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A Remembrance – Mark Merenda

March 14, 2017

“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22

In many ways “Catch-22” was the cornerstone of my relationship with Mark Merenda. When we met in 1972 he embarked on a literary exercise to make me memorize sections of the novel’s dialogue, so we could recite them back and forth to each other. He was much better at it than I was, but eventually I became Orr to his Yossarian.

He was much more literate than I, and had the kind of memory  I could never hope to achieve. He was also brilliant, well read, opinionated, stubborn and a cad of the highest order – all of which made him my idol.

Mark Merenda circa 1972

Mark Merenda circa 1972

We met at our first jobs, at a small newspaper in Massachusetts where he was the sports editor and I covered one mid-size town. We became instant friends since we were among the only staffers who were not members of the  clan that ran the business. Like Heller’s Yossarian, it was us against them, and we were determined to keep our sanity by taking advantage of everything we could.

I lacked his self confidence, and  was never sure what he saw in me, but I accepted my role because he was everything I wanted to be. It worked out well for both of us, I got an education and he got a wing man. I could never really describe our relationship until many years later when the movie “Sideways” came out. We were a buddy movie before I knew what buddy movies were.

We had no business covering Boston’s professional sports teams, but as long as the Red Sox , Patriots, Bruins or Celtics would give us press passes and we did our jobs at the paper, we played the part of big-time sports media types. Mark was the writer, and I was the photographer, and we were both pretty good at our roles. He got to meet his idols and I got to get trampled by Dave Cowens, John Hannah, and almost beaned by Willie Randolf.  That’s the chance you take when you sit under the Celtics basket, along the sidelines of the New England Patriots, or in foul territory at Fenway Park.

Even Mark knew that his stories had more readers if there was great art alongside.

He was warm, dry and safe while I was often soaked and had a bad back from carrying camera equipment all over whatever field we had chosen to cover.

But I would not have traded the experience for anything, because it was really the post-event education that was the best part. After the game, we’d head over to  Cambridge where Mark and I set up shop in the bar, at either the Hyatt Regency or later the Charles Hotel. Both were target-rich environments for a young stud and his wing man. I was not very good at meeting women, but Mark was a pro and more often than not an hour or so after we arrived, he would glance in my direction and throw me the car keys so I could drive myself home in his MG.

I never asked how he got back home but I just marveled at  the show. The fact that he lived with a very nice young woman who had to put up with his behavior just made him seem more dangerous. I’m sure she knew, but was willing to put up with his behavior for the same reason I did. Every discussion with Mark was an education and just being in his presence made you feel better.

Mark could pretty much talk me into anything.. He would take me shopping in Boston, to Louis, the most expensive store in the city, and convince me that I ‘needed’ a $700 cashmere overcoat. It was a great coat, and I loved it, but I was almost afraid to wear it.

His brother, Guy, was trying to start a leather business so I ‘needed’ to buy a new briefcase. It’s still here in my office next to my desk.

No matter, it was just part of my role. The flip side was, what I have since learned, is what drew Mark to me: I could tell him what an ass-hole he was being. He knew, that I knew, that sometimes he was simply full of crap, and I would be brutally honest without messing up our friendship.

We grew to respect each other, covering news, and sports together learning skills that they don’t teach in journalism school.

We even started a magazine. It was mostly about sports and we were sure it was going to be our ticket to stardom, or at least untold riches. At least until our bosses at the newspaper decided it was a little too much like competition. Forty years later I still have a few copies and I know Mark did too, even though we only produced two editions.

The beginning of the end was like a scene from “Good Will Hunting,” when Robin Williams’s character misses what was, until 2004, the most famous event in Boston baseball history, because he “had to see about a girl.”

When my future wife,  had the audacity to claim Zelda Fitzgerald really deserved major credit for F. Scott’s work he refused to even debate the topic accusing her of “getting her facts from People Magazine.” To this day, she relishes the fact that history and research have proven her correct.

We got married three years later, after I had moved to Maine to manage a newsroom. I always thought Mark never forgave her for taking up the time he wanted. He never came to the wedding and I never expected that he would. I have no idea what he thought when he found out we divorced 5 years later.

I lost touch with him and his career and it wasn’t until 30 years later when I decided to become personal coach that we reconnected. Somehow I found out he was now in marketing, so I called to ask for help. He refused to accept any payment for developing my web pages and freely offered marketing advice.

