e.g. Amazon), startup firms and everything in between. For detailed insights on technologies, training and opportunities, read my InfoWorld article: Career boost: Break into data science. Another option is to start a formal program of study such as Coursera’s specialization in business analytics.
  • Internet of Things (“IoT”). What happens when Internet connected sensors become more common? I have reported that IoT improves air travel in both airlines and airports. Unlike the other two trends mentioned, this trend is still early. However, I see significant growth coming in the future. A key challenge for IoT connects to analytics and data science – what data should we collect and how do we use that data to improve results?
  • Cybersecurity. For immediate employment, this is one of the highest demand sectors I have seen. The arm’s race dynamic (attackers vs defenders) mean a constant demand for new ideas. Cybersecurity jobs are found at large companies like IBM, cybersecurity software companies, IT security consulting firms and beyond. For more on this topic, read my CSO article: How to get started in IT security consulting.

What It Means For Your Career

These above technology trends are likely to generate new companies and employment for years to come. What if you are not interested in technology jobs? Look for other trends that are likely to increase over time. Energy and healthcare are two industries that combine a history of high quality jobs and a bright outlook. Consider a 2016 article in Bloomberg showing the rapid growth in solar and wind energy since 2000.

Realizing You Have An Accidental Career

Trends and economic change suggest directions but only you can select a direction. My research and conversations suggest that many people fell into their current career rather than choosing it. Some people may be content with such a path. On other hand, if you are discontent with your current career, it is time to pursue a change.

Note: If you are interested in rethinking your career and life generally, I suggest reading Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Daniel Harkavy and Michael S. Hyatt. It is a short book that explains how life planning works. The website linked to in this paragraph also includes resources to guide you through the process.

5 Ways To Fail At Career Change

Deciding to change your career direction is exciting! You might have a relatively small move in mind (e.g. web development to mobile development) or a major change in mind (e.g. graphic designer to accountant). The key is to capture that frustration and channel it toward productive change.

Make sure you avoid these five failure points as you plan your career change.

1. Do Nothing. This failure is where you do nothing but dream and fume at how frustrated you are with your current career situation. Clearly, this is not enough.

2. Complain. This is a slight step up from the point above. At this point, you are expressing the problem. I think of career discontent as fuel – it has the potential to power change but only if you put into an engine and have a direction.

3. Resign Immediately. In rare cases, resigning immediately is the smart move. If your discomfort level is sky high, leaving makes sense. For 95% of people, resigning immediately – before you have a basic plan and knowledge of your next steps – is a recipe for failure.

4. Underestimate The Challenge. The easiest job search is where you do the exact same job at a different company (e.g. Java Developer at company X moves to a Java Developer role at company Y). The further you want to move away from your established skills, the harder the career change will be. Why? You will be competing against people who have been in your new dream job for years. Why? From the employer standpoint, a career changer means greater uncertainty compared to

5. “I’ll Figure Out Myself” Fallacy. Given enough time and patience, it is possible to make the “DIY” approach to career change work. That said, most of us have constraints to work against. You might give yourself a year to build up a client list. Or you realize that you only have 5-10 hours per week to learn new skills while you hold down your current job. In that case, you need all the help you can get. Learn from others who have already achieved success in your new dream job.

The Low Risk Strategy For Career Change

Whew! You might be thinking, “Does this mean I’m stuck in this career path?” Not at all. There are ways to move forward. Even better, there’s no need to quit your job tomorrow. Instead, use this approach to deconstruct your frustration and set direction.

Define Your Frustration.

Putting your frustration into words is a key step to planning a career change. Are you frustrated by compensation? Or is company culture more of a problem (e.g. high risk aversion)? Perhaps you are fundamentally bored or disengaged with the content of your work. At the same time, think deeply about what you like in your work (e.g. you like building spreadsheets and models? Maybe your interest here is really about applying systems thinking).

Read To Explore Your Horizons.

Expanding your career horizons through reading is low risk and high impact. If you are looking to expose yourself to a wide variety of jobs in a short period, look into The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken. If you have a specific focus in mind – e.g. explore if product management is right for you – read interviews with people in that profession. Next, read 2-5 of the books on the topic with the highest rating on Amazon.

Start your reading process with these resources:

Connect With Multiple People In The Field

Time to leave your office and meet people! The above reading step gives you ideas, a sense of a field’s opportunities and history. However, it is incomplete. It is vital to connect with several people (rule of thumb: at least 5 people at five different companies) doing the kind of work you are interested in. Write out some questions in advance and go ask for insights.

What if you don’t have any contacts that are related to your field?

  • Associations. Most professions have associations where people gather together to share advice, professional education and network. Look into joining an organization, reading their association newsletter or going to their events. WEDDLE’s Association Directory is a helpful resource to get started.
  • Educators. Similar to the point above, there are instructors who teach a wide variety of career skills. Many established instructors have developed extensive networks in their field over time. Read the instructor biography and then email them with a few questions to start the conversation (Tip: How to Connect with VIPs: 5 Tips for Cold Emails)
  • LinkedIn Groups. Joining LinkedIn Groups is an online strategy to gorw your network. For the best results, look for groups where multiple people are regularly contributing material and comments.

Validate Your Interest With A Project

Eventually, you need to do the work. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for InfoWorld explaining how to become an Android developer. During my research, several managers and experts commented that building an Android app is one of the best ways to set yourself apart and break into the profession. Whenever possible, look for a way to demonstrate your skills with a specific project. You can either work on a solo project or work in a group. For job search specifically, the best scenario involves creating something that other people use and have input on.

Here are X ways to do a project to validate your interest in a new career before you quit your day job.

