Strengths Focus and Career Development Planning

Yesterday I led a StrengthsFinder session with a room filled with accountants.  They were very interested as they read the different descriptions of each of their strengths and then learned about the strengths of others in the room and on their smaller break-out teams.  I saw some ‘aha, that’s what that’s called’ moments and lots of ‘yes, that’s so true’ realizations.  I love these types of sessions, where students are learning and once I give them the concepts, they are able to run with them on their own. 

I then discussed how they can use this information back on the job.  How they can look for new team members by using strengths information – are you looking for more of the same types of folks or are you looking for more diversity?  Do you have a strategic team and need forward-looking people or a tactical team and you need folks that will continously deliver consistent results?  Is your team in a rut and you need new ideas?  What strengths would bring disruptive ideas to your team?

We also discussed how understanding yourself will help you write your development plan.  Even though the resume no longer carries an Objective at the top (it’s old-fashioned, haven’t you heard?), your development plan should have objectives.  What are you trying to achieve?  What are your short-term and long-term goals?  What are the actionable steps you will take (with due dates!) to move closer to your goal?  Who can help you?  How will you leverage your network to make the right contacts or information? 

Knowing yourself, your strengths and your limitations, are key to understanding your path and the resources and people you need to help you along the way.  Having a written and well-thought out development plan to share with managers, mentors and contacts will be the map that gets you to your career destination.

Here is a list of suggestion sections for your development plan.

Brief Job History – using titles, short bullets, etc. to orient a reader and remind you of where you’ve been.  Be sure to distinguish between Individual Contributor and Manager roles.

Strengths, Skills, Talents – shouldn’t be a huge list – focus on the top 5 things you love to do and demonstrate expertise 

A statement around the type of work you love to do.  I seek assignments where I can….

Any constraints?  Can you travel at a moment’s notice?  Do you need a flexible schedule? 

Unique and Unrepeatable – What makes you distinct?  What is your specialty? 

Top Barriers to Success – What is standing in your way?  Maybe one of your mentors can help you overcome it.  Do you need more visibility?  Do you need training?

Short Term Career Goals (1-2 Years):  List them as statements. 

Long Term Career Goals (3+ Years):  List them as statements.

Short Term Plan – first list the skills you need to develop along with what type of assigment and actions you need to complete and the timeline and how you’ll measure success. 

Long Term Plan – first list the skills you need to develop along with what type of assigment and actions you need to complete and the timeline and how you’ll measure success. This may be blank at first. 

Help Needed:  Who can help you?  Manager, Peers, Friends, Mentors?  What do you need from them?  When will you ask?

Now you have a plan.  It is going to be a living document.  You should sit and update it each month as you accomplish your goals and add new ones.  Take it with you and show it to mentors, managers and people you trust to give you advice and suggestions.  Stay focused on the steps you need to take by adding them to your calendar, task list, vision board, etc. 

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

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Proactive or Reactive? How do you approach your Career?

Back in August, when I was approaching my 20 year anniversary at work, I sat down and spent some time reflecting on my career.  Instead of the short-term reflections I had done each year –  I went back to the beginning.  I thought about how I had managed my career thus far.  For the first few years, no management or thought had gone into some of my choices!  I then spent time deciding how I wanted to go forward and create a new ‘chapter’ in my career.  I wanted more focus, to do more of those things that fulfilled me and which satisfied my desire to help others to grow and develop.  I wanted less of the activities that drained me and made me feel small and insignificant.  (Think Delight/Depletion)

I spent a few hours over the month mulling it over, writing it out and analyzing until I had a personal mission statement and a solid understanding of where I would look for my next opportunity.  I began talking to my friends and asking for introductions to other folks I didn’t know.  I searched for and found a few new positions that fit the bill and applied.  I spoke to my friends and mentors about each opportunity and honed in on one that made me giddy with excitement.  I asked them for feedback after I described each opportunity.  When did I seem really excited?  When did my eyes light up?  What was my physical reaction to each opportunity?  This extra bit of information helped me make my final decision.

My new job is a lot of fun, full of challenges and I am learning new things each day.  When people see me, they see the excitement and the satisfaction I am getting from my new role.  They want to replicate that for themselves.  As a Mentor and a Coach, I am happy to sit down with folks and work out a plan for them to follow to find their next opportunity.  I like to bounce ideas around and talk about different avenues they can take and different people they can talk to about their next move.  However, I am very disappointed when employees expect some magic answer or formula that will suddenly propel them in the right direction where they will immediately land the right job.  In other words, they will React when the right thing comes along.  Lately, that has happened more often.  I am not sure why people think that job satisfaction should come easily.  I believe you have to put yourself out there – market your skills, talk about what you love as you grow your network while seeking out opportunities.  You pursue leads as you talk to the folks closest to you and they tell you to talk to others.   You investigate roles and compare them to your delight/depletion list.  In a word, you are Proactive in  your approach.