We had both matured, and the youthful arrogance was tempered by life, and now he had hundreds of friends, clients and employee who depended on his wisdom  I never made it to Florida, as I had promised,  and we missed connecting on his trip to San Francisco where I now live.

We chatted off and on, and he even allowed me to do some freelance writing, when I restarted my writing career. I would send him sporadic texts when I visited my parents near Boston. Always making sure I stopped by our old haunts, so I could bore my new wife with stories from the good old days and text Mark a photo or two.

He would text back quotes from ‘Catch-22.’

 

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Testing for Emotional Intelligence – Again

May 10, 2016

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:51 am

I’ve written several posts on emotional intelligence, but many people are still confused by the concepts of self-awareness, self-efficacy, and  emotional recognition.

A recent client brought the issues into sharp focus. She is a young woman, who graduated from college four years ago and has had a number of short stints (a year or so) at just-above entry-level positions at Bay Area firms.

Her most recent, was a one-year contract job which concluded four months ago.

She had asked me for help in reviewing her resume and standard cover letter to figure out why she had not been able to find a new job.

She had been offered jobs, but felt they would not provide the salary she needed. She had recently concluded that, “The market has changed. If you’re not an engineer they just feel the supply of people for administrative positions, or social marketing is just so large they don’t have to pay anything.”

She insisted that she was not looking to make a fortune but just enough to support herself and maintain the apartment she rented after she was in her contract job for a few months.

She may be right about the job market, but having lived in the Bay Area for 20 years, I don’t think so.

The job of a good coach and career counselor is to help clients see things from a different perspective.

Could it be that my client was so emotionally unaware that she could not step back and look at the facts from a different point of view. This is the key to one aspect of emotional intelligence: understanding your own strengths and weaknesses.

I suggested she ask herself the following questions:

Why was she able to find positions, but unable to find long-term success?

Was she mistaken that she had a chance at a long-term position at the company when she rented a San Francisco apartment?

With unemployment in the Bay Area and in the nation, continuing to be very low why would there be a sudden flood of folks for the positions she sought?

Was it possible that firms offering her positions really didn’t want her to accept the jobs?

Would it be worth taking a lower salaried position in the hopes that, after a while, you could prove your worth and earn a raise?

These were not comfortable concepts for her to consider. Suggesting that maybe the problem was on her end and that she needed to make some  changes  was not an option.

Emotional intelligence is, in part, the ability to question your beliefs and consider that there is something you might need to change. Perhaps you are not the perfect employee, perhaps its not ‘office politics’ that stalled your career, perhaps there’s a good reason that contract position didn’t turn into a full-time job?

Whether you answer the questions honestly is a true test of your emotional intelligence.

 

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CWAA: A Tipping point

January 25, 2016

I recently had lunch at a small hometown restaurant. They served various vegan alternatives, grass fed beef, and all organic vegetables.

But the menu is not the point. When the check arrived I noticed there was no spot for a tip but that an 18% service charge had been added.Unknown

As a San Francisco resident I’m aware of the national debate over tipping in restaurants.

In an effort to equalize pay between front of the house waitstaff, and back of the house cooks and other employees, many  larger restaurants are experimenting with eliminating tips.

This was the first time I had seen it in practice at a smaller business.

In my younger days I spent many hours working as a cook, dishwasher and  bus boy and am painfully aware of the disparity in pay. While the waitstaff is the face of the restaurant, they are dependent on the kitchen for the quality of the meal, the dishwasher to make sure everything is cleaned and the busboys to ensure table turnover.

The dining experience is a combination of everything, so why should the waitstaff be the only folks to benefit.

Minimum wage laws have tried to bridge the gap and have led to the latest version of experimentation.

So, when the waitress returned to collect my payment I couldn’t help but do  little market research.

“How long have you been a no-tip restaurant?” I asked.

“Two or three months,”  she said. “And?” I asked waiting for a diatribe on how much less she was making and how she hated the new system.

She surprised me with “I love it,” and went to explain that every week they get a full financial statement from the owners, explaining gross receipts, tax and expenses and an explanation of what they were receiving as pay.

“My pay is much more predictable, and while it’s a bit less than I made before the switch, as long as business overall is good, we do fine.” She said the most of the other staffers felt the same way and that she thought the kitchen staff was much easier to deal with, now that they had a direct impact on their own pay.

