Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What gift will you give?

It's that time of year when many of us are caught up in the hustle and bustle of last-minute holiday shopping. I'm attending a conference this week at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. The halls are decked and it is a sight to behold. The place is busy with tourists and shoppers. As I watched people go about their busyness, I thought about Christmas, work and life in general.

If you work, you'll notice some people get in a quandry about what to give their boss or co-workers. Many times we spend our hard earned cash on meaningless tokens given out of obligation and not from the heart.

I have been joking with friends and family about material things I want, like a pannini maker, a puppy or an espresso machine. But when I honestly reflect on Christmas, I have a list of what I'd really like to give and get. These gifts do not have a monetary value, so everyone can afford them. These gifts do not have a shelf life so they may be used at anytime throughout the year. Here's my list:

The gift of humor: Laughter draws people together. Whether at work or with family and friends, take a minute to laugh together. Avoid laughing at someone else's expense but laugh outloud. A hard, belly laugh. Research has proved laughter has positive side effects on health,longevity and long term relationships.

The gift of listening: At home or at work, listen carefully to what people say. The topics that are important to them will often come up in casual and professional conversations. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. You may not be able to solve the problem but a listening ear can ease the burden for another person.

The gift of attention and time: We live in a world of instant gratification. There's never enough time to get everything done. Instead of doing three things at once, mentally slow down and be in the moment with your family,friends and co-workers. (Yes, I'm talking to myself on this one). Is there someone in your life telling you what's bothering or worrying them? Give them your full attention. It makes them feel valued and you'll understand them better. Life is too short not to make time to slow down, connect and forgive.

The gift of thanks: Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Do you have a job? Even if you dislike the people and the work. You are belssed to be employed. Be thankful for that. Take a moment to send a card or verbally thank those who helped you in some way this year. Make it a practice next to write down weekly or evenly monthly a few things you are thankful for. It will be amazing to look back on the list after one year.

The gift of prayer: You can always pray for someone who is going through a struggle. You can also offer a celebratory prayer for someone experiencing good fortune. Either way, it takes your mind off of you and allows you to consider someone else. Pray for those who irritate you or those you find less than pleasant to be around. There may be something else deeper going on with that person. Don't allow petty differences to get in the way of your personal or professional relationships. Forgive them and move on.

My Christmas wish list includes:

May we celebrate our individual beliefs without apology.
May we seek solutions to disagreements by honestly communicating.
May we ask for support when we need it.
May we offer to support someone else when they need it.
May we surrender to the truth and forgive others when they wrong us.
May we avoid negative influences and the wagging tongues of gossip.
May we seek to grow, serve and be an example of the greatest gift of all!

Monday, November 30, 2009

What is Leadership? Other things you can't read in a book

Leadership is a term loosely thrown around in today's business world, on college campuses and in many churches. As any good blogger would do, I conducted a Google search for a definition of the word leadership. I found more than 24,600,000 definitions. One source of definitions, I've always trusted in Merriam-Webster's dictionary (they have an online version too). They list at least four definitions. The second defintion intrgues me most because Leaderhip is also defined as the capacity to lead. Capacity? what does that mean? Well, good old Merriam Webster provided me with six definitions of capacity. My favorites are: the potential or suitability for holding, storing or accomodating. Hmmm...another favorite? the facility or power to produce, perform or deploy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You Can Hire Great People: Provide a Good Interview!

Media reports and Department of Labor statistics tell us that the economy is continuing to recover. Both small businesses and large corporations are hiring again. Much is written for graduating college students and other job seekers about how to interview well to gain employment. However, no matter how much the candidate practices, if the interviewer does not know what questions to ask, or how to conduct an effective interview, all the practice in the world is wasted effort. The problem stems from a lack of training for those who have been put in the role as hiring managers and not having a consistent talent acquisition strategy.

However, we must remember, interviewing is two-way street. The first street is Applicant Avenue. If you are the person applying for the job and your interviewer talks 70-80% of the time, or never asks a question about your qualifications, it's up to you to ask questions about job duties and mention how your experience is a good fit when the interviewer comes up for air. Don't just sit there nodding and smiling, hoping that gets you the job. Before you leave the interview ask your interviewer if they have any questions about your resume and qualifications. Remind them of what you have to offer.

The second street is Employer Drive. While interviewing may be one small part of your job, finding the right candidate is a critical process. Whether you are a small business owner or hiring for a large corporation, the way you structure the interview is important. It's the interviewer's responsibility to create a good framework for two-way discussion and a foundation to gain useful information. Every organization's needs are different, but here are a few upfront tips: You must first prepare a well-written job description in advance of scheduling interviews--know what you're looking for and why. What business problem are you trying to solve? What new opportunity do you want to pursue but don't have time to do? Always require a resume before interviewing to help you form more specific questions related to the candidate, your organization and the job description. Be sure to ask the same set of questions of every candidate. If you are seeing a lot of people you may forget who said what--take notes during the interview. Lastly, if possible, convening an interview panel is always a good idea. Split the questions among no more than three people then discuss impressions immediately after each interview using a rating system. A basic plan on how you will interview and what questions you will ask can make the interview experience better for both you and the candidate.

