Learning from everyone in the workplace

I once joined a professional organization with a diverse membership. We met weekly and discussed industry-related research. Every member sought to grow professionally; most attended at least one yearly conference hosted by the organization so the members grew pretty close. But one of the members drove me nuts, honestly (isn’t that always the case?) She arrived late, laughed hysterically at inappropriate moments, and insisted on interrupting people. When she shared information, it didn’t seem to add value or substance. I whined to my mentor, who was a fellow member. She turned to me and smiled.

“Bethany, you learn something from everyone. You either learn who you want to be or who you don’t want to be. I guess you’re learning who you don’t want to be.”

Ugh. YES. But I didn’t WANT to learn from her! I wanted her to go away. She didn’t.

But I did learn from her. For a few more years, I sat through meetings with the obnoxious woman, who continued to exhibit the same behaviors. Nothing changed about the woman’s behavior. The only thing that changed was my attitude toward her.


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It was a great lesson learned. I probably learned more from her than from many of the solid, professional, appropriate, timely, well-behaved members of the organization who had their ducks in a row. Now don’t get me wrong–I learned plenty from those people. We need excellent role models and mentors in the workplace. Without them, we’d have no idea how to behave appropriately, how to carry ourselves through crises, how to prevent and manage workplace conflicts, how to handle harassment and other touchy situations, and how to seek promotions without steamrolling others along the way. By all means, we need great leaders and strong colleagues who have it all together.

But we need to learn from our colleagues who are barely making it, too. We need those people who have so many personal problems that they’re doing well just to show up to work an hour late, hair disheveled, tear-stained mascara across her cheeks. We need the colleagues in the cubicles next to us who take 10 phone calls per day from their elderly parents with dementia. We need the supervisor who is a micromanager, unable to let go of counting every single bean. We need the one who simply cannot stop telling crude jokes (and gets himself fired as a result–please, dear God).

We need those people because we learn our best and hardest lessons–often gaining soft skills–from the people who are most intolerable, most obnoxious, most needy, and most broken. Do you know how I learned how to communicate competently in difficult situations? By working in difficult situations, time after time, with very difficult people. Want to know how I learned how to prevent conflicts while interacting with volatile people? By working with emotionally disturbed teenagers with criminal backgrounds and a history of abuse.

We often do not choose to learn difficult lessons in difficult moments and situations. But when we find ourselves in tough situations, we have a choice. We can let those situations make us better or bitter, as the saying goes. We can either learn and grow through the situation, or we can whine, complain, and claw our way out as quickly as possible, refusing to accept that there may be anything we could possibly learn from the people and conflicts surrounding us.

I’m not suggesting you should wallow in suffering or willingly expose yourself to demeaning, inappropriate, or dangerous situations at work. If you find yourself in a hostile work situation, fraught with harassment, bullying, or conflict, you ought to immediately take appropriate action (whether that means contacting your human resources director, filing a legal complaint, filing a police report, or searching for a new job). But if you’re just feeling disgruntled or miserable because you don’t like the people you work with, or you find that a few of your colleagues or supervisors rub you the wrong way, or you’re not fully appreciated in the workplace, perhaps there’s something you can learn or gain.

Remember that obnoxious woman I dealt with in the professional organization? She never quit attending organizational meetings. She even attended conferences with us. She never changed. But my attitude toward her evolved. I stopped expecting her to change, and over time, that helped me see her in a softer light.

Most importantly, I learned deep lessons: acceptance, tolerance, patience, and compassion for a woman who had some significant personal struggles.  Hear this: I didn’t have to like her, and I never did. Her struggles didn’t excuse her professional pitfalls. But extending kindness to her didn’t harm either of us. And offering a simple prayer on her behalf didn’t hurt me either.

What are you learning from your most difficult colleagues (or supervisors)? What are they learning from YOU?

If your organization needs a speaker/presenter on workplace communication or other soft skill, reach out to me to discuss scheduling.