She then added that the most important factor was the openness of the owners to list the overall gross receipts and expenses and explain how the pay was calculated. “I can see how that might be a problem at other locations, but here they are very open, and we all know what’s going on.”

I wish the results at other restaurants had been as clear cut. And, from a management standpoint I doubt every owner would be able to be that open. But this was a small business with a stake in the community and their philosophy seemed to fit the spirit of the no-tip effort.

Can we all agree that all restaurants should adopt this system.

American restaurants should take a page from their European counterparts and professionalize every aspect of the dining experience. We would no longer have to agonize over what tip amount was correct and the the overall restaurant experience would be enhanced.

If everyone from dishwasher to executive chef knew that their pay was contingent on keeping the customers happy and ensuring a return visit we’d all be a lot better off.

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The Cognitive Prism and Emotional Intelligence

December 30, 2015

We all see things differently. Not literally – when the sun shines we pretty much all see it the same way – but emotionally.images

Our opinions, world view, emotional triggers are all a function of a complex cognitive prism that colors how we see the world.This prism is created both from our personality  and the events that shape our lives: the old nature vs. nurture debate that’s been going on for years.

I’ll let the psychologists figure out which is more dominant, but from a coaching standpoint, they combine to  help us create a view of the world that is unique.

What seems to make perfect logical sense to one person, is patently absurd to someone else. What seems like a logical assumption, which become the basis of a decision, seems obvious. In truth, it’s a coach’s job too help clients see that there might be some other interpretations.

Recognizing alternatives is one facet of emotional intelligence. Self realization helps us understand that there is a cognitive prism filtering every bit of information coming into our brain. Understanding the biases that are inherent in the prism, helps us understand why others disagree, and finally, taking steps to correct the distortions of the prism helps us grow.

In truth, many people don’t really want to make changes, but the real key is understanding that there may be a bias your view of the world. You can decide if adjustments are necessary.

Dealing with your our prism is key to your happiness, your interaction with others and every aspect of life – both at home and at work. This is emotional intelligence.

I was reminded of this prism a few days ago when I was working with a high school junior who was trying to figure out ‘the rest of his life’ during our 45-minute phone call. I was trying to help him decide where he should apply to college and what careers interested him.

Many young people have a wide range of interests and have a difficult time separating a career from a crush on a favorite teacher. The young man I was assisting had a range of interests that was even wider. He had always been a voracious reader and is familiar with topics ranging from history and religion to politics, economics and engineering.

For him, narrowing the list had become almost impossible, so he had decided to use income as his measuring stick. As he told me,”I really like history and enjoy reading everything I can find, but the only job I would probably ever get is teaching, and I know that doesn’t make that much money, so I think I’ll just consider that a hobby.”

He also ‘knew’ that engineers have the potential to make more money so it seemed logical that engineering was the best choice because at least his starting salary would be higher.

He could see no purpose in getting a liberal arts degree. Beyond the notion that an undergraduate degree limits your employment options,  he needed some facts to go with his assumptions.

I suggested that before our next call he do a bit of research.( If I just told him the answers he wouldn’t believe me anyway)

I gave him two weeks to answer the following questions:

What percentage of new employees in high tech had degrees in the social sciences?

What is the average lifetime earnings of a social science graduate?

What percentage of social science majors go on the get an advanced degree?

I am hoping that the answers will help readjust his prism and help him understand that some of the assumptions he was making were not based on reality.

If he still insists that an engineering degree is the only option, I certainly won’t try to talk him out of it, but he should  know all the facts before he makes his decision.

Next time you have a decision to make ask yourself what underlying assumption you might would to re-evaluate.

 

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‘Rules’ in Need of Adjustment

November 18, 2015

I just finished reading Laszlo Bock’s ‘Work Rules’ and while I can’t say there’s anything wrong with the book I definitely think it needs an attitude adjustment.51Df4YVLvbL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Bock is Google’s head of People Operations, which is an advanced version of what most people would know as human resources. Like many hi-tech firms, Google feels HR is an outdated term and doesn’t really explain what the department does. In truth, at least at Google, the department does a lot more than traditional HR departments.

But that’s really part of the problem. Bock presents a myriad of suggestions  for managing, promoting, recruiting and measuring employees or potential employees. Many of the procedures were developed at the company using statistical models developed by Google and all are presented as a common sense logical alternative to the way  other firms operate. A common refrain is simply “why would you do it any other way?”