Last week, I gave a speech to a group of local small business owners on general interview questions to ask during first interviews and answers they should expect. Candidates, you'll want to take note too! Here's some of what I shared:

Question 1: Always start the interview with a general,non-threatening opening question or set-up how the interview will proceed. The opening conversation should serve to calm down both you and the candidate. If you have a 45-55 minute interview, you should spend at least the first two-five minutes trying to connect on a neutral topic or setting up the interview. Let the candidate know upfront that you have a few structured questions. Help the person feel at ease and you're likely to gain better information—and more honest responses.
Option 1: How were you affected by the recent heat wave/rain/cold snap?
Option 2: How was your holiday/weekend/day/morning?

Question 2: Tell me about yourself. This is a general question designed to see if a candidate knows what is appropriate to reveal without rambling. The candidate should not try to tell you every detail of their lives and family history. Listen for information related to three points: education, transferable skills/experience and maybe one interesting personal item (i.e. community service, recent overseas trip, etc.)The personal items serves to show they are human, it may also help you remember something unique about them. The candidate should be able to keep the answer brief yet give you basic insight into general facts about who they are and why they are interviewing for your position (i.e their personal brand statement, perhaps?). The candidate should always highlight at least one or more past experience/transferable skills that makes them the right person for the position and your company.

Question 3: Describe a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle. This question will help you get a clear picture of the candidate's past performance, self awareness and ability to choose an appropriate situation. The candidate should choose a work-related or academic example and not an overly personal one. Listen to see if the person plays the victim or the hero in the situation. The way the candidate recalls a situation gives you an indication of how they might solve simple to complex problems.
Option 1: Describe a time when you made a mistake, how did you handle it?
Follow-up with: If you had to do that again, how would you do it differently?

Question 3: What interests you about this position?
You should expect the candidate to talk about what transferable skills they have for the job and to tell you what they know about your brand, customers, reputation, or any other key statistics found on your website. The answer may also be personal such as a connection to your company; experience with your brand. Any of these answers (or a combination) are acceptable. A personal answer could indicate a connection to the business and a sense of ownership in whatever role they might play in the organization.
Option 1: What do you know about this company or organization?
Option 2: What motivated you to apply for this job?

Question 4: Do you work better with a team or alone?
Depending on the job, a candidate should be able to confidently choose one and explain why. However, it is acceptable for a candidate to say they can do both, depending on the tasks you expect them to perform. A good candidate will give more than a one word response. They will follow-up with a brief explanation of how and why they work well in either or both of the situations. You'll also want them to give an example of a team experience and the results of the team's work.
Option 1: Do you work better independently or with close supervision?
Option 2: Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team. What was that experience like for you?

Question 5: If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be, and why? Go ahead, laugh! But this question can help you see how the candidate deals with surprises or obscure situations. This type of question helps break the cycle of well-rehearsed answers. As long as it's not a one word answer or too long, virtually any response is a good one. The key is to pay attention to attitude. Will the candidate play along? How much ease or difficulty did the person have in coming up with a response? The candidate who becomes too flustered or too serious, may indicate inflexibility. Beware of the candidate who avoids an answer altogether, this may indicate an inability to make basic decisions quickly.
Option 1: If you were a pencil would you be the lead (pronounced led) or the eraser?
Option 2: If you were an animal in the zoo, what kind of animal would you be,why?

Question 6: Describe a time when you encountered conflict with a co-worker(or boss)? How did you handle it? The purpose of this question is to learn more about the candidate's judgement and decision-making skills. This is an example of a situational question, but it also illuminates the candidate's thought process. You want to see whether the candidate deals with negative situations honestly yet diplomatically.
Option 1: What would you do if a co-worker got behind schedule on part of a project or task for which you were responsible?

Question 7: Why are you interested in this position or type of work?
With this one you can run the risk of a long, fake, drawn-out answer, but listen carefully for whether or not the candidate truly understands what you expect based on what they know about your organization or the skills needed to perform the job. This question is also about getting a sense of values, motivations and a keen understanding of your needs as a hiring manager. Concepts like values and culture can be subjective, but you should be looking for someone whose work ethic, motivations, skills and methods best match the company's.
Option 1: What keeps you coming to work besides the paycheck?

