The Workplace Workforce Inventory

As an individual, you should know your strengths and areas for improvement. These become essential when it comes to applying for a new job, making your case for a raise, competing for advancement or making your case for a lateral move into a new role. If you don’t know yourself well enough to accurately articulate your core assets, this my friend, is a major liability to which you are possibly unaware.

Now think beyond yourself; think of the broader workplace in which you contribute your skills, education and experience. Think of the other employees; your co-workers, and the talents they bring. If you look objectively at those around you, you’ll likely identify certain employees who are standouts in certain areas; people generally known to be the on-site experts in certain aspects of the organization. These are the ‘go-to’ people when specific problems and challenges arise. These are the ones recognized by most as having special skills, knowledge and advanced expertise.

In addition to skills, experience and education, there are other assets which people have in varying quantities. Softer skills such as attitude, work ethic, punctuality and attendance, genuine affinity for teamwork, leaders in action if not title and interpersonal skills. As you read each of these, perhaps certain people in your organization come to mind as the best examples; maybe you even see yourself has being at the forefront in a few areas.

Okay, now it’s not my job or yours in fact to actually put together a summary of the workforce in the organizations we work for. However, this is precisely what great organizations do, and they do it on a continuous basis. When an employer intimately knows the strengths of their workforce on an everyday basis, this knowledge positions them well to add whatever dimensions they believe they both want and lack when the individual pieces – you and I – move on or move out. Organizations that don’t assess the status of their workforces on a continuous basis are more reactionary when staffing needs arise, having then to make decisions about what they are lacking and need when time is pressing.

So how does this impact on you when you’re working as one of the front-line employees? Excellent question to ask and in answer let me ask you a question. How closely does how you perceive yourself align with how you are perceived by Senior Management? If the way you see yourself is mirrored by how decision-makers see you AND this is an overly positive assessment, you’re in good shape.

However, when the way you perceive yourself is not a shared view by others who are in decision-making roles with respect to staffing, you’d be wise to give this matter some attention now while you’ve the time to address things.

Suppose you see yourself as a team player. You can cite many examples from your experience where you have been involved in committees, projects and even covered the workload of absent co-workers. You assess yourself as I say, as a team player. Perhaps you’d find it surprising to learn however that your employer has been approached by several of your co-workers over the past year who have voiced concerns that while your part of these committees and projects, you actually contribute very little. Some might go so far as to say you’re more concerned with having your name attached to successful teams than actually putting in the work contributing to that team’s success. You’ve really been identified as more of a coat-tail rider. This causes the employer to recall the times when you’ve been asked to cover for absent co-workers and while you do it in the end, there’s always an unwelcome discussion to be had getting you to pitch in.

Now honestly, very few people who would benefit from checking in with how they are perceived by others actually ask for such feedback. Some don’t care what others think of them (as long as they get paid to work), and some are perceptive enough to guess that they aren’t going to like what they might hear.

Here’s the thing though: whether you check on how you are perceived or you don’t, you’re still being evaluated and assessed for your attitude, work ethic, strengths you bring to the team, shortcomings, etc. You are assessed by co-workers, Supervisors and/or Upper Management just as you assess their strengths and areas you see for improvement in them.

You can help yourself to keep the job you have now as well as position yourself for your next challenge in an organization if you give these matters some serious attention. Starting with a co-worker you feel will give you some honest feedback and generally be positive, ask them to share how they see you. Don’t get defensive, be a listener and express appreciation for their opinion. Now repeat this with some others, and include the boss.

What you don’t want to do is put this off until how others see you is cemented in any kind of negative way. If enough people tell you they see you in ways you don’t, you’ve got a choice to either carry on and not care, or make the necessary changes to how you go about your work day to alter their perception, bringing theirs more in line with how you wish to be seen.

May your work days be good days.

Learn New Skills On The Job

It’s wise to know when to take on more responsibility in your workplace and when to let those opportunities pass you by. I suppose what it boils down to is making sure you can take on new tasks that require expanding what you know without your present workload and performance standards suffering.

There will always be those who never voluntarily take on anything new, never volunteer to do anything more than they’ve done for years, and can’t understand why any of their co-workers would either if those new responsibilities don’t come with money attached.

Conversely, there are those who prior to mastering existing skills and performing their current roles to the best of their abilities are already clamoring for more.

It is as I say, wise to first master what you’ve now been assigned and then start looking at what else might be available. Often, those other things that might be available involve stretching yourself a bit; perhaps in your knowledge and skills, perhaps in your time commitments and your ability to multi-task.

