Once you’ve decided you’re searching – or maybe it was decided for you – I don’t think the best place to start is to apply for jobs. It may feel like the right thing to do, to get on the horse if you’ve fallen off, but this is not a leisurely ride on a nature path. This is a path where you spend most of your waking hours. This is a path where the core of you – your craft– is expressed, and if it’s not, you begin to feel uneasy or restless. This is a path where you are rewarded for getting as close as you can to finding work that is fun and easy because it matches your best skills.
If you want to apply for a job online for research, there’s no harm in that. Maybe you want to practice aligning your resume and a cover letter to the job requirements. Maybe you want to see how the company responds to applicants who don’t make it through to interviews. Or maybe you want to see if they’ll respond if you are an exact match to every qualification listed.
If you’re employed, see below for your first step. If you find your self suddenly unemployed, there are several first steps to take to ensure your basic needs are met while you search:
What’s going right in your career? What do you always wish you could do? What could be better? How did you turn ordeals around in your favor? Clarity at the beginning will flow through each step and make them much easier. Strengthening a vision for yourself will carry you through each rejection and dead-end.
Review your accomplishments, your skills, your strengths, and your desires. Make some lists of what you’re good at. Read job trends and research job titles and descriptions at Indeed or LinkedIn to help clarify where you want to go next.
Here are some more ideas:
In great craftsmanship, the practice is “measure twice and cut once.” In great career searches, the practice is similar. Be clear, double clear, on your unique perspective before beginning your search campaign. You’ll create leverage and be able to “cut” through the distractions of general job search with specific contacts, organizations, job leads, and next steps befitting of your craft.
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.
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.
The clearer you are about you purpose, your distinction, your “secret sauce”, the more leverage you have in situations where you present your business. That leverage turns into boldness in three ways:
Clarity Gives You Boldness in Articulating What You Do
My friend Janis is a life coach. I don’t know about you, but in networking, I’ve met several life coaches and their message is fairly similar about how they help clients transform. How to choose? Janis differentiated herself by highlighting her own unique story of how inner transformation caused outer transformation in weight loss and released her to do something she loves, which is ballroom dancing. I remember four years ago when she faced her fears and boldly offered the program to her first group of clients. Many success stories later, her latest bold move is to reapply the tools and concepts to her own life to lose 35 pounds, and publically journal about it on her blog. Read more about Janis and her journey at http://www.owlweightloss.com/blog/.
When you are grounded in a distinction, and you can back it up with the work you produce, you’ll enter new situations boldly and confidently. Read on, and you’ll see how it can apply to you as a job searcher, too.
Produce Work that Boldly Exemplifies Your Distinction
Another friend is very clear about her career. Are there others in her profession in the local area? Yes. She stands out because she is so clear about her skills and point of view; she knows exactly the job title she will arrive at in three years (or less) and the path to get there. Her job is knowledge based, and she has created a portfolio of work products showing her planning and execution skills. She carries that portfolio to coffee meetings and interviews, and boldly presents examples of her ideas with her work products. Her distinction has given her boldness about her work.
The reason I thought of her for this post is because of the stories of interviews and connections she making.
Teach Others with Bold Stories Framed in Your Point of View
You’re in business for a reason. Hopefully one of those reasons is to improve lives. Whether your company offers a product that will help an employee get their job done more easily, or a services that eases a patient’s suffering in some way, your contribution is making someone’s day better. When someone’s day is made better, your business purpose is solidified. You can share these stories of success boldly framed in your point of view.
Are you ready to be bold about your profession? Getting clear about your differentiation is as easy as tapping into your personal uniqueness. There are no two humans alike, and every person has a unique story.
Dori "Story" Gilbert is Chief Storycologist; passionate about professionals, their journey, and their ability to direct a career story they love.