  • Technology Careers. If you’re interested in switching to a technology or development career, you are in luck! Many companies offer free or low cost resources to developers. Explore CodeAcademy if you are interested in Python, PHP and other programming languages.

Question For The Comments:

What career change are you interested in?

17 Ways To Invest In Your Career Without Going Into Debt

Career Improvement For Less Than $1000

If you were handed $1000 to invest, where would you achieve the greatest payoff?

Let’s consider a few popular options:

  • Savings Accounts. Annual interest rates are 1-3%. Not much to get excited about there.
  • Dividend Stocks. A more interesting option with potential for growth, unfortunately there is also greater risk here. The S&P 500 dividend yield in 2015 was under 3%.
  • The classic ‘safe’ investment for many investors. Returns are sometimes better than savings account and sometimes less.
  • Your Career. Learning additional skills and growing your network? That could boost your income by 10%-20% this year.

Earlier this year, I read The Last Safe Investment by Michael Ellsberg and Bryan Franklin. The authors make a compelling case for investing in skills and networks instead of traditional financial assets. Yet many people have an overly narrow definition of what it means to invest in their careers: going for a MBA degree, professional certification or high priced bootcamp.

If your goal is to work at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Company, then an Ivy League MBA is your best bet. Potentially, you could make the case for student loans though one needs to keep the drawbacks in mind (see the New York Times: Student Debt in America: Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist). For everybody else, there are other options that will provide a faster return with a lower upfront investment.

Before you sign up for a crippling student loan or pour hours into studying for the GMAT, use these 17 strategies to boost your career.

Lay A Foundation For Success: 5 Daily Career Habits

Habits are a fascinating topic that I recommend everyone study. When you leverage good habits, you are able to make steady progress on your goals each day without giving much thought to them. The investment in this case is in changing your daily practices. Use the Tiny Habits approach to get started with habit development.

1. Read Your Annual Goals Each Day Before Writing Your Todo List

What’s the first thing you do each day at the office once you log into your PC? If you’re like me, you probably login to your PC, fire up Outlook and scan through email. In my case, the login procedure to the corporate network takes several minutes. That’s a golden opportunity to plan the day in less than 5 minutes. Here’s what you do.

  • Read through your annual performance goals.
  • Reflect on where you are making progress and where you are falling short
  • Write three “mini-goals” for the day that will move you toward achieving your goals.

2. Work On “The One Thing” For Your Job For The First Hour Of The Day

After you review your goals, what’s next? It’s time to invest an hour in a high value activity before anything else comes up. After all, the work day will only become busier.

For sales professionals, that could be a mix of following up on leads and calling prospects. For technology professionals, it could be designing a test for a new high impact feature.

Resource: Not sure what your most important goal should be? I suggest reading “The one thing : the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

3. Ask For Micro-Feedback

Feedback is helpful yet few people seek it out. Even fewer take that feedback into account and improve their daily work. If asking for feedback feels scary or uncomfortable, start with micro-feedback:

  • How did that meeting go?
  • Did the analysis I delivered yesterday answer your question?
  • How can we improve the customer experience?

Resource: The 5 Best Times And Ways To Ask For Feedback

4. Ask For The Bigger Picture

Specialization is a double edged sword. It creates value because you learn how to perform tasks better than a generalist. However, it also means you miss out on understanding what other people do. I recently learned that a monthly report I produce for another department is directly tied to $100,000 of annual revenues. I had delivered the report month after month for over a year before I asked how it was used. This insight helped me see this task in a new way (“oh this report actually has a revenue impact!”).

Here are a few ways to ask for the bigger picture:

  • What do you do with this document?
  • Who reads the report?
  • If I stopped doing this task, what would happen?

5. Record Your Daily Wins

In late 2015, I started to make daily notes about the work tasks I accomplished in Evernote. To remind myself, I set a reminder alarm for 4:40pm and it has been helpful. This practice is helpful in at least two ways: first, it motivates to have three worthy items to put into the log each day. Second, I periodically review the entries and look for patterns and gaps. It’s interesting to see a mix of small daily tasks and building up wins that relate to larger goals. Here are a few ways to put this habit into action:

  • Use Evernote (tip: if your company blocks Evernote, you can use the Evernote app on your iPhone – that’s what I do)
  • Use a text document (make sure that you back it up!)
  • Use a habit reminder app to remind yourself (I like Coach.me)
  • Make sure one of your daily wins relates to your One Thing

Investing $1,000 (or less) In Your Career: Little Hinges Swing Big Doors

Targeted investments in your career have tremendous power to grow your career. Choose two methods from this list to grow your career for less than $1,000 (most of the strategies will are under $200) this summer. Think of these approaches as a way to become an angel investor for your career.

6. Attend Local Events

Going to events is a powerful way to grow your network, spark creativity and add new insights. What if you can’t afford to get on a plane and visit a conference in person? Are there other options to consider? Yes! Here are ten ideas to help you find local professional events to grow your career:

  • Meetup.com: Meetup is a great place to connect with other people. For business, I find Meetup is strongest in the area of technology, startups and marketing. You might be out of luck if you want to find a supply chain management group (though you could always start your Meetup group for a small fee).
  • Ten Thousand Coffees. This one-on-one social network is designed to bring together people interested in meeting over coffee. I’ve used the service and found it interesting.
  • Local Chapter of the Project Management Institute. With over one hundred chapters in the United States and Canada (and more around the world), local chapters are an excellent way to learn new project management methods like agile, find out about project management software and more.
  • Eventbrite. This popular ticket platform has many different events and it takes some digging to find good ones. For example, you can find Discover Your Personal Brand, an annual event in Toronto that costs less than $200 and packs plenty of value.
  • Chamber of Commerce. Most cities and towns have chambers of commerce or business associations. In Toronto, I have benefited from attending Toronto Board of Trade events. Like other organizations mentioned, you don’t need to buy a membership in order to attend events.
  • Alumni Association Events. Many colleges and universities have alumni associations which are great learning resources. Over the past few years, the University of Toronto has put on excellent career oriented programs covering networking, communication and other topics through their Shaker event series. Check with your institution to see what they have available.
  • Charity Events. Attending a charity event is an interesting way to connect with other people in your city and industry. There are many different options to consider ranging from museum fundraisers to charity auctions. Start by looking for charities you already support and ask what events they have/
  • Guided Events/Tours. How much of your city have you explored? Exploring your city on a tour is an interesting way to expand your knowledge. Toronto has ROM Walks that cover different parts of the city. While this type of event is not limited to business professionals, you never know who you will meet. The new perspective you gain will boost creativity.
  • StartupGrind. For those interested in the technology industry, StartupGrind is an interesting organization to explore. Founders of companies in ecommerce, apps and other fields regularly give presentations about their firms. At the time of this writing, StartupGrind has a presence in 200 cities covering more than 80 countries.
  • Hack Events. There is a whole category of events with “hack” in them that are worth exploring. Finding these events involves spending a bit of quality time with Google search. Start by searching “CITY hackathon” (e.g. New York City hackaton).

7. Obtain Your DISC Profile To Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Through my study of Manager Tools’s excellent podcasts, I have found great value in the DISC profile. This assessment helps you to better understand your communication and interpersonal strengths. That’s valuable for two reasons: you will better understand how to focus on your strengths. Second, you will find out where you have gaps relating to others.

Tip: A significant amount of conflict can be traced to different communication styles and preferences. DISC (and Manager Tools’s podcasts) will help you to reduce that miscommunication clashes.

8. Join Toastmasters

Few international organizations match Toastmasters in value and longevity. For under $100 per year, you can improve your career by giving short speeches, running meetings and taking on leadership roles. I was a member a few years ago and I’m thinking to join again.

Resource: How To Become Successful With Toastmasters

9. Take An Online Course

Online courses have received mixed reviews due to widely varying quality and content. On the one hand, there are well respected offerings such as Cornell, Coursera, Lynda (free through Toronto Public Library and other institutions) and Udemy. On the other hand, “Trump University” has triggered lawsuits from highly disappointed students (e.g. Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony).

Use these tips to evaluate online courses:

  • Course outline. Is there a course outline available? Does it cover topics at the right level of detail for your needs (e.g. introduction vs advanced)?
  • Reviews. Are there comments or reviews from past students? Are they detailed?
  • Goal alignment. Does this course advance your career goals? If you are signing up to study something “trendy” (e.g. cyber security) that does attract your interest, then be aware you may be facing an uphill battle in maintaining your attention.
  • Homework. Homework assignments are important if you are going to build a skill or acquire knowledge. Some of the best courses provide written feedback on homework or have “office hours” sessions where students can ask questions.
  • Instructor. Does the instructor have the right knowledge and capability to teach the course? Instructor credibility comes in different shapes and sizes. In a scientific field, holding an advanced degree may be helpful. In other cases, extensive research or publishing in the field may help. While learning from a top expert has value, there is also much to be gained from an expert who is a few steps ahead of you because they can better understand a novice student’s questions and concerns (i.e. reduced ‘curse of knowledge‘ problem).

10. Commission A Professional Photo For LinkedIn

A high quality photo for your LinkedIn profile sets you apart from other people. My LinkedIn profile photo cost less than $100 and it was great. I was fortunate to have a friend who gave me a great deal. Use the following tips to obtain a better LinkedIn profile photo:

11. Take A “Night School” Course With A College or University

I’m fortunate to live in Toronto where there are three universities and multiple colleges. Most of these institutions offer great continuing education programs. For less than $1000, you can take an introduction to accounting. Or you can take an introduction to wines. (Yes, I’ve done both of those!). If you want to boost the value of the experience, take a course in person, introduce yourself to the instructor and your fellow students.

Here are some examples to start your research process:

Improving Your Network

Every week, I have another conversation or read another article that emphasizes the value of networking and relationships. It’s important. Yet, the knowledge-execution gap persists. Here are a few tactics that will break down the “develop your network” into concrete actions.

12. Send Thank You Notes

This simple practice goes a long way. I suggest sending both thank you cards in the mail and sending them by email. Need to be convinced? Consider these findings from the Harvard Medical School on gratitude.

Did somebody help you with an Excel problem a month ago? Send them a thank you email right now (just a few sentences go a long way).

13. Introduce Two People In Your Network

This week, I’ve sent two introduction emails. One was introduce friends in the legal profession. The other was to introduce people in the banking industry.

If somebody asks you for help or information and you don’t have it, keep this tip in mind. Making introductions is an excellent way to help other people in a short span of time.

14. Do A “Get Back In Touch” Challenge

In networking, most people immediately put their focus on meeting new people (especially networking with powerful people). If you are looking to break into a new industry or if you just moved to a new city, that makes sense. Yet, this approach often means neglect for your existing contacts. What’s the solution? Take a page from Anna Runyan and implement the 4×4 challenge (reconnect with 4 past connections and meet 4 new people in a month.

15. Endorse Two People On LinkedIn For Their Top Skills

Skill endorsements are one way to show support for your connections on LinkedIn. There are some people who indiscriminately endorse people. Don’t be one of those people. If someone helped you design a better presentation in PowerPoint, endorse them for presentations or PowerPoint. Use these articles for further ideas on endorsements:

16. Ask For A Recommendation On LinkedIn

Asking for favors is part of networking. Asking a past client, manager or colleague for an endorsement is a great way to set yourself apart from other people. These short comments, typically one or two paragraphs, go a long way toward boosting your credibility.