Surely you’ve got people who come to mind who seem on the fast track in your workplace? You know, the ones who barely are into a job who then are already submitting applications and resumes for positions they know are promotions? The go-getters; the ladder-climbers. They’ve got ambition and they spend much of their time in the workplace networking with anyone they see as advancing their own careers. They smile often, might be taking some classes in school outside of their full-time jobs, and they’ve got favour with people in senior positions in ways you can only guess at.

Nothing right or wrong by the way for those that work hard to accelerate their own careers. For them, it may indeed be the right thing to be doing. A mistake you and I might make would be to judge them for their actions; which is odd because that is precisely what many people suggest isn’t it? Judging people for what they do not what they say.

You see, you and I, we might be very content in the jobs we have. We might one day hope to advance, look to get a promotion or two ourselves. Could be that we figure it takes time to fully comprehend and master the job we now do. Quite often how a job is performed in January isn’t how the job is done in December of the same year. It can take time in our opinion to really master all the fine points of the position and have that expertise.

Some however see things different. Yes, unlike you or I, they might have only taken a job as a stepping stone to the next one or the one after that. So mastering a job isn’t something they have any real investment in. No, they might only want a general knowledge of one job and be able to do it satisfactorily or maybe even well before they can move on. Their goal and your goal might be decidedly different. What’s important to note is that this is okay.

Now on the other end of the spectrum is the co-worker who has been at their job for decades with apparently no interest or motivation to move up or even laterally into another position. In some organizations this is frowned on. These organizations might indeed hope to leverage all that knowledge and ability by moving it around and bringing that person into regular contact with others where they can mentor or share what they’ve mastered. The companies that do this might even be concerned that they don’t want a person to grow listless and bored and then want to leave and take all their performance expertise with them.

You and I could look at them and just shake our heads and wonder at such people, wondering how on earth they could come in and do the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year for what seems like forever without new stimulation and new responsibilities. Yet again, we’re all different and motivated in different ways – and that’s a good thing.

I believe however that it’s impossible to know with certainty how you’ll actually feel 5, 10, 15 years down the road and what you’ll want to do – whether it’s to take on a new role or stay with what you’ve got. Of importance is putting yourself in a place to take advantage of future opportunities should they arise if we choose to do so; and this often means seizing training and stretching yourself to learn new things. After all, stay in a job for a length of time and you’ll likely know it very well. If you continue to love it and do it well then good for you. However if you decide at some point you need a change and you’ve not taken advantage of learning new things, you might find your position is the ceiling; you’re stuck and can’t move because they need the skills you lack. This is when you might experience regret over your decisions of the past.

As we have seen and continue to see these days, new jobs crop up all the time. Sometimes its existing jobs with obscure, fancy new titles. Sometimes however, the job is indeed new and could hold real excitement. Good for us if we’re in a position to go for it!

Career Planning Vs. Happenstance

You’re going about forging your career path and personal reputation in one of two ways; by design or by happenstance. Which is it?

If you go about your career and building your personal reputation by happenstance you get points for being genuine and authentic, but you score low on forward-thinking, long-term planning and most importantly putting yourself in a position to seize opportunities you want as they arise. People who come into contact with you in your business or work life will form opinions of you based on their interactions with you and by observing your actions with others.

Now that’s not bad actually; people forming their opinions of you based on your actions. However, with little forethought for future planning, you may be viewed as perfect for the job you currently hold while on the downside not being seen as having upward potential within an organization. The next job or two on the career ladder no doubt require additional skills and subtle changes in behaviour, thinking and/or actions, and you may not be communicating to others that you have the additional skills, motivation, leadership etc. that is required.

If we turn and look at forging your career path and personal reputation or branding by design, how you go about things changes.

Take a Lion Tamer in the circus. You and I might not intimately know the person but we can imagine the job and the job description; essentially demonstrate to the audience how you can direct the Lion to do certain things and do it safely while appearing to do so with a great deal of danger and risk. Wow them with entertainment and survive the encounter with the ferocious King of the Jungle!

Okay, a little dramatic but that’s essentially the job. For a time, the Lion Tamer may be happy and content to play the role from town to town, from month to month, even year to year. At some point, the Lion Tamer might say to her or himself, “Is this all there is? I want to do more.”

The others who surround him in the circus may look at him as simply, The Lion Tamer. She or he’s been doing it for years, they do a great job of it and they’ve built a reputation so well amongst their peers that no one sees them as doing – let alone wanting to do – anything else. What then of the ambitions of the Lion Tamer who grows increasingly hungry for a change? Maybe they want to take on a role as Master of Ceremonies or Business Manager for the circus. Suddenly those around her or him are challenged to see the person who is the Lion Tamer in a different light. This can be a huge challenge if they’ve never seen or been exposed to seeing the Lion Tamer any other way.

