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

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.