Writing your resume for the first time?

pexels-photoThere’s a lot of information available for working professionals who are revising their resumes for the hundredth time. But what about working professionals who have never created a resume? Can someone make it through the world of work without a resume? Absolutely. There are such fortunates. I recently helped a client in his 60s create his very first resume.

Shut the front door, you say. I kid you not–this client’s work history was way more interesting than anything on television at this very moment, but he had never written any of it down. I got to hear about it over coffee. He has managed incredibly swanky establishments across the United States (the stories, the scandal, the excitement…). He’s led large teams of employees to staggering success. CEOs have sought him and begged him and paid him handsomely to relocate.

So why is he creating a resume NOW? He’s reinventing himself (he’s not the only one–why do you think so many retirees are pursuing new career paths or considering gigs and part-time jobs?). He decided he wants to pursue a slightly different career path with a large corporation, and that corporation utilizes an applicant tracking system, requiring all candidates to apply online. Even though he’d already made a name for himself within the organization, he knew he would eventually need to formally apply online. He would have to upload a resume. And he didn’t have one because in the past, he earned jobs strictly based on who he is–his reputation spoke for itself.

So we started from scratch. I listened (that part was easy), took notes, and created a pretty amazing resume for this man. And he landed the job he wanted.

Whether you’re in my client’s boat, and you’ve got years of experience under your belt with no resume to show for it, or you’re in high school or college and hope to avoid this predicament altogether, here are a few tips if you’re writing your first resume.

  • If you haven’t been keeping a running list of your work experience, community involvement, and accomplishments, start keeping one. Use Word or Google Docs or something similar. Save it in more than one place and preferably save it in “the cloud.”

    Record everything. You won’t use everything on each resume you create/send when applying for jobs, but you want all details stored in one place. It will save you so much time when you fill out lengthy job applications or try to recall information about a position you held 10 years ago. Names of employers/supervisors, phone numbers and addresses of employers, copies of job descriptions… yes. All of that.

    And after you have a resume, don’t ever delete it and just revise it, updating as you go. Save every single version. You never know when you’ll want to revert back to a previous version, pull information from an older resume, etc. Same with cover letters.

  • Learn how to write a great resume. Read articles from reputable websites like Forbes, Inc, The Muse, and College Recruiter (there are others, but these are a few). Watch informational videos and webinars. Follow folks like me on social media. Take online courses if you like. If you’re a college student or graduate, reach out to your career services office for assistance. Attend those free resume writing workshops. If you don’t like what you hear or aren’t sure it’s great advice, take it a step further and consider paying someone to help you. You can hire a professional resume writer or career coach, like me, to help you write it. Some resume writers will do all the work for you. I suggest you don’t hire someone like this. What you need is someone who will work WITH YOU to create a fabulous resume.

    It might save you time now to let someone do every single thing for you, but in the long run, you will be back in the same “I don’t know what to do” boat. You need someone to teach you how to write and revise your own work and someone who’s a wordsmith and expert in career development and talent acquisition. It’s okay to work TOGETHER to create your resume. If the professional you hire asks you very few questions and doesn’t really collaborate with you while working on your resume, you can guarantee the finished product will probably not be a great reflection of the real you. And this is a problem. When you start interviewing, your resume will portray you a certain way, and you may or may not match that portrayal. Employers want you to be transparent during the hiring process.

  • Avoid templates. Do you hear me? For the love of your career, do not use a template. Here are all the reasons why. 

This should help you get started. If you need additional help creating or revising your resume, let me know.

 

 

 

Before an informational interview

You might need to learn more about a career field to determine your degree path in college. Maybe you want an “in” with a particular company. Or perhaps you’re considering changing careers or seeking a promotion into a career zone that’s unfamiliar. Whatever your reasons, requesting an informational interview can feel pretty intimidating. Here are some tips to ease your nerves and help you prepare.