What if however, the person who tames the lions indicated an interest in learning the business side of the Circus and routinely split her/his time between working with the big cats and on  their own time read business publications and journals, befriended the Accountant, talked long into the night over drinks with the current Business Manager and saw what went into moving the Circus from town to town with audiences lined up and ready to invest their entertainment dollars.

If the Lion Tamer got around to applying to be the Business Manager down the road, it wouldn’t come as a surprise because those around him would say, “Not a surprise. We all saw it coming. Good for her/him, we’re in good hands!”

Okay enough about Lion Tamers. (Why Lion Tamers came into my head this morning is beyond me.) What about you? You might be pretty good in your job; maybe we could go as far as saying you are wonderful in your job. At some point it’s conceivable that no matter how happy and challenged you are, you just might want an additional challenge, an increase in responsibilities and pay, or a shift in your responsibilities.

Does that make sense to you? I think most of you will agree the job you’re in now isn’t the job you want to retire from; depending of course where you are on the age scale. Now then is the time to start doing a little forward thinking. What positions within the organization can you identify that might be of interest to you personally? Would applying for those positions be something you’d like to do this year, next year, 1-3 years from now? What can and should you do therefore to position yourself to take advantage of the opening when it comes about?

Positioning yourself is done in two ways; ensuring you gain the skills and qualifications to apply with confidence and ensuring others in the organization perceive you as having the interest, skills, qualifications and personal fit for the role. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can acquire the skills and qualifications alone and advance. It’s often who in the organization knows you and sees you as being a strong candidate.

You might want to have a low-key conversation with your Supervisor and express your long-term organizational goals. Maybe you ask for learning opportunities, temporary assignments, mentorship, additional training etc. Maybe a conversation with someone in Human Resources would be helpful or with your bosses permission, an introductory meeting with someone in the role you’re after to get their insights.


“There’s A Dead Guy In The Cubicle Next To Me!”

“Well okay, he looks dead anyhow; I haven’t seen him move for days.”

You and I had best hope that dead body look-alike someone is frantic about isn’t you. If so, your days might be numbered. Sooner or later, if you’re hiding out behind that baffle board doing precious little, someone is going to figure they can do without you on the payroll.

Now okay you might not be mistaken for a corpse, but if you think you’re fooling those around you when you’re not being productive, it’s only a matter of time until you’re found out and your productivity is called into question. The cobwebs in your cubicle are also a dead giveaway that not much is going on.

Some employees are pretty good at smoke and mirrors aren’t they? I mean they tend to move with purpose when they are observed walking around the office; even if upon further inspection it’s only to the bathroom or the company kitchen to grab yet another coffee. Once back in the relative sanctity of their cubicle however, they drop the façade and move at a glacial snails pace as they go about their day. Such employees do just enough to get by, contribute very little and try to stay beneath the radar of Management scrutiny until they are released into the world after work.

Now let’s stop and think about this behaviour for a moment. When you were setting out in your early years of adulthood; when you had ambition and dreams, wanted to make your mark in the world, surely you didn’t methodically plan to spend your days idly daydreaming and doing the bare minimum. Hopefully you set out to do something you personally found meaningful and rewarding. So the question is, “Where did that person go?”

Something over time has occurred that has you mechanically going through the motions of going to and from work each day and you’ve lost your motivation. You may be more than aware of this change but for some reason you can’t seem to ignite that passion anymore for the work you do and the people you do it for. As much as you’d like to kick start the fire, you’re oblivious as to how to go about it.

Heed the signs sons and daughters. Continuing down the path you’re on isn’t going to be healthy or end on a positive. Either  you find something to stimulate yourself at work in a positive way that ups your productivity and usefulness on the job or someone will do you and the company a favour and start the proceedings to end your employment. Put plain as day, you either start working and producing at your former level or better, or you’re going to get fired.

I know some people who dogged it; coming and going without any passion. They once showed enthusiasm for the job and now they only show enthusiasm for the last 20 minutes of the day and are sitting with their coat on with 5 minutes left each day, ready to squeal away in the parking lot putting as much distance behind them as fast as they can each night. On their own they’d never have quit or worked productively again and eventually they did get fired. Oddly enough, getting fired was the best thing for some of them and they’d readily tell you that – even though at the time they didn’t believe it.

There are among us those who are proactive and those who are reactive. The proactive people think ahead, update their resumes even when they aren’t looking for work and they’ve got plans for advancement or change. The reactive types only update resumes when they are out of work, and only think about career planning when they are forced to by the changes and pressures they experience in their lives.

