Do What You Can

“10 Things You Can Do Today to Master the Universe.” “Do These Three Things to Live to 100.” Those are headlines that social media and content marketers would recommend. I get it. Suggesting that you should do what you can isn’t as sexy. Maybe it’s even dull, but let me explain.

I had a conversation with a person who was very down about her circumstances and her chances to improve her situation. Listening to her, you would believe that everything was wrong in her life. She had no skills that anyone would want. Her options were bad and none.

What I was seeing – an articulate, professional person – and what I was hearing did not match, leading me to ask, “So what things have you done well in your life? What have you done that people have praised and thanked you for?” Surprise! This same person who moments later had nothing positive to say was telling me about how she was so good at her last job that clients asked for her specifically and her boss publicly commented that she was “her best person.” She was the firefighter, sent in to fix problems created by other far less competent coworkers.

Where did the disconnect come from? How did she come to see herself as having so little to offer when others felt otherwise and had told her so? Here are two possibilities.

Sometimes our immediate circumstances and recent defeats cause us to think that we have changed for the worse. Maybe I’ve lost it, or maybe the world has changed around me and I have not kept up. There could be some truth to that, especially if you are talking about a technical skill in a fast moving industry, but there are some talents that we all have that don’t just disappear. Things like critical thinking, communication and relationship building skills are examples.

It could also be that some people just give up too easily or need some encouragement. If you need that encouragement, connect with the people in your life who can give it. If you see someone doing something well or know that someone needs a boost, offer those positive words. You can’t know how important they will be to someone who so desperately needs them.

We all hit rough spots, but we also have plenty to offer. We may never be a CEO of a top company or an inductee into a Hall of Fame, but we are all good at something. Figure out what that thing is and work at it. Forget about the things that you can’t and will never do. You are more likely to find success and satisfaction in doing what you can than wasting time and emotional energy dwelling on what you can’t.

Try this: 1)Set an achievable, realistic goal. 2)Do it. 3)Celebrate. 4)Repeat.

Before you know it, your negativity will be in the past and your self-esteem will be giving you the fuel to win.

Some thoughts on encouragement: 100% Sustainable

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company

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Accountability Time: Maybe it is You

“I am working as hard as I can, and my goals stay just out of reach.”

“The economy is so tough. There just aren’t any jobs.”

“Everybody wants perfection, and they just won’t give me a chance.”

Have you ever found yourself saying these things, or something similar? I hear them a lot.

There can be truth in each of these statements. There is more competition for jobs than ever before. Employers are very picky and careful in their hiring processes. Sometimes working hard just isn’t enough. But is that all there is to it? As someone who is very self-critical, let me suggest that the problem could be you. Before you get mad at me, I am not suggesting that you or anyone else has some intrinsic defect that can’t be addressed. I am suggesting that there are things that you can examine and act upon that could make a difference in the trajectory of your life. Here are a few.

Your Work Quality. Whether you are employed or between jobs, the quality of your work is more important than ever. A single spelling mistake on a résumé or LinkedIn profile could mean the difference between an interview or rejection. The quality (and quantity) of your work on the job must be great. If you can’t or won’t do it well, there is someone else who will.

Your Relationships. As you network in professional settings and engage in relationships with those around you – in your home, with your friends, in your faith community and other organizations – are you giving more than you get? Are you willing to and actually giving everything you can to these relationships, creating bonds that will last, or something less? If you could be giving more, do it. Self-centeredness will lead to a very lonely place.

Your Goals. When you get up in the morning and head out the door, are you doing it for the right reasons? Is your work something that energizes and engages you, something that allows you to use your skills in a meaningful way? Do you look forward to seeing your co-workers and telling your friends and family about your accomplishments? If yes, it sounds like you are in a great place. If no, if your reason for going is just for the paycheck, it may be time to make a change.

Your Environment. What fills the world around you? Do you spend time on activities that build you up, or waste it in pass times that break you down? Some time spent in self-development, through reading, education, faith activities and other pursuits will pay dividends that won’t come from another hour of reality TV.

How Badly Do You Want It? In the end, nobody can want you to succeed more than you. Your family, friends and mentors certainly want you to do well, but you must want it more. You are responsible for yourself and your performance.