This rationale comes despite that fact that the new procedures represent significant changes from the way Google used to do things, which were also supposedly based on statistical models and were  logical conclusions to the way things should be done.

Old methodology which has now been jettisoned include minimal middle management and the well known brain teasers which stumped thousands of job seekers.

Bock admits what everyone else in HR had been telling them for years: Everyone needs management and brain teasers only test how well someone can solve a specific problem, not overall creativity or performance.

The reality is, that despite their reliance on statistics, Google’s employee turnover  is no better than many other firms and they felt obliged to sign on to an illegal agreement with other tech firms not to poach employees. That case has been settled but the issue has not disappeared.

While there are a plethora of great ideas in the book, that many firms would do well to consider, my problem  is really an attitude issue. Much like a lot of other actions which aggravated many people, (such as private buses using public bus stops) Google seems to assume that what they do should not face the same scrutiny as others.

Other firms, they seem to feel, should be grateful that Google has shared their ideas so openly and should adopt them. That may be true, since there is a lot of bad management at most companies, but no-one likes to be told what is right for them.

In truth the best use for the book, might be for potential employees who want to figure out what principles will govern their potential employment.

And for that reason, I will suggest it for all my career clients, although I will warn them about the attitude adjustment that may be in order.

 

 

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The Monetary Value of Your Job

November 4, 2015

Filed under: Coaching,Health,Management,observations,Tech — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 12:46 pm

I had two clients this week who both needed some not so subtle reminders that the value of their jobs might be different from the monetary value of their paychecks.images

Both were young people who had been working at their first real jobs since they graduated from college last June and both had jobs in their chosen career field,  – but neither was happy.

Both were having a very difficult time putting a value on their work.

The first, a young man who was working for an established retailer was frustrated that his pay was not as much as many of his peers in hi-tech, and was concerned about why he wasn’t being promoted.

His work, he said, had become routine, and while he was busy, he felt his job had become routine. At the same time, his commute was about 20 minutes, and he was  living on his own.  He admitted that his supervisor was very open to discussion about additional responsibilities, although she was honest in saying that a promotion was unrealistic for at least another year.

He liked his co-workers, found the environment relaxing, and felt no fear that he was about to be downsized out of his job if the economy soured.

My other client, a young woman, hated her job, and while she was in her chosen field,  counseling, she felt the office was disorganized, there was constant turnover and her ability to help her clients as a case manager, was actually inhibited by her work environment.

She admitted that she was barely able to support herself and was not making much more than she was at a waitress job she had while she sent out resumes a year  ago.

The question to both of them was simple. What is the value of the externalities, apart from the actual work.

For the young man:

Was it worth and extra  $5,000 in salary knowing that he would be exposed to additional experiences, making him more valuable to his current or future employers?

Was is worth an extra $10,000 knowing that his job was secure even if the economy slowed?

And what of the value of a pleasant work enviroment, with an easy commute?

No, he didn’t have free meals, transportation, or  haircuts like his fellow classmates in Silicon Valley, but he wan’t working 80 hours a week in a high-stress environment either.

So maybe his salary was lower, but he was doing better than he thought.

The opposite was clearly true for the young woman. Everything about her job was subtracting value from her paycheck.

Since she was in social work the very least she could expect was that the job would provide ‘supervised hours’ she could apply to an advanced degree or certification, if she went back to school.

But even that benefit was denied her.

The reality was that she was making less than she thought and was getting no benefit from the job. She might as well have taken any other job, since it ws really just a way to support herself until she figured out her next step.

After our sessions my message to each of them was the same: When you assess your job you need to consider more than just a paycheck. Sometimes that adds to the value of your job, and sometimes you might be better off moving on, as quickly as possible.

Do the math, next time you get your paycheck, and see where you stand.

 

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Acing that Interview

July 6, 2015

Filed under: Coaching,Health,Management,Resumes — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 7:46 am

The government tells us that 223,000 new jobs were added to the economy last month. That means that at least 500,000 people probably had interviews.

What was the difference between the folks who got the job and the those who are still looking? Obviously, I don’t know all the factors at play, but I can offer some suggestions to help you ace your next interview.

