Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Non-verbal Storytelling

I've been reading a fascinating book called, What Every BODY Is Saying, by Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI agent and expert on body language.

If the topic of non-verbal communication is even somewhat interesting to you, buy a copy of this book. It is loaded with pictures to illustrate the postures, gestures, and expressions that communicate loudly in ways we might not expect.

In the chapter on facial expressions, Navarro talks about a variety of unconscious behaviors people adopt when they are under stress. As it happened, I was reading the book at the gym last week when Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich held a news conference to profess his innocence. Rather than put my headset on and listen to what promised to be typical political drivel, I watched without audio to see what unconscious behaviors I might notice.

By my count, Blagojevich licked his lips 11 times in the two short minutes or so he was on camera. According to Navarro, lip licking is a pacifying behavior that occurs when people are stressed or feeling insecure. Whether a person is innocent or not, it makes sense that anyone recently arrested by federal agents and subject to impeachment hearings would be under stress. To be clear, it wouldn't be fair or appropriate to jump to any conclusions about honesty or guilt. I simply found it fascinating to see such obvious evidence of what I am sure was completely unconscious behavior on the part of Blagojevich.

At the same time, this was a nice reminder of the clues that are available to people interested enough--and aware enough--to pick up on the many ways we communicate non-verbally.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Unintended Outcomes (Some Heartwarming, Some Unpleasant)

When I wrote The Living Eulogy for Harry Wilson, I had no idea it would resonate with so many people. I never expected the flood of emails and comments from friends and strangers alike. Some shared a desire to honor their own friends in a similar fashion. Others thanked me for introducing them to such a wonderful artist. The whole experience was incredibly heartwarming.

It was also challenging because it made me think about the logistical difficulties of acknowledging all the important people in my life. With two parents, 3 brothers, 2 sisters, countless relatives, and friends from all over the world, the prospect of doing living eulogies for everyone is more than a bit daunting.

Even as I wrote the piece for Harry, I found myself thinking about the other people in my life and what I might say about them. What I did not expect, however, was that the post would become a political issue of sorts. This was especially surprising because I almost never discuss politics with anyone. Although I have opinions, I rarely share them because politics is so polarizing.

Shortly after I posted the Living Eulogy, I received an email from Betsy, a high school classmate now living in California. When she clicked on the blog, Betsy was shocked—and rightfully so—to see a Google ad supporting a ban on gay marriage. As we sorted out what happened, we both realized that the ad forced us to examine the stories we tell ourselves about certain events and the motivations of the people involved.

Under the circumstances, I need to break my self-imposed rule of not discussing political issues to address the concerns this ad has raised. I am grateful to Betsy for sharing her viewpoint because I had no idea the ad was on the site. I DO NOT support discrimination of any kind; nor do I support a ban on gay marriage. I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by the ad.

What Happened?
When I signed up for Google Ads, my understanding was that Google would rotate non-competitive, business-related ads on the site. I never imagined Google would put a political ad of any kind on my page, let alone one on such a controversial issue. As Betsy and I discussed it later, we suspect that Google picked up on my reference to marriage in the Living Eulogy and used that keyword to target the ad.

Questioning The Motivations
Since I own the blog and post the content, Betsy reasonably assumed I knew about the ad. However, since I am based in Chicago, and the ad was targeting California voters, I would never have seen or heard about the ad had it not been for Betsy.

Given her strong feelings on the issue, Betsy was upset and confused at the thought that I supported a ban on gay marriage. This prompted a flood of emotions that caused her to question my intentions and motivations. Fortunately for me, she decided to share her concerns rather than stew in her own feelings. This gave us both a unique opportunity to think more deeply about the meaning we assign to the events in our lives.

Questioning Google
When Betsy alerted me to the issue, I immediately called the customer service people at Google to let them know I wanted the ad removed immediately. Google ads, as you may know, are rotated continuously. Since the election was almost over, the Google rep said it was unlikely the ad would reappear. Nevertheless, I wanted some assurance that political ads would never again appear on the site under any circumstances.

This proved to be an illuminating situation for me because it forced me to look at my own interpretation of the events. On the one hand, I was legitimately upset to have been thrust unknowingly into a heated issue that made it appear I supported discriminatory anti-gay policies. At the same time, there were a few questions I needed to consider as I forced myself to be somewhat objective about the situation:

Did I have a right to be upset with Google?
Absolutely. I firmly believe Google needs to make it easier for people like me to identify and block controversial ads—political or otherwise. From a freedom of speech standpoint, I support the right of these groups to advertise. At the same time, I want Google to be more careful about where the ads appear.

What was I making this mean?

Much of my initial anger was based on my view of Google as a money-hungry enterprise that cares more about paid clicks than it does about the feelings of its partner sites. That may be true, but it carries with it the assumption that human beings are behind the scenes consciously screening and placing ads. The reality, I’m sure, is a bit different. When I really thought about it, I was forced to conclude that Google probably has the process almost, if not completely, automated. As a result, it is possible that no one was ever in a position to evaluate the appropriateness of the ad content relative to its placement.

Whatever the case, this is an issue Google needs to address. In the meantime, it doesn’t make sense for me to get angry and upset at the software running behind the scenes. That would be like getting angry at a rock. I am better served by recognizing that Google systems are run by humans and humans make mistakes. When we make mistakes or do something to offend someone else, the best we can hope is that some caring person will point it out and enable us to take corrective action. That’s what Betsy did for me. And that’s my approach with Google as well.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Living Eulogy

Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of time talking about the stories we share with employers, potential employers, and even ourselves. But I haven't spent too much time talking about the stories we tell our friends and loved ones. Or, more to the point, the stories we SHOULD be telling these people.

(If you would like to see the pictures mentioned below visit:

This is a bit of a departure from what I usually write, but I knew it was something I needed to share. I also knew I needed to do it immediately--before I changed my mind.

Last night, I went to the memorial service for Roman Block, the father of Parker Block, a close friend from grammar school. At the service, my dear friend Harry Wilson, who is now married to Parker's mother, Irene, leaned over and wondered aloud how it might have been for Roman to hear, firsthand, the outpouring of love, respect, and admiration. It made me wonder as well. Why do so many of us wait to collect our thoughts about how much people mean to us until after they are gone? These are the thoughts and memories we should be sharing while people are alive.

With this in mind, I decided to write a living eulogy for Harry to give him an earthly appreciation for just how much his friendship means to me. I share this with the hope it will inspire others to do the same, and to honor a dear friend. This is what I would say to the people Harry will someday leave behind:

I was fortunate to meet Harry during my last years in grammar school when he married the mother of my good friend, Parker Block. Harry was the first fine artist I had ever met. My earliest memories of Harry are of standing in the apartment he shared with Irene in Lake Point Tower, seeing his work up close, and listening to him talk about how powerfully people’s hands spoke to him. If memory serves, he had recently completed a series of large color pictures of characters he’d seen on the street who later came to life on his canvas. I can still picture the construction worker and the elderly African-American man who waited patiently while his wife shopped. In every case, there were The Hands--those powerful, compelling images that somehow told the story and captured the moment in every picture.

Sometime later, Harry showed me the image that remains my favorite to this day. The picture, which was done in a much more subdued, even understated style, showed a north suburban commuter waiting for the train as the wind carried a newspaper across the tracks in front of him. From then on, whenever I went to see Harry’s latest works, I made it a point to see the commuter picture. It was one of the first pictures I’d see when I walked into the apartment and the last one I saw before I left. One day, Harry told me about a show he did in which he put the picture on display. If I remember the story correctly, upon seeing the picture, a former C-level executive at Leo Burnett offered to buy it at any price. But alas, it wasn’t for sale. It was the picture Harry had given Irene as a wedding gift.