Question 8: What are your greatest strengths and what are your greatest weaknesses? Yes, this age old question still works. It helps you find out if the candidate is self-aware and comfortable talking about what they do well and what they need to improve. These should be asked as two separate questions. Watch for the ability to describe strengths in meaningful, work-related terms. “I’m a people-person” tells you nothing. Instead, “I connect easily when meeting new people.” With weaknesses, listen for the ability to describe traits or characteristics that are honest, not overly personal and demonstrate positive. The typical, rehearsed answer is, “I’m a perfectionist,” YUCK!it’s overused. You should look for an answer like, “I have high standards and get frustrated when others don’t do their best.” Good candidates will always be able to describe both their strengths and weaknesses with equal comfort.
Option 1: What would your colleagues say you do well? What would they say you need to improve?

Question 9: Why did you leave your last job? The answer to this question can help you determine the candidate’s wisdom and diplomacy. The candidate should never criticize a former company, boss, or colleagues. A good candidate will focus his answer on how this new job will give him/her the opportunity to contribute more in a particular area or use a skill that is key to helping your organization become more successful.
Option 1: What did you dislike about your last job/boss/company?

Question 10, Closing: What questions do you have for me?
Find out if the candidate has done his or her homework. Reversing roles communicates that you care about the candidate, and it will demonstrate how curious and knowledgeable a candidate is about your organization. If the candidate doesn't ask any questions about the job or the business, it's safe to assume they are just applying for any job. Listen for insightful questions that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the duties of the job, the company or the competitive landscape of your industry. A good candidate will always have at least one or two questions for you.

Be sure to ask a few questions customized to your specific industry and/or position. You'll want to leave the table knowing that person understands your business environment. Even if you need to fill a position quickly, take time to review your notes, compare answers and remember first impressions are lasting impressions-- sometimes you must listen to your gut. Give yourself at least 24 hours before making a decision or extending an offer. If you have the time, conduct a second interview with your top two candidates only.

K2L Consulting provides customized, in-depth workshops and coaching for small businesses, chambers of commerce and corporations on Hiring Great People! Leave an email address below if you are interested in learning more about our services.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

YAY...Jenny News!

It's possible to move forward no matter what you have been through. Jenny just keeps inspiring me! Click on YAY...Jenny News!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For College Graduates and their Parents

This economy has us all feeling a bit vulnerable when it comes to employment. Media headlines tell us that unemployment rates may be in double digits by 2010. While there are jobs available in many markets, laid off or experienced professionals along with newly minted college graduates are competing for the same entry-level jobs. As our December graduation approaches, I regularly speak with parents and college seniors who are thinking about what they will do after graduation. I've noticed that parents have a great influence on student behaviors and expectations during a job search. Here are a few concepts that both parents and college graduates should consider to avoid a meltdown in your relationship (and in my office) during these trying times.

Start early.
Many college graduates wait until the last moment to address their future. Recent research indicates that if you are not in accounting, engineering or nursing it can easily take up to six months or more to find a job after graduating. If you have waited, there are no quick fixes now. There are jobs in every market and industry, it just takes longer to find them and may require some flexibility. Avoiding a conversation about the future because the economy is bad, will not make it go away. A parent may have contacts that could help the new college graduate secure a job. If so, make sure it is the responsibility of the graduate to initiate and follow-up with the contact. Is the new college graduate willing to relocate? That may shorten the time it takes to find a job. While it may be scary at first, relocating to a new city, state or country can be a growing and exicting experience. It may also make the graduate more marketable if they return home after a year or two. A word to parents: Do not allow your graduate to blame the economy or anyone else for not finding a job. Resist the urge to whine and complain with the job seeker. Love, pray and encourage the job seeker at all times. The first professional job may not be your forever job, but your graduate must start the search and gain experience.

It’s a different world.
If you are a parent or adult coaching a new college graduate through a job search, you should be aware that many things have changed since you last applied for a job. What worked for 5 or 10 years ago may not work for today’s job seeker. The internet and social media now require nuances that you may not have had to consider. Online applications are common. If the employer does not have the option of attaching a resume then cut and paste from your resume into the application. If your new college graduate uses Facebook, MySpace or other social media, encourage them to be aware of the image portrayed to potential employers. Yes, 40% of recruiters say they are looking at social media to evaluate integrity, maturity and make hiring decisions. Blogs that have meaningful, interesting content or demonstrate technical knowledge are a useful way for an employer to get to know what you are capable of doing. Just make sure the blog is not a political, religious or social ranting about a controversial subject. Twitter.com and LinkedIn.com are good places to follow employers and join groups where you can be in the know about who is hiring and recruiters can contact you about an opportunity.