Dealing with Stress:

Job interviews are stressful. But you need to understand that stress is normal. It’s the body’s reaction to fear. Thousands of years ago our stress reaction, shut down unnecessary systems, to allow us to focus on evading that saber-toothed tiger.Echo-Examiner-How-Strong-was

Today we sweat to cool our body temperature, our heart pumps more blood to critical organs, such as the brain, and our nervous system – infused with a chemical surge –  alerts us to the slightest change in the environment.

This is good, it helps you focus your attention on the person in front of you and the questions being asked.

Knowing that your stress reaction is normal can help you relax.

A simple breathing exercise is one way to reduce your stress. Before you enter the building find a quiet spot where you can just sit and breathe deeply. Focus on your breath trying to visualize yourself as relaxed and calm.

And finally: smile –research shows that this one act, will help relax your mind and body.

What to Wear:

You need to dress like you already belong.

The assumption is that you have done some research before you applied, but now you need to explore the company culture.

Does everyone wear business attire every day? Do most men wear ties, are women expected to wear skirts or business suits? The only way to find out might be to visit before your interview.

At many places in Silicon Valley (i.e. Google, Facebook, Apple) what you wear is much different than your ‘uniform’ for a Wall Street Interview.

The old saying, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression,’ is true. When in doubt, a suit that says you are serious about the opportunity, is always the best choice. Looking sharper than your interviewer is always better than the other way around.

At the end of the interview I would rather be told, I’ll never wear my suit to work again, than I need a new wardrobe.

How to Act:

I was once told to mirror my interviewer. If he or she reached out to shake hands, fine, but don’t offer your sweaty palm first.

If the interviewer crossed their legs, I could too.

But this is all part of communication – which is 70% visual. By the time you get to the interview, chances are good that you fit the technical requirements to do the job and they are looking more at your personality and ‘soft skills.’

Many times interviewers form an opinion in the first five minutes and then spend the rest of the interview trying to prove themselves correct. Google claims they have developed a system to prevent this cognitive bias, but the statistics don’t suggest their practices insure better choices.

One other tip, make sure you have your own copy of the resume you submitted. You want to make sure your interviewer is reading things correctly.

I parrot my third grade teacher, Miss Opie, when I advise clients, “sit up straight, pay attention, don’t chew gum and speak clearly.” Always be honest and if you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it, and agree to find out.

Many firms are famous for asking brain teaser questions to test problem-solving skills. I think they are less than useful, unless they are directly related to the job. Unfortunately they still exist, despite the fact that there is no evidence they prove anything beyond whether you can solve that particular problem.

I am particularly bad at them, and once when challenged at an interview, simply declined, saying it was not a true test of my ability. Yeah, I did not get the job, but I felt it was probably not a place I wanted to work anyway.

Remember this is a two-way street, so be prepared with questions of your own. Not specifics about pay or benefits, there’s time for that after you get an offer, but about the company and what they do. Maybe even current trends in the industry.

With any luck, the first interviewer will ask you to stay for a while to speak with a few more people – maybe a manager or co worker – so be prepared for a longer stay. Don’t be afraid to stash an energy bar in your pocket or purse to avoid hunger pains. A quick trip to the restroom gives you a break and some time for a snack. (Just make sure you check your teeth before you return)

How do you handle an interview panel? Not easily.

It’s impossible for one person to think as quickly as three, so it’s inherently unfair. Always address your answer to the person who asked the question, and don’t be afraid to pause, and collect your thoughts before you respond. You are not in a time competition.

And, when the panel members start arguing about a question (they always do) stay out of the fight and take advantage of the time, and breathe.

With any luck, the preparation and the talent that got you to the interview in the first place will be your biggest asset. Hopefully, when next month’s employment numbers come out you will be among those with a new job.

 

 

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Existential Career Crisis

June 6, 2015

Filed under: Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:17 am

A friend called recently worried about her career. She was apparently having an existential crisis after the end of a major project.

She’s a physician by training, specializing in back and neck injuries, using integrative treatment methods.

But, like many Baby Boomers she had been able to cut back on her work schedule and increase her volunteer activities.bigstock-playing-a-game-of-chess-52764313-758x485

As she said, “I like seeing patients two days a week, but I want something more, I just don’t know what it is.”

As I mentioned in my post “Career Conundrums” this is a frequent problem for older workers who already have a career. You can call them midlife crises or late-life crises, but they are generally an uncomfortable feelings related to “Is that all there is?” Peggy Lee’s 1969 hit.

After a short discussion, it became obvious that, hers wasn’t really a problem with “what do I want to do,” but was more about marketing – an all too common problem.