17. Follow Up On Advice You Receive

Let’s say you meet the mentor of your dreams – the one with connections, power and knowledge.

She gives you one specific suggestion – read a strategy book, attend a conference, set goals or something else. What happens next? Based on my research, most people do nothing when they receive suggestions. That’s a lost opportunity.

Pause for a moment and think back to a suggestion you’ve received. Now, put that idea into action. Once you have some results, send an email to the person who suggested that idea about your experience. This method yields two benefits for your career: you execute helpful advice and you have an excellent reason to reconnect with a senior person.

 

Job Shadowing For Professionals: The 5 Steps You Need

CareerLadder

Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Making a move to a new job is a major decision. There’s new people, new terms to learn and the pressure of being “the new guy.” There’s also concern about knowing whether the move is right for you. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce uncertainty about these decisions: job shadowing.

Once reserved for students and recent graduates, job shadowing is a strategy that professionals are using to explore new careers today. Through observation, asking questions and getting work done, you gain additional perspective on a job’s requirements quickly. Using the process in this article, you will be equipped to set up a job shadowing arrangement at your current company.

What If I Want To Job Shadow At A Different Company?

The process in this article is based on the assumption that you are interested in exploring other roles at your current employer. If you work at a large firm, there are other many different functions and departments to explore. However you may be determined to explore something quite different: go from IT project management to publishing. In that case, use a vacation day to find the time. Expect that it will take longer to arrange job shadowing at a different company.

Steps To Propose A Job Shadowing Project

Based on my experience and research, it’s possible to obtain approval for an internal job shadowing arrangement in a few weeks or less. This process assumes you have already defined a short term career goal and that you are using job shadowing to advance toward that goal.

1. Research The Job: What Does The Job Look Like?

The first step is to carry out research about the job you are interested in exploring. You may be interested in a product manager role. In that case, start by reading 3-5 job descriptions for the role to gain a basic understanding of the job responsibilities. Next, read a few interviews with people online who are already doing the job (e.g. How to Break into Product Management). This reading will equip you to ask better questions and plan what you want to accomplish.

2. Research The Organization: Does Your Organization Have People Doing Your Dream Job?

Now that you have an understanding of the job, it is time to identify specific opportunities. There are a few ways to explore your organization:

  • Asking mentors and trusted friends who work at the same company is a great starting point (e.g. Send them a short email to ask ‘I’m interested in getting to know product managers at our firm. Can you introduce me to someone in that role?”).
  • Searching the company’s intranet. Look for listings of the departments, divisions and senior leaders. Departmental newsletters are particularly helpful.
  • Read the organization chart and executive biographies. Each organization has a different structure – project management often reports to a technology executive while product management may report to a sales or marketing executive.

What if your organization doesn’t have anyone doing your target job title? If that happens, go back to step one and see if there are other job options at your employer that you could explore instead.

3. Develop Learning Goals: What Do People In Your Dream Job Actually DO?

Some job shadowing experiences disappoint because they are passive experiences. The “shadow” simply walks around and sits quietly in meetings. You can do better. The key is to direct your observation and other activities toward learning goals. Here are a few prompts to help draft your learning goals:

  • Learning Technical Skills. Technical skills are the core of any job. Identify one or two of these skills to learn through observation, study and direct application. For project managers, technical skills might include using Microsoft Project or project reporting. Ideally you will seek to learn a small technical skill that you can continue to use elsewhere.
  • Learning Leadership Skills. The art and science of leadership skills is another great area to learn. I have benefited from observing how other people prepare, design and deliver presentations. Likewise, I have benefited from observing leaders raise difficult questions and solve problems.
  • Career Appeal. Finding out whether a given job fits your interests and abilities is the final point. There is a simple way to assess appeal – are your interest levels in the role increasing or decreasing as you learn more about the role.

4. Raise The Request: The Fine Art Of Asking Your Boss For Support

Armed with your goals and research, it is time to have a discussion with your manager about the job shadowing arrangement. For the best results, I recommend writing a short proposal outlining your plan, what you plan to learn and possible impacts on your regular responsibilities (hint: make it clear that you will not drop anything your boss cares about!). My research suggests that the majority of managers are open to job shadowing and career development if it is presented in a professional ways. To increase the odds of success, make a small request (e.g. 1-2 days at another department) rather than asking for weeks away.

  • Tip: Involve your manager in the process and ask for their guidance in designing the plan. For example, they may want to call a manager in another department to plan the project. Or they may ask you to do further research and present a proposal. In any case, it is vital to involve your manager in the process. Failing to do so will hurt your reputation.

5. Report On The Assignment’s Success: Share What You Learned

At the end of your assignment, it is time to close the loop with your manager. This is a step that many people forget to complete. Prepare a one page summary report on what you learned and review this document in a meeting with your manager. This step demonstrates that you reflected on the experience and that it added value to your career.

  • Tip: Using your learning goals as a framework for this summary report. Describe specific insights and skills you learned. Rather than “learned communication skills,” note something like, “learned how to present a business case to executives to secure project funding.” In your remarks, share what the experience meant to you and thank your boss for supporting your career growth.

Further Reading And Resources

There are a wealth of resources on the market to help you through this process. Here are a few resources I recommend:

Reinventing Your Personal Brand by Dorie Clark. This Harvard Business Review book looks at career management through a marketing lens. It is a powerful to think about the value you bring to the market.

Reinventing You By Dorie Clark. A book length exploration by Clark that takes you deeper into the process. My Kindle copy of the book is filled with highlights.

Work experience: ‘I job-shadowed 60 people in 60 days’. An article in the Guardian shows how repeated job shadowing aids career discovery.