A one page resume is still preferred.
Employers are busy. On average, they are receiving 60 resumes for every one position available. To be sure you get noticed, keep the resume to one page as a courtesy and especially if you have less than 10-15 years of experience. Avoid using fill-in-the-blank resume templates because they may lose their formatting when emailed and are difficult to edit. Create a Microsoft Word document and also save it as a PDF. As a PDF, if you email it to employers it retains its formatting. Which leads to my next point, one size does not fit all. Customize your resume by highlighting skills and using words that relate to each job for which you're applying. Create two or three versions that highlight skills and interests that are valuable to an employer. Use verbs, (yes, action words) to describe what you’ve done in previous roles. Job and career objectives on a resume are optional. Recruiters and other employment professionals tell me that few people write them well. If they are too specific, a job objective can do more harm than good by shutting you out of potential opportunities. Summary statements are better. These are two-three bulleted sentences at the top of the resume that clearly state what you have accomplished and what you bring to the table. Community service, mission work, student government, sorority/fraternity leadership and other non-academic activities that indicate you are a well-rounded person should also be included on the resume. Checkout this resume mistakes link: www.myonlinecareerspace.com/training/biggest-resume-mistakes.html

Don’t overthink cover letters.
Typically, a cover letter should accompany a resume, but the cover letter can also be the body of an email with the resume as an attachment. Some employers may call this a letter of intent or a letter of interest. All are the same thing. A cover letter/email should be no more than two-three very short paragraphs. It should indicate where you found about about the job, who your mutual contact may be, highlight a few skills you possess relevant to the job, close with an action step and a thank you.

Good manners matter.
A few things that have not changed and still get noticed by employers: politeness, follow-through, a positive, energetic attitude and good (verbal and written) communication skills. Rudeness, arrogance, impatience and entitlement attitudes look ugly on everyone. You know who you are and what you do...stop it or better yet, start it: be kind and polite during your job search. While a job search can be stressful, there is no reason to be rude or arrogant.

Today’s job search requires the skill, patience and follow-through of an elite athlete in training. Cultivate your desire to find a job and stick with a plan until you accomplish your goal. Do one thing each week to keep your job search moving forward and your skills fresh. Send that resume, make that call or research an employer. A decision to do nothing is simply false expectations appearing real, hmmmm...that’s an acronym for FEAR. Brian Tracy says it best,"The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear." And Dale Carengie reminds us, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” There is hope and you must keep trying. Never give up and most of all don't be afraid to ask for help. Meet with your college or university's career service professionals for help with resumes, interviewing and creating a job search plan. It really is possible to cut through all the noise and get that first job experience you need. Oh yes, don't forget to get some exercise to release stress and so your interview suit will fit!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Having a Bad Day? Keep Running

I opened the November issue of Runner's World magazine with the same anticipation I do every month when it arrives at my house. I usually sit in a comfy chair near the fireplace with a honey sweetened, warm cup of green tea while devouring the pages of training tips, shoe recommendations and lists of races to enter around the country. But this issue was different. There on page 82 was a story about a friend I'd known during my corporate days in Wisconsin. Jenny Crain. There she was with those big, expressive eyes peering out at me from page 82. I paused after reading the title and my mind drifted to memories of years past.

Jenny and I first met at Northwestern Mutual in the late 90s. She was known around the company as a talented runner, had won many titles and was always training for something. While I never trained at her level, I do remember occasionally seeing Jenny when I ran along Milwaukee's beautiful lakefront or eastside.

We reconnected again in 2006. Our professional paths crossed as we both worked with field representatives and participated in events sponsored by Women in Insurance and Financial Services. I'll never forget during a conference in Colorado, all of the women swarmed the dance floor and we gyrated to the music showing off our best albeit pitiful dance moves. We laughed at the top of our lungs and enjoyed the moment of freedom from our serious corporate lives. Someone had a feather boa. Jenny wrapped it around her neck dancing the whole time and we all thought that was a hysterically funny sight. We continued dancing and laughing the night away.

Just before I left Milwaukee, Jenny and I had dinner at Hotel Metro in downtown Milwaukee. We joked about how our lives were rapidly changing and we could not predict the future. We talked business too. We spoke about how we might partner on projects to help coach women financial representatives to more successful practices. Jenny was full of good ideas. And of course, we talked about running. Jenny was training for the Olympic Marathon Trials. I shared how I was planning to run a half marathon soon. Jenny was her usual helpful, positive self and gave me tips on training properly. She made me feel like even my small goal was important and equally as impressive. We hugged and promised to stay in touch. By the middle of 2007, my husband and I had relocated to another state. With so much going on, I had not spoken to Jenny in about a year.

