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.