 

 

 

How Meena Dowlwani Delivers Career Results For New Canadians

Meena Dowlwani​, CHRM

Meena Dowlwani​, CHRM

Moving to a new country is exciting. Immigration is often the result of months or years of planning, research and logistics. Unfortunately, many highly educated and capable new Canadians struggle to find rewarding professional opportunities. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Enter Meena Dowlwani.

Among other roles, she serves as a Humber College instructor who has achieved great career results since arriving in Canada in 1999. Even better, she is now sharing her experience through courses, seminars and the forthcoming book Destination CEO. I discovered Meena earlier this year via Kickstarter and happily signed up to support her Kickstarter project.

Why This Article Is For Everyone, Not Only Immigrants

Some readers may assume that this article will only help new arrivals, new Canadians or immigrants. That is not so! Starting over in a new country represents a significant career change to be sure. The strategies developed to overcome that challenge apply to other career changes: switching industries or moving from an individual contributor to management. With that note, let’s dive into Meena’s perspective.

1. How have you developed your career?

I arrived in Canada in 1999 and faced major challenges in my career. I learned the importance of making the most of jobs I held early on when I started as a receptionist at the YMCA. By connecting with other managers and learning about what people wanted from the organization, I was able to advance.

Later on, I developed my business skills and went into the recruiting industry for several years. In recruiting, I set a goal to build relationships with many of Canada’s best managed companies and developed many connections. That experience helped me to understand what employers want from candidates and the hiring process. All of these experiences inform my current work teaching at Humber College and my other projects.

2. What results have your students achieved at Humber College?

I teach Career Connections at the Humber College School of Media Studies & Information Technology. Through this program, I guide IT professionals – including many new Canadians – in finding new career opportunities.

By applying what they learn, the majority of students have found professional IT positions jobs in many companies including CGI, QA Consultants, and Dynacare. In addition, I have also presented a successful workshop at Centennial College where sixty employers connected with students. Many found excellent professional level jobs through that program as well.

3. What is your approach to informational interviews?

Informational interviews are one of the best ways to learn about people and employers. My recommended approach is to develop a portfolio that combines company research, a presentation of the individual’s capabilities and how they can contribute to the company. Students and professionals have had excellent results with sending this document and obtaining positive responses to their request for informational interviews. Knowing your dream job or company matters. Doing additional research on the manager or executive you are addressing takes the process to the next level.

4. What are some of the common job search mistakes you see people making?

There are several common mistakes I see people make that hold them back from success.

First, many people rely on the traditional process of applying to an open job posting and then simply waiting for a response. This job search approach is only one part of the overall strategy.

Second, many people assume that they need 100% of a job’s required skills in order to apply – my view is that you only need the “must have” items (or 50% of the requirements if there is no must-have list).

Third, many professionals decide to take a “survival job” instead of a professional role that relates to their skills. In addition to the reduced income, most people become deeply frustrated after a year or two and then decide to restart their professional job search while having to catch up.

Finally, some people become highly discouraged during the job search process. This mindset prevents otherwise successful and intelligent people from finding an opportunity and connecting effectively with other professionals.

5. What is the forthcoming Destination CEO book about?

I launched a Kickstarter campaign to support the creation of my book, “Destination CEO – Beyond the Traditional Way of Job Search in the GTA is the most comprehensive guide to hacking the local job market.” With 58 backers and over $5000 raised, I’m looking forward to presenting my ideas in book form.

I decided to write a book because I was starting to become overwhelmed with requests for career help and guidance. This book presents job search tactics and strategies for new Canadians looking to develop their career in the Greater Toronto Area. The Kickstarter page provides an introduction video as well as video messages from the individuals I have helped.

6. What is your approach to events and networking?

I think it is important to look for focused events. For example, there are many technology related groups and events organized by Meetup.com. These are great events to connect with others who share the same technical expertise as you. Regarding career fairs, my suggestion is to look at these events as the opportunity to connect and have a conversation rather than immediately seeking an employment opportunity.

[Editor’s Note: Active Meetup.com groups in the Toronto area include: Toronto Big Data University, Women In Technology, Toronto Hadoop User Group and Toronto SharePoint Business Users Group].

7. What resources have you found valuable in your career and work with other people?

There are several outstanding resources on the market to consider. I took a Dale Carnegie course and found that highly valuable – it provided me with connections and new skills. LinkedIn is a powerful research tool to learn about companies and the people with hiring power.

8. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

There are two ways to connect with me. People interested in the Destination CEO book and related activities, please visit the Destination CEO website for details on events and training. In addition, readers are welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn.

How To Get More Luck At Work: The 4 Factors You Need

Luck of The Irish

Luck.

It’s St Patrick’s Day so what better time to address this mysterious factor? Whether or not you have the luck of the Irish, there is a way to produce more luck in your career. Even better, there is no magic involved (or green beer).

The Luck Formula: The 4 Factors You Need

In reading one of John C Maxwell’s books, I came across the following luck formula and thought it would be a great topic to expand in an article. The good news about luck is that 75% of the model is completely within your control. The remaining factor – opportunity – may be influenced by your perspective though it is not fully under your control.

Luck = Preparation + Attitude + Opportunity + Action

Let’s go through each factor of the luck formula one by one. Increasing any aspect of the formula will lead to greater opportunities for you.

Preparation: Be Ready For Luck To Appear

Preparation takes many forms in career development. The time you spend taking courses, reading this website and studying for certifications give you increased capabilities. Beyond technical skills, taking care of yourself comes into the picture. If you are tired, distracted or otherwise “off your game,” you will not able to identify and maximize luck when it comes your way. Preparation also requires a strategic vision for your career, a willingness to look beyond your current job or projects. If you start developing management and executive skills today, you will be well placed to move ahead in the future.