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  1. Ask the right person for the right reasons. Do you know how many people randomly ask professionals to meet with them for 30 minutes for an informational interview yet don’t give adequate thought to why they’re asking? Many—and this is why some mentors and seasoned professionals are a bit aloof when you ask for an informational interview.If you’re going to ask someone for 10 minutes of talk time, be sure you’re asking the right person first. Do you want advice about starting a consulting business? Ask an entrepreneur who’s started her own consulting business. Are you considering leaving teaching as a career? Ask someone for advice who’s already been there, done it, and is happy with the outcome (and ask someone who wishes he’d never left, too, because balance in perspective is crucial when making career decisions).
  2. After you’ve identified a great person to interview, nail down your purpose for the interview. Notice “purpose” is singular—don’t ask more than 3-5 questions unless you’re sending questions via email. And even then, respect your interviewee’s time by sticking to a clear, concise plan. Don’t forget to clearly communicate your purpose when requesting the interview. Most people don’t want to agree to spend 30 minutes with a pseudo-stranger unless there’s a stated purpose/plan or perceived benefit.
  3. As much as you need to be clear and concise, you also need to be flexible. If your interviewee offers you a tour of her company’s manufacturing facilities, by all means, say yes! Does that mean you’ll spend an hour and a half there instead of the 30 minutes you expected? Yes, and that’s fabulous! Leave your schedule open for at least a 2-hour block of time when you schedule an informational interview; however, try to watch the clock and wrap up your line of questioning in 30 minutes unless your interviewee is obviously enjoying herself and rambling. Let her go on and on if she likes. She’s the expert/mentor, so sit back, listen, and absorb her experience and knowledge.
  4. While we’re on the subject of time management, remember to arrive on time. There’s simply no way to make a worst first impression than to arrive terribly late. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, call ahead to let your interviewee know what’s happening. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, ask if he would rather reschedule or continue with the interview. Be prepared for him to request to reschedule.
  5. Prepare your list of questions (3-5, ideally) and bring a hard copy with you. It’s very distracting to talk to someone while she’s clicking or scrolling on an electronic device. Put your phone down, leave the laptop at home, and break out a pen and paper for informational interviews. This allows you to make better eye contact and display your soft skills, including active listening and mindfulness.
  6. Be prepared to tell your interviewee a bit about yourself, too. Create an elevator pitch and practice in advance to avoid stumbling over your words when he asks you to tell him about your own career background and goals.
  7. If you plan to share information learned during the interview in an essay, an article, or a post on social media, get permission from your interviewee first. And good grief, NEVER record someone without his permission either.
  8. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. If you’re meeting on-site at a company or office, dress professionally (business casual). If you’re meeting for coffee or lunch on the weekend or in the evening, tone it down slightly. But remember, just as when dressing for job interviews, you’re not trying to show off your assets during an informational interview. This meeting is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you by selecting flashy or provocative clothing.Dress comfortably, not just appropriately, because sometimes we can’t predict how far we’ll walk from the parking lot to the building or whether we will climb three flights of stairs. An informational interview isn’t the time to wear new shoes or a tight, straight skirt.
  9. Follow up and express gratitude. This should always be your last step. Don’t walk away from an informational interview, shake hands, and forget to send an email or thank you card (I prefer thank you cards). Connect on social media, too. This makes it easy for you to regularly touch base with your new contact, mentor, and friend.

An informational interview can be a great strategy in your career development or job search process. But knowing when to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and how to pull it off can be tricky. Contact me if you might benefit from networking coaching or an interview prep session.

3 steps to take before writing your personal branding statement

A personal branding statement is super short—just a few lines. It shouldn’t take you long to whip it out, right? We’ll see.

A personal branding statement might be one of the most important pieces of writing you create as a job seeker or professional. What is a personal branding statement? A personal branding statement is a brief written statement which explains who you are as a professional and touts your value as a job seeker or employee. In your statement, you toot your horn (without being obnoxious, of course).

Why should you write one? How can you use it? You should write one because you need a personal branding statement for almost every social media site. You can use it on your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter profile, and your Quora profile. You can add verbage to it and convert it into a brief bio. You can use it when writing your elevator pitch. You can include it when writing content for articles on your blog. You can even use it as the signature at the bottom of your email if you like. There are many ways you can use your personal branding statement to brand yourself and help others understand who you are and what you’re attempting to accomplish.