“Why”, they would say, “should I bother to update my resume when I’ve got a job and I’m not looking for another one?” They figure they can always update that resume when they decide to go for another job inside or outside the organization, but because they have no date in mind, they figure they’ve got all the time they need. When it comes to taking courses, updating expired certificates or skills, once again they smirk and say, “Why bother?”

Another thing to consider is that if you aspire in any way to advance in the organization you work with now, you should be visible and for the right reasons long before you dust off your resume and apply for a new job. You don’t want to be invisible and have your boss say, “Do you still work here?” when you finally get motivated and want to be interviewed for a promotion.

One last thing and it has to do with your co-workers. Co-workers often pick up cues from their peers quickly. If you’re not picking up your share of the load and you should be, you’ll only have yourself to blame if you feel isolated from the rest. Worse case scenario is that they resent your presence because their workloads increase; and ultimately word will get passed to Management. Don’t blame them if they’re doing their job and picking up your slack too. That’s not fair and certainly it’s going to become more difficult for you to regain their trust and respect.


How To Get Ahead In The Organization

Not all of us are bound for glory at the top of the organization. Quite frankly, not all of us value being at the top at all. For those however who do want to rise from the rank of the entry-level, there are a few things you can do that will increase your opportunities of moving up. Identify your goal. Rather than letting fate determine where you end up, look at the organizational chart where you work.

Name the job. Identify what for you is be the ideal position to be in that would make use of your skills and satisfy your desire to be in a position that you’re happiest. You’ll do this throughout your career by the way, so if you identify a position that’s really three or four moves away, look closest at the move one up from where you are now in that sequence of upward movement.

Check your skill set. It could be that you’ve already got all the requisite skills required of the job you identified in the step above. If you do, wonderful; you’re positioned to apply with confidence if and when that position becomes available. If however you can identify skills and qualifications you lack at the moment, you’ll be happy to know that although you’re lacking, you have made an important discovery. Now is the time to start looking into how you can acquire what you need. Is it a course, a certificate or degree program? Is it leadership on the job in some kind of project?

Establish a timeframe. This step requires you to realistically step back and look at where you are and where you intend to be and accurately measure the time between the present and arriving where you plan to be. This is a crucial step not to be overlooked. While you can’t predict perhaps when someone will vacate the position they now occupy that you covet, you can make some educated guesses. How long for example has the person been in the job? What’s their age? Talk to them and find out their plans by taking an interest in their career path. Is your company contracting or expanding?

Share your vision. If you’ve got the kind of employer that values succession planning and whom takes a real sincere interest in employee development, share your goals with your supervisor. The boss is in a position to get on board with your plans and can approve training opportunities that will give you the necessary skills that you determined earlier you lack. It could also be that the boss knows more than you do about other employee’s plans and while they are unlikely to share that information for reasons of confidentiality, they can give you good advice on what to do now so you’re ready when the time comes.

Network. This step is often the one that people grumble about. Not sure really why that is, but if you don’t warm to the word, ‘network’ than how about converse, talk, engage, mingle etc. Don’t let the word stop you from doing what is essentially just getting to know and be known by the people who may be in the best position to help you in your career moves.

Be authentic. Can you spot a phony? Sure you can. Don’t be the woman or man who is the office bootlicker. If you flatter others in a disingenuous way, you’ll be pegged a mile off. You don’t have to tell people of influence that they look amazing every day or that you soooo admire them and every decision they make. Do this and you set yourself up to be used and abused. You’ll be known as such an obvious step climber that you’ll be given the worst jobs to do that nobody wants just because in your mind it will look good so you’ll do them without complaint or objection.

Put in the time. Not always, but typically speaking, those that contribute more of their own time beyond what they have to, advance. When you put in extra time you’re sending out the message that by your actions you’re committed. If you are putting in this time and being authentic about it, (see the point above), you’ll probably be doing so at some point because you care and you want results. While more time alone doesn’t mean you do better work or achieve better results, it does send the message that the company is important to you, and you’re not above investing yourself in its success

Get feedback. You need to know fairly early and often how you are perceived by others. Seek out some honest opinions about how your personality and character fit with what the organization is looking for. You may have all the skills and qualifications for a job, but if you get denied it again and again, it’s likely that you’re not seen as a good fit for other reasons. When you ask for feedback make sure you listen more than you speak, and take the feedback openly. If you get defensive and argue about that feedback, people will dry up and fail to give you what you really need most; honest feedback.

Like I said, not all of us want to move up in the companies we work for. Positioning yourself now to take advantage of future opportunities is wise advice though.



Authenticity, Perception And Reputation

When the person you are is the person people think you are.