Preparation goes beyond studying and formal learning activities. On the job learning and development is widely considered one of the best ways to learn new skills. Therefore, analyze around your current job and department for ways to add additional skills. For example, volunteer to take on new tasks during department meetings. Or ask to cross train with a co-worker – that way you can take over part or all of their workload when they head out on vacation.

Resources To Propel Your Preparation

Attitude: Develop Strong Self Awareness

Developing the right attitude regarding your work and career make a big difference. Imagine you are a manager with two staff with roughly comparable technical abilities and you have a new assignment to hand out. The assignment will require personal growth and a willingness to learn. The person with a stronger positive attitude is likely to get the assignment and the opportunity to shine. I see attitude as a part of self-awareness which is a key part of emotional intelligence. Developing and maintaining a positive attitude becomes even more important as you take on leadership roles.

As a leader, your team tends to follow your attitude lead. If you are negative about the company or project, that influence will spread to the rest of the team. In contrast, walking into a meeting with a smile and positive energy puts a different spin on the event. The attitude you bring to meetings has a significant impact on your reputation and ability to get work done through other people.

  • Tip: Sleep your way to a better attitude! Research reported in Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson showed that people who miss sleep tend to emphasize negative thoughts and undervalue what is going well in their life. If you are struggling with keeping a good attitude, additional sleep is one solution.

Resources To Develop Your Attitude

Opportunity: Seizing The Moment

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Opportunity takes many different forms and it takes training to identify all this factor in its many forms. Opportunity may take the form of complaints from a manager or stakeholder: that gives you the chance to do better. Opportunity also shows up as event invitations – you never know what you may gain by attending an event and meeting the right people. Hustle, work ethic and long hours of work are another type of opportunity. Several successful people – Gary Vaynerchuk and Elon Musk come to mind – attribute much of their success to pure work ethic. Finally, opportunity may appear as a painful event that creates space to do something new (e.g. Michael Hyatt started his blog, later the foundation of a multi-million dollar business, when he was off his feet for an extended period recovering form an injury)

Opportunity is not evenly distributed. That’s an important reality to recognize as you plan your professional development and growth. Some departments are growing constantly such as sales and customer service while corporate functions tend to add staff more slowly. Before writing off an organization as having no opportunities, look beyond your personal situation. For example, look for any projects or activities that have changed the status quo over the past eighteen months. Do those changes suggest new ways to contribute value? Likewise, look for staff changes – new staff hires, promotions and manager hires – as new people often bring new ideas. If you see no opportunity signals, then it is time to search for greener pastures.

Resources To Find More Opportunities

Action: Do The Work!

Once you are equipped with the right knowledge, it is time to get down to work. In addition to putting in the hours, make sure you are following smart work principles. This part of the LUCK formula does not have the same excitement as the other points covered above, yet it is highly important. Failing to deliver and complete assignments on time will do much harm to professional reputation and ability to get ahead in your career.

Discussion Question:

Which “LUCK“ factor will you work on this month? What are two specific actions you plan to take?

4 Ways To Work Smarter

Banner Problem Analysis Solution

It pays to take a step back from our work occasionally and ask, “Am I producing value?”

In this article, you will learn to reconsider whether you are working smart or simply going through the motions. Notice that “working smart” still includes the word “work”: any effort to escape that point will lead to failure.

Two Ways To Think About The Value You Produce

There are two ways to think about the value you produce in your work. First, there is the value that you understand and appreciate. Second, there is the value that others (e.g. managers, stakeholders and customers) perceive. For the best results, these two perspectives need to overlap substantially. Let’s define both these perspectives and see how it applies to working smarter. Most people perceive their work as highly valuable. In contrast, the recipients of your work product tend to focus on a few aspects that relate to their needs.

Tip: When considering what to do with unexpected free time, ask yourself “what task would deliver the greatest value to my number one customer?”

The 4 Ways To Work Smarter

Use the following strategies to work smarter and achieve more valuable results in your work. The first strategy asks as a foundation that to enable the other strategies.

1. Seek End-To-End Understanding (i.e. Be Curious About The Organization)

Once an organization expands beyond a handful of people, specialization takes hold. That process brings many benefits such as increased focus and the ability to recruit experts. However, there is a cost in the form of decreased understanding. For example, sales staff may not understand the invoice and accounting implications of their work. In contrast, accounting staff may not understand how a new product launch will impact their budget. This point is especially important for “back office” functions like IT. Take a page from leading CIOs who emphasize the value of learning the business operations and the sales organization.

Action Exercise: Seek an an end to end understanding of the processes and tasks you are involved with. Who works on the process before you get involved? Who uses the outputs of your work? This understanding will equip you to add more value.

2. Execute At Key Moments

There are certain moments and tasks that are key moments in our work. Delivering a quality result at those times make a big difference. Following this rule often becomes difficult because “key moments” tend to come at the end of a long process. For example, the “go live day” at the end of a long project – if this event is not well executed, your reputation will suffer. Delivering a presentation with energy to an important audience is another example. During these moments, you have the opportunity to shine!

Action Exercise: Examine your calendar for the next 30 days to look for “key moments” that have the potential to make an impact on your career. Schedule additional time to prepare and seek outside help if needed.

3. Seize The Initiative

Executing on orders you receive from above matters especially if you are getting started in your organization. Delivering on those requests from managers and others shows that you are a team player. However, a passive outlook or simply waiting for orders from on high is not enough. The third work smart strategy is to seize the initiative. If you are operating in a conservative or risk averse organization, start small and build up from that point.

Here are a few ways that you can proactively take initiative to get ahead.