How are you approaching your career?  Are you sitting quietly waiting to React?  Or are you pursuing a path of self-discovery and networking with others?  Which approach will work best for you?  How soon do you want or need results?

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How do I get back in the job market after having a baby?

Recently an old college friend sent me a note asking me for some first steps to get back into the job market.  Here are some of the steps I recommended.  What would you add?

1) Update LinkedIn with as much concrete data as you can along with a status update – Looking for opportunities in Portland Metro Area.  Add numbers, values, information that shows the impact you had in your previous jobs. # of people taught, $$ saved, percentages, etc. Folks are looking for information on the impact you had in addition to the skills you have. There are a lot of great articles/websites dedicated to how to write your LinkedIn profile. Read them and apply what you’ve learned.

2) Grow your LinkedIn network. Link with everyone you know. It doesn’t matter if you know them in a business sense or not. Link with parents of friends of your children. Link with teachers, professors, neighbors, friends of your parents, etc. Everyone you know is potentially linked to someone who has a job waiting for you.

2) Ask for LinkedIn recommendations! The resume is becoming more and more obsolete. People are using the internet and references and on-line presence to screen potential candidates. Google yourself. Do you like what you see? Make sure nothing you want private is out there. Hide yourself in Facebook from everyone but your friends. Make yourself unsearchable. And what does show up, make sure you like it.

3) Contact folks in your field that you do know. Approach them in a positive way. Remember:  No negativity (I am broke, poor, disillusioned, etc.).  Use language such as  “I am looking for a new opportunity to showcase my xyz skills.” Follow leads they give you. Again, your approach should be all positive.  If at all positive pitch what you can do for them.    Maybe you can intern with them for a short period while searching?  Be creative. 

4) Look at the open jobs section of LinkedIn. Is there a listing that fits your skills where someone you know works? Can you get your name in the running by leveraging your network? I once helped a friend who saw that I knew a vice president at a company with an open position.  I was able to make sure his resume made it to the top of the stack and he got called for a phone interview.  He eventually landed the job!  Another person asked me to to do the same for her husband – get his resume noticed.  He made it to the final round of interviews for the position.

5) Update your resume. HOWEVER, make sure it’s current in format and content. So many things are cliche or outdated now. No one includes “I know how to use Word, PowerPoint, Excel” because those things are obvious. No one puts “references available upon request either”. There are lots of articles on-line with tips on how to make your resume relevant and up to date.  There are also wonderful resume coaches that can help you.  Adjust accordingly.

6) Find a technical temp agency in your area. Just like they have them for secretaries and administrative personnel, they have agencies for technical and accounting professionals. If there is more than one, sign up with them all.  It’s about landing that first position.  Oftentimes companies screen potential full-time employees by hiring temps.

7) Find a local Executive Search Firm (aka head hunter). See if they will take you on as a client and pitch you to companies.

8)  Be positive!   Tell folks what you love to do.  The more people you tell, the more likely something that matches your skills and passions will surface and come back to you.

This was the list I gave her to get started.  What would you add?

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Change begins with YOU…and so do a lot of other things

In my role, I continuously meet with new people and talk about different issues around Career Development.  A typical question I get is “How do I change the role I am in to better suit my strengths/family needs/desired future profession?”

What I find is that the majority of folks want a new position or opportunity to magically appear even though they haven’t done a thing to attract it.  They haven’t figured out what their strengths are, they don’t know what type of work they love to do, they haven’t talked to any mentors -in most cases they haven’t had a chat with their boss.   They’ve never written out a plan for themselves.  Somehow they believe that talking to a career development coach will give them a magic answer and the job of their dreams will drop into their laps.

The way I see it, if you want a different role or want to focus on your strengths, you have three primary options.

1)  Stay in your current job and mold it into your dream job.  Look at your current job and dissect it.  What do you love about it?  What activities do you complete but aren’t enthralled with and what depletes you to the point of boredom?  Write it all down.  Pull it apart.  Understand what it is about the parts you love that you could replicate in another activity that will add value to your organization.  Are you a customer service guru?  Do you love to help people?  Do you get a rush out of doing research and finding patterns?  What is it that gets you going in the morning?   Prioritize these fabulous activities and then tie them to your current projects.  Pull out the portion of your job that you don’t like and package it as a new opportunity for someone else.  Your ‘trash’ is someone else’s ‘treasure’.  Now you have a plan. Time to talk to the boss about your proposal for giving someone else a great opportunity and elevating your impact by honing in on what you do best.  Now, if you decide that 90% of this job depletes you and there is no good way to mutate it, move on to #2.

