Don’t Swallow the Crunchy Stuff

During a trip to the dentist for some work on a crown, I was sitting comfortably in the chair. As my dentist got to work, she said “OK, I am going to start now; don’t swallow the crunchy stuff”. It occurs to me this could be good advice when confronted with challenging and perhaps even adversarial people. As a dialogue develops, things can escalate. Feelings can get hurt. It is often easy to get away from the issues at hand and, instead, get worked up over the personal violation we feel.

I suggest to you “don’t swallow the crunchy stuff”. Do not accept threats, name calling, and other trigger words that can set off bad feelings. Stay focused on the task or matter at hand. Do not let another person suck you into a battle of words over ideas or comments that should not be in the discussion.

Chasing Your Tail?

Remember watching a cat or dog chase their tail? The real question is when was the last time someone watched you chasing your tail? As I reflect on various chapters of my life and as I hear friends and colleagues share various experiences, it strikes me that we are just a guilty as our feline and canine friends of chasing that darn tail. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

  1. If you are not certain you have been chasing your tail, look at the size of the circle. The tight crazy spirals are easy to detect. It does not take long in the loop to recognize you are, in fact, running in circles. It feels fast, definitely frenzied, and dizzying. So it becomes easy to declare the insanity and stop the cycle. The tougher challenge is those large, slow, looping circles that may actually seem like graceful glides through the situation you are in. If you return to the same place and outcome, you have been chasing your tail.
  2. Old animals don’t chase their tail. As funny as it may sound, seldom in the animal kingdom will we see an older, wiser creature chasing his tail. That is with one exception….homo sapiens. Yes, the human race is not immune to repeating old habits regardless of age. The truth is, we never really stop chasing our tail in one area or another until we fully agree to truly learn from that experience. Input from trusted friends and loving family can certainly help, but each of us must come to the complete understanding of the forces that drive us into the temptation to chase that beautiful bushy tail.
  3. It’s not wise to stick your hand into the middle someone else’s circle while they are running at full speed. I did that once when one of my cats was so engrossed in chasing his tail that he seemed to have forgotten all other things. What I did not know was that the cat was intent on biting the catch as hard as he could when he found it. My hand substituted for the catch. Wow, that hurt. Yes, I stopped the cat and saved him from probable sickness, but I paid a big price. As noble as trying to stop someone else’s frenzy may sound, there is a point at which outsiders must stay out of the way. It’s far easier to intercede and assist with helping someone stop a cycle in the early stages before the momentum builds.

Pro or Shmo?

Ok I admit it…I am a long-suffering Houston Texans football fan. Over the past two years, the Texans have found ways to be on the short end of a miraculous come-back finish of no less than 6 football games. Yes, 0-6 over those games. Missed field goals, dropped passes, fumbles, Hail Mary’s (by the other team), and last second heroics by the other team; you name it, the Texans have been the team these last second miracles are perpetrated against. So where am I going with this?

Well, all of these game losing disappointments bring into question the level at which these professionals perform their job. The eye-popping salaries and the endorsements etc. leave the common man with a jealous envy of sorts. Yet when you calculate a KPI for these guys, the rate versus return seems totally out of whack. Here are some examples:

  1. When a defensive lineman takes 20-30 plays in a game, yet records only 1 or 2 sacks on the opposing Quarterback, that is considered a GREAT game. Are you kidding me? One or two successes out of 20 or 30 tries? I’d be in the soup line.
  2. A defensive back that gives up not one, but two long pass plays in the same game, giving the opposing team scores on both plays, is deemed as having a tough day. Awe gee, if I lost two big sales to my competitor and did that for 16 weeks straight, again, soup kitchen time.
  3. A running back who fumbles the ball during the last drive as the clock runs down, giving away the game is said to have a bad break. If I let the board report I am writing get lost in my computer such that I cannot present it, I am told I have no job.

I could go on and on. Now, these are obvious, big deals. Here’s my question though. What about the day by day grind of showing up, doing the do, making it happen, getting it done? Do you give it 100% all the time? Or do you find a short cut? Maybe take a few extra minutes at the coffee bar or strolling back after lunch. Heck, what about taking off early? Or not coming in at all? No, your team needs you making every play all the time. We can forget about the examples we find in pro sports. We need to be about handling what we can control in the best way possible.

Find your best, be your best.

Help Helpers Help

Whether you are in career transition or just trying to advance your career, have you given your “helpers’ everything they need to know to help you? Keith Ferrazzi just published an article that talked about executives giving their admins the right tools to help grow and nurture the exec’s network. But I think that idea goes further.

What do you do to tell family, friends, and neighbors about the things you are doing in your career? I don’t mean the boring stuff that sounds like bragging. I mean the meaningful pieces that can help someone understand your personal brand; what you are and what you do. A friend once said

Even my neighbor’s 12 year old daughter knows something about what I am doing

Plumbers, painters, carpenters, doctors, dentists, etc. have it pretty easy right? But what about C++ programmers, or high temperature flow mechanics engineers, or senior debt managers, or even HR professionals? How do you go about breaking down the fancy titles and terminology into easy to understand and even easier to remember sound bites that can help others help you?

Here’s a test. Try telling your story in new ways to five people for the next week. Enforce it when you can. Then watch to see what may come from those contacts.

Oh Gosh! Not Another Networking Event…

The interpersonal skill set is one of the most valuable assets to carry with you during job search, yet many of us are conflicted by trying to engage a stranger. Why is that?