Even as a child, I remember thinking how much I wanted to own some of Harry’s work. That dream came true not long after I started working at Leo Burnett, Harry’s former employer. Over the years, I had fallen in love with his many styles and finally had the opportunity to purchase the first of the ten originals I now own. Although I was concerned it might offend his artistic sensibilities, I even took a chance and commissioned Harry to recreate the commuter picture I loved so much. To his credit, Harry used the opportunity to give the same subject matter a slightly different treatment. The result? Another gorgeous picture in my collection.

Click here to see the new version of "The Commuter"

Over the years, many friends and visitors to my home have commented on Harry’s work. A few reached out to Harry and purchased originals of their own. In 1997, Eddie From Ohio, a Virginia-based band, saw his picture “Flying Through The Universe In A Lime Green Hat” in my book and purchased the rights to use it on the cover of their next CD, Big Noise. In my ongoing efforts to promote Harry, the Eddie From Ohio deal gives me the most pride.

Click here to see "Flying Through The Universe in a Lime Green Hat"

The picture in my collection that gets the most attention is “Believe in What?”, a incredibly detailed pen-and-ink drawing Harry did of a concentration camp victim. Harry created the image using an architectural pen he modified to use at angles beyond the 90 degree angle it is usually limited to. After I purchased the picture, the first person to see it was the fine artist from Ross Wetzel Studios who helped Harry and me pick out a frame. I still remember how the woman looked at Harry in awe and said, “As an artist, I’m really embarrassed to ask, but how long did this take?” Harry responded, “So long, I almost went crazy.”

In late 2007, Harry acquired what may be his youngest fan, my little friend, Steele. Steele was about 3 ½ when he stood staring at “Believe in What?” without saying anything. After a few minutes, he began to ask questions about who the person was, why he hadn’t eaten, whether or not he was OK now, and why it happened in the first place. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I remember being genuinely shocked at Steele’s level of interest and his ability to probe about what was really going on in the picture.

Have you ever tried explaining the Holocaust to a toddler? Trust me, it’s not an easy road to go down. Even though I chose my words carefully and made every effort to be vague, I couldn’t escape the feeling that Steele already had an understanding of the sadness, disappointment, and confusion experienced by both Harry and his subject. And, for what may have been the first time in my life, I found myself longing to talk about Thomas the Train rather than Harry Wilson.

Click here to see "Believe in What?"

I may be wrong about this, but I am proud to say I probably own more of Harry’s artwork than anyone outside his immediate family. I am honored to have in my home what rightfully belongs in a museum. Perhaps someday when the art world is smart enough to catch on, he will achieve lasting worldwide fame with the other artists he has long admired. Or maybe it’s up to me to start a museum of my own—The Harry Wilson Museum of Art: dedicated to recognizing and appreciating fine artists—while they are still alive! I really like the sound of that.

That’s a little history, but it doesn’t adequately convey who Harry is to me.

So how do I describe Harry? Well, that’s a bit of a challenge. I struggle to put my thoughts on paper because I’m not sure the English language has words or phrases that adequately capture our connection.

Is Harry Wilson a friend?
Absolutely. A dear friend. But there’s more to it than that. Most of my lifelong friendships have, as a basis, some shared experience like growing up together or working together at the same company. Harry and I grew up at different times. We worked at the same company, but years apart. Instead, our shared experience seems to exist in a parallel universe of sorts. We are decades apart in earth time, but the blink of an eye from the perspective of eternity. As one writer I know would put it, Harry and I are on the same road. He just caught an earlier bus.

The similarity in our journeys really struck me one day when Harry revealed a pen-and-ink drawing he had done of a little boy on a curving slide winding between the brownstone mansions on Lake Shore Drive. The picture, which was from a series he had done incorporating words and images, said simply:

“Riding past the rich people’s homes on Lake Shore Drive as an 8-year-old and dreaming.”

Like so many of his other pictures, this one spoke to me. But in a much more personal way. I was fortunate to grow up in Chicago on the 20th floor of 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive where I used to dream about putting a slide in from our apartment to Oak Street Beach. When I saw Harry’s picture with the caption, I was stunned. He and I had shared the exact same childhood fantasy—a few short decades apart. Naturally, I did the only thing I could think to do. I bought the picture.

Click here to see "Riding Past the Rich People's Homes..."

Is Harry Wilson a mentor?
Most definitely. But again, not in the traditional sense. What started out as a shared interest in the business of advertising evolved into an ongoing conversation about the business of life. Over the years, Harry has challenged me—in a helpful and much appreciated way—about the decisions I have made on my own entrepreneurial journey. At the same time, he remains one of my strongest supporters. Everyone should be fortunate enough to have a mentor, coach, and cheerleader like Harry.

Is Harry an honorary uncle?
As a description, “honorary uncle” works quite well. Harry really does feel like family to me. I especially love the concern in his voice when he inquires about my personal life. It’s so wonderful to have someone with Harry’s wisdom and experience to talk to about life and relationships. At the memorial for Roman Block, Harry asked a pointed question about what I was looking for in a woman and why, in 41 years, I hadn’t found her yet. I love that about him. It was a lot like when I was in my mid-30s and my dad casually mentioned he already had four kids by that age. The smart-ass in me wanted to say, “And how do you know I don’t?” Instead, it was one of those rare moments when I was actually able to live by a Buddhist principle I once heard in which, before you open your mouth, you are supposed to ask yourself, “Is what I am about to say an improvement over maintaining silence?” In that case, the answer was clear. So I mumbled something about how times have really changed. Then I changed the subject.

Is Harry Wilson a hero?
Harry is truly a hero. I have always admired Harry as an artist, an advertising professional, an honorary uncle, a person, a mentor, and a dear friend. I have also admired the way Harry constantly challenges himself and his beliefs. In this respect, his recent decision to audit a college philosophy course was just another step in his ongoing journey of self-discovery and introspection. This is a part of Harry I have always seen although, when we first met, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it.

I especially admire Harry’s willingness to admit his short-comings as well as the personal and professional mistakes he has made along the way. I have no doubt that Harry, like most of us, would do a few things differently given the chance. At the same time, I also sense a certain comfort in who he has become, how he got here, and his continuing ability to forgive himself for the missteps on his path. No one said it better than Harry himself on another picture I am truly fortunate to own:

“For a planet bursting with miracles. For happiness and sadness. For what little I accomplished and even more that I did not. For warm hellos and reluctant goodbyes. So glad I came here. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

I can’t sum it up any better than that.

Click here to see "I wouldn't Have Missed It For Anything"

Harry is a fantastic and wonderful human being. I have been blest by his friendship. My home is blest by his work. And we are all better for knowing him.

That’s why I love, admire, and respect Harry Wilson. And I am honored to have spent such a large part of my own journey as his friend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Horrifying Example of Texting

During a brief visit to San Antonio and Waco, Texas last week, I woke up early to prepare for the workshops I was leading. Although I rarely turn on the television, I decided to watch one of the early morning business shows to get some insight into the wildly fluctuating markets. To protect the guilty, I am not going to reveal the show or the anchors in question--not in this forum anyway.