There are three crucial steps you need to take before you actually write your personal branding statement, whether you choose to write it on your own or with the help of a career coach like me.


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  1. Define your career goals.

Do some quiet brainstorming and reflecting about your short and long-term career goals. Don’t think about where you see yourself in five years. You might be a realist like me; that’s a terrible approach.

Instead, think about where you’d like to be in five years if boundaries, finances, health, and family constraints were not concerns for you. Where would you be working? Would you work for others or yourself? Would you live in the same geographic location or not? Create a vision board or at least a vision card or document, jotting down words which capture the ideal career you have in mind. If five years doesn’t give you enough time to plan this ideal career, think 10 years out.

Then bring yourself back to the here and now—where your hands are. Within the next 12-18 months, how can you get closer to that long-term goal? If you feel baffled when considering this question, you might need a career coach’s help in seeking a promotion, a job or career change, or simply some training or professional development to gently push you in the direction of your goal.

  1. Select your target audience.

Who do you want to work with on a daily basis? Are you already working with those people? If so, great. Document your target audience. Once you see your audience listed on paper (or electronically), it’s easier to understand how to write your personal branding statement so that your wording is not too abstract or too concrete. You want to hit the sweet spot and ensure that your audience understands exactly what you’re saying and relates to the way you’re saying it. All good writing does this well.

  1. Identify your greatest assets.

Poll your colleagues, former supervisors, and mentors. Ask them to help you identify your greatest professional assets, values, ethics, soft skills, hard skills, and unique abilities in the workplace. Which problems do people regularly bring to you, knowing you’ll solve them more quickly and easily than others? Work some of these keywords and talents into your personal branding statement.

It’s easy to get stuck when writing a personal branding statement. You may be cursed with verbal diarrhea and find it difficult to limit the number of words you write. If this happens to you, don’t freak out or give up. Just reach out to me for help and schedule a free consultation for branding coaching. I’m a professional writer and a career coach—I’ve got you covered.

How do you make decisions about your career?

When contemplating changing jobs, applying for promotions within your company, quitting a job to spend time with your family, or other major career changes, how in the world do you make those big decisions? And how do you make major career decisions without undergoing stress and anxiety?

Here are seven steps I go through when making career decisions (or other big life decisions, for that matter). Decision-making is a soft skill you need while navigating your career journey. It’s also a “must have” soft skill employers look for in candidates during the hiring process. You’ll notice that many common interview questions are worded to ascertain your ability to make good decisions. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision.”

My personal decision-making process may not work for you; that’s okay. I’m sharing it with you because it might encourage you to find a process that does work for you. Take what you like and leave the rest. The important thing is to develop your own personalized decision-making process. If you need some help developing a decision-making strategy, let me know.


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  1. Pray. Make conscious contact with your Higher Power if that’s part of your lifestyle. This works well for me because spirituality is a major part of who I am. If you don’t feel a connection with a Higher Power, spend some time mindfully meditating or quietly contemplating the options you’re considering.
  2. Consult mentors. Don’t try to fix the stuff in your head with the stuff in your head. That typically doesn’t produce great results. I made many poor career decisions—large and small—by relying too much on my own thoughts and feelings.Talk to people who have lots of experience and expertise. Seek a real career mentor if you don’t already have one. It takes guts to reach out and ask for help, but eventually you’ll surround yourself with experts who are kind and supportive. And you’ll give back to others, too. That’s what networking is all about!
  3. Make a pros and cons list. Get it on paper and out of your head. What if you’re weighing two really good options? Then weigh the pros and pros instead. I once had to consider whether to remain a full-time faculty member or to leave my faculty position to accept a position as content manager of a company I had admired for over a decade. I loved teaching—but I loved that company I’d admired and the people who managed it, too. It was a tough call!
  4. Do research thoroughly, whether it’s researching a company, a position, the financial impact of your decision, or the impact of your decision on your family. Simply perusing a company website isn’t going to cut it. You should reach out and talk to people who work at the company you’re considering aligning yourself with. Crunch numbers. This is due diligence, and if you don’t do thorough research, you may regret it. 
  5. Release outcomes. Whether you simply mentally let go of outcomes or spiritually let go of outcomes, understanding you’re not in control of whether you land jobs—even if you do ALL the right things—is important. One of the prayers that helps me when making decisions is, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”This helps me stop worrying throughout the decision-making process. I can do all the right things, but there are many X factors involved in the hiring process. I often have no way to know what recruiters are really looking for, whether or not I’m the best fit for the position or company at the time, and whether the company already has an internal candidate in mind for the position.

