I want to help career seekers like you, who might feel stuck or not working to your fullest potential. I was there once, and I was open to do the work on my “internal network.” The internal network revealed my innermost strengths, passions, and skills. Then the ideas that formed were more easily matched with real positions.
I offer tips on how to tap into your Inner Network and your external network. I will guide you to create the right networking tools, resume, and LinkedIn profile. Remember, only about 15% of job seekers get a job by sending in a resume. So the focus has to be on the other ways, which is through who you know.
When you can take a clear picture to your network of what you want and would be good at, you’ll find ways into the “back door,” which enables you to find work based on your strengths, not necessarily your job history. I feel that in my story, I worked intently on my Internal Network, and then the job-seeking part became leveraged and fun effort and not hard work. Does that make sense? It’s kinda like “measure twice, cut once.” For me, I felt like I measured 50 ways and then sent one email – the one that led me to the awesome organization I’m in now (here’s my LinkedIn profile for those who are curious).
If you’re in a job that you’re unhappy with, and feel you must keep it, I think there are many ways you can be happier, if not in your job, in life. In exploring your strengths and skills maybe you’ll even find a hobby, volunteer position, or side job that better complements your style or your passions.
A part of fulfilling your career intention is to develop a network of people and resources for you to lend your talents to and to avail when needed.
Notice that it’s not about what you can take from the network, it’s also about what you give to the network. Because if you take and take, and don’t give, you might be facing resources that have dried up and a ghost town of people that don’t have time for you.
Your (optimized) network is a pretty amazing thing. When it’s humming like a well-oiled machine, the right people, perfect answers, or the best leads show up right at the time they’re needed. How do you get it humming?
The logic behind a good network is YOU. Think of your network as a reflecting pool. It gives out whatever the looker is pulling into the view. You want your network to be more helpful? Be more helpful. You want to your network to offer free services to you? Offer free services. You want your network to point you to jobs that might fit you? Share jobs with others.
What I’m saying is that to optimize your network, first optimize your Inner Network. This is what I’ve learned over the years. It started when my time at one organization ended after a great 10-year run in various positions. Most if not all of my friends, social interactions, workout buddies, and work network were from the community of folks who worked at that same organization. I chose a layoff thinking I could get a new position within the four months of severance I received. But because my experience was in several positions and I didn’t have an outside network, was I ever wrong!
When I think about the Inner Network, I like this picture of interconnected sticks and connectors. Some just don’t connect. The more disconnects, the weaker the structure.
Check yourself to see if any of these disconnects seem familiar.
Security. Somewhere along the way, maybe you got burned by another human, likely a trusted one, and now a part of you interprets that experience with defining the parameters that aren't to be trusted. If so, this could create a disconnect of trust-building. If this resonates with you or irritates you, or you immediately dismiss it, then maybe it’s there, lurking unseen. Get help in learning how you can feel more secure and safe in certain situations. Understand that not all people or situations are like the one that chipped away at your trust. Find a coach or therapist to help you in this area, or if you’re a DIYer like me, then study teachings and topics about trust, security, and intimacy. I have grown a lot in this area, with help from a trusted advisor, by understanding my own thoughts about my place in the world and the lack of security I felt I from my childhood story, facing those things, and relinquishing their control on my behaviors.
Fears. After I reached a point of one loss after another, I finally realized my response to crumbling infrastructure in my weakened personal economy, career, and marriage was based on a series of crippling fears. They had driven my decisions for decades. I found ways to acknowledge fears, look it in the eye, appreciate it for its safekeeping objective, and then let fears go. More and more, these days, my decisions are based on fear’s cousin – intuition – and I can recognize fear and also keep it from running the show. There’s a logic to developing that reliable “gut response” and embracing the idea of “inclusive efficacy” or the realization that bad turns of events can have a positive impact. I feel like the more I develop this within myself, the better I can handle rough situations.
Lack Mindset. A lack mindset connects nowhere. Scratch that. A lack mindset connects to lack. Its language is “but,” “I can’t,” and other words of assuming the worst possibility. If you go to your network with this mindset, unknowingly your network will likely respond with pity or with no response at all. Do you feel like you’re not being heard? Take a look at your mindset affecting your comments and requests. This changes when you begin focusing on your strengths, your passions, and your skills. They form a unique story that causes people to connect and respond with similar passion, action, and support. They are your best assets.
Judgment. I grew up in a highly intellectual environment. It fueled my curiosity and drove me to research through books and articles. It also set my perspective of the world on seeing what was bad and scrutinizing it, judging what was wrong, and determining what others should be doing. This judgment caused my Inner Network to have disconnections to listening to people, to criticize myself and be harsh when I made a mistake, and to be less tolerant of others’ mistakes. I let go of that by noticing what was going on and softening my view. I made the most strides with this when I learned how to be kind to myself when I said or did something undesirable. Now, I experience connection to be kind to others in the moment. A much more enjoyable flow!