Shortly after I tuned in, the anchors started to discuss a large bank deal that fell through when one bank rescued another and was subsequently outbid by a third. One of the anchors offhandedly asked a rhetorical question like, "How would you like to get THAT call in the middle of the night and find out the deal was off?" Without missing a beat, the female anchor said, "Oh, I wouldn't have called. I would have texted."

Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying.

This is EXACTLY the kind of behavior I was talking about in my last post. I wish I had a tape of the segment because it was so telling. It was such automatic response, there was no question she was completely serious. This is disturbing on a number of levels.
First, it's sad that people behave this way at all. Second, she obviously doesn't see anything inappropriate or she wouldn't have mentioned it to millions of viewers. Third, what a terrible behavior for a national, if not international, celebrity to validate.

Communicating that a deal has fallen through is a prime example of a conversation that absolutely should be handled in person. If it can't be handled in person, for whatever reason, a real-time alternative like telephone or videoconference may be acceptable. But voicemail, email, and text are NOT acceptable. The only acceptable use of text in a scenario like this would be an urgent message like:

"There have been some unexpected developments we need to talk about at your earliest convenience. This is urgent. Please call."

Even then, a phone call or voicemail communicating the same message would be preferable. A text saying, "The deal is off" is DEFINITELY NOT appropriate.

Think about this next time you consider taking the easy way out.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Hazards of Text Messaging

According to a Nielsen Mobile survey released last week, Americans now text more than they talk. The numbers are fascinating because it is the first time in history this has happened--and it wasn't even close. In the second quarter, mobile customers sent and received an average of 357 texts per month compared to an average of 204 calls for the same period.

Why is this important?

Because text messaging has turned into a convenient way for many people to avoid otherwise difficult or potentially unpleasant conversations.

Text messaging is wonderful for confirming plans, getting directions, and witty exchanges. The convenience and fun make it easy to see how people get hooked. But there is definitely a limit.

While it would be unrealistic and inappropriate to expect everyone to operate with the same principles I strive to live by, there are certain standards of behavior it would be wonderful to see more people adopt. For example, I will not use text messages (or emails) for any conversation that could be emotionally charged for either party.

I have quite a few friends who routinely use texting as a way to cancel dates or other engagements. This is not an acceptable use of texting because it shows no concern whatsoever for the feelings of the other person. Using text messaging in this way actually communicates a second, and far more damaging message, than simply canceling a date:

"I've decided I don't want to see you, but I lack the courage to say it over the phone where I might have to explain myself or hear your disappointment. So, I'm going to take the easy way out and send you a text message. This way I can put it out of my mind and not have to deal with it."

This is LAME.

Having been on the receiving end, I can tell you firsthand this approach is FAR worse than if the person handled it the thoughtful way and made a phone call. When it happened, I was sad and disappointed. But I got over it. Looking back, it was also a gift. Why? Because this behavior says a lot about the person's integrity and communication skills--or lack thereof. This is not the kind of person I want to be involved with romantically or otherwise.

The more technologies like text messaging give us opportunities to hide from difficult conversations, the more we have to consciously avoid the easy out. Our reputations depend on it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cover Letters and Info Interviewing

A client asked me recently about the difference between a cover letter requesting an informational interview and a cover letter written in hopes of securing a formal job interview.

To appreciate the differences, it is important to look first at the similarities.

In each case, the goal is to encourage the recipient to agree to an extended conversation--preferably face-to-face. For simplicity, we'll refer to the recipient as the interviewer.

In order for the interviewer to agree to the conversation, the person must be convinced there isn't a risk. The risk for each interviewer is similar because neither wants to waste time on someone who isn't worth the attention. However, the risk for the formal interviewer is greater because if this person hires you and you aren't the right fit, the cost will be at least several times your annual salary.

So what does this have to do with your cover letter? Everything.

When you write a cover letter to secure an informational interview, you have to make it clear why THE INDUSTRY is the Next Logical Step in your professional development. After all, if the interviewer is going to spend time sharing ideas and advice, he or she will want to know the steps you have taken to demonstrate interest in the field. (Think Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness). Knowing as much as you can about the interviewer's company will be helpful as well. Skip this step and it will be clear you didn't do your homework. Worse, the interviewer is likely to walk away feeling like you wasted his or her time.

A cover letter written to secure a formal interview is slightly different because it must be convincing about why a place IN THE COMPANY is the Next Logical Step for you. In this case, you'll need Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness, along with a heavy dose of solid research and knowledge about the company, the position, and how your skills match their needs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I've arrived...

This is a departure from the usual posts, but I just had to share some interesting PR I received today. Believe it or not, I was quoted in an article about the New England Patriots and the challenge facing Matt Cassel, the quarterback replacing the injured Tom Brady.


Strange as it might seem, this same publication quoted me in an article about Hillary Clinton in March.


I have to admit, it is truly an honor. I never thought anyone would ask about Tom Brady's replacement or Hillary's attempts at humor.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Great Time Wasters

For as much as I procrastinate (and I do--just look how long it took between blog posts this time), I tend to be a very productive person. People often tell me they are amazed at how much I do, how many activities I am involved in, and how much I get done. From my perspective, it doesn't seem like that at all because I am painfully aware how much time I waste. But the question isn't: How do I do so much? The real question is: Why is everyone else so much less active?

The reasons probably won't come as a surprise: Television and the Internet.

Think about it. The same people who claim they don't have time for volunteer activities, sports, or any number of other outside interests, have no trouble at all telling you what happened on the last three episodes of The Bachelor (or whatever show happens to be most popular at the moment).

The fact that people waste time watching television and surfing the Internet isn't as shocking as the statistics that back it up.

According to A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American spends more than four hours per day watching television. That seems like a lot--and it is--but the numbers really get staggering when you project them on a weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime basis.
  • Per Week: 1.2 days
  • Per Month: 5.1 days
  • Per Year: 2 months
  • Per Lifetime: 12 years (based on the person living to age 72)
But what about the Internet?

According to Cox Communications, children between 8 -12 years of age spend an average of 2 hours per day surfing the Internet. This figure matches similar research done a few years back by Salary.com in which employees reported spending an average of 2 hours per day surfing the Internet at work. That is the equivalent of 2-1/2 days per month or 1 month per year of continuous surfing.

What a colossal waste of time!

I personally can't imagine spending 12 YEARS of my life mesmerized by the television or 6 YEARS surfing the web, but that is exactly what the average person does.

I haven't seen research that specifically says the figures for television viewing and web surfing are cumulative, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if they were. In other words, a significant percentage of the population is probably spending 4 hours per day watching television and ANOTHER 2 hours per day surfing the Internet.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this because it's a horrifying thought.

Viewing statistics like this, I am reminded how grateful I am to my parents for taking our television away when I was 10 years old. You read that correctly. For most of my formative years, we did not have a television in the house. At the time, I wasn't happy about it at all, but in hindsight it was the single best gift my parents ever gave my five siblings and me. So what did I do instead? I read books. I joined a hockey team. I played baseball and football with friends. In other words, I got involved with what life has to offer.

Continuing the tradition, television does not play a major role in my life. When people come to visit, we don't plop down in front of the television. We talk and enjoy the time we have together. That's why family parties at my house are always a lot more fun than they are than when we get together somewhere else. While other families are watching sitcoms, we are making memories.

I challenge you to do the same. If not for yourself, for your children.

I leave you with the two most important questions:
  • What would you do with an extra 6-18 years of productivity?
  • What are you waiting for?

Friday, August 8, 2008


I am currently putting the finishing touches on a new EBook, 9 Ways Procrastination May Keep You From Getting The Job of Your Dreams (working title). I decided to write the EBook because I see too many people who procrastinate endlessly when it comes to preparation (crafting their story) and the job search process itself (telling their story).