    I’d like to believe my destiny rests in my hands, but that’s not realistic. Sometimes other people have a big hand in outcomes which affect me. I have learned to do my best—that’s all I can do. If I’m not happy with the outcome, I move on and knock on other doors of opportunity. Eventually, I’ll find a great fit.

  6. Wait before responding to invitations or job offers. When making decisions, responding rather than reacting is key for me. Impulsive decision-making is almost always a poor idea. Don’t burn bridges with recruiters or hiring managers if you don’t get hired. Recently, a client of mine was not offered a position he’d applied for. Less than 24 hours later, the recruiter called back and offered him the position because the “first choice” candidate rejected the offer. Had my client reacted negatively to being rejected, there’s no way he would have been called back and offered the position. He had to swallow his pride knowing he was the second pick, but who really cares? He got what he wanted in the end, and he was mature enough to handle himself with dignity.Waiting before responding to job offers also gives me time to consult experts and mentors and do more research. Sometimes I need to negotiate salary and benefits because I’m not being offered what I’m worth, and if I react impulsively out of excitement, I may not see the offer realistically.
  7. Take action. If I don’t eventually take an action, and do the next right thing for me—whatever I can determine that may be at the time—I will get stuck or paralyzed in fretting about trying to make perfect decisions. I have to understand that I’m imperfect and will make mistakes throughout my career. And boy, have I made some big ones! However, I’ve learned from every mistake I’ve made. All my mistakes have helped me coach other people in similar situations. As long as I continue to learn, I don’t carry regrets, so there’s really no losing in the learning process.

If you find yourself stuck in making decisions and need guidance along your career journey, reach out for help.

How much is your career worth?

It’s August, and you’re probably drowning in photos posted on Instagram and Facebook of your friends and family members’ first days back at school. The days of the photos of boating, swimming, water parks, and the Grand Canyon are long gone… until next summer. Most of us can no longer take week-long summer vacations, but some might splurge on mini vacations over the weekend.

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Out of curiosity, I crunched some numbers online to determine the average cost of a mini vacation in the United States for one adult.

Concert ticket: $78.77
Dinner out: $39.40
Drinks with friends: $20
Movie and snacks: $20
Gas: $40
Adult ticket to theme park: $84
Hotel for one night: $75
Other meals: $50

Total cost: $407.17

How much did you invest this summer on your career? 

Biting the bullet and asking a career coach to help you write or edit your resume, craft an excellent cover letter, prepare for an important interview, or hone your networking skills might feel like a luxury. But did you know you can spend about the same amount of money on your mini vacation on a basic resume and cover letter session with a career coach?

A great basic resume won’t make you laugh out loud or take selfies with you, but it will open doors for you when you apply for jobs–over and over again. You’ll tweak the basic resume every time you apply for jobs, and you can use the same basic resume for several years, adding to it and editing it as your job history and experience changes. It’s not a one-time memory. It’s a long-term investment.

When you gain great interview skills, you don’t utilize them once and file them away. Your confidence as a candidate builds each time you interview for a job. Your investment grows exponentially the more you use it.

The next time you consider taking a mini vacation, and simultaneously wish you could switch careers or apply for a promotion but don’t have the extra cash to seek help with your resume, chew on the concepts in this article.

As someone with nine years of experience in higher education, I absolutely understand the notion of “it costs too much to seek help on my resume.” Some things are worth saving for, and if I’d never made big choices to make big changes, I’d still be wishing for something different.

Ready to get to work and invest in your career? Reach out to me for a free consultation.