  • Solve A Messy Problem. Every organization has messy problems that have lingered on for a long period. Messy problems may mean confronting another group about their ineffective interactions. In other cases, it may simply be complicated, detail heavy work that few people want to work through. Sitting down to review a complex Excel spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation, line by line, is an excellent way to add value.
  • Improve Personal Productivity Through Process Improvement. There are many ways to improve processes and make an impact. In the short term, there is a benefit to this work because you can free up additional time. You can then redeploy that additional professional capacity in new ways. Asking for cross-training on a colleague’s work tasks is one approach.
  • Support Another Department`s Goals. Stepping up to help another department shows that you have a vision that goes beyond your job description and current department. Ensure that your additional assignments do not undermine your regular portfolio.

4. Complete Strategic Work/Education On Your Time

In the book “Nobodies to Somebodies: How 100 Great Careers Got Their Start,” by Peter Han, I learned of a Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Dietrich who worked on projects on his own time. Here is a quote from the book describing his approach:

Journalist Bill Dietrich remembered having to fight for one of his early award-winning efforts to write about the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients across the country. ‘I heard about this and could see that it was going to be a major change… The city editor said, ‘Well, this paper doesn’t do big stories… so forget it.”

“So what I had to do was do a lot of the reporting and writing on my own time, then bring it to the paper as a fait accompli, and say, ‘See, isn’t this interesting?’… I also learned at that first job that you can’t wait for people to invite you to do things.” (pg. 106-107)

Other ways to apply that strategy include seeking out education on your own time. For example, I have met a number of executives, managers and other professionals who have gone back to school to earn additional degrees. In some cases, they had employer support. In other cases, they did not have such support.

All of these strategies involve taking some degree of personal risk and being willing to embrace a trade off. You might be turned away when you seek to add value to another department. Your personal project may not lead anywhere interesting. That uncertainty discourages many people from using smart work strategies. Therefore, you have the opportunity to stand out by being one of the one or more of these strategies.

Further Reading On Working Smart

Today’s article was inspired by a book I read last week by Peter Han. There are numerous fascinating insights from the book including the smart work concept discussed here. Find additional resources below on how to work smart.

Nobodies to Somebodies: How 100 Great Careers Got Their Start by Peter Han. This book features interviews and insights from one hundred leaders from a variety of fields. The book emphasizes the early career and advice to young professionals.

The big difference between smart work and hard work by Blaz Kos. An in depth article that explores multiple aspects of working smart. The article covers some important big picture concepts such as understanding your organization and knowing the career potential of your industry.

5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder by Jeff Haden. The Inc.com article presents research on how we work. The first tip in the article? Take more breaks! Breaking the day up with breaks tends to refresh you.

 

 

5 Career Resolutions I Completed In 2016

Running Start

Earlier this year, I read an article 5 Career-Boosting New Year’s Resolutions You’ll Actually Want to Keep by Lea McLeod, M.A. It was an inspiring read and I decided to put the ideas into action. I will share how I put the article into action for my career development. This article will serve as a case study in how you can take recommendations and apply them to grow your career.

1. Learn One Thing That Has No Career Application in Your Life

On this front, I learned more about the cultural influence of William Shakespeare. Specifically, I read the book, “How Shakespeare Changed Everything” by Stephen Marche which I picked up at the Stratford Festival last year. We can learn a lot from Shakespeare’s life (e.g. 8 Ways To Work Like William Shakespeare) and achievements. I was struck by how his works have been understood in so many different ways: as liberating to some and oppressive to others. I was surprised to learn that Tolstoy hated Shakespeare or several reasons including the lack of clear moral lessons. In contrast, I think Shakespeare points out the challenges of both knowing the right thing to do and actually doing it.

Lesson: There is much to be gained from enjoying Shakespeare’s works. If your last encounter with the Bard was in a dull classroom, I encourage you to give his works a new look.

2. Have One Experience That Stretches You

The open ended nature of this recommendation was a challenge at first. I decided to take a networking approach to this point and contact someone new. Specifically, I emailed a Senior Vice President at a large bank and asked to meet. I did have the advantage that this person was already presenting at a career panel (I was not able to attend the event due to previous commitments). The result? He responded promptly and referred me to a member of his team for a discussion. I had that follow up meeting and learned more about the executive’s organization and the opportunities.

Lesson: Look for ways to stretch yourself in pursuit of your goals. Specifically, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many executives and senior managers are open to meeting to me

3. Learn One Tech Skill

For this resolution, I decided to take a short course on Microsoft Excel skills. I use the application heavily for a variety of tasks so it made sense to test and deepen my skills in the area. Specifically, I have been studying Lynda’s 5 Day Excel Challenge.  I have completed the first day of this challenge and look forward to continuing to use it. I like that this course is short and that it points out several solutions to a challenge. If you work with Excel frequently, I would recommend the course. Looking forward, I’m looking at earning an ITIL certification and a few possibilities on Coursera.

Lesson: Building on your technology strengths is valuable. It is one of the few areas where you can learn and apply shortcuts without losing quality.

4. Read 3 Books That’ll Push Your Career Forward

I love to read books so this was a great resolution to work on. The challenge was to decide on which books would be helpful. For this point, I will review four books that relate to career development. The challenge with business reading is to put the ideas into action. Sharing my notes on the books is my first step in application.

  • Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant. A book length exploration of how and why to help other people. Among other insights from the book, Grant finds that volunteering one hundred hours per year (preferably 2 hours per week) makes a positive impact to satisfaction, motivation and other success factors. The book also has a great chapter at the end with tips on applying the book’s insights. I look forward to reading Grant’s new book Originals later this year.
  • The Productivity Project. Improving your personal productivity is important to career advancement at every level. Chris Bailey has made an excellent contribution to the productivity literature with his experimental approach. Earlier this year, I wrote a post about key insights from the book: Book Review: The Productivity Project.