There are a variety of ways people sabotage themselves, but few are more destructive, or have a more profound impact, than procrastination. Whether you have elevated procrastination to an art form or selectively deal with the issue, it is an important habit to break because it can lead to stress, illness, and low self-esteem.

How bad is it really? A quick quiz
Many people take being a procrastinator as a black or white proposition. They either see themselves as one or they don’t. The truth is, there are different degrees of procrastination. Almost everyone procrastinates to some degree in some area of life. That’s called being human. Procrastination becomes a problem, however, when it is so pervasive it impacts our behavior in ways beyond our conscious awareness.

To learn more about your procrastination habits, answer the following questions quickly and honestly:

  1. Are you overwhelmed at the prospect of searching for a new job?
  2. Do you spend hours searching through online job postings and walk away with the nagging feeling you haven’t actually accomplished anything?
  3. Have you been sidetracked more times than you can count by other projects and interruptions?
  4. Have you found yourself so busy with projects unrelated to the job search that you wonder how anything ever got done when you worked full-time?
  5. Do you find yourself taking on additional responsibilities to help your spouse or partner around the house that take time away from the job search?
  6. Have you put off contacting former co-workers who might be able to help if they knew you were in the market?
  7. Have you put off updating your résumé because you know you need to make it more compelling, but don’t have a clue how to do it?
  8. Are you spending most of your time looking for “safe” options rather than jobs that might be a reach, but would be far more energizing?
  9. Do you often catch yourself worrying you will end up in a new job facing all the same issues you dealt with in the old job?

The scoring for this quiz is straightforward.

If you answered “Yes” to even one question, you need to think seriously about the reasons behind your procrastination. Is this something you can solve on your own through awareness and discipline? Or is it an issue that requires the assistance of a coach?

If you answered “Yes” to more than 3 questions, you need to get a copy of this EBook. Send an email to me (rob@careercraftsman.com) with the subject "Procrastination" and you will be among the first to know when the EBook is available.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Getting Help In Telling Your Story

Among the most common questions I get come from people who are considering hiring a career coach. Whether your goal is a promotion, a new position, or a complete career change, hiring a career coach can be a great investment because of the impact it can have on the way you tell your story.

To help with this decision, I have posted an online guide called 11 Questions To Consider Before Hiring A Career Coach.

Before you check out the article, let's see if you even need a career coach. To begin, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Have you ever thought to yourself?:
    "I know I'd be great at that job if only someone would give me a chance" or "I would love that job, but I could never make any money doing that."

  • Do you struggle with the concept of networking and/or feel that you have fewer valuable contacts than others?

  • Do you ever find yourself apologizing for your age, level of experience, or education?

  • Have you sent out résumés for jobs you know you'd be perfect for and have not received a response?

  • Do you have trouble getting interviews or turning interviews into job offers?

  • Are interviews uncomfortable because you find it difficult to talk about yourself without feeling like you're bragging?

  • Given the economy, do you worry that you may have to settle for a job or salary below what you know you deserve?

  • Do you worry that your unemployment compensation and/or severance will run out before you find another job?

  • Have you been out of work longer than you ever expected?

  • Do you feel stuck in your current job or no longer find it satisfying?

  • Do you feel your job, and the jobs of your co-workers, are in jeopardy?

If you answered "Yes" to even one question above, working with a career coach could help you streamline your efforts.

If you answered "Yes" to more than 3 questions, the right career coach could help you shave weeks or months off your search. When you think about what you expect to earn in a typical week, the opportunity cost of NOT working with a coach is probably a lot higher than the investment you'd make with even the most expensive coach.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Concert Violinist

In this series of posts, I am sharing a variety of real-life examples of people who have changed the way they are perceived--and in some cases, the way they perceive themselves--simply by reframing the way they tell their story.

Installment 5
The installments would not be complete without one of my favorite examples of personal repositioning. Around the time I was writing Getting Your Foot in the Door When You Don't Have A Leg To Stand On, I received a call from a former colleague to see if I would be willing to help a young woman who interviewed unsuccessfully at Chicago ad agency, Leo Burnett.

As it happened, the young woman was a concert violinist who had played with Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and The Moody Blues. Her resume was impressive, but it didn't make sense from an advertising perspective. People were impressed, but probably found themselves thinking: "This is great, but we don't have an orchestra."

After spending three or four hours with her, I was clear that she was passionate about advertising. What I didn't fully understand was how the interest developed. Being able to trace her passion was a critical piece of the puzzle because without it, we wouldn't be able to make the case that advertising was the Next Logical Step in her professional development.

Thanks her willingness to do a complete a thorough personal inventory, we uncovered the missing links. In addition to her work as a violinist, this young woman had been managing a virtual string ensemble. It all started when people asked for her advice about hiring classical musicians for weddings and events. Since she knew the music and had an extensive address book of contacts, she started a business. By working with the clients to determine what they wanted and leveraging her knowledge and contacts to provide what they needed, she was effectively functioning as an account management person.

By describing her role managing and promoting the string ensemble, and quantifying a variety of other strategic thinking and problem-solving achievements, we repositioned her as a born marketer who happened to be a concert violinist. This was quite a bit different than her first effort when she came across as a concert violinist who suddenly wanted to work in advertising. With this new positioning, she reapplied to Leo Burnett and earned a coveted position at the company—despite the fact that she had never taken a single marketing or advertising course.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Most Unusual Combination

In this series of posts, I am sharing a variety of real-life examples of people who have changed the way they are perceived--and in some cases, the way they perceive themselves--simply by reframing the way they tell their story.

Installment 4:

Roy, a participant in one of my workshops, spent 23 years handling IT security administration on a mainframe system supporting 35,000 users before the company eliminated his position. Not at all optimistic about his prospects, Roy said:

"No one is going to hire me. They aren't using mainframes anymore. I'm a dinosaur. I'm 58 years old and I'll never get another job doing this."

From a technological perspective, mainframes may be dinosaurs, but that doesn’t automatically make his experience an albatross.

Accurate or not, Roy’s perception was destructive because it allowed him to take his many accomplishments for granted. This, in turn, did nothing to help his self-confidence. In this situation, any setback, no matter how minor, could easily have pushed Roy that much closer toward the downward spiral of depression. Clearly this was a wonderful opportunity for reframing.

Reframing and the Self-Assessment

For reframing to be successful, you have to find and introduce new facts to the equation. This usually means starting at the beginning with a thorough self-assessment.

Digging deeper into Roy’s background, we uncovered an interesting fact that not only separated him from most IT security professionals, but also opened a new universe of possibilities. Before Roy started working his way up from claims analyst to IT security specialist, he was busy nurturing his interest in law enforcement. Still more surprising was the fact that Roy was now in his 25th year as a reserve officer.

At that moment, I turned to the other people in the workshop and asked, "Can any of you think of an organization or company that might be interested in someone with 23 years of mainframe computer security experience combined with 25 years of law enforcement?"

Immediately, people chimed in with suggestions like, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, etc.

Then I asked, "How likely is it these organizations would advertise for this unique combination of skills?" In other words, what are the chances of encountering this type of position on Monster.com?

Highly unlikely.

Why? Because employers would probably never imagine a person like Roy even existed. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't hire him on the spot if he contacted them first. Better still, from a supply/demand standpoint, Roy would be in a strong position to negotiate because the more unusual or specialized the skill, the higher the market value.