I see dozens of people every week who have trouble trying to successfully talk with someone who might just be their next great job lead resource. Does that mean this target person may HAVE that next job? No, but it means they may know someone that knows someone looking for just the right set of experiences and skills that you, the candidate, may have.

There are lots of great tools and tips about this thing we call networking. But let’s face it, people have been networking since before the Pilgrims had thanksgiving dinner with the Indians. The concept is about connecting with people around you in ways that facilitate good personal relationships. OK – we don’t always like new people we meet. I get that. But what about those we do meet where we walk away saying to ourselves “wow, they were great to talk to”?

Did you know that most of the time when someone makes that kind of impression on us, we did most of the talking and they did most of the listening?

So here’s the secret. As you find yourself in a “networking situation” try doing a little more listening and a lot less talking. Ask questions to prompt your discussion partner to do the speaking. Let them gracefully transition into asking you follow-up questions. Never feel like you have to somehow open up and dump your life story on a stranger so that you can get to the bottom line about needing a job. Let the dialogue flow a little more naturally.

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Through the Looking Glass

Recently I ran across an old article written by a local business writer for my city’s lead newspaper. The text was a challenge to people who were trying to make changes in their life either by career transition or by some other strategic move.

The question was “have you looked in the mirror lately?” I happen to like that thinking. I am a big fan of introspection and self-talk for overcoming challenges in life. So as I was being refreshed with this article it dawned on me that there is one big problem with that approach.

Again, do not forget I said I was a fan of introspection. However, here’s the rub. Too often when we allow ourselves these moments to “look in the mirror”, we find that the answers to our questions are very negative, perhaps even self-loathing responses. Perhaps they come from those infamous voices of our past like that third grade teacher, or the neighborhood bully, or even more sinister, from a parent who was less than model in our lives. As we try to recalibrate a moment in the present by doing a self-analysis, we should never fall victim to those bad voices that can cloud our vision in the mirror.

It is critically important that your time of reflection be tempered with a certain truth about those things that are your personality, psyche, and makeup. Watch out for being overly critical, yet try to find a center of truth. Sometimes we need a close friend (the kind that can get away with speaking the truth) or an objective outsider who is willing to help with thoughts and observations. Either way, the need to look into the mirror is a good practice.

Q&A for Your Next Boss

A job seeker at my career transition ministry asked me the following.

I have a major interview coming up soon with a start up company.  I will be interviewing with and ultimately reporting to the CEO.  I have one question that I need to ask someone, but I am not sure who.  — What is the CEO’s management style?  Do I ask him, or do I ask some, or all, of his subordinates?  Or should I ask both sources? The main concern I have about the job is whether or not the CEO is a micro-manager.

Here is my answer.

Simple. Go ahead and ask “would you mind sharing with me something about your management style?” All managers will have an answer for that. The good ones can describe the way they like to lead people versus “managing” people. Bad ones will likely talk a lot about metrics, systems, and results, leaving out the human elements of the answer.

Of course the best answers will need to come from the people who work for them or know them. This is a great example of a LinkedIn question to ask someone. Use LinkedIn to find former employees of the target company. Then make personal, direct inquires to those people. Tell them you might be interviewing at their former company and would like them to share some insights. (Point 7 in my “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead on LinkedIn”). I have used this approach for several years and have gotten some amazing information to use.

Procedures? We Don’t Need No Stinking Procedures

While being interviewed on a recent radio talk show, I was stunned to hear one of the co-hosts claim “At my company, we see as many as 92% of our job applicants failing to follow the prescribed job posting procedures. We count that as immediate elimination.”

No kidding! Wow, 92% of the presumably desperate job seekers applying to this company’s posted jobs cannot follow enough instructions to pass through the grid and become potential interviewees. What are these people thinking? Ok, maybe the company has some special requirements they have laid out, but so what? I am sure the nature of their business has some unique requirements too (as do most company’s). If someone cannot or will not follow the steps, then what kind of worker might they be?

Remember, the job search process is as much about elimination as it is selection. Candidates cannot give the employer a reason to eliminate them by failing to follow a step in the process.

Can’t Remember the Punch Line?

I am going to continue my theme on building a compelling story to use when job interviewing and/or power-networking. In a previous blog I presented the idea that your interview needs to be YOUR story. Just like a comedian who tells a good joke, you have to be able to tell your own punch line at the end of your story.  So when you are doing an interview, you do not want to leave the punch line up to the interviewer. You need to tell the punch line. It’s the why I am relevant and significant for the job opening.

First, this thing I am calling your story is different from the traditional “elevator pitch”. Basically, I hate those. They always have a way of coming out either rehearsed or canned. There is no personality in that. To have a good story, you need to be ready to modify things on-the-fly. You need to be soaking in the dialogue from the interviewer. Listen carefully and shape your responses to fit the context, language, terminology, and buzz that the other person is using to communicate.

Here are the basic elements. You need a beginning, middle, and an end. WOW! When have you heard that before…hmmmmm, maybe in 5th grade language arts? I did. This childlike simplicity is so powerful. It goes something like this.

“I know exactly what you are talking about. My experience includes direct handling of XYZ during the most recent change in the market. I was responsible for 20% of the increase my old company had in XYZ. Because your company is launching a new initiative with XYZ (I know this from studying your information), I am sure I can make a similar contribution here.”

Keep working on those stories and the right punch line.

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