2)  Look at what the organization needs and pitch a new position.  Pull out the Strategic Objectives, Vision, Mission, latest Monthly Update and figure out the unsolved problem or issue.  See if your skill set would be of use to the organization to solve it.  Write up a job description, responsibilities and critical success indicators.  Flesh it out by talking to others about the problem that needs solving.  Also, spend some time figuring out how your current job will get done and who will do it if your proposal is accepted.  How will management get comfortable with you leaving if you don’t have a suggested course of action?  Collect as much information as you can and then go see your manager.  Pitch your idea for the new position.  Show them how your job will get done when you go to the new position.  Show them a well-thought-out plan and they’ll have a hard time refusing.  If you’re not ready to pitch something new, go to #3.

3) Grow your network, talk about what you love to do and keep an eye on new opportunities.  This is the most common course of action and the most passive.  It works, in most cases, and is probably the slowest of the alternatives to bear fruit and the least likely to put you in a highly satisfying new role.  It takes diligence and some faith that the right position will eventually open up.  It might not be the best fit.  It will be something new.  You will need to meet managers, work your network, talk to others.  Having a positive attitude and talking about what work you love to do helps prospective new bosses and co-workers remember you for the things you ARE versus what you’re NOT.  Don’t complain, don’t tell them what you don’t like about your current role.  Focus on what you love to do, what speaks to your heart, what fulfills your career development dreams.

If you’re new to this way of thinking or need help, find a mentor and then plan out your approach.  Don’t expect the perfect job to come to you.  It takes work.  It takes diligent self discovery and an honest assessment of what you really want out of your work.  It takes networking, sponsorship and advocacy from people who know you.

Good Luck!  Come back and let me know how it goes in the comments below.  And remember, change begins with you!


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The importance of Positivity – and a challenge for the “Negative Nellies” out there

As both a parent and a mentor, I am constantly reminded of the power of positive thinking.  One of my StrengthsFinder 2.0 traits is Positivity.  I once had a boss tell me that I was too positive, that I needed to tone it down because it was intimidating or upsetting to others.  Can you imagine?  Being told that one of your strengths was actually seen as a strike against you?  I was floored.  In fact, I am still surprised by the candor and conviction in which this feedback was given. 

I ask you, can you be too positive?  Is that possible?  I am not asking ‘can you be too optimistic?’; instead, I want to know if you can be too positive.  My 12-year old started with the negativity the minute she got in the car tonight.  As I parsed through the sentences she was spewing at a phenomenal rate, I began to hear a pattern.  “I hate this”, “I can’t stand that”, “It infuriates me when…”, Wow.  After having a wonderfully positive day, my daughter was quickly taking me down a dark hole that I did not want to enter. 

My friend Jennifer Powers (author of “Oh, Shift“) taught me that our reaction to what we hear, see or feel is what is important and the words we use are of utmost importance.  She challenges us to “shift” our thoughts and reactions when we find ourselves going to negative space.  Since I am ultimately a positive person, this message resonates strongly with me and I have tried to share that with my children. 

Enter hormones of a 12-year old girl and the frustrations of middle school.  Our discussion tonight and the message I tried to impress upon the 14 year old students I addressed today is that you can’t control the world.  You can’t stop the school from teaching badminton in gym class any more than you can control the actions of others.  You can certainly rise up in protest, but wouldn’t your efforts be better served on something that would change the world for the better?  You control your reaction to every day life.  I attempted to explain that opening ourselves up to new experiences is not a bad thing – and that she might learn some valuable lessons from the game of badminton.  Such as power and speed is not always the right answer when attempting to hit a birdie.  That using thoughtful movements and a certain dogged slowness may be more effective.  She was so frustrated, I am not sure she heard the message. 

With my frustration rising, I decided to hit on a different approach.  I can’t control how she feels, any more than she can control how I feel about her negativity.  Instead, I told her negative talk – use of ‘hate, can’t stand, infuriate’ or any other word I deem ‘not positive’ –  is no longer tolerated in my presence.  Angry words and feelings come easily to her.  I explained the new rules.  Each negative word that I hear, she owes me a dollar out of her bank account.  Negative word, negative consequence.  I didn’t make it too hard – it’s for 24 hours.  She has to try to be positive and learn to spin things in a positive light. 

I’ll let you know how it goes.  Wish us luck!  I have a feeling we’re going to need it!

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Say “Hello” to your 14 year old self

Today I am speaking at a local high school to 9th graders about self-discovery, the value of mentors and creating a development plan.  I finished my first class (1 of 3) a little while ago and am reflecting on the conversation and the attention the girls gave me.  I am remembering my 14 year old self – I was playing sports, reading and writing, singing in chorus, helping behind the scenes in the school drama productions, sailing and hanging with friends.  I wonder how I would have reacted and how things would have been different if someone had spoken to me about labeling my strengths, understanding my abilities and pursing my passions.