The morale of the story is this: If you have a unique combination of skills, challenge yourself to make a list of companies and organizations that might value it. It could be your ticket to a lucrative, fulfilling career.

Friday, June 13, 2008


In this series of posts, I am sharing a variety of real-life examples of people who have changed the way they are perceived--and in some cases, the way they perceive themselves--simply by reframing the way they tell their story.

Installment 3:
This is one of my favorite examples because it shows how the use of tables, combined with a deeper understanding of the distinction between attributes and benefits, helped transform a microbiologist’s mind-numbing 14-page résumé into a powerful selling tool.

Knowing this person came to me in good faith hoping I could help, I did something no sane person would ever do--I read every word of the original résumé. Sadly, the name was about the only thing I could pronounce. Determined to make sense of the résumé, I continued reading and found myself wading through line upon line of Bacillus megaterium amylase, Aspergillus niger neutral amylase, Streptomyces phospholipase A2, and of course, everybody’s favorite Native and cloned full-length (and truncated) Bacillus naganoensis pullulanase. When I finally got to the last page, I put the résumé down and ran for the nearest picture book. My brain hurt.

I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I felt like I knew a lot less when I finished reading the résumé. I had absolutely no idea what this guy did for a living. For a brief moment, I seriously questioned my ability to help him. Not ready to give up so easily, I did what any thinking coach would do—I prayed for guidance. That’s when I heard myself ask the question:

“What happened at your company that would never have happened if you hadn’t been there?”

Over the course of the next two hours, I heard story after story about the enzymes he created or modified which the company, in turn, mass produced for sale. Some of these enzymes, which required relatively little investment beyond his intellectual capital, were worth millions to the company.

Take a look at the table below and I think you’ll agree that his accomplishments are impressive. Better still, they are understandable in the sense that you don’t need a Ph.D. in microbiology to appreciate what he is capable of achieving.

New Product Development Results


Development Cost

Annual Sales




Low pH alpha-Amylase



Maltogenic amylase



Baking Amylase



Total Annual Sales


*These products perform as well as, or better than, competitors’ products.

**Projected as10% initial market share when patents expire.

In addition to the table, we organized the rest of his experience under the headings most relevant to what someone might hire him to do: Strategic Results, Product Support Results, Wet Milling Results, Molecular Biology Results, Protein Purification Results, and Patents & Publications.

For each category, he clearly showed the impact his efforts had on the business. Once we had the résumé trimmed down to a respectable and not-at-all overwhelming four pages, I emailed the file to a Sales Manager at a major pharmaceutical company who agreed to pass it along to the appropriate department. Her reply a few hours later read simply:

“He looks GREAT! Where did you find him?”

Had she seen the original résumé, her eight word reply would probably have been something closer to:

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teacher Turned Web Programmer

In this series of posts, I am sharing a variety of real-life examples of people who have changed the way they are perceived--and in some cases, the way they perceive themselves--simply by reframing the way they tell their story.

Installment 2:
Tom spent the majority of his career working as a teacher and trainer before he went back to school to become a web programmer. In his early fifties, Tom was what some might call “realistically pessimistic” about his chance of success:

“I absolutely love programming, but I have to be honest—there are kids in junior high who are naturally more gifted at this than I am. I really don’t see how I will ever find a company that will pay me what I need to survive. I’m starting to wonder why I ever spent any money going back to school for this in the first place.”

In this case, Tom’s overly negative view of the situation is the direct result of a disease I like to call “compartmentalitis.”

Compartmentalitis - The strong and irresistible urge to view skills and experiences in isolation most often characterized by the automatic, almost reflexive, dismissal of all but the most obvious and directly applicable to the job at hand.

What this means, in plain English, is that to market yourself effectively and compete successfully in the job market, you have to be creative about how you view your experiences. You do yourself a tremendous disservice if you view your skills and experiences in isolated, air-tight compartments.

Based on Tom’s assessment it is clear that he sees himself as either a teacher/trainer OR a web programmer. This flawed perception could lead to more than a few missed opportunities because it ignores the possibility that a company might hire Tom simply because he is qualified to do BOTH.

There are millions of teachers/trainers and web programmers in the world, but there are relatively few people who have done both. The important question then becomes, “What company or industry would most value this combination of skills?” Naturally, this opened a new set of possibilities and prompted Tom to change the focus of his job search. He immediately began targeting companies dedicated to e-learning and online education.

Even though other web developers might be more accomplished from a technical standpoint, Tom can potentially add more value given his understanding of the fundamentals of teaching and learning. By highlighting the value of his skills in combination, Tom has the opportunity to effectively change the job requirements in the mind of a hiring manager. Furthermore, if Tom can convince a company that it makes more sense to hire a web developer who is also an accomplished teacher, he will have succeeded in narrowing his potential competition.

Think about it. With so few candidates likely to match the description, a company would probably never spend money advertising for such a unique combination of skills. But it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be happy to find it. For example, there are probably e-learning companies that have no idea people like Tom even exist. That is what makes combining skills so valuable.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Story Sparking: The Spin Factor

Over the next few posts, I will share a variety of real-life examples of people who have changed the way they are perceived--and in some cases, the way they perceive themselves--simply by reframing the way they tell their story.

Installment 1:
In almost every workshop I teach, someone has a truly interesting experience they are hesitant to mention for fear it will somehow be misinterpreted. As the following case illustrates, the secret is in how you spin it.

Jason started as a programmer at a large technology company that had just put $2 million down on a new, highly rated $4 million software program. After implementing the software, Jason’s company realized it wasn’t living up to expectations. Unfortunately, they had no way to get out of the contract. Quite coincidentally, Jason was working on a project and took the initiative to test the security features of the new software. That’s when Jason discovered a major security glitch with the software that would have allowed competitors to access confidential customer records online.

By discovering and reporting the security issue, Jason gave his company a way to get out of the contract with the software vendor. This saved his company several million dollars. At least as important, from Jason's point-of-view, was the fact that the company gave him the honor of developing a more effective program to do what the $4 million program failed to do. To Jason's credit, he accomplished this task at a cost of only $30,000.

Jason was justifiably proud of these accomplishments, but he had no plans to mention the experience on his résumé or in an interview because he was concerned that people would view him as a hacker rather than a programmer. That may be a legitimate concern, but it doesn’t have to be if he spins it correctly.

For obvious security reasons, employers may be reluctant to hire a programmer who is an accomplished hacker. However, the same facts can be used to present an entirely different picture that is actually closer to the truth. If Jason describes his discovery of the security glitch as “hacking,” that’s how it will probably be interpreted. Instead, Jason would be better off describing his ability differently. For example, he could say:

“As a programmer, I have always been passionate about security and finding ways to protect company information.”

From there, he can go on to describe his ability to identify and correct security issues from a problem-solving standpoint. This way, Jason can show how his passion and interest in security makes him a better, more effective programmer. In this case, Jason is not just selling his programming expertise—an ATTRIBUTE—but the peace of mind his employer will have knowing that Jason is writing programs with an eye toward company security—the BENEFIT.

Monday, May 19, 2008


What is the best way to overcome shyness?

This question was posed during a session I did to help a class of soon-to-be massage therapy graduates build their business.

As I thought about the question, I realized that it isn't so much about storytelling as it is about focus. I could easily make a case for shyness being related to the stories we tell ourselves as we catastrophize about the potentially embarrassing or humiliating outcomes that sometimes keep us from initiating conversations with strangers. For many of us, there is truth in that possibility. However, the bigger issue is focus.