Turns out, my friend had some very specific ideas about her talents. She had even made a list – before I could suggest it. But she didn’t know how to market herself, or more accurately, just didn’t want to. That’s because sales and marketing requires a whole new skill set.

As someone who has done sales support and sales, I know that good sales people seldom get the credit they deserve.

Knowing what you want and telling the world about it require two very different talents. Most of the time we fail to recognize the difference. The real problem becomes bridging the gap.

Many very creative individuals have come to understand the problem. That’s why artists – actors, writers, painters – have agents. It frees them to do what they like, and leaves the sales, promotion and marketing to someone else.

Recruiters effectively do the same for other professions. Unfortunately, not every field has a specialized recruiter and many recruiters do a poor job of matchmaking.

If recruiters don’t meet your needs, you might look into outsourcing – the latest Baby Boomer growth industry. I don’t mean moving to India, but rather small companies who specialize in part time work. There are firms who place financial officers for  temporary positions or others who do the same for HR. There are even firms who place temporary CEO’s. This is particularly common in turn-around efforts, or for unexpected departures when firms need time to choose a new leader.

These outsourcing specialists are looking for a talent pool they can offer on an as-needed basis. Sometimes they lead to permanent jobs, but more often they are short assignments on a contract basis, which might be just what you want.

Believing that the world will beat a path to your door, because you have great skills is simply naive. You may have  a large circle of friends who know what a great job you did on that last project, but unless you let them know that you are open to more, you are invisible. You cannot be afraid to ask for help.

It requires a lot of self confidence to advertise yourself as an expert in a new area, because it risks criticism.

It also means change, which can be very disquieting.

The trick is to reframe your efforts: to expand your network: and practice your marketing pitch.

Ask a friend to lunch, but don’t approach it as a sales pitch, view it as an opportunity to ask for advice. Once you’ve done it a few times with friends, expanding to less familiar acquaintances will get easier.

Marketing yourself is just as important as the new career. You need to carve out time for it. At the start, your new job is all marketing, but eventually, it should just be part of your new career. But it needs to be a fixed part of your weekly schedule.

Don’t get trapped into a narrow range of assignments you will accept. Everyone sees you through a different lens and may see skills that you did not recognize.

And don’ expect instant results: keep your day job until you have some concrete new offers.

If you’re comfortable with blogs, tweets, or Facebook posts you can build your brand on the internet, but marketing on the internet can take even longer and means exposing yourself to many people who may not be able to help.

Your new career, at least at the start, will come from the people who know you the best.

Change is difficult, but it may be easier if you understand that:

1. Recognizing what you want to do, is not easy – you may need help.

2. You need to list the skills you want to market, but be open to alternatives.

3. You must recognize that marketing is part of your new job.

4. Self-promotion should start with people who know you best.

5. Reframing your interactions as a request for advice will make it easier.

6. Considering  recruiters or outsourcing specialists is an option.

7. You realize change will take time

 

 

 

 

 

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Graduating Into Networking

May 23, 2015

It’s graduation season.

High school seniors are looking forward to a summer off, before they start worrying whether they chose the ‘right’ college.

College graduates are considering taking on more debt to get an advanced degree, or worrying if they will ever find a job.

And perhaps not surprisingly, older workers are starting to wonder if they should return to the classroom. In an era where many thought leaders are openly questioning the value of a college education, univrsities have seen a dramatic increase in the number of ‘mature’ students returning to campus.Unknown

Just 15 years ago most of these older students were baby-boomers who were suddenly empty nesters, looking for a new challenge. Degrees such as Executive MBA’s were the province of small schools trying to generate some extra money from unused classroom space at night or on the weekend.

But with the recession, and millions of Americans out of work, almost every major university suddenly discovered that money from established workers was just as good as fees from undergraduates. Schools such as the University of California’s Haas School of Business, which had dismissed executive MBA programs in 2000, now have huge, and costly, courses in conjunction with other major universities.

So, as your son or daughter threatens to do a “Steve Jobs”  – rejecting college to work in the garage – is returning to school worth it?

I might be biased, since I received my MBA about 30 years after my bachelor’s degree, but my answer is a decided yes, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is the knowledge you gain, which is particularly valuable in an economy where you can never have enough skills. Change in the American workforce used to take place over generations. These days, it can occur in much less than a decade.