Lesson: Books remain one of the world’s most important knowledge resources. A growing number of business books include action steps and other practical tips that make it easy to put the book’s ideas into action. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of ideas from a book, start by picking up one idea and putting it into action. You can always return to the book later for additional insights.

Resource: Explore 15 Best Books of 2015: Productivity, Perspective & More for additional book suggestions to move ahead in your career.

5. Plan One Unplugged Weekend—48 Hours With No Wi-Fi

This was a challenging resolution to keep and I mostly achieved it during a weekend trip last month. I went the weekend without using my computer and it was a refreshing change. I did bring and use my smartphone on the trip because I needed it for travel logistics and navigation.

Lesson: Stepping away from computers and your work from time to time is good for you!

How To Develop Goals: Habits vs Outcomes

Goals

Goals are exciting! Yet many people struggle to design effective goals and put them into action. As we close 2015 and look ahead to 2016, many of us will start to think of goals and changes to make in the new year. As you review 2015 and look ahead to the new year, use this article as a planning resource. As you go through the goal setting process, you will find that your are creating a mix of habit and outcome goals. Both have their place. Let’s explore when to use each goal type.

When To Use Habit Goals

Habits have recently attracted a lot of attention from authors and researchers. Why? Simply put, there are many aspects of life that are best improved with habits. Health is a classic example. If you exercise a few times per week, it is easier to manage than catching up on the weekend. In cases of self-care, sustaining important relationships and values, habit goals are a good fit.

Habit Goal Examples

  • Write down 1-3 most important tasks to accomplish each day (a practice I learned from the 5 Minute Journal) before leaving home.
  • Complete 100 pushups each morning before breakfast to sustain basic fitness.
  • Send one staff recognition note to someone at my company each week to sustain and build relationships.
  • Make 20-40 sales calls every day (a habit that Hal Elrod used to achieve success during his sales career at Cutco).
  • Write a 5:15 report every Friday to make a record of my success and challenges at work.

How long does it make to make a habit automatic? It varies by person. The research estimates I read suggest sixty days are needed to develop six weeks is a reasonable guideline. When it comes to developing habits, I suggest starting small. To get started small, I recommend using the Tiny Habits program created by Stanford researcher BJ Fogg.

When To Use Outcome Goals

Outcomes are traditional “finish line” goals that most of us are familiar with from previous studies or working in organizations. A classic example is finishing a race. In business, most organizations set revenue or profit outcome goals (e.g. “Achieve $100,000 sales revenue by December 1, 2016”). In this section, I will outline the anatomy of a well written outcome goal. Let’s look at three examples.

Outcome Goals Examples

1. Earn PMP Certification by May 1, 2015 (this was one of my 2015 goals which I completed!)

2. Obtain an acceptable rating on the annual internal audit by Dec 1, 2015 (this is a common role in highly regulated industries such as financial services)

3. Complete Weekly Review three times per month (the Weekly Review is a great productivity practice that is well worth using)

These goals can also be connected to a larger mission. Goal 2 may relate to your department’s vision to be a well managed business. Goal 3 connects to a vision of becoming an organized and highly productive person. Goal 1 fits well with a vision of career advancement, getting promoted and getting paid more.

Each of the above goals has a few key parts. Let’s go through each part in turn.

  • Start with an action verb. A well written goal starts with an action verb. Why? It puts the emphasis on action rather than contemplation.
  • Add measurements (preferably quantitative). Numbers are a valuable way to measure progress and completion. Many business goals ultimately have a financial aspect that connects to revenue or cost. Using percentage measurements or frequency (e.g. three times per week) are other ways to add measurement to your goal.
  • End the goal with a deadline. Without a deadline, you lose a sense of urgency and focus on the goal. Think of the deadline as a finish line in a race. Would you want to sign up for a marathon if there was no finishing line in place?

As you start the process of developing goals for the new year, consider adding a mix of habit and outcome goals. Throughout this article, I have referred to business and non-business goals (e.g. health and relationships). While this website is focused on business and careers, other aspects of life matter and they deserve to be included in your annual goals.

Make Your Own Goals

Most large organizations go through an annual goal setting activity for their staff. There is nothing wrong with this process. Yet, these goals are sometimes lacking in motivational power because the individual has limited input in them. If that situation sounds familiar, don’t worry – you are not alone. The solution is to develop your own goals that excite you. Some of those goals (e.g. PMP certification and/or sales revenue) may be relevant to your company. In those cases, ask yourself what aspect of the goal motivates you the most.

Goal Resources and Further Reading

Goals are an important area of business and personasl success. Given that reality, there are many great resources on the market to help you improve your goals. Here are some of the books, programs and materials I have used to refine my thinking on goals over the years.

5 Days To Your Best Year Ever Course. Bar none, this is the best annual goal setting program I have used. I bought the course in Dec 2014 and Dec 2015. Thousands of people have completed the course so you will be in good hands. I recommend signing up for the VIP program for added insights and advice to keep you growing during the year.

Goals by Zig Ziglar. A classic audio program that gives you added motivation. I have listened to this program several times while going for a run. Zig’s speaking style took some time to get used to and I’m glad I stayed around.

Coach.me App. This app is a great resource for habit tracking and development and it is one that I have used regularly. I like the ability to set reminders and choose how many days per week you want to observe a given habit. For additional support, you can also sign up for courses and coaching advice.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg presents stories and research to help us understand the power of habits. He shows the structure of a habit and how we can design habits on our own. The book also shows how many companies and marketing messages strive to create habits.