It is career day here at the school.   Lots of the students are dressed in their ‘dream’ job outfit.  Some emulated my friend who teaches health and fitness and are in track suits.  Some are in professional suits.  In the first class, I had one in scrubs.  I asked her about the scrubs.  Her dad is a doctor.  I asked her if that resonated with her – was that why she was wearing scrubs?  Interesting reply.  No.  It didn’t resonate with her.  She would rather write or do something with writing. 

It makes me wonder, what made her put on scrubs this morning?  Was it to please her dad?  Was it because scrubs are super comfortable and it was an easy answer to the ‘fun’ experience of dressing up for the day?  I didn’t have time to delve into the details with her – but how I wish I knew the motivation.

How do we encourage our children to find their own path?  Yes, they could pursue our passion – but who would find that fulfilling?  The child?  Or us?  Will we be fulfilled as parents if our children aren’t following their passion?  Our passion may be something so far removed from the strengths and interests our child is exhibiting.  It may deplete them a little every day to study something they’re not ever going to love.

I meet lots of unhappy people at work.  My friends in HR and in management send me their lost souls so I can help them find themselves.  I cannot count the number of people I have met that have been in their career for a few years and are just now waking up the fact that they got the degree their parents wanted and are doing the job their parents dreamed for them.  And they are miserable.  They are failing at work – and some are about to fail their way out the door by getting themselves fired.

I help them take back their personal power – they have the power to change.  They have the power to dream a new dream.   Each of us has the power over our path in life.

How are you helping guide your children?  How are you teaching them to discover their strengths and apply them?  If you haven’t done this yourself, how can you teach your child? 

Self-discovery is not just for 14 year olds.  It’s for each one of us – we do change as we work and learn new skills.  Take the time to get to know yourself – or get reacquainted with your passions and strengths.   Time to update your development plan and teach your children how to do it too.  Give them them the guidance and permission to find their path forward.  You will all be happier, healthier and more fulfilled and on your way to living passionate lives.

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You Can Have a Mentor – at any Age!

As I prepare for Wednesday and my guest appearance in a local high school health class, I am focusing on the importance of Mentors.  Each time I teach or speak to a large audience, I am struck by how many adults don’t have mentors.  And then I think about the 9th graders I will be addressing on Wednesday.  How many of them understand the meaning of the word “Mentor“?  And beyond the meaning, will they be able to grasp the power of having mentors in your life?

I realize they’ll understand the word “coach” so I am going to start there and build on that concept.  They see “coaches” in sports and on TV shows like “the Voice“.  They will understand that coaches tell you how to improve, they tell you to raise your elbow, bend your knees, keep your eye on the ball.  They analyze what you might not be doing right, and give you directed pointers on how to improve.  I believe this will make sense to them.

But a mentor – how is that different?  It’s someone who asks you the difficult questions, whose open-ended questions help you find your own truth – your own path.  They aren’t focused on ‘winning’ or getting to the finish line.  They are focused on their Mentee and trying to tease out the knowledge that comes from examining what we believe to be true and questioning assumptions.  Mentors should have experience in the area you are pursuing, should be able to guide you but not tell you the exact path to your future.    Mentors listen and show you multiple paths and help you explore your possibilities.   They don’t push their agenda and/or the path they believe you should pursue.

How do I impress upon 14 year olds that they are not too young to have Mentors?  These mentors could be a parent, friend of their parent, teachers, coach or clergy.  Maybe they are a budding soccer star.  Why not look for a local college or university soccer player that could mentor them through the myriad of choices and opportunities that will present themselves as they advance in the ranks?  Maybe they are an amazing writer.  Their short stories and ideas keep getting them As in their classes and they write “all the time”.  Why not pursue a creative writing mentor?  Could be a local university professor or professional author. 

We are only limited by our imaginations and our fear of the unknown.  Other roadblocks include the excuses and rationalization we put in our paths.  You may be thinking – “Those folks won’t want to talk to these kids.  Why would they want to ‘waste’ time on a 14 year old?”  Think again!  First of all, it’s a huge ego boost to someone when they are asked to mentor.  Second, it’s an opportunity to give back.  Maybe they had someone in their lives that mentored them and helped them find their path to success.  Maybe they want to foster growth in their sport or their area of expertise.

It’s never too late to ask someone to be your Mentor.  And what is the worst thing that can happen?  You already know the answer.  They say ‘no’.  And you realize that they probably weren’t the right Mentor for you.  So you go back out and find the right one.  And you find your path forward. 

Who will you ask to be your Mentor?

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