When you are feeling the most shy, where is your focus?

If you are completely honest, you know your focus is almost exclusively on you. That is important to know because your brain can't focus on two things at the same time. It has to pick one. Given this, one of the best strategies to overcome shyness would be to put the focus outside yourself. Become an observer. Notice the people around you. What kind of day are they having? Are they relaxed? Happy? Pensive? Frustrated? Peaceful? What is their body language communicating? Do they look closed? Open? Approachable?

The more you open yourself to the feelings and experiences of others, the more likely people will find you approachable as well.

Whenever your thoughts wander back to you--as they always do--think about the knowledge, experience, wisdom, and expertise you have to share. Imagine how much richer the other person's life could be for knowing you.

Use this approach next time you are feeling shy. Shift your focus and start observing the people and world around you. If nothing else, it will create a much more solid, confident foundation for the conversations you will be ready to initiate. Like anything worthwhile, this may take some practice. As a wise person once said, "Don't confuse simple with easy." Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Our Stories and Our Health: A powerful personal experience

I am taking a different direction with this post to look at the impact our stories can have from a much more personal perspective. This is a post I've been thinking about for weeks but haven't been able to get myself to write because it is such a departure from what I usually cover. Hence, the long delay since my last entry.

Considering that this blog is dedicated to our stories and how we tell them, it should be clear by now that I am a firm believer in the power of stories to impact the thinking and perceptions of others. I have also explored the importance of the stories we tell ourselves because there is no question in my mind that the way we think influences our beliefs, attitudes, and level of confidence. What isn’t always top-of-mind is the way the stories we tell ourselves play a role in our health. A month or so ago, I received a powerful reminder of this. To appreciate the impact this lesson had, it’s important to provide some background information.

The point of the following story is not who was right or wrong. After all, that is a matter of perspective and not particularly relevant. Truth be told, everyone involved could probably have handled the situation better. In this case, what is most important is how I changed my interpretation of the situation and the immediate impact that had on my health.


Over the past six months, I had begun to develop a close friendship with Mark (not his real name) based on our shared passion for music. The last time we were out, he mentioned Heidi (not her real name), a woman we both knew, and asked if she and I were dating. I could tell Mark was interested in Heidi so I assured him that Heidi and I were not dating. Although Heidi and I had dated briefly at the end of last year, I had the impression he knew we had dated and just wanted to make sure we weren’t still dating. The question I answered, and the one I thought he asking was “ARE you dating?” not “Did you ever date?”

Sadly, this turned into a misunderstanding of bizarre proportions. Since Heidi and I were still friends, and I knew she was spending time with Mark, I called a few weeks later to ask her when Mark’s birthday was. I knew it was in April, but I didn’t know the exact date.

Offhandedly, I mentioned I hadn’t heard from Mark but wanted to be sure I didn’t forget his birthday. After an uncomfortable pause, Heidi said, “And you won’t be hearing from him either.”

Shocked, I asked why. Heidi proceeded to tell me Mark was “very hurt” I lied to him about my relationship with her. As you can probably tell from my narrative, I had no intention of lying to Mark or misleading him in any way. I honestly thought his concern was that he didn’t want to pursue Heidi if she and I were still dating. Attempting to be a supportive friend, I simply encouraged Mark to pursue Heidi if he was interested.

As it turns out, that wasn’t the case at all.

According to Heidi, Mark asked me about my relationship with Heidi because he has a “rule” that he won’t date anyone his friends have dated. Had I had any indication that was the case, I would certainly have been more specific about the relationship. However, it didn’t seem particularly important in light of the fact that Heidi and I only dated for a few weeks. Besides, that wasn’t the question he asked. In an effort to clear the air with Mark, I called, left a message, apologized for the miscommunication, and asked him to get in touch so we could talk. I never heard from him.

This whole scenario stirred up some seriously conflicting emotions that left me feeling hurt and angry. Just a few of the thoughts and questions that replayed themselves over and over in my mind included:

  • What possible reason would I have to lie about whether I had dated someone? (I still can’t think of a single benefit I would get from deliberately misleading someone about that.)

  • What kind of person would not respond to a sincere effort to clear up an obvious miscommunication?

With each passing day I didn’t hear from Mark, I became progressively more hurt and disappointed. Although I started out feeling badly I had somehow hurt Mark and Heidi, the hurt was replaced with frustration when it became clear I wouldn’t be hearing from either of them.

Not coincidentally, I became physically sick around the same time. It all started with a sore throat and congestion. I wasn’t at all surprised by this because of the well-established connection between our minds and bodies. More specifically, I remember reading that sore throats and congestion are often—but not always—a physical manifestation of something we aren’t saying, but should be saying. To put it another way, the words and feelings literally become trapped inside us and show up physically as congestion.

Unfortunately, knowing the cause didn’t help because the conversation I most needed wasn’t going to happen for reasons outside of my control. An email or letter expressing my feelings wouldn’t have helped either because it violated two principles I live by:

  • Avoid at all costs the temptation to communicate anything potentially negative in an email, letter, or any form in which the important, nonverbal aspects of communication are lost.
  • Before speaking (or writing), ask yourself the question: “Is what I am about to say an improvement over maintaining silence?” If the answer is no, keep your mouth shut. (I was so upset at this point, I didn’t trust myself to keep the anger from spilling over in a one-sided communication like an email or voicemail.)

So, what happened?

I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation and literally worked myself up to the point where I was immobile on the sofa with a rising fever. Since my dad is a physician, I called to see if he had any suggestions. When I described the swollen glands, sore throat, congestion, and fever, he told me I probably had the same flu many of his patients had. He was equally certain I would be sick for at least another week given the progression of my symptoms.

A few hours later, I managed to drag myself off the couch and headed upstairs to bed. Before going to sleep, I took a deep breath and prayed I could find another way to view the situation so I could let go of the anger and disappointment I felt toward Mark. In that moment, I instantly had a vision of Mark superimposed on the body of my 3 ½ year old friend, Steele.

At first, I was confused. I couldn’t imagine what the vision was supposed to mean. Why was I being shown an image of a guy who is north of 300 pounds superimposed on a 3 ½ year old boy? When I silently asked for clarification, the message was clear.

Mark’s emotional development is at the level of a young child. That’s not right or wrong. It’s just the way it is. Given that, it isn’t appropriate or fair to be mad at him for something he can’t necessarily control. Be more compassionate.

In other words, if Steele and I had a miscommunication, it wouldn’t be fair for me to get upset with him for not dealing with the situation emotionally as an adult. Just because Mark happens to be several decades older and 300 pounds heavier than Steele doesn’t automatically impart an adult level of emotional intelligence or development.

Recognizing the wisdom in this, I felt my body let go of all of the anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment.

I immediately fell into a sound sleep. Twice over the next two hours, I awoke drenched from sweat as my body fully released all of the negative emotion I had stored over the week. The following morning I felt fine with almost no trace of illness.

Although Mark and I have not spoken, my negative feelings toward him have been replaced with compassion. I literally told myself a different story and radically changed the impact the situation was having on my body.

Without trying to overstate the case, this was a life-altering event. I will never forget how, by changing the story I was telling myself, I shifted my emotions from anger to compassion and moved from sickness to health in an instant. That is truly the power of a good story.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Should you even have a resume?

After a workshop I did last week for Northwestern University's engineering grad students, Stanley, one of the participants, sent me a link to an entry on Seth Godin's blog entitled, Why Bother Having a Resume?