Self-Obstruction. Ever get in your own way? I think we all have. It’s a part of our natural protection mechanisms and it’s really a great system meant to support your safety. But if we’re not aware of it, it might be causing inner conflict or just flat out complacency. Conflict can be subtle, when “on one hand” we want to do something, but “on the other hand” we want to retreat. Or it can be aggressive, imparting control, negativity, or rage on others. Conflict or complacency can be resolved by understanding more about why you do the things you do and why you don’t do the things you think would be good for you. The disconnect happens in yourself. Bringing more purpose, enthusiasm, and acceptance in your own life will form new connections of integrity and courage.
When I strengthened these areas, my networking became more effective, focused, refined, and clear. The idea is to strive for improvement, not to achieve a picture of perfection. When you go to your network with a mindset of security, courage, personal strength, acceptance, and enthusiasm, you’ll find it can be a safe place to offer your skills, ask for help, collaborate, and achieve your goals.
It takes courage to ask for help in these areas. I help my clients look at strengths, their own response to situations, and their personality types as a launching place to build a career they are wanting. If you feel you would benefit from a deeper dive, develop a network of therapist(s), coaches, groups, and activities that will support you. Give yourself a break and relieve the pressure of time. It could take time, and in fact, the most rewarding efforts do.
Around 2009 and 2010 my career was a mess. In late 2009 I applied for a job that would have revived my career and defined me in Product Marketing. I didn’t get the job because of my weak resume. After that I was at a loss of what to do with my spattered past, with stints in five industries in 10 years, a less-than-stellar entrepreneurial effort, and multiple job titles.
And now I love my career and life. What I did between then and now is the secret sauce I am attempting to bottle up and help others as a Career Advisor.
Back then, I was in a place of not letting myself understand my true skills. I had to put my big girl boots on and face some truths about myself, some of which were about things holding me back and some of which were talents I was keeping hidden. When I accepted myself as human, gave myself permission to make mistakes, and found ways to open up to my true skills, I found the right job for me.
Here’s my shortened story: at one point, I found a few exercises to tap into things that weren’t prevalent on my mind about myself, and made them prevalent. Through these exercises, I found a way to make my disparate career history into a cohesive story. I got hired on a small project which I leveraged in my LinkedIn profile. I interviewed some people in my network, and researched to see how my skills might apply to an actual job. I took all that and rewrote my profile to be about IT Communications. Then I sent out an email through LinkedIn and socialized the new direction. One person, who I had worked with several years before, told me his wife was in the field I was targeting and she had an opening. And that is how, in October 2014, I got a fabulous position with a title in IT Communications I’ve never had before, in an industry I’ve never worked before, in an IT department that’s about two to three times the size of any company I’ve worked for.
It's a Wonderful (Career) Life
One of these exercises I call “It’ a Wonderful Life,” named after the movie. The main character of the movie, George Bailey, gets to see his life as if he’d never been born. In my mind’s eye, I imagined what each project or job situation would have been like if I hadn’t been there. I asked, “How would it have gone differently? What did I bring to the project or situation?” I wrote those things down, and took an observer’s look at the kind of person that emerges.
This exercise might be helpful to you if you are struggling to make your career history make sense, or if you feel you don’t know what you bring to the table at work.
Ever notice how some people wish they could go in a new career direction and then the right things and people just fall into place for them? Do you feel like your job is a grind while you watch others breeze through? I felt like this once and was curious about how they did that. How does one create leverage, meaning a smaller effort has a bigger impact? It took me years to learn, make changes to my character, and become open to leverage. Here are some ideas to intentionally bring more leverage in your career and maybe even the rest of your life.
The popular expression of dialing up to 11 comes from the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band had an amplifier with a dial that typically went up to 10. The guitarist wanted the maximum impact, so he showed off his amplifier saying, this one goes up to 11! So the expression means to maximize beyond expected limits.
And, oh did I have some limits! The economic recession of 2009 had a harsh effect on my personal economy and career. Beyond the poor collective circumstances, I had a poor image of my strengths and how to package my many and varied jobs into an asset worth hiring.
I noticed in the recession that not everyone lost their businesses, home, marriage, and savings. I was curious how they did that. How did people survive and even better, how did they thrive? This is the story of what I learned about thriving and how I applied it to maximize my career beyond the limits of my circumstances.