I remember getting the email informing Northwestern Mutual friends and colleagues that Jenny had been hit by a car while on a training run. I spoke to several of my former colleagues and we were joined together in our shock as we learned of the severity of her injuries. Someone created a care page and we left motivational messages for Jenny and her family. Being in another state, the last I'd heard was that Jenny was undergoing extensive rehabilitation and recuperating in a nursing home in Wisconsin.

Now as I held the pages of the November issue of Runner's World magazine, there was Jenny Crain peering back at me from her wheelchair. Those big, expressive eyes staring at me, yet I could tell this was a different Jenny. I read more of the story which was gut-wrenching. It contained details I did not know since I was not in Wisconsin at the time of the accident and have not lived there since. The accident had fractured her vertabrae, shattered her jaw, bruised her aorta and caused massive, severe brain damage. I now know that the brain damage has limited her ability to read, impaired her spatial awareness, limits her ability to swallow, prevents her from walking more than 50 feet and she even struggles to grasp a tea cup.

Last week, I was was complaining to no one in particular about having gained a few pounds, not feeling physically strong and not being sure if I was making a difference in my work. I was having a bad day. Heck, it was a bad week. It seemed nothing was going quite right. Whether we are searching for a new job/career or trying to figure out our life's purpose, I'm reminded of the truth found in cliche's: Live life to the fullest. Make plans but be flexible. Don't place limits on yourself or others (but be realistic). Avoid becoming self-absorbed. You always have something to give to another and its not always a material gift. Set goals and do one thing each day to bring you closer to your goals. Be kind to others. Live. Love. Laugh. Never give up. And most of all, don't wait too long to contact a friend, family member or colleague. These truths can also be found in another book that offers great wisdom and comfort. The Bible.

So my mind returns to Jenny. I'll think of the determination and endurance it takes for Jenny to take a simple step. I'll think of the strength it takes for her to try to lift a tea cup or to form a word.

As I sit here with my cup of green tea, I savor the golden, warm liquid and fond memories of my last conversation with Jenny. Her bright smile and that warm embrace. I read the final pages of my issue of Runner's World magazine and raise my teacup with a tear rolling down my cheek. Here's to Jenny Crain, a former colleague, friend and still a runner--just in a different way. I don't cry because of what she's lost I cry because of what she's still teaching us all. I can clearly see Jenny impacting lives and motivating us all from her wheelchair in Wisconsin, running just as she's always done. I promise even when I'm having a bad day, a bad week or doubtful moments, I'll keep running too! Thanks Jenny!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Just Waiting

I keep a journal and sometimes I look back at what I've written to gain perspective. I originally wrote some thoughts about waiting in 2007 when we first moved to Mississippi. At that time, I was waiting for clarity on why we were here, trying to figure out my true calling and how could I make a difference on this planet. For some reason, these words from 2007 have come back to me. Perhaps somebody else needs to read this along with me today.

When we become anxious about situations in our lives the mind is flooded with questions: why did this happen to me? what will others think of me? what is the perfect job for me? whom will I marry and when? why are my prayers not being answered? God does not always answer these questions quickly, so join me in the "waiting room."

Think about the last time you were in a waiting room. Was it at the doctor's office, mechanic's garage, the DMV or a job interview? What thoughts entered your mind? Did you feel a little fearful? nervous? anxious? I've felt that way too when waiting.

Sometimes God places us in life's waiting room so we pray harder about our decisions, listen closley, become wiser and sometimes, learn to be more patient. God's plan is at work as you sit, stand or pace around in circles in the waiting room. He gives you His word (the Bible) to make your waiting room experience one of anticipation, contentment and hope. Find peace in promises like Jer. 29:11, I Cor. 2:9, Proverbs 16:3, Isaiah 55 and so many more!

God is teaching me Isaiah 55 in a very real way because I have no answers in my current waiting room. That's right...His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. This is not a cop out. This concept alone can bring amazing clarity in times of confusion, despair, loneliness, fear, doubt and disappointment. Sometimes we just don't have all the answers we need to make a decision or understand why something happens to us. This gives me freedom to let go.

Roy Lessin puts it this way:
"As you wait upon the Lord, you learn to see things from His perspective, move at His pace and function under His directives. Waiting times are growing and learning times. As you quiet your heart you enter His peace. As you sense your weakness you receive His strength. As you lay down your will, you hear His calling. When you mount up, you are being lifted by the wind of His spirit. When you move ahead you are sensitive to His timing. When you act, you give yourself only to things He has asked you to do."

I'm learning to thank God for placing me in the waiting rooms of life. It forces me to rely more on prayer, then act in faith when opportunities are placed before me. I can be in the waiting room with hope, anticipation and contentment. I can listen for my name to be called, and when it is, I leap to my feet with joy for whatever is to come. If you are in the waiting room too, be encouraged, your name will be called. And when it is, will you be prepared? Listen, Leap, Learn, and Grow! You don't have to have all the answers. What are you waiting for?

