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?

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.

Pancakes and Purpose

Yesterday was the Rotary Club of Monroe’s (CT) pancake breakfast. The event was hosted by the United Methodist Church of Monroe, which allowed for the use of its kitchen, dining area and equipment, with all of the effort going to support Project Warmth, a resource of Monroe Social Services that assists people with home heating oil costs. Here in New England, a heating oil delivery can easily exceed $600. To the outsider, this event may not sound like anything all that exciting as it was similar to every other pancake/chicken/spaghetti fundraiser held all over the country every weekend of the year. To those involved, though, it had significant meaning. Here’s why.

This event was nothing more than idea 30 days earlier when Jesse Treviño, the Rotary Club’s president asked, “What do you all think about having a pancake breakfast fundraiser?” The idea was kicked around the room for 20 minutes and by the time the closing bell rang (yes, Rotarians ring a bell to stop and start the meetings), we decided that we would have the breakfast on November 19 to benefit Project Warmth.

There was a lot of work to get done in a very short time. The punch list included securing a venue, making signs and posters, purchasing supplies, doing publicity work and getting up very early on the 19th to flip the first pancakes to be served at 7:30AM. Everyone – Rotarians, church members, vendors and talented restaurant owners John and Sandy Kantzas – came through as planned. About 120 people were served and Project Warmth will be able to better serve its clients. There were also intangible and meaningful benefits that speak to the value of working together.

Dave Wolfe, a long-time Rotarian and charter member of the Monroe club, mentioned how well working together on a hands-on project brings everyone together and strengthens the bonds of club members. It was a lot of hard work, but it was great fun. Others made similar observations.

Rev. Kregg Gabor, the pastor of UMC of Monroe, said that it was wonderful to see different organizations with different missions coming together for a common cause, an outward looking approach to community and service to those in need. Even the church’s middle school students saw it as an opportunity to serve by planning and running a Thanksgiving-themed coloring room so the kids could have something to do while mom and dad had the second cup of coffee and one more delicious pancake.

I thought it was spectacular to see so many talented people collaborating to make a terrific event happen in such a short time. The Rotary Club of Monroe is made up of only 15 people, but every one of them is driven, professional and purposeful. The day was a great reminder of how all of us can do so much when we have a purpose, and so much more when we work together.

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.

Energized by Work?

For some people, the idea that one could be excited and enthusiastic about work seems ludicrous. You probably know people like that, those who dread another Monday because it feels like another five day prison sentence. It’s not like that for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be like that for anyone.

During the past week, while working on a freelance writing assignment, I had the opportunity to interview a person working for an organization that does important life-saving work in the pharmaceutical industry. As we discussed his project and the results of the company’s work, he was bubbling with genuine excitement about the past year and what the new one holds. I even commented to him that his excitement was evident and contagious.

Maybe you are fortunate to know someone like that and can draw some inspiration from that person’s story. Maybe you are blessed to be someone in a similar situation. You spring out of bed in the morning, ready to fulfill your plans and grab new opportunities.

It’s also possible that your excitement about your work falls short of what I am describing. Why? What can you change to make it better and find more meaning in your work? Is it time to change jobs or your career path? Go back to school to learn something new? Volunteer to do something fulfilling and lasting?

There is an infinite amount of important work to be done in the world. We all can only contribute the most is we are doing something we truly enjoy. Seek it out. Take a chance. Make a difference.