We hear a lot today about reputations, self-branding, marketing etc. So many people, (and I’m one of them), encourage the idea of self-branding; where you think consciously about who you are and the image you want to project to those you come into contact with.

And companies? Companies are always marketing themselves and their products and services, striving to ensure that the quality and consistency of those messages with each interaction backs up and reinforces the identity of the company behind them. Every time the customer has a good experience the reputation grows and solidifies; and the reverse is equally true if the experience is poor, the reputation erodes and crumbles.

The same is true when people interact with you and then compare this interaction with what they previously knew or thought of you. With this latest experience, those we interact with judge whether what they’ve experience runs counter to their expectations or perhaps reinforced what they expected; i.e. authenticity.

What you should be striving to achieve is a consistent brand where people can be assured that the experience they have with you in the future can be reasonably predictable. When this is the case, people understand and rely on this identity; they not only come to expect that same consistent experience themselves, but they pass on your name and reputation with it to their friends and contacts.

Here’s the thing to remember; if someone has a good experience with you, they leave satisfied because their expectations were met and whatever they anticipated was realized. If on the other hand, their expectations of you fell short, you expose yourself to two liabilities; they themselves may not give you a second chance to deliver, and your reputation as unreliable and inconsistent may be spread to others.

If and when your reputation takes a hit, you have two choices: a) do nothing about it, b) work hard to restore that reputation. If you look around you, you’ll see examples of people and businesses that don’t do much of anything when it comes to damage control. They dismiss the person who didn’t have a good experience as an annoyance, and concentrate on the next customer; the next sale.

Other companies do stop and address the dissatisfied customer or client. They go out of their way to ask, “What can we do to make it up to you?” This is their attempt at really asking, “What can we do to restore our good reputation because you matter to us.”

Like a business, you and I – we have our reputations to build and take responsibility for. When you think of your status in your workplace and look at things objectively, what is your reputation? Are you dependable, creative, sensitive, kind, overbearing, manipulative, approachable, hard-nosed, hard-working, fun? Are you the Jokester, the Leader, the Steamroller or the Fountain of Inspiration?

Depending on how you want to be perceived and how you actually are perceived, you have likewise two choices, a) work to keep your current branding or b) work harder to change how you are perceived so that how you are perceived matches the way you wish to be perceived.

Look, suppose you notice someone going about their work in a different way; taking things a little more seriously, acting responsibly, watching their language a little closer. You don’t have to be an expert in Human Behaviour studies to see that something is up. Could be that the person has aspirations of applying for a promotion in the near future and they’ve been told that unless they show some development and increased responsibility they’ll never get a chance. So what have they done? They’ve adopted some changes which they hope will change how they are perceived, and by continued practice of this change in behaviour, they hope to match the typical qualities of people successfully picked for promotion in the past.

As humans, we evolve and change; we mature, our priorities change, our outlook on things alters and with all of these shifts, it’s only natural that we may want different things at different points in our lives. We may start off ambitious, put in the overtime and work with zeal. Possibly we get comfortable and settle in to our titles, then grow restless later and feel we’re up for more challenges and more money to go along with them. Later, we might re-evaluate and ease back on the driving force we once had and then ride off into retirement.

As people come and go in our professional lives along our own journey, they will perceive us based on what they learn about us when they meet us. Meet us when we’re hungry and working with drive and hunger for more and more and we’ll be tagged that way. Come to know us as we are rounding out our career and they may see us as laid back, set in our ways, going through the motions.

If you feel you’re being perceived as too young or too old, first evaluate what about you is giving off those vibes; creating that branding. It’s not just the gray hair nor the remnants of teenage acne. It’s how we move, talk, act, behave etc.; all part of how we are perceived.

Change if you wish how others perceive you to fit with how you wish to be perceived.


Update Your Resume Now

I sure hope you don’t read this and say to yourself, “The guy makes a lot of sense, people should update their resumes; but I personally don’t need to.” I’m addressing this to you; if you have grown comfortable and stagnant in your current job and the last thing you think possible is that you might soon be looking for work.

So you’re working and you’ve been there for some time now. Could be that it’s between 4 to 20 years let’s say, and you seldom if ever think seriously about having to look for another job. Why on earth would it be good for you to update your resume? Wouldn’t that just be a lot of work for no immediately obvious reason? So why bother?

The most obvious reason of course is that you are involuntarily added to the ranks of the unemployed. Whether its your company moving in a new direction, downsizing, cutting it’s workforce, picking up and moving to another city or country where wages are lower, or you find yourself fired, you’re out of work. In any of these situations, you’re going to spend some time (short for some, longer for others) in a state of shock and denial. This stage is not the best time to be intelligently putting together your resume. You’re not going to produce your best.