This is definitely a thought-provoking article because it speaks to exactly the issue I have with resumes--99% of the time, they don't say anything.

In my mind, the question is not so much, "How can I present myself if I'm not using a resume?" but, "When will companies catch up and realize there are better ways to assess potential?"

What are those better ways? It truly depends on who you are, what you've accomplished, and what is most compelling as it relates to the needs and goals of a particular employer. In other words, you really have to think about it. Don't just put yourself on autopilot and blindly send resumes that look exactly like every other resume. It doesn't work. Finding the right job is NOT a numbers game.

Even though resumes aren't going to go away anytime soon, act as if they were. Challenge yourself. Be strategic. Present your credentials in a more convincing, memorable way.

Is this worth the effort?


Godin summed it up best when he said:

"Great jobs, world class jobs, jobs people kill for... those jobs don't get filled by people emailing in resumes. Ever."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Networking challenge

A few weeks ago, I was leading a workshop on networking when one of the participants said the following:

"I know I should be networking everyday, but it seems like the only time I ever get around to it is when I am getting ready to look for a new job. What can I do to make this easier so it doesn't feel like such a chore?"

This is a great question because it sums up how many people feel about networking. Judging from the way he prefaced the question, it is also clear he doesn't see networking as enjoyable or particularly rewarding.

Once a task becomes something you feel like you should do, any sense of fun and adventure is suddenly sucked out of it. From that moment forward, it feels like work. To complicate matters, procrastination often sets in because networking, the way many people do it, doesn't have any measurable goals or deadlines associated with it.

The fact is, networking doesn't have to be time consuming. Contrary to popular opinion, you don't have to be collecting business cards or dining with new acquaintances at every turn. It's a lot easier than that.

I will even take this a step further and admit that I'm not a big believer in face-to-face networking events anyway.

Think about it. Who goes to networking events?

People who don't consider themselves particularly well-connected, that's who. How helpful is that?

By saying this, I am no doubt opening myself to an onslaught of criticism, so let me acknowledge that there are some helpful networking groups. And, of course, there are some terrific networking sites (LinkedIn.com, Facebook, etc.). Every rule has exceptions.

If you are not the kind of person who enjoys working a room and you don't have time to have lunch with a new person everyday (as some networking gurus recommend), make it easier on yourself. Instead, find a way to help at least one person every day. Think about the people in your network whenever you hear of an opportunity or read an interesting article. Before you delete the email or click the next story, challenge yourself to come up with at least one person who might be interested.

What I like best about this method is that it is completely sincere because it has nothing to do with you or your agenda. It's all about finding ways to help other people.

Think about other people at the right time for the right reason and chances are excellent they will do the same for you.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Interview

Maximizing Employee Performance

Over the years, I have asked countless workshop participants, “How many of you have an ability you would enjoy contributing to this organization but haven’t found a way to do so?”

If managers are not present when this question is asked, up to 75% of the employees will raise their hands. Given the wide range of industries surveyed, there is reason to believe that companies everywhere are missing opportunities to have happier, more productive employees who are engaged in projects they enjoy. As it stands, this opportunity is usually missed for two main reasons:

The company is not aware of the ability because it was developed at a different job or outside experience and the employee has not made it known.

In this case, helping employees develop an inventory of experiences will give employees and companies alike a more complete picture of the possibilities. As part of an ongoing employee development effort, this is also a great first step in opening the lines of communication.

The employee has a manager whose attitude is: "That is not your job."
This is truly unfortunate because this approach effectively crushes initiative--one of the three most important traits a company can find in an employee.

In theory, it sounds quite straightforward to have employees engaged in jobs at which they excel. In reality, this does not always happen.

There are two ways to view this issue. First, from the more positive and proactive standpoint, we will explore the opportunities companies have to help employees create an inventory of experiences and accomplishments. This way, we can create a more complete picture of each person’s skills, experiences, and preferences. With this knowledge, companies will have a better idea what people are best matched with particular projects.

The second way to impact employee development and productivity is to minimize or eliminate whatever makes a job draining or dissatisfying. While this will not be a focus of this particular post, it is important to acknowledge this aspect of the issue. More specifically, if you ignore the management, compensation, and team-related issues and look strictly at the job itself, there are at least three common causes for job dissatisfaction.

The person has been pigeon-holed into a particular position without regard to his or her preferences. It often happens that people excel in positions they do not find particularly energizing or interesting. When this happens, the company is often so thrilled with the person’s performance—especially if the predecessor was not effective—that they ignore promises, delay promotions, and leave the person in the position indefinitely. This short-sighted approach to what is best for the company usually has a significant, negative impact on morale and a long-term negative impact on the company as a whole.

The person has been promoted to a position where they are no longer directly involved in the projects and experiences that made the job interesting and challenging in the first place. For a variety of reasons, not everyone is looking for a promotion. Some people enjoy rolling up their sleeves and handling the execution. Some people simply do not enjoy management or other higher levels of responsibility. Whatever the case, if the lines of communication are not open, the result is the same. Companies think they are doing people a favor by promoting them, but not all employees embrace the possibility.

The job was not a good fit in the first place.
Mistakes happen. When it is clear that a mistake has been made and a person has been put in the wrong position, the situation should be dealt with promptly and fairly. This is in everyone’s best interest.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Few Thoughts On Résumés

I frequently receive calls from people who either want help writing their résumé or simply want someone to do it for them. Most people seem somewhat surprised when I share my belief that having someone else write their résumé is a waste of time and money.

Why? Two reasons.

First, informal research as well as my experience as a career coach and former recruiter tells me that most résumés--well over 95%--are completely ineffective. If the thousands of résumé writing services in the world were doing a good job, that wouldn't be the case. Second, the only person who truly knows the details of the experiences and accomplishments is you.

Until we can download our entire life experience from our brain to someone else's (isn't that a scary thought), you simply can't throw money at the problem and expect to get a good result. A far better approach is to work with a coach who can ask the right questions and help you quantify your experience in a meaningful, compelling way. It has to be a TEAM EFFORT. More importantly, you, the person working on the résumé, has to be willing to commit to a thorough self-assessment. Sadly, most people aren't willing to spend the time and effort.

It has always amazed me that people will spend hundreds of dollars and weeks of their lives taking Kaplan tests in an effort to get a higher score on the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, and countless other tests, but they balk at the idea of spending a single afternoon reflecting on their experiences and quantifying their accomplishments. This is exactly backwards.

When A Résumé Isn't The Best Tool

It also fascinates me that people expect résumés to perform miracles. The fact is, there is a limit to what a résumé can do. For example, I have worked with countless clients who spent a decade or two in one position before they decided to pursue a completely different job in a completely different industry. More often than not, our first conversation started like this:

"Rob, I got your name from ______ who suggested I give you a call. I really need help with my résumé..."

To understand why this reasoning doesn't make any sense, think about what a résumé is. People familiar with my work have no doubt heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. The way dictionaries define résumé is incorrect. According to dictionary.com, the word résumé is defined as follows:

1. a summing up; summary.
2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.

That is NOT what a résumé is. Instead, I propose an alternate definition:

The accomplishments of your life, outlined briefly on a few pages, as they relate to what you want to do (i.e., the next logical step in your professional development).

No matter which definition you use, a résumé is of little use to someone who wants to change careers for one simple reason:

The résumé can't tell the story.