"But I want you to know brethren, that the things which happened to me haved actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel." (Phil.1:12)

"Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is its twin." (Kahil Gibran)

"Father in heaven, I pray for those who have decisions to make, need answers and are waiting for something. Give them peace and contentment as they wait, let them learn and grow while waiting. Open their hearts and give them a joy unspeakable. Help them to make decisons and move forward in freedom as you fill their cup to overflowing with clarity,love and peace." (Karen Lindsey-Lloyd, yep...that's my prayer for you!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cycling, faith and your job search

I enjoy cycling. I find great physical and mental delight in riding my bike outdoors, indoors (teaching a spinning class) or even watching professional cycling on television. Every year, for one week in July, I am glued to the television to watch the Tour de France. This race attracts professional cyclists from around the world and is highly competitive. It is made up of 21 stages that cover a total distance of 3,500 kilometers or about 2,200 miles. These 21 stages include the following profiles: 10 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time-trial stages, and 1 team time-trial stage.

The riders spend months and years training their minds and bodies for this event. Every pedal stroke, morsel of food they eat, piece of clothing they wear and bike they ride, is pre-planned. For each stage of the race these cyclists have prepared mentally and physically. However, many factors beyond the riders control can influence the outcome of their placement on the final day of the Tour De France. These factors include weather (rain, heat), rocks in the road and other riders. If these professional cyclists focused on these external, uncontrollable factors, I’m certain they would want to just pack up and go home. But they continue because they believe in their preparation, planning and the possbility of winning or simply finishing well. Your job search and career requires similar planning, endurance and stamina.

Professional cyclists devote time to training well before the actual Tour de France. They make sacrifices for their sport. They have a determination and passion to complete what they started even though they know only one man can win the yellow jersey. Many of the cyclists know that there are often favorites to win (think Lance Armstrong), yet they show up, prepared and ready to race. For many, simply to finish what they started, is to win.

Just like the profiles in the Tour De France, there are stages in a job search or establsihed career. The flat stages in a job search or career, is where we just keep the pace and roll along. It's not good or bad, it just is. We might ask ourselves, what is my purpose? Where do Is ee myself inthe few years? During the flat stages there are often more questions then answers. Sometimes we have team stages. We ride with others and they hold us accountable and encourage us when the race gets tough or we become discouraged. During your team stage there are various people around to cheer you on or provide a little tough love when needed. Who is cycling alongside you in your career or job search? Who encourages or challenges you to keep going? Who understands your industry or situation and can provide wise counsel? Next, we have individual time trials in the job search and our careers. This is when we have to ride alone and try to get to the finish quickly. We may feel alone and that there's no one to help us. This stage allows you grow stronger in mind, body and spirit. Hopefully during this stage you learn how to better use your time and the resources that God places in your path. This stage requires focus and movement. If you are in an established career do you have good mentors and people you can trust and talk to? If you're in a job search, do you keep track of where you've applied,dates of interviews as well as contact names and phone numbers? Do you try to accomplish one thing each week designed to get you closer to your new job? Do you follow-up with a thank you note after an interview?

The toughest stage is the mountains. This is where you develop your faith, courage, strength, endurance and sheer grit to keep climbing. The mountain stage requires the most intelligence and wisdom. The mountain demands you to be consistent, determined and sure that you can reach the highest point of the climb. In the mountain stage fatigue is often your greatest enemy. This is where you feel you've talked to everyone, applied everywhere and nothing is happening. No interviews, no rejections, nothing. Oftentimes the mountains require us to trust in our training even when we do not understand the delays or immeidately see the outcome. Proverbs 3:5 says it best: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart. Lean not unto thine own understanding." The mountains require the greatest faith in your planning and preparation. Mental toughness matters in the mountains. You can gain this toughness through a good support system, refreshing your approach and prayer. I believe God is our best trainer, coach and team member. The Hebrew word for “almighty” is Shaddai which indicates God’s sufficiency for ANY situation. The word “Lord” or “Yaweh” refers to His faithfulness. God really IS sufficient and faithful no matter what we’re going through. Who do you rely on to help you through the stages of life? I hope you will plan, prepare, avoid discouragement and pray about your career and job search. It may take some time but you can win that yellow jersey based on what you want. On yeah, get some exercise too!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Are you ready for some football?

Are you ready for some football?

Here in the south, football is like a religion. As fall approaches, I've noticed both men and women stay abreast of college football, high school football and the NFL. Everyone has a favorite team. Some can quote game scores, player stats. and team standings quicker than a Bible verse. Now I'm not criticizing this ability, it simply fascinates me. Football fans often show who they support by wearing their team's colors. On game day, many come out in full regalia. Team jerseys, caps, window stickers, flags on cars and more.