You may also find that your old resume is locked securely in your desk drawers at work, and you no longer have access to it. All those dates, training courses you’ve taken, certificates you earned; oh how much easier it would be to recall them all if you could just browse your file where you kept that information. You may eventually get that information, but it means contacting the employer or HR, and you’re just too angry to do that with grace and class.

On the positive side, let’s assume you don’t lose your position. In fact, let’s go in the other direction and view you working with a proactive Supervisor who takes an active interest in their immediate employees. He or she comes to you and talks about wanting to help you grow and re-ignite that desire for self-improvement. You look at potential opportunities together and realize there are some positions in the organization that you hadn’t previously considered and now want to apply to. You’re going to need a decent resume and in short order. So much easier if the resume is fairly up to date to start with.

Now these are but two kinds of situations you might find yourself in. Others might be that while the organization as a whole is going to stay solvent, the department you are in is penciled in for dismantling. Move quickly and make a lateral move or risk being out on the street. What about a physical move to another city by your spouse requiring you too to journey to another location where you have to look for a new job? Yes, that too would be so much easier with a resume already relatively current.

But I suspect that you are still clinging to the notion that this is a good idea for others but not for you. I for one sincerely hope you don’t find yourself looking back and chastising yourself for not heeding such advice while you had the luxury of time.

While resume construction isn’t something that gets people all excited, it does make a lot of sense to do, even if just to remind you what you’ve done, achieved and the scope of the skills you’ve used and now possess. Do it well and you’ll look at yourself on that marketing document and feel pretty good about yourself. Let a co-worker seemingly see it by chance and you can have some fun with the rumour mills in your workplace too as they whisper to everyone that you must be moving on even if you’ve got no plans to do so!

Still, this advice is like telling someone to set aside a fund for their next car when they’ve only had the current car for six months. “Yes, good idea but I’ll worry about that in the future”. Let’s hope that car you’re driving now lasts and you do start that fund soon so you don’t find yourself having no money to put down on the next one because you never got around to it.

Remember you don’t have to do your resume in one shot. You can start with your contact information which only takes a few moments. You can gather all your certificates from the folder in your desk or look at the walls if you mounted them there and get the proper names of courses and the all important dates.

You could start with your current job description or get a current one from HR and then write down the things you’ve accomplished in your job or are in the process of accomplishing. What kind of impact are you having on the bottom line or the people you work for?

So my challenge is for you to take action now and start working on your CV or resume. Make a copy and take it home so it’s accessible no matter what. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities, news, forthcoming changes etc. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you’re scrambling. Few people do their best work under such pressure!






How To Avoid Getting Stuck In A Job

There are two ways to avoiding getting stuck; one is to plan ahead, and the other is to take a different course of action once you are stuck so you don’t continue to remain stuck and can proceed.

Consider just for a moment a vehicle approaching a wet and muddy dirt road. A wise driver sizes up the road if it must be traveled at all, and keeps his or her eyes well ahead to best aim for the high and drier sections, avoiding the deep ruts, the puddles of unknown depths. If the vehicle does get stuck, instead of sitting there just spinning the tires again and again, the prudent driver gets out, wedges something like small branches under the tires if nothing else is available, and uses this new traction to move the vehicle.

Now apply this same logic and scenario to your present situation. Surely you’ve heard of people being stuck in a job, feeling like they are going nowhere. Most of the time, I have found through conversation that few of those people bothered to really look ahead to see what was down the road. In fact, with no long-distance view or planning, they accepted a job and were quite happy at the time, only to stall and grown discontented with their work. So what went wrong?

Using the same analogy as the vehicle, what really happened was short-sighted planning. The person found out about the job, did a little research, landed the interview after applying, sold the interviewer on them, accepted the job offer and then got so hung up on doing the daily stuff that they neglected to keep on working for the future. The result of course is that the person has the necessary skills and knowledge to do the present job, but hasn’t put together a plan of further training that will allow them to compete for advancement. They stopped looking down the road for higher ground.

Now feeling stuck in a job going nowhere, the solution is essentially the same as the vehicle stuck in the rut. If all you do is come to work and do the requirements of the job you have now, you’re spinning your tires and learning nothing new, and hence are not putting yourself in a position to successfully advance. However, like getting out to wedge some small branches under the tires, you can gain traction in your future by pausing to put some things in place now that will ultimately advance your career.

So how do you get started on a practical basis? Well, first look at positions in your present company that interest you. These positions are primarily higher up on the organizational chart, but consider lateral moves too. A move that keeps you at the same line on the salary grid but gives you additional experience and provides a change might be just what you need at present. Okay so now looking at these positions, get a hold of the job description and see what the requirements are in terms of skills, knowledge, experience etc.