For example, when I changed careers from advertising to options trading, not a single accomplishment or experience I had at Leo Burnett, no matter how impressive, supported my decision to change careers. In other words, the story of why option trading made sense did not come across in a résumé. It did, however, come across quite well in a cover letter where I could easily communicate the three key qualities: Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness. Like many career changers, the evidence I could offer that what I wanted to do made sense and, more importantly, didn't represent a risk from the employer's point-of-view, was found in what I learned from mentors and experienced on my own initiative. The evidence didn't come from my past employment or even my educational background.

Think about this next time you want to change careers. Ask yourself what evidence most strongly supports your desired outcome. Chances are, it won't be on the résumé.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Taking Ourselves For Granted

Not long ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at an award ceremony honoring the Temporary Staffing Employee of the Year. The recipients were nominated by the staffing firms.

In an effort to personalize the keynote, I requested a copy of the nomination forms so I could read what other people had to say about these remarkable employees. Reading page after page, it was obvious that every one of these people had the three magic qualities: Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness. It was also clear that each person took seriously his or her role as a representative of their respective staffing firm. Given the number of temps who don't always have the best work ethic, this was especially impressive.

As I read each nomination, I was struck by the degree to which each person exceeded expectations. For example, one firm's best temporary employee was Stan, a gentleman in his late 50s or early 60s who relied on his bicycle for transportation. One particularly snowy day, a suburban client had an urgent need for help. Unable to find anyone in the immediate vicinity, the staffing firm called Stan to see if there was any way he could get to the client. Without the slightest hesitation, Stan hopped on his bicycle, rode 20 miles in the snow, and arrived with icicles literally dangling from his beard. Later that day, the astounded and grateful client called the staffing firm to say how impressed they were with Stan's dedication and performance.

Like many of the nominees, Stan received and declined many offers for full-time employment because he enjoyed the opportunity to work for a wide-range of companies. Given the stories I read, the job offers were not surprising. What was surprising was a discovery I made at the ceremony itself.

The day of the ceremony, I arrived early because I was anxious to meet the people behind the stories. As the nominees arrived, I spent well over an hour meeting them and asking questions. Strangely, not one person had any idea why they had been nominated. This wasn't false modesty either. I can spot that a mile away. A few people speculated that their willingness to accept difficult assignments at the last minute may have played some role, but no one could point to a single event that might have captured the attention of the staffing firms or their clients. I found this fascinating because the nominations included story after story of specific situations in which these people made a difference.

This experience, more than almost any other in recent memory, reinforced in my mind the importance of continually asking yourself the question:

What did I do this week that was above and beyond what the average person in this role might do?

To gain any meaningful insight, you have to develop the ability to be objective. You also have to be a keen observer of what other people do and don't do. After all, this is an exercise in comparison. If everyone shared your work ethic, insight, and ability, it wouldn't be special. Since not every has the same standards or performance, you have to know how you compare.

Why is this important?

Two main reasons.

First, your bosses, coworkers, and clients are VERY clear how you compare to other people who have held that position. They may absolutely love you. Or they may think you have a million opportunities for improvement. Whatever the case, they have an opinion. You owe it to yourself to know what that is.

Second, when you have to market yourself for a promotion or a new job, you have to share specific examples of the impact you have had on the business. If the nominees for Temporary Staffing Employee of the Year have difficulty being specific about what makes them special, it is a safe bet that the average person does as well.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

StorySparking: Not Just For Interviews

Earlier this week, I received a call from "Donna", a potential client who wanted help figuring out what her next step should be. Specifically, she was looking for a coach who could help identify career alternatives she hadn't yet considered.

As I talked about my approach, I mentioned the importance of crafting a compelling story and how it goes hand-in-hand with whatever opportunities she might want to explore. At that point, I was genuinely surprised when Donna said:

"I know you're big into the whole interviewing thing. I've spent some time on your website and I know it's a focus of yours. But the truth is, I don't need help interviewing. I'm really good in interviews. I just need help figuring out what to do with my life."

At that moment, I wondered how many other people had the same impression.

When I do sales training workshops, one of the points I emphasize is to treat every objection as a gift. After all, how often do we truly get to see a situation from another person's point-of-view? Too often, people keep their concerns and objections to themselves in an effort to avoid confrontation.

In hindsight, while it was great to hear Donna's thoughts, I may not have probed deeply enough to truly understand what gave her that impression. In any case, it was clear that from a job search perspective, she equated storytelling with interviewing. As it happens, creating a compelling story is the foundation for communication at EVERY step in the process, not just the interview. To see what I mean, let's look at a few of the essential components as it relates to Donna's situation:


To help Donna with her goal of uncovering career options, I want to know the story of how she got where she is now.

- What decisions did she make along the way? Why?
- What were her goals?
- How, when, and why have they changed over time?
- What options has she considered?
- What options has she eliminated?

In other words, to create the next chapter in her story, I need to know all the stories and chapters that came before.

Once we identify the possibilities, it will be time to explore. As Donna learns more about each opportunity, she will need to compare the story of how each position might play out given her existing interests, skills, and experiences. Like it or not, she is not a blank slate. She has preferences and attitudes based on where she has been and how she feels about it. In other words, Donna will need to compare the story of each possible futures to see how it fits with the story that has brought her to this point.


Like most clients, networking will be a great way for Donna to learn more about other career options. Here again, having a compelling story is important. People don't like to have their time wasted. Nor are they likely to make a connection for someone without a strong Reason To Believe they aren't taking a risk.

Simply put, to get help from the right people at the right time, Donna will have to make sure everyone is clear she is worth helping. The best, and perhaps only, way to communicate this is through her story.


After she determines what her next step will be, Donna have to tell her story in a résumé. Unfortunately, if she is like most job hunters, this is also the place it is least likely to come across.

Rather than go on for pages about why most résumés are ineffective, consider the difference between a generic laundry list of responsibilities (a typical résumé), and a document that gets the reader to think: "Wow. If she can do that for them, just think what she could do for me." Very few résumés ever achieve the latter. (If you are interested in learning more, download my Special Report, "The Secrets of Effective Résumés").


Although most people miss this opportunity completely, one of the best places for Donna to tell her story will be the cover letter. Why? Because a cover letter can communicate something that no résumé can: Passion.

Explaining why a particular career is the Next Logical Step in Donna's professional development is a great start, but it's not enough. She has to convince potential employers she will find it exciting and energizing. For this reason, Passion is one of the three most important qualities she can communicate. In case you are curious, Initiative and Resourcefulness (an umbrella category including Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking, Idea Generation, etc.) are the others.


While it should be obvious that the interview is one of the most important opportunities Donna will have to share her story, she may not go deep enough. Most people don't. Worse, they leave everything up to chance. How? Because they don't have a strategy. In other words, they approach the interview thinking:

"This person is going to ask me questions. My job is to do the best I can to answer them. I hope this goes well."

Hope is not a strategy.

To succeed, Donna will have to approach every interview knowing the stories she needs to share. If she takes the time to create a checklist of stories relevant to the position, she can be much more creative in how she answers the questions. She can also buy time at the end to share whatever stories weren't covered by the interviewer's questions.

Remember, stories have value only when they are shared.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it a bit more bluntly when he said, "Not to transmit an experience is to betray it."


People don't always think about it, but stories are also important in negotiation. For Donna, the stories will be the evidence, the Reasons To Believe, she is worth whatever additional compensation or benefits she seeks. For this to work, her story must be directly related to the value she can bring to the organization. If she doesn't provide evidence (her story), she isn't likely to achieve the results she wants.

These are just a few of the ways Donna's story has value at EVERY stage in the process. But it's not just true for Donna. It's true for you as well.