So, how badly do you want it? What does success look like in your life? What will you do in the next few minutes, hours and days to move towards that vision? You are accountable to yourself, like it or not. Think about these ideas, and give yourself that uncomfortable but crucial conversation that is a necessary part of change. Do it today!

What If There’s Just One Question?

Many people make the effort to prepare for the job interview by considering potential questions, many of which have been covered in earlier pieces on this site (See the “Questions” series). But what if your interview consists of only one question? A friend conveyed a story of his experience about meeting with a top executive of a potential employer. The question: What are you good at?

My friend, being honest and humble, readily admitted that he did not handle this single question very well, but he took it as a learning experience. He is now ready to answer that one if he faces it again. How about you? We learn from our mistakes, but it is better to learn from the mistakes of others; it’s a lot less painful that way. What would you say if faced with this single question? Here are some ideas.

First, think about the things that are important to employers in your industry. It could be a special technology or trend for which you have developed a marketable skill. Be ready to weave that into your answer.

Second, consider the scope and sophistication of your reply. It should be appropriate to the level at which you are interviewing. If you are being considered for a top spot at the firm, your highlighted skills should be at a much higher level than the recent college graduate looking for her first job.

Third, build in examples, or at least short mentions to pique curiosity in the interviewer. For example, you could talk about your superb team building skills as demonstrated when you worked on your firm’s top XYZ account. This will give your interviewer the prompt to ask more about a topic that you want to discuss.

Finally, be sure that you have done you research to understand what is important to this potential employer. You have got to be able to demonstrate that you offer a solution to a problem. You offer skills and abilities that will meet the needs of the organization. You cannot know this if you don’t know anything about the company.

Important: This goes beyond the elevator pitch, which is a brief 30 second self-introduction. It must be concise but it the answer will be developed for a formal interview setting. Add more detail and context and develop it to encourage follow up dialogue.

Summarizing yourself and your career with a concise presentation will not be easy, but it will be worth the effort. You are good at something and likely many more than one thing. Ensure that telling your story about what makes you special one of your top skills.

If you found this helpful, see some other stories to help you deal with common interview questions.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

Book Review: Linchpin

I picked up the latest Seth Godin paperback release at the airport bookstore last week and devoured it. After being inspired by The Dip and The Big Moo, I was excited to have the opportunity to grab five hours of flight time for a Seth pep talk. It was worth the 16 bucks.

As an entrepreneur and someone who is constantly working to do remarkable work for my clients, Godin’s focus on artistry resonated and validated what I and many of my clients do every day: Engage in “artistry” (Godin’s term), rising above the pack to add that which cannot be described in a policy manual or procedure, adding that special something – creativity, emotional energy, caring – that sets my work above the rest. You probably do that too, and are at your best and most energized when you are in that zone. Godin profiles people including coffee shop employees, CEOs and sales executives, creating opportunities to identify commonality between the reader and Godin’s subjects.

One of the reasons that I still prefer paper books over the Kindle for non-fiction with lasting value is that I like to scribble in the margins. Stars, checks, lines, comments and other visual reminders of, “Hey, this seemed important at 30,000 feet,” make up my system. This book is now filled with them.

Are you working for someone else? Become a linchpin. Be indispensable be doing more than is expected, by adding the qualities that are unique to you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Work hard, work fast and give you best as a gift to your clients and employees. You too will become indispensable.

Godin’s point is simple, but profound in its ramifications. If your job can be described in a training guide or a policy manual, if it can be automated or given to someone else willing to do it at a lower price, you are cooked. He challenges us to think and act, working to be remarkable, indispensable artists of our trades.

This Isn’t a Legal Trial

Last night I ran a seminar called Optimizing Your Résumé for a New Year’s Job Search at the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe, CT. The event was well attended and we covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes. There was one idea that several people had that is worth a blog post: “How do I prove my claims?”

The concern from a few people was that they were not comfortable making claims about their performance because there was no record of it having happened. In many cases the employers where the great work was done are no longer in business. The people who could confirm the claims are now difficult to contact. The performance data may be a distant memory with little more than recollection to support it. These are all valid concerns, but not a deal breaker.