Since I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I consider myself a Green Bay Packer fan. When I lived in Wisconsin, I even went to a game or two. I was impressed by the excitement and energy in historic Lambeau Field. I even enjoyed watching Brett Favre in his glory days. Packer fans were crazy (the beer helped) and some would paint their faces and scream at the top of their lungs. Even during below zero frigidly cold weather, some guys would strip down to dislplay a message on their beer-filled bellies painted in green and gold. I even sported a cheesehead once. No photos to prove it, thank God! I remain intrigued by the time, energy, passion and planning that goes into rooting for a football team.

In our lives and our job search we need good planning and a support system. It's easy to give up and become discouraged during the job search process. Who's rooting for you in your job search efforts? Now if you know anything about me, you know that I am not a big football fan. You have just read the full extent of my football knowledge. So I cannot even believe I'm about to make these points using football analogies! But the football season can teach us a lot so here we go:

1) Maintain good stats. Keep a binder, notebook or online spreadsheet that documents the name of the company, the date you applied/sent resume, contact name, date you will follow-up and an "other notes" section. This helps you track the number of employers you've contacted and keeps you moving forward.

2) Get a cheering section. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and provide good information. I've heard people say, "There are no jobs out there," so they avoid even trying. They listen to the news and do nothing but complain. Yes, it's a tough job market but you must be flexible and creative. Few people work in a job that is the same exact major they chose while in college. The perfect job may not be your first job. Avoid taking advice from people who are not in the know about local and national job trends, recruiting methods and interivew skills. Whether it is prayer, positive conversations with friends or family or motivational quotes, find ways to stay encouraged during your job search.

3) Show your team colors. Make sure your marketing tools are consistent and compelling. Yes, it STILL starts with a good, clean, one page resume. Everyone needs a good resume tells a story about their experiences. I recently had a student tell me he did not need a resume because his dad was a prominent politician in this state who get him a job. That may be true, but I still think this young man should taek responsibility to have a resume to give to his father's contacts. When networking, a resume is your best calling card. Your college career services professionals can help and it's usually a free service.

4) Practice your plays. If you get an interview, take time to practice basic interview questions with a career services professional. Make sure it is someone who knows what employers want in your industry or field. Make sure they will give you honest feedback even if it is corrective. It is a must to answer questions aloud instead of writing them down and thinking about an answer in your head. The words don't always come out the way we think about them.

5) Cheer for someone else. Finally, always give back. If someone helps you, you should help another person and expect nothing in return. It's the right thing to do and it feels good. Someone else needs something that you already have. Pay it forward even if has nothing to do with your job search.

As the football season comes into full swing, I expect to see even more people wearing their team colors, cheering wildly, tailgating at stadiums and gathered around t.v. sets. If you are searching for a job, make sure you have the right tools, focus on the right teams, stay consistent and use smart tactics. Read Proverbs 16:3. It is the guiding scripture for the MC Office of Career Services this fall.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Art of Conversation

Do you find it easy to talk to people you are meeting for the first time? If you answered, yes, you are in a small percentage of Americans who say they find it easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Strangers may include people you meet standing in line at the grocery store, at a large church gathering, in a meeting at work or at a professional luncheon.

In my work with college students and experienced professionals, I've noticed how difficult it is for people to start or maintain conversations. Our increased use of technology has eroded our ability to use our vocal chords, brains and ears to speak-listen-interpret-respond. Yes, I'm talking about text messages from cell phones and PDA's as well as communicating via Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It is easy to avoid having a direct conversation with another human being. These technologies create fewer communication opportunities to practice face-to-face listening, interpreting and verbal response.

Another influence on the way you handle conversations begins with your perception of your personality. Whether it was a teacher, parent, friend or sibling, you may have been described as the "quiet one" or the "outgoing one." Whatever end of the spectrum you fall, you have carried that label with you and often your social behaviors tend to support that label. But you can adjust and change as the situation requires, with practice and a desire to improve.

When it comes to a socializing and carrying on a conversation as part of your job search, you must learn to approach the conversation with a plan. No matter how awkward you may feel, you too can learn to carry on a reasonably intelligent and enjoyable conversation with a few adjustments.

1) Before attending a social event where recruiters or a potential employer may be present, think about the people who will attend. What do you you have in common with them? What makes you interesting or unique? What skills do you possess related to their industry or position? What the top three current or psorts events worth talking about? Caution: avoid controversial topics...yes, this still includes politics and religion.

2)Conversation includes giving and connecting. Simply give up something about yourself or use situational humor to connect. In professional social situations, it's easy to mention where you work, for college students: your major, what year you are in school or some other fact about yourself. As for situational humor: Once while waiting in a long line at the grocery store I began talking to a woman by saying, "I should have bought some spoons because as slow as this line is, my ice cream is going to melt." She chuckled in agreement and we began to talk about others things as we inched our way toward the cashier. Be careful with situational humor, it should never be at the expense of a gender,religious or ethnic group.