As a first step, you know now what is required and can gauge how you are presently positioned to compete if there was a job opening today. If you find that you are missing a few things, the next logical step would be to determine how you can go about acquiring those skills and experience. And it’s not always a return to school that is the answer. Sometimes it’s displaying leadership which you could obtain by taking on a project or volunteering to chair some committee.

Another thing you should do is communicate to your immediate supervisor that you have an interest in a specific position if the opportunity should present itself. This can be done in a very non-threatening way if you communicate that you are doing some long-range planning. Avoid stating how unhappy you are at present, or that you are considering an imminent departure. You want their support and guidance not their lack of trust and suspicion, so why not ask for their advice and suggestions on how best to advance? Communicate that you admire how they themselves are in a position of leadership for example, and get them on board with you.

When you have a goal of obtaining a different position, be it in the near or distant future, it’s also a good idea to put some kind of time frame on that goal. Is it a six month plan, a one year plan or a two-year plan. I personally don’t like looking too far beyond three years, as too many variables can affect that planning. Decide what’s right for you personally.

Next thing to do is put in place some shorter term objectives that will as you reach them, signal to you and your boss if you have shared these, that you are advancing; things are on track, and your ultimate goal is getting closer. This is also great for your mind if you otherwise feel stagnated, trapped, stuck and unchallenged. Yes this is some work on top of coasting along doing what you normally do, but you want something different right? Keep focused on why you’re doing the extra work in the first place – you want to become unstuck!

Job shadow someone in the job now, set up a lunch meeting. How bad do you really want to advance?

Working The Christmas Party

Even though the economy is tough and money overall is tighter, perhaps your company still has some form of a Christmas party or gathering. If you are wise, you’d do well to remember that even though the party is outside official company hours, the opportunities for advancing or limiting your career are present are very much ‘on’ and real from the time you walk into the room until you are back home again when it’s over. Odd then that so many people act and behave as if the person they are at work, and the person they are at a Christmas party are not connected.

You’ll usually find that there are some surprises at social gatherings. Some take parties as a chance to dress up and pull out suits and dresses closer to formal wear. They shock their co-workers who see them at the party as suddenly glamorous, handsome and attractive. All of a sudden that guy in the mailroom you thought was invisible, the boss you think is too highly strung, or the clerk who you thought would be better suited to a library job, looks stunning. The boundaries seem less defined at a party; the alcohol, the dancing, the music, the social interaction; put it all together and you may forget quickly that tomorrow these same people will all revert back to the people you work with daily.

And if you should happen to meet Cinderella at the ball, you won’t have to look far across a country to find her Monday morning, she may well be sitting at the next cubicle. That close proximity could be extremely uncomfortable if you behaved in a way that was not welcomed. The possibility of course is that your behaviour was one hundred percent welcomed at the time too, but in the reality of the fluorescent lighting of the workplace, one or both of you wish whatever happened hadn’t. Awkward.

Social functions can be great places to network and while I’m not saying you should be making the rounds with your business cards in hand passing them round, they can be places where you can make a good impression over a few hours in a way you simply can’t in the regular workplace. Here you can show off your social skills, your interpersonal strengths, maybe in a way your position doesn’t allow on a daily basis. Say you are a crossing guard, you collect recycling and waste, you paint lines on roads; these jobs are largely isolating, and you seldom run into other employees at all, let alone ones that might take notice of you. The party could just possibly give you the opportunity to meet people you’d otherwise not, and form the basis of a relationship that could help your career.

Days or weeks after any gathering, you could possibly contact those you’ve met at a Christmas party, and drop off a, ‘nice to have met you at the Christmas party’ note, or possibly set up a further meeting. Those good at networking know that networking is all about building and nurturing relationships. Business often gets done at gatherings, or sets up future business. And if you act in bad taste, your poor interpersonal skills can seriously damage relationships, and turn people off from doing business with you.

Think about the water cooler gossip the first day back at work before you even leave for the party. What would you like people to be talking about if your name came up? The sexy red dress with the long slit, how you can’t handle your alcohol intake, the slap you got from patting the bosses bum? Or would you like them to talk about how great you looked, how much you laughed and had a good time, how terrific you looked with your makeup? “Usually shy at work but get her out from behind that desk and she’s got people skills this company could use!”

Not everyone looks forward to social gatherings with co-workers. You may be the center of attention at work, highly sociable and extroverted, but at an unstructured party where the rules of engagement have changed, you’re suddenly socially awkward. The expectation that others have of you may not be your reality, and you may be the person who leaves earliest, shuns interaction and wants to revert to the sidelines. While nothing you are doing is overtly damaging, it isn’t helping your cause to be there and not in the spotlight where others expect you’d be. “What’s wrong with Matt? Not having a good time?”