Without the permission to feel, make mistakes, and be human, before the recession, I felt unsafe and that I must project an image of knowledge and availability. I did almost anything for clients at lower and lower prices. After my personal economy crashed, I opened up to vulnerability and authenticity in my personal life, which then spilled over into my professional interactions and career aspirations.
Second, I allowed myself to change my mind. I noticed that I wasn’t thinking about myself in the best light. I noticed how hard I was on myself. What I did was to question the back-story of my life and career. Over time, I realized more and more of my unique value. Over time, I came to believe I could reframe my perceptions. And over time, I changed my thinking and I finally feel aligned with a life that is full with unique gifts to share.
Third, I rebuilt my career based on my strengths. At one point, I had to trick myself into seeing those strengths. One of the techniques I used I call “It’s a Wonderful Life” based on the movie of the same name. In this exercise, I took time to think about jobs from the past. In the movie, George Bailey gets to view life as if he’d never been born. So, that’s what I did in my minds eye with each past job. What if I weren’t there? What would have happened? I wrote down those things and started to see a pattern of a story of someone who saw the big picture, identified areas for potential issues, and assimilated those things into a comprehensive plan that I meticulously executed.
At another point, I was an independent contractor offering my services. While my services were based on my strengths, companies didn’t have a spending priority connected to what I was offering in product positioning. I took another look at myself. Where was the gap in what I was offering? It turns out I was missing the critical element of my skill in breaking down technological or other complex concepts into simplified, understandable language, metaphors, and images.
I called on my network and began discussing those skills. By talking to colleagues and researching, I ended up being hired for a project training users on how to use email in Outlook, since their old program was being replaced. After months of agonizing over my flailing business, the time from my “aha” to getting that project was a matter of weeks. Then I took the outcomes from that project to identify my skill, and target my communications skills from an IT perspective – sharing technology changes with users. Again I tapped my network and got confirmation. I updated my LinkedIn profile to highlight my accomplishments in the area of communications.
At that point I felt ready to present myself to the world as a communicator of technology. I sent out an email from within LinkedIn to about 150 of my 700 or so connections, and authentically described my change in direction.
Guess what happened? I love this quote that says “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” A man that I worked with 15 years before responded to my email. He acknowledged me for the authentic changes I was making. He said his wife worked in IT Communications, and she had a job opening. I interviewed with her for a job title I’ve never had, in an industry I’ve never worked, and yet with her husband’s recommendation of my work ethic and positive character, she offered me the job. I feel like I created leverage from knowing my true skills, and expressing them in my LinkedIn profile and resume in a way that had the recruiter saying my resume was one of the best she had seen. I dialed it up to 11!
In making these changes, I feel that I’ve captured the essence of thriving in this new economy, and if I can do it, so can others. I feel I’ve discovered the tools and attitudes needed to go beyond expected limits, and I want to help others do the same. I’ve taken a career path of authenticity, given myself permission to change my mind and adapt, and built a career on my truest strengths. If you’re feeling stuck or you want to transition to a new position or industry, read my blog for ideas on dialing your own career up to 11.
I'm refreshing myself on storytelling mechanisms. One of the themes I'm looking at is the Hero's Journey. As a professional offering services to other businesses, your market is more narrowly defined as a people who are business leaders or members of a department or group with a specific objective to accomplish.
The hero's journey starts with the a conflict or uncertainty (competing stakeholder needs? How to get all the MBOs (objectives) completed with the few resources on hand?) As an organization offering them a solution for their needs (including making other stakeholders happy), you can deliver the story of their journey through your communications - your sharable articles, your guides and studies, or thought leadership tips and how-tos.
Here are a few things about crafting the framework of your story:
By following these concepts, you'll give them a context to relate to, so they will want to take the hero's journey with you.
This post was inspired by this article on storytelling tips for fundraising.
The right story will bring 'em in, compel them to accept your offering, share with their friends, and keep them coming back for more, right?
What's needed for the right story? And what makes it right?
Audience. If you were writing a story to address young girls, you likely wouldn't write it about fire trucks, would you? No, it would be princesses and ponies for them! Same in business. A friend's tagline spoke to the knowledgeable technician, but the opening line of his copy was insulting to that technician with a over-simplified explanation. Know your audience and stay true.
Fulfill the purpose. Either the audience is reading your content for a reason, or you are leading them into reading content for a reason, or both. Just make sure to use the "rule of you" where the word count of "you" or "your" (directly or implied) is higher than the count of "I" "we" and "our." And do your best to anticipate what they are looking for in a unique way.
Creativity. Some of you say you have none of this. But I think you would be surprised if you apply yourself. Take a look at some ads in another industry, and see if there's a creative way to apply concepts to your industry. (Except some worn out ones that follow "Got Milk?" - that is so over.) Mash up the story of your logo with some how to's, or combine business predictions into your message. Creative ideas can be launched by seeing other ideas in action.