Just look at the number of jobs that went begging over the last 8 years while unemployment hovered around 10%.

Schools are making it easier to get accepted by removing testing and, in many cases, undergraduate degree requirements. Your work experience now has a completely unexpected real-life benefit.

Secondly, it’s all about networking. I once had a very heated and lengthy discussion about post graduate networking with a dining companion who insisted that “the only value’ to an advanced degree was the people you meet. His argument suggested that the only programs worth attending were from elite schools where you could rub elbows with classmates who were already successful.

The discussion grew so heated, my wife pointed out later, that diners were asking to be reseated away from our table. She admitted that I was not the main culprit, my debate-mate was. His debating style included language that probably should not be used outside a locker room – if at all.

I know I wasn’t convinced that my MBA was worthless because it was not from an Ivy League school, and I doubt he agreed that an education could be just as valuable, but we both should have apologized to the other diners.

You probably didn’t realize you were networking as an undergraduate, but as any college career office will tell you, your classmates can be a huge advantage when you start looking for a job.

In fact, some schools welcome freshman as alumni at their annual convocation near the start of the school year. They don’t exactly start fund-raising to 18-year-olds –  that’s a subtle side benefit that comes later.

School networks can be incredibly valuable on both the graduate and undergraduate level. Particularly with sites such as LinkedIn where you can easily find fellow alumni at companies where you want to work.

Likewise when hiring agents recognize their own college on your profile, it might be the extra leg up you need to at least get an interview.

So whether you are in college now, or contemplating a mid-career  advanced degree, remember the advantages of networking and use it as part of your job search. By the way my undergraduate degree is from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and my MBA is from Dominican University in San Rafael, CA.

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Emotionally Intelligent Interviews

May 17, 2015

In the last few years emotional intelligence has gone from a consultant’s buzz word to bonafide skill that employers value when they make a new hire.

In many cases it may be the key characteristic that separates one candidate from another.emotional-intelligence-graphic

Emotional intelligence covers a wide range of characteristics, but they are all classified as ‘soft skills’ that can be difficult to quantify. They include self awareness, and self efficacy, but also includes empathy and a range of talents that allow you to connect with your fellow employees.

Emotional intelligence is a key component in your ability to work well and communicate with others.  It’s recognized as a key strength for good management.

The ability to understand your employees and know how to motivate them is often the difference between managing and leading.

I mention all this because mastering emotional intelligence is not easy. While books have been written on how to learn the basics, there is a significant body of opinon which suggests that emotional intelligence is something that cannot be taught – either you have it or you don’t.

Personally, I believe you can teach EI, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of skill people acquire fully through classroom instruction.

Why is this imporntant for your career? Because if you don’t at least understand some components, you may find yourself asking, “Why didn’t I get the job, I thought the interview went great.”

The biggest challenge for most people is self awareness. I have had many clients who don’t have a good understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. Even if you work for a company which does annual performance reviews, and you have a good manager who explains what you might do better, it’s always easier to blame someone else.

Office politics, prejudice, managerial incompetence are always easier to see than your own faults. You can’t depend on friends and loved ones to explain what’s wrong and if they do, it comes with a good deal of emotional baggage.

I recently had a new client complain to me that he, ‘just couldn’t get past that first interview for a new job.’ He couldn’t understand why, even though his wife had been telling him, apparently for months.

He is very competent in his field, but the funding for the project he was working on was running out and he had to find another position. He explianed all this is a monotone voice, with no espression other than resignation. He had, what psychologists call, a flat affect. No emotion, no enthusiasm and certainly not the kind of personality that would make employers want to add him to their payroll.

He told me that his wife had pointed out his lack of enthusism, but he chalked it up to marital issues. When I confrmed what his spouse had told him, he was shocked.

He’s a research scientist and doesn’t really understand why he needs to have the kind of enthusiam that I seem to be suggesting, since his work is pretty solitary, but I tried to convince him that it makes a difference to the person doing the hiring.

We’ll see where his coaching leads, but as a former hiring manager, I can tell you that self awareness is important. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses.

It works on the other end to – you have to know what you’re good at, but I’ll take that up in a future post.

There are host of other concepts that contribute to emotional intelligence. Author Daniel Goleman has made a career out of explaining the characteristics. I would refer you to his books on the subject, or you can just call me next time you can’t figure out why you didn’t get that new job you wanted, EI may be the answer.

 

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