Christmas parties are equally important for the unemployed. Maybe you’re going as the spouse of an employee, or you’re attending a community Christmas party. All these dances, parties, and get-togethers, whether at someone’s home or a restaurant rented for the occasion are opportunities to kick-start your career or get to know someone who might pass your name on to someone else who is hiring. Be on your best behaviour, have a good time, but act in a way that you have nothing to regret when it’s over.

And a word if you are attending a function of your significant others too. Just because you don’t know more than one or two people at a party, doesn’t mean your partner’s reputation is completely isolated from your behaviour. Avoid arguments tomorrow when you’ve got a bad hangover and can’t remember doing or saying things that hurt their career, make their job uncomfortable moving forward, and limit their career.

Here’s to you!

Getting Together For A Chat

Being out of work, you might not be in a position to come up with a great deal of money and go to a lot of networking events that require registration. And even if you are employed and wanting to expand your networking skills, you may not have the desire to shell out a hundred dollars to go to some conference where you can network for a few straight days. So what to do?

Well, do you have $5.00 or less? If you do, one of the easiest things is to call up some of your connections, references, colleagues or business partners and suggest the two of you meet for a cup of coffee or tea at a local bistro. It could go something like this; “Hello Jim? Hi it’s Kelly Mitchell, how are you? Listen I’ve been wanting to call to ask if you would you be willing to meet one day next week over lunch? I’m doing some career research and planning and I’d value your input and thoughts.”

Do you think you have the assertiveness to pick up the phone, call a contact of yours and say something like that? What’s the best that could happen? Or the other hand, are you worried about what’s the worst that could happen? So you meet and bring along a copy of your latest resume and cover letter for a job you either want now, or recently applied for. Maybe you even have a posting for a job or jobs you recently applied for.

In the conversation above, by stating that you value the person’s feedback – and you should – you stand a greater chance of meeting face-to-face. When you do meet, you’ve got to get the ball rolling and then do your best to do a minimal amount of talking so you can get the feedback you asked for. They may have questions that will prompt you to answer and move the discussion along. This isn’t the time to get your nose out-of-joint and defend yourself if you end up being given constructive criticism, nor is it a time to dismiss suggestions for action because you aren’t willing to do things suggested.

Best to have a pen and paper handy and jot down any names and phone numbers you are provided with as future contacts, a daily agenda of some sort to fill in a date etc. If you did bring along your resume or a short portfolio of your work, be prepared to give it away to your contact. Leaving it in their hands is a good way to prompt them to keep you in mind. Maybe you’ll get an offer for a subsequent meeting when they’ve had time to critique it, or they pass it on to someone they know who you might be a good fit with. Who knows?

Presumably you’re paying for your lunch and they are paying for theirs. While they might have a sandwich and soup plus a tea or coffee, you’ve opted for a tea. So you’re spending up to 60 minutes with a colleague at a cost of $1.80. Not a bad investment.

Another strategy that some people employ is to arrange such a meeting and forward your resume and some questions in writing in advance of your meeting. This may result in a more productive meeting where feedback is forthcoming immediately. “Hi Kelly, good to see you again. I’ve looked over the information you passed my way, and I have some thoughts on how to improve things.” If you sit down with this scenario, your job is to primarily listen, consider and respond to questions posed. If you do most of the talking over the hour you are together, it’s not going to be all that helpful when you reflect back later on what you’ve got out of it.

What is essential in these meetings is to ensure you express honest appreciation for the person’s time and their unbiased feedback. However, it is entirely unrealistic to expect that person to tell you what you should do to get your career on track. You are you, they are someone else. What’s right for you isn’t what would be right for them, and I know I’m careful not to tell others what they should do, but suggestions are usually welcome.

Of course these networking meetings can be even more useful for those currently employed. Getting up the nerve to call a colleague you haven’t met face-to-face before but know through LinkedIn, or maybe your company directory can be equally or more beneficial. It could go, “Hello Brenda? Kelly Mitchell here. We’re connected via LinkedIn. I was hoping I might be able to arrange a face-to-face meeting say over coffee or tea, to introduce myself in-person and get perhaps network a little. Would you be open to that?”

Your conversation might be something akin to what I’ve suggested in this blog. You may of course have other words that better fit with your personality. I suggest these for those folks who tell me, “I wouldn’t know how to begin or what to say”. Relax, it’s just a conversation and it’s not aggressive or threatening. Go on the proactive and you’ll see how easy it becomes to be thought of by others as networking savvy!