The story told for the audience, with the audience's purpose in mind, in a creative and compelling way is the right story. Happy Storytelling!
I recently was watching, for the first time, Mad Men, which is a show with stories about a 1960's ad agency and the characters who work there. The central character, Don Draper, is fascinating. His money account is in Big Tobacco (and there's is a lot of literal and figurative smoke in these stories!). In the show's pilot episode, the government started releasing reports about cigarette smoking being bad for your health, and Don was pressured to come up with the right slogan in this new market ecology for his client. Despite his best tries at talking to customers, brainstorming with co-workers, hearing the research, and drinking for inspiration, he couldn't find the right words. When the clients decided to walk out on their meeting, Don finally came up with the slogan "It's Toasted;" everyone thought he was brilliant and he saved the day. He later said, "Fear stimulates my imagination."
If some of you operate like Don, and fear stimulates you, I'm presenting you with a list of what could happen when you don't provide your target audience with content that connects. In no particular order, if you don't concentrate your content toward what your target is wanting, these are some possible scenarios.
This isn't an exhaustive list, certainly, but if I missed anything really important, email me.
I was thinking about how networking is more effective for me when I go fully prepared with goals for the event. Especially if an event costs money to attend, I want to activate my story by putting it in action and making the most of my time and money. It’s almost as if I can think of that money as sponsorship, then I’m taking my investment more seriously. After brainstorming some ideas to activate our story at events, I came up with five areas of the story by name, characters, narration, setting, and message.
Sponsors get to place their logo/company name everywhere. Well, we’re not technically sponsors at an event, but we could prominently display our logo on a shirt or badge. Name recognition is huge, because it takes folks several times of hearing or seeing it to get who we are and what we do.
A business story includes several characters that will progress the story of our business, profession, or current project along. Who are these people and what specifically will we ask of them? For an introduction to a certain person? A question about an industry or a how-to? A sponsor typically answers these questions before attending an event.
It’s up to us as storytellers to set the direction of the plot – to offer ourselves as connectors and resources when we network. This builds goodwill and extends our network for mutually beneficial connections long term. We can even place ourselves prominently by volunteering at the event. One time without asking the organizers, I stood at the door and greeted hundreds returning from lunch at a conference. It gave me exposure and a sense of authority. In fact, someone came up to me to ask a logistics question about the conference, as if I were an organizer!
The event type, place, and agenda might affect our story. Is the event primarily other people in our profession? Are there connectors there with a high sphere of influence? The conversation might be different at a sit down dinner than it would at an event of open networking. Follow the rules of good networking, and adapt your story to the setting. Sponsors know in advance what to expect and how to best use that setting to frame their objectives.
Was our presence felt at the event? Did we leave an impression through connecting, sharing, or asking? It’s good for us to know our message and leave a positive impression of it by the end of the event. This is not done by pushing cards or flyers at people. Think of the sponsors that have left an impression on you – isn’t it mostly because they had something to offer or give?
Did I miss anything? What do you think of using the idea of sponsorship as a way to think about our attendance at events?
This past weekend, I had the honor to volunteer as part of the executive team for one of the premier events of the area, ProductCamp SoCal. This is an unconference that focuses on markets and products. Topics range from Agile development practices and market research to product execution methodologies, market launch, and social media. The beauty of an unconference is that participants drive the theme and topics by proposing sessions and then voting on the ones that will get selected.
While most participants come (424 this time - our fourth event!) to learn in sessions and facilitate sessions, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes with participants who choose to be volunteer for this vibrant event. A lot of planning and execution goes into it all, including engaging sponsors, utilizing the facility, getting the message out, registering, counting votes, and providing food, conference materials, and up to date information for attendees. We had a crew of over 60 people - including students - who were part of this well-oiled machine.
It’s amazing how every person that participates adds to the flavor (hunter-bear-ranger, anyone?) of the conference and create these moments. Not necessarily the conference moments, the ones in between the logistics of pulling it together, around planning meetings, in preparations, between the sessions or in session interactions, really anywhere there were two or more willing participants, opening the opportunity for magic to happen. New collaborations were formed, new friendships made, old ones renewed or strengthened. Business opportunities were found and new light was shed on old ways of doing things. And that’s just from the immediate feedback!
If you have the opportunity to be a part of a collaboration like this, take it. It will enrich your life in ways you didn’t think it could. I know it has for me.
Photo: Volunteers preparing the conference bags at CSUF.
Dori "Story" Gilbert is Chief Storycologist; passionate about professionals, their journey, and their ability to direct a career story they love.