It’s important to keep in mind the venue for these claims and how they will be used. If a job seeker states that as a Sales Manager she, “grew sales by 27% over 33 months and opened two new markets,” there may or may not be documentation to support the claim. If she does not have documentation, should she not include it in the résumé? Of course not! It has to be there.

Think about it this way: If a résumé were to only to contain claims that were supported by indisputable evidence, it would be a very short document. Are there things on your résumé that you don’t have evidence to support? Probably. Should you delete that information? No!

Your résumé is a marketing document. The standards are simple. Is it the truth? If yes, go for it. Can you discuss and defend it in a convincing and credible way in an interview? If yes, you’re all set!

Interviewers are looking for cultural fit and evidence of professionalism and potential. They are looking for transferable skills. If the sales increase performance from above leads to a discussion of how the candidate got the results – through market research, powerful leadership, cold calling, tenacious follow up, and other tactics – the interviewer will learn what she needs. The point is not the exact precision of performance claims, but evidence of the talent you bring to the new gig.

Remember that the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s just this: Give some stories that are credible and true that will lead to an in-depth discussion of your transferable talent and how you can help your next employer. Don’t worry that you past company got vaporized in 2008. Sell yourself!

BTW – Be sure to get your copy of 25 Résumé Tune-Up Tips, a brand new eBooklet ready for free download.

Quit It!

“What am I doing?” Have you ever had one of those moments – maybe days or even weeks – of clarity when you realize that what you are doing is not moving you towards your long-term goals? Your actions, your job, your daily routine are taking caring of some immediate need, but are doing nothing to help you fulfill some greater purpose.

Seth Godin tackles this subject in his slim volume, The Dip. He offers a simple idea: maybe we should be quitting, quitting the things that are not moving us towards some purpose, goal or accomplishment. If what you are doing to survive is not moving you towards being the best at something, you should quit the distractions and focus on your purpose.

How about you? When you envision your greater purpose, the thing that you were built to do, how do your current activities move you towards that bright future? Are they? Or are your activities putting you in idle, revving your engine, surviving, but not moving you towards your purpose?

What about the dip the author refers to? Godin shares that getting to be the best at something requires a lot of time and effort in the trenches, working hard, sometimes in anonymity, moving towards that goal. There isn’t a lot of glamour and prestige in the dip, but if you make it to the other side, you can be the best at something, something that truly matters to you.

I was fortunate to stumble upon this book and it challenged me, and even though it is several years old, it is still relevant. I am considering what I need to quit so I can devote my time and energy to those things most valuable to me. How about you? What are you doing, what are your goals, and are you making progress towards them? Or are you just doing what you need to pay the next month’s rent? What will change in your life to move you back onto the right path?

Comments? Share what you are doing, not doing and quitting. Maybe you will inspire someone else.

The Right Story at the Right Time

Let me tell you about my greatest success that never happened! I worked on a project for almost two years and in spite of all of my efforts, it never got off the ground. I remember it fondly and consider what could have been, and my hope is that you share the same warm feelings.

What?

There is a time and a place to tell your stories, and knowing when and where to share successes and setbacks is an important part of any job search. Consider that there are two broad categories of communication that all seekers must create and share, as follows.

The Résumé. This is your product brochure. Think about any piece of sales literature you have ever seen. They are all written by people who want to sell you something, and they describe the features of the product or service and the benefits that the buyer will receive. The résumé is your personal sales brochure, and it should be filled with information about the things that make you special and your statistics that are likely to be repeated. It is not the place for full disclosure. That belongs in…

Everything Else. By this, I mean your cover letter and the stories you will tell when interviewed. This would be the place where you may use your story about the one that got away. Many interviewers will ask you about a time you suffered a setback or your greatest weakness. This could be the time to trot this tale around the track, being sure to share what you learned from it. “This happened, and that happened, and I learned that great ideas may never get off the drawing board if every key decision maker is not on board.” Save those stories for this setting. It will sound genuine and you will not have to struggle with one of these negative interview questions.

The sales brochure for that new car you have your eye on doesn’t list the product recalls in the model’s history. Nor does it tell about unhappy customers. It stays positive and talks about acceleration, safety and Corinthian leather. Your résumé must do the same thing. You will have your chance to share the other stuff later.