3) Conversation is also about planting seeds. In social situations where you are meeting a potential employer or recruiter, you need the other person to find you intelligent, interesting, likeable and capable. Ask yourself, what makes me interesting or memorable? What transferable work or life experiences do I have? What do people tell me I do well? What do I know I do well? Review your resume and create a list of confidence boosters.

4) Conversation is also about listening. Ask a question about trends in their industry, ask about that person's job or other facts you have researched about the company. After asking a question you need to do two things: be silent and really listen. From there, that person's answers may stimulate new questions that can keep the conversation going.

It may not be easy, but accept a few socialinvitations or attend a professional organization's meeting to practice. It is worth taking time to give, connect, plant seeds and listen as you activate your job search and meet potential employers. Restoring the art of conversation might even allow you to find out interesting things about other people, make a new friend or even get a job. Try it, you might like it!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Your GPS

We have moved to several different states over the past 5 years. Each time, I go through a process of learning my way around a new city. I'll admit I am more often than not--directionally challenged.

In 2007, when we moved to Misisissippi my husband bought a GPS for me. I programmed it, suctioned it to my car windshield and confidently hit the road. I loved the map and arrows that pointed me in the right direction. Most of all, I loved the way the automated voice would say, "caution" when I drove over the speed limit. That voice would redirect me when I made a wrong turn. "Please make a U turn," it would say. That voice would clearly tell me, "Your destination is on the right." Here are a few life and career observations my GPS taught me:

1) Whose voice are you listening to? We often go to the same people for advice because its easy. This may be a friend or family memeber who will give us answers we want to hear. They can also only give us advice based on their life's perspective. Do you ever seek wise counsel from unfamiliar reliable) sources? Who challenges you in your thinking and opinions? Seek fresh counsel from smart people. It may help you discover your passion and purpose in life.

2) Even when using a GPS, its only effective if you use it and trust it. As I started to get more familiar with shortcuts around my new town, I'd ignore the GPS and go my own way. Sometimes I'd just turn it off because I felt I no longer needed it and that automated voice was just downright irritating. This led to a few bumpy back roads and me driving in circles. Do you ever do that? What shortcuts are you taking in life or in your job search? Have you ever ignored tried and true advice about networking, resumes, cover letters and career planning because you think you have a better way? Sometimes we need to just stay on the interstate and avoid the backroads.

3)Even with the GPS, I would sometimes still get lost because I did not fully see the map. LAck of attention to detail and being in a hurry were the worst culprits. But it was my ability to laugh at myself then get back onthe right track that helps me reach my goals with joy. The best laid plans don't always work out but at least I have a plan. Then I have to trust God with the rest. I have to trust that there's a reason for disappointment. I have to learn to be flexible when necessary. I have to learn that there will be many frustrations in life but I cannot dwell in blame, indecision and pity.

"Caution," "Please make a U turn," "Destination on the right." I now refer to my GPS as God's Positioning System. Whose voice are you listening to? What maps are you following? Seek Wise Counsel, Listen, Pray, be joyful and stay on the main roads. Yeah, use GPS.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Running and your job search

So I'm jumping into the blogosphere. "Write what you know" is the advice I've been given. I work as college career strategist and I am a fitness instructor. These two things are not mutually exclusive. So here we go...

I'm watching the World's Track and Field Championship, Men's 800 meter. These runners must train physically and mentally to compete at this level. Many are known as the best runners in the world. During the 800 meter run, one of the runners tripped and fell. For most runners this would be a race ending event. But this guy got back up and started running again. It would have been easy to give up. But he was determined to keep going. That's how it is with a job search.

Sometimes we feel we have done everything possible to find a job or even a career. Yet when we don't have immediate results we are ready to give up or place blame. We blame the economy. We blame other people. But just like running, you must train mentally for your job search. While there's a lot of information out there on resumes and interviewing, few people talk about your state of mind and attitude during your search.

Your attitude is the most important tool you have in a job search. And yes, you ALSO need a stellar resume and outstanding interview skills. Despite what you hear on the news, you should not panic but plan and pray about your job search. Prepare by possesing a strong belief that you have skills employers want. Target industries and employers where you want to work, then be flexible. Keep a good attitude even when employers are not quickly responding to your inquries. Try encouraging someone else in an area of life where you are confident. It changes your outlook when you help someone else. Just remember, even if you fall down for a moment you can get back up!

Run the race with endurance, keep the faith and don't give up. Read 1 Cor.9